Posted on 23 December 2011 with categories: Anime Reviews, Mawaru Penguin Drum



Revolutionary Girl Utena aired in 1997. When I watched it, it immediately conquered a spot on my list of favorite series ever, and still stands there. After that its director, Kunihiko Ikuhara, put out the Utena movie, and after that things became eerily quiet around him for more than a decade. Once in a while he did a random storyboard, but apart from that he really was strangely absent. So imagine my surprise when it was announced that he’d do another full fledged series again.

Right from the start it’s obvious that these two are from the same makers: this show is chock full of symbolism. Everywhere, the creators stuffed in references, cross references and visual symbols that only became apparent episodes after they appear. At first sight this is just random, but the great thing is that every symbol here has a meaning and place in this series. At first sight this series may seem like it’s complete chaos, but it’s actually surprisingly well structured on hindsight.

And yeah, this show pretty much has the best direction of the entire year. The way it combines the visuals, music and story together: no other show did it better during the past 12 months. The music does an excellent job of fitting within every scene it’s used, the animation really makes the characters come alive, the timing of all of the scenes flows really well. And the acting of the characters is really solid, especially considering the amount of broken characters in this series.

The excellent acting also leads to an excellent cast of characters. Just about everyone develops throughout the series. It also makes use of a ton of flashbacks and flash-forwards, to illustrate this, also giving the cast a ton of background in the process. The cast in this series really is dynamic, and engaging beyond belief.

And then there are the plot twist. This series really likes throwing plot twists, and being as unpredictable as possible. This makes for one heck of a plot. At first it might seem that this series is just throwing around twists for the heck of it, but nearly everything in this series is properly foreshadowed and hinted at on hindsight. The plot of this series is so tightly put together. This is an anime original series, so there is no need to be afraid of rushed endings or stories that just stop in the middle. The ending of this series is amazing and closes off this series wonderfully. This really is one of my top picks of 2011.

Storytelling: 10/10 – Great sense of timing and bringing out all different sorts of emotions. Really tightly written plot.
Characters: 9/10 – Excellent character development, very likable characters, although some take a bit to get used to (Ringo!)
Production-Values: 9/10 – Very solid and inspired animation, excellent soundtrack.
Setting: 9/10 – Penguin Drum is highly symbolic, and even its setting makes use of this. Because of this, things aren’t made 100% clear, but this is a very interesting way to get its messages across.

Suggestions:
Revolutionary Girl Utena
Simoun
Noein

Posted on with categories: Mawaru Penguin Drum

The point where I realized what the Penguin Drum was came at the beginning of this episode, in which we saw the caged Shouma and Kanba, and Kanba found the apple in his cage. There, it all made sense: Kanba would share the apple, and they both probably would have died if that apple wasn’t there, making their lives even more fragile than Himari’s. At first I thought that those apples were a symbol for Ringo, but the way it kept being used in the second half just didn’t add up to that. It still remains interesting that at the beginning of the show, the penguin hat sent the brothers to Ringo of all people. But in any case, it remains very cruel what this implies: in order to save Himari, the lives of Shouma and Kanba were needed.

And it is as I hoped: this ending really is amazing. The story came together wonderfully. The characters reached their catharsis. It all fitted really well. It’s not like all questions were answered, but in this case I believe that this doesn’t matter much. This show answered enough things and the rest is just up to our imagination. There is more than enough room to fill in the blanks. This series relies really heavily on symbolism and the surreal to paint its story anyway. What this show is in essence is a character study. And on that, it really delivered.

Overall, this show just completely dominated as my favorite series for the past half year. It was one heck of a step above all other shows that aired. Now that it’s finished, can I say that I like it better than Utena? To that, I unfortunately have to say no: this series is amazing, but I still like Utena better. It just as more fresh, it had better character development, it could take more time to show off its cast. And even then, Penguin Drum still remains as one of the best two shows of the year. I’m not yet sure which one is the best, but I’ll get to that in my 2011 summary.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 17 December 2011 with categories: Mawaru Penguin Drum

Okay. It’s time for answers. Finally the plot is coming together!

