Mawaru Penguin Drum – 2

Ikuhara caught me out with the sudden total shift at the end of this episode, but on balance it was still a much sillier episode than the first one, which was more random in an unsettling way than silly.

Indeed, this week’s effort was filled with dialogue like “Are you trying to steal my octopus-shaped wieners?” and seemingly endless shots of service penguins #1 and #2 taking close-up panty shots. The penguins were the real stars of this episode, from getting stepped on during rush-hour on the metro to stealing lunches to copping a feel. It was all pretty juvenile, but undeniably funny.

This being Ikuhara, there was still plenty of intellectual depth mixed in with the magical-girl transformations and panty-shots. A few themes are definitely emerging here. Sex is obviously part of just about every metaphor in the series, as witness the double-helix displays at the lingerie shop, not to mention the imagery in the aforementioned transformation sequence. Trains are another motif, of course, linked with sex but beyond it, too – as many have pointed out, the first ep borrowed liberally from Night on the Galactic Railroad. Train images are everywhere from the eyecatches to the events on the show itself. Lastly, we’re concerned with fate and destiny – manifestly especially in the person of high-schooler Oginome Ringo (Miyake Marie). Her namesake fruit, the apple, keeps popping up in her diary and elsewhere.

Sent off on a quest by “Himari” to find the penguin drum – supposedly in Ringo’s possession – or their sister’s life will be forfeit, the strange odyssey of Kanba and Shoma is largely comedic, but it does tell us a little about the brothers. As you might have deduced from last week, Shoma is both far more innocent and moral than his brother. He sees the invasion of Ringo’s privacy as wrong on absolute terms, while Kanba reasons that it’s perfectly fine because no one can see the penguins they’ve sent to spy on her, thus they’ll never get caught. A classic determinist argument, but one that Shoma can’t effectively rebut with his sister’s life seemingly on the line.

And then there’s Ringo, the seemingly cute and innocent girl who wrestled the ep into dark territory single-handed. We have no idea if she really has the drum – is it her diary, perhaps? – but what we do find out is that she’s a full-on stalker. Her target is the boys’ homeroom teacher Mr. Tabuki (Ishida Akira) and she takes things into pretty scary territory – going out on a high ledge to snap a picture of a bird’s nest for him, buying sexy underwear, even crawling under his house and setting up camp to electronically spy on him. Whether or not she has the penguin drum, she’s nuts.

I like this series, and you can’t help but marvel at the imagination that goes into both the visuals and the plot. I don’t quite buy into the hysterics of praise I’ve seen in some quarters – this is very good stuff, but still more of a mess than a real classic. Still, it’s clearly the work of a staggering talent, undeniably looks great and there’s nothing else like it. Real info on what’s actually happening is still scarce – major plot points like the nature of the entity possessing Himari, the nature of the penguin drum and just what the “survival strategy” is are still deeply shrouded in mystery. My hope is that this will end up something like FLCL, a preposterously cool mess of confusion that somehow comes together and makes sense by the end. That’s probably too much to hope for – FLCL did that in six episodes and I’m not sure Ikuhara can do it in 24. But I’m certainly curious to see him try.



  1. l

    This show totally went off up and away from my initial expectation. If this goes on, this might be the best anime this season(comparable to stein gate). If not the undressing transformation is good enough for me, my hope that they don't recycle the scene too much. It will be weird for Shoma to keep falling into the pit trap every single time.

    I'm not sure if it going to end up like FLCL. However judging from previous experience of Utena Revolutionary Girl, it going to be very very confusing and alot of incest sex. But then again memory might serve me wrong, since i like watch that show when i was 3/4 years old.

  2. L

    Those penguins are awesome. ^_^

    Ikaze, I did get a FLCL-like crazy/hallucinogenic vibe from this series.

  3. S

    Now that you mention it. It does remind me of FLCL
    Enzo, you must check out Mayo Chiki too if you haven't :)

  4. Oh Gods, another Thursday series? I just don't see how I can do it. Thursdays are craaaaaaaaaazy!

    FLCL is definitely the optimistic projection – for me, it's one of the best 5 series ever. But this series does have some of that same sex-obsessed, symbolism-driven hallucinogenic coolness.

