I made the mistake of dismissing the whole of Penguindrum based on the first episode. I should know better. After all, one of the many reasons to love intelligent anime is its ability to dramatically and suddenly change direction.
I initially dismissed Penguindrum as something made to appeal to a fluffy, pink and teenage audience. Sure, the seed idea was a little creepy but the rest of it looked cute.
We deal with terminally ill Himari Takakura who dies during a trip to the zoo in the first episode. Weirdly, a fancy penguin hat one of her two brothers bought for her seems to be possessed by a spirit and brings her back from the dead. There’s a cost. The spirit demands that that two brothers search for and bring it the “penguindrum”.
At that point it looked like we’ll be dealing with comedy, romance, drama and tragedy. The penguins are cute. You might just arch an eyebrow at just how close the two brothers are to their sister.
There’s a “survival tactic” announcement in nearly every episode. This is when the brothers and possessed sister find themselves in a surreal landscape; brothers handcuffed, sister dolled up with clothes that’ll explode off her body while she marches down some weird backbone of a bridge to issue orders.
The first few episodes of Penguindrum have a surreal edge which kept me watching even though I was in no mood for a teen angst romance.
Secrets start to get peeled away pretty quickly though. The brothers trail school girl Ringo Oginome as they believe she may have the penguindrum and discover her secret.
This is the point where the anime starts to slide towards darker shades. Ringo has issues.
You know what; maybe Penguindrum is intended for a female audience but it was wrong of me to imagine shallow teenagers watching the anime in Hello Kitty pink PJs. This anime is far more psychological than that. It deals with far more real issues – while also keeping it one hundred percent supernatural – than expected.
The brothers are believable; both, despite one being innocent as a lamb and the other a playboy of sorts. Heck; even the penguin familiars that no one else can see make sense. Known as “1”, “2” and “3” these odd looking birds keep the levels of surrealism up but are a constant reminder than utterly alien forces are at work.
Combine the unknown but increasingly scary powers of the forces at work on the brothers and sisters with the fact that there are unpleasant secrets bubbling out of the darkness at almost every turn and Penguindrum becomes an anime that’ll keep you guessing. Penguindrum is an anime for anyone looking to engage their brain, think about sense of duty, relationships and how fragile the human condition is while wrapping all those hefty concepts in a layer of penguin cute.
The first series became one that I put on for a background watch to a foreground watch. I ended up watching the final disc in a single sitting.
One final note: music is a big feature in the series. There are some in-show songs and they’re pretty good! Colour me surprised.
The good news is that Penguindrum Box 2 is already out in the UK, care of Manga UK.