This episode really had me at the edge of my seat. It’s not just the plot that revealed some huge secrets: the characters themselves are also getting pushed on the main stage, and the drama around them is worthy of a finale so far. The big twist came right at the beginning of the episode: the bad guy of this series has pretty much been a dead guy. The rabbits were actually what he turned into. The two penguin hats? They’re part of Momoka.

Momoka actually tried to stop Sanetoshi from fully blowing up the world, although she failed partially. Somewhere in this half-spell, both parties got the abilities to play with the dead: My guess is very much that Mario would also be dead if it wasn’t for that hat of his, or at least that would explain why Natsume is so worried about him. The thing is however, that Sanetoshi’s healing powers are surprisingly long-lived, compared to what the Penguin hat could do. Heck, I’m very much inclined to say that Sanetoshi is currently deceiving Kanba, with the few healing powers that he still has left.

Penultimate episodes do have this tendency to focus too much on plot and too little on characters. This show actually didn’t! In this episode, Shouma was sorting out his own feelings, Himari tried her best to get Shouma and Kanba back together, Kanba got really sinister in the part where he cold-heartedly shot Shouma. And holy crap Ringo and that fire scene! Her role had already changed completely in the second half of this series, but this really brought her character to a different level.

Now, the ending of this series will definitely be the type of ending where the creators will try to put as much as possible into one episode. For these types of endings, the most important thing to remember is balance. There is no doubt that at this point, the creators have more than enough ideas to fill that last episode with. It’s bound to be awesome. but what would rally make it this series’ crowning moment of awesome is if every one of those ideas get just enough time to play out, while still making everything flow well into each other. Let’s really hope that the creators can pull this off, because this show deserves it.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 9 December 2011 with categories: Mawaru Penguin Drum

Well, so I kept hoping for these final episodes to bring everything together. And with this episode, they did. The developments in this episode took this show to a new level. With things finally concluding, the twists i this episode brought in the best out of the characters. The twists in this episode made terrific use of the build-up.

The great development here was the family breaking up. For so many episodes it seemed just natural for the three siblings to stay together no matter what. And yet in this episode things really go horribly wrong. Himari had died before in this series, but this time, it actually seems that this is for real (although I wouldn’t be surprised if she still had some part to play). She finally stepped up and realized what she caused Kanba to do.

What’s also surprising here is how powerless Shouma was: for a long while it seemed like he was going to be the main character of this series, and yet he hardly had any role, aside from the moment we’ve been waiting for: Double-H to make an appearance, only to disappear again. Overall, this is something that I really have to give to Utena: the shadow play girls in the end turned out to be much more awesome, even though you can see here how the creators tried to give them a very important role in the story.

Apart from that, I’m not going to compare the two shows just yet, due to how important the ending was for both of them. There are some very obvious differences, and the next two weeks it will be up to this series to show how well its ideas worked. This episode really was in the right direction, but was it right enough?

What also made this episode awesome was Natsume. Again her role changed completely last week. In this week, we get to see the results of this change, and how her attempts to get her brother back failed. It’s in a completely different mood from her earlier attempts when she tried to get him back with that sweater she knitted. That sweater by the way was a very sneaky hint to the two of them being siblings, when you compare them to Himari’s knitted clothes for her “brothers”.

And on a side-note: what was Shouma doing in that box?
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 2 December 2011 with categories: Mawaru Penguin Drum



Omg plot twists!

I mean, where to start? I thought that the house was just a colorful whim of the designers. In this episode, the creators suddenly explained how the house looked so unique. We’ve now seen Himari’s childhood in about five different stages (the time with her biological parents, the point where Shouma saved her, the point where Kanba’s father died, the point where she was getting into fights with Shouma’s mother, and the point after which shouma’s parents left). All of them showed a different stage of how she changed as a kid, and that isn’t even with the regular character development added. She is by far the most developed character of the entire series.

Then, Natsume. Finally her actions make perfect sense. by going after Kanba’s former girlfriends, she was reminding him of his responsibility towards Mario. By getting him away from Himari she was trying to save her brother from getting further involved in the shady business of Shouma’s parents. (Who died in this episode?! What the hell?). Also, I can’t believe that it only took me until last week to realize that the creators are trying to turn “Oh no, I must crush them soon” into a catch phrase.