  5. L

    Sooo many series on Thursday, and most of them are really good too. XD Mawaru is definitely my favorite show of the season so far, and I haven't even watched the second episode yet! No.6 would be a close second on my favorites.

  6. N

    I can’t say I love this anime, but till now I enjoy watching it very much. It is one out of these shows which fail (for me) to establish a direct emotional connection to the characters.
    For example in the first episode I really didn’t feel the emotional impact I probably should have felt, considering a person just died and get resurrected. However, I don’t need to have such a connection to enjoy a show.

    For the lack of a better comparison, there are shows for the heart (e.g. Ikuku Meiro Croisee, Usagi drop) and shows for the brain. The guessing, speculating and wondering plays a big part for enjoying such shows like Mawaru Penguin drum.
    There is always the danger it doesn’t work out but I like watching shows that are trying to incorporate unique ideas or art styles, or perspectives, or…

    I really like the transition scene for the flashbacks, the first time I saw it I just laughed. I can’t remember ever seeing a flashback being announced in this way.
    For the art I like the background art of the living room. There is so much detail and color, it is almost too much but if you look a bit more carefully you can see how much in need of renovation their home really is.

    I also found the second episode a bit on the silly side, but having watched Utena and considering the series is 24 episodes long, I think this episode will not be the silliest one to air.

  7. @Niana

    Niiana, I couldn't agree more – that's the one element lacking so far for me, an emotional attachment to the characters. Very, very few shows can be a "show for the heart" and a "show for the brain". Eva was one. FCL was one. Moribito was one (though weighted to the heart side). Noein is another one that comes to mind. But they're very rare.

  8. l


    It seem to me that all the good show focus on thursday, all SEVEN of them seem very promising. You must be dying to see which of them can be drop. Good luck. :) Also can you tell me your top 5, want to see if i missed any gem in the past.

    Don't worry, where this director is involved. You will have no problem be entertained. It will be full of action, crazy character and full randomness of stuff you won't imagine coming to you. You will have hard time predicting what coming in the next episode. And you better believe me when i say that Shouma is not as innocent as he look like *This is not spoiler, but simply my own judgement.*

  9. Here's my list – anything 5-star is full-bore superb.

    As for Thursday, well – Blood-C is hanging by a thread. The NoitaminA shows, Penguin Drum and Baka-test look very safe.

  10. l


    Hmm, true enough comparatively blood does seem less appealing. However all blood series/clamp is like that, they deliver solid show. They won't be very fancy, nor funny, nor fanservice, nor extreme plot twist. Just a very solid show. But if you must, that will have to go. You can consider putting off blogging blood on like maybe Wednesday? Just MHO.

  11. N

    @ Guardian Enzo
    I must confess I haven’t watched Moribito or FLCL yet, but I will when I have some time.

    @ Ikaze
    I am not worried, I’m sure I will be entertained even if it doesn’t work out perfect. If you mean my “will not be the silliest episode”, I was just wondering if we will get anything like the Nanami episodes in Utena.

  12. w

    I wouldn't worry about Mawaru Penguindrum making sense by the end. Granted, there are a whole lot of elements to tie up and explain, but I think that if anyone could do it, it's Ikuhara. After all, Revolutionary Girl Utena was similarly surreal, and it had one of the best conclusions of any anime series ever made; and from what I've seen from Penguindrum so far, I don't think the director's lost his touch.

    I think it actually helps a lot with Penguindrum to watch each episode twice. The sheer coherent density of detail and imagery present in each scene–the animals in the corners, the twin idols, the themes and ideas in play–indicate to me that the people who are making this show know exactly what they are doing. But I've been wrong before!

  13. No, you're probably right – Ikuhara clearly hasn't lost his touch, and just as clearly has an idea of what he's trying to do here.

    I'll admit the only thing really holding me back from loving this series as much as admiring it is really finding a character to bond with. Could still happen, but Kanba isn't very likable and Himari has just been a plot device so far. So that leaves Shoma as the most likely candidate.

  14. l


    I have all the confidence that you be surprise yourself if you decided to bond with Shouma. Just my feeling.

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