Ringo turned into an excellent support character, now that her main arc is over. She’s still great to watch, and yet she knows how to remain in the shadows. The pink haired guy? Excellent villain now that it’s been revealed that he was the mastermind behind the gas attacks. He’s like this omnipotent being in this series and makes great use of it. That also gives yet another meaning to the diary: it’s the thing that he has no influence over. The question now is: is that diary’s power really as vague as the past episodes have been hinting? Or was there a more concrete reason for its effect?

And christ, there are just three episodes left now. I can only hope that this was the incentive to get the shoujo genre out of its rut that it’s been in for the past years. I don’t include the Josei genre in this; that has been fine, with series like No.6 and Chihayafuru. But how many good shoujo that didn’t rely on just random bishies (like Hakuouki for example) have debuted since the start of 2009? I’d say around five, over three whole years (Penguin Drum, Heartcatch Precure, Uragiri, Kimi ni Todoke and Yumeiro Patissiere), and only two of them were really ground breaking (Heartcatch and Penguin Drum). And this used to be one of my favorite genres that had so many gems in it. To come with a frame of reference, that’s about the same amount of series that debuted in those days that had no way of making any profit whatsoever, like Hyouge Mono, Sarai-ya Goyou, Aoi Bungaku, Showa Monogatari. Yes, for some bizarre reason producers nowadays are less inclined in investing in an ambitious shoujo series than on shows that are bound to not make them any money. There is a market for this, people. The first Blu-Ray version of Penguin Drum has actually sold nearly 6000 copies. That’s about 1000 volumes above the break even point for your average series.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 25 November 2011 with categories: Mawaru Penguin Drum



Yeah, this was the “calm before the storm”-episode of Mawaru Penguin-Drum. After this there are only four episodes left, resulting in God knows what kind of ending. This episode meanwhile was very different from the others: it was slow-paced, actually linear, and it was meant to flesh out the existing plot, rather than advance it.

Thankfully though, this avoided the common pitfalls of the usual calm before the storm episodes. Most of the times, these episodes are boring because they are just trying to delay the inevitable. This episode took its time to explain what happened between Shouma and Himari, it revealed why Shouma and Kanba’s parents did the things they did (that child broiler!), and this episode did actually have a solid build-up and a climax. The aftermath of this climax in its turn, built up this very effective atmosphere for the final four episodes.

Now, the big question will arise again: will this show have a great ending? It’s Kunihiko Ikura, so he’s bound to have something planned. In general, I don’t really care if the creators don’t answer every single question they ask explicitly. Not answering any question is of course also bad, but I disagree with people who dislike series, simply because they “don’t explain everything”. There are plenty of things in this series that can be better left off to the imagination.

Instead, what I want to see from this series is it using all of the build-up that the previous 20 episodes put into it. Take the current series, and push its story and characters to new levels. Pulling enough interesting twists without overdoing it and rushing through the final four episodes. This is a delicate balance that many shows fail to hit, but let’s wait and see whether this series knows what it’s doing.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 18 November 2011 with categories: Mawaru Penguin Drum



@#$*!@#&!@!^&!!! I should have known! I should have bloody known! I’m not going to say why I should have known, but this episode just delivered a truckload of major plot twists.

The first big one was revealed, right at the start of the episode: Kanba has been in contact with his parents all along. They’re the ones who gave him the money to cure Himari’s illness. I also love the way this was revealed, taking a place in the episode where you really wouldn’t expect it, with\out any obvious build-up whatsoever.

The second big plot twist: they’re not real siblings. Holy crap. I mean, this is a twist that has been pulled many times before, but this show just got it right by not making this as shallow as the others, which nearly always boil down to “we’re doing this for the incest”. Save for perhaps the first episode, the three siblings in Penguin Drum really felt like siblings, who were especially close to each other due to what happened with their parents.

And just when I thought that this would turn into this strange love triangle around Kanba… it is revealed that the one who originally introduced Himari to the family was Shouma.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 11 November 2011 with categories: Mawaru Penguin Drum




Yeah, this episode was another one of those “batman having tea with superman”-episodes. This episode was just amazing, as it combined the talents of two wildly different directors, Kunihiko Ikura and Shigeyasu Yamauchi, into one. The result was an episode with a ton of weird twists, strong character development and a ton of symbolism, combined with a style that is masterful at getting genuine emotions out of the characters and terrific at subtle pacing.

I can’t believe how well the two blended with each other. Tabuki really got a wonderful episode through this. Ikuhara even gave Shigeyasu Yamauchi the freedom of handling the background art much different from usual, and that too resulted in a ton of eye candy. Tabuki ended up as a great villain through this. On top of that Momoka also got a lot of depth, and the main cast also got much closer to each other. Especially the aftermath of this episode felt very intimate.

Also, the eye-catch. It just revealed another turning-point, as expected. Right now we’re in the background arc, in which all of the side-characters get the chance to show their stories and backgrounds. At the moment the only ones left are Tabuki and the parents who set everything in motion. I can only imagine what the creators have planned for after that. It’s that final arc where they really have to show that they know how to use their build-up.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 4 November 2011 with categories: Mawaru Penguin Drum



How rare: a Penguin Drum episode devoted to build-up. Or at least, it’s promising a ton of stuff for next episode and its pacing was surprisingly quiet for this show’s standards, aside from one over the top confrontation between Yuri and Natsume. It did not lack in the plot twist department at all.

In fact, in terms of plot twists, thi episode can actually be seen as a turning point, where most of the things that we had to assume in the first half are canceled. The Penguin Drum isn’t the diary at all, and Tabuki has a very clear hidden agenda that he kept very well hidden. And heck, I just realized the parallels between Yuri, Tabuki and Momoka, and the main trio of this show. Add that to the rumors that Shigeyasu Yamauchi (the director of Casshern Sins) will be working on next episode, and yeah: I can’t wait.

I do want to say a bit about the music, though. It is very good, but in the past weeks I have been rediscovering Utena’s soundtrack, and I’m blown away by the utter difference between the two. The biggest thing is that Uterna’s soundtrack spans a whopping 7 disks in total! The creators went and composed a traditional soundtrack, and then they contacted like, three different musical groups to sing in and compose the different themes for all of the duels. This way they had a different song for every single duel in styles that evolved perfectly. Cowboy Bebob had this too.

Modern soundtracks just don’t have this. And yet, with smart production decisions this can still easily be possible. I mean, those different EDs are nice and all, but the creators could have easily used the budget they used for Triple H’s songs to actually compose songs that fit inside the series, instead of stuffing them into EDs. Having a huge soundtrack gives a lot more freedom and expression in terms of storytelling.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 28 October 2011 with categories: Mawaru Penguin Drum



Right after episode 14 is a popular time for characters to come with their backgrounds. I just love the way in which this episode did it, though. Natsume’s background was awesome in its presentation. It was completely over the top, but it fits this series really well. It was a really hilarious episode, and especially Natsume’s dreams were hysterical.

What’s more is that there still is order within the chaos: you could really see traits that give no mistake that she and her grandfather were related. This episode did a great job of explaining her background, her role in the story (although please: couldn’t they have gotten a younger voice actor for the young Kanba?). Also, the penguin hat isn’t dead!?

Overall, in a way I can understand where the people are coming from when they say that this show throws random stuff at the viewer. I have this same problem with most Shaft series, like the later series of Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei and Bakemonogatari: the creators there really seemed to throw in just whatever the hell they’d like based on shallow wordplay that eventually got way too predictable in its unpredictability. Penguin Drum however has for me achieved the perfect balance between chaos and order: everything is related, but the things it throws at the viewer are all very creative and imaginative, and yet all of it is meant to flesh out the characters. And the thing is that this show is continuously changing: it still has the same style and mood, but it keeps finding new ways to play with its scenarios in lots of different ways.

And granted, Utena WAS better at this. It was completely un-rivaled in how well it used its own repetition to create excellent drama. However, we have yet to reach the ending of this series. Overall it’s a bit hard to compare two series of different lengths at this point, but what I can say at this point is that Utena’s brilliance lied in how much it did with so little. At this point it too still hadn’t shown its trumps yet, but instead of trying to be the roller-coaster ride that Penguin Drum is trying to be, it really tried to go for an as elegant series as possible. And with that it ended up being un-rivaled.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

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