For the Takakura family, destiny is an ever-spinning wheel, pointing passionately in their direction with equal tides of joy and sorrow before ticking on to the next wishmaker. With their parents gone, twin brothers Kanba and Shouma live alone with their beloved little sister Himari, whose poor health cannot decline any further.
On the day Himari is given permission to temporarily leave the hospital, her brothers take her out to the aquarium to celebrate, where the family’s supposed fate is brought forth with her sudden collapse. However, when Himari is inexplicably revived by a penguin hat from the aquarium’s souvenir shop, the hand of fate continues to tick faithfully forward.
With her miraculous recovery, though, comes a cost: there is a new entity within her body, whose condition for keeping her fate at bay sends the boys on a wild goose chase for the mysterious “Penguin Drum.” In their search, the boys will have to follow the threads of fate leading from their own shocking past and into the lives of other wishmakers vying for the Penguin Drum, all hoping to land upon their chosen destiny.
Mawaru Penguindrum is an anime which aired in 2011 in the summer season and has 24 episodes. It’s from studio Brain’s Base and an original anime. The genres are Drama, Mystery, Comedy and Psychological.
I feel like the studio Brain’s Base doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Atl east from my point of view because they have some really amazing anime. Be it Natsume, Spice and Wolf or Baccano, this studio has some really nice anime. Mawaru Penguindrum is also one the better anime from the studio. Have you ever heard of Ikuhara Kunihiko ? This man is the director behind this anime, but why do I want you to know about him ? Ikuhara is a director you should really look out for. This guy is a madman. He is behind anime such as Sailor Moon, Revolutionary Girl Utena or Yuri Kuma Arashi. Specially Revolutionary Girl Utena and Yuri Kuma Arashi should make it obvious what you can expect from this director. Watching anime directed by him is always something special and unique. The anime is going to be filled with metaphors, symbolism and crazy visuals. It’s absolutely stunning and overwhelming what you are going to see in the anime which are directed by him, and Mawaru Penguindrum is no exception.
This will be probably one of the strangest anime you will see. It’s bizarre from the very beginning till the end. As someone who has watched Utena, you probably won’t find the eccentric style surprising, but everyone else probably will. Mawaru Penguindrum is not an anime which you can just watch randomly and do something else at the same time. This show needs your attention. Not only because the story is hard to understand and not because you will miss important dialogues, but specially because the visual spectacle with all the references and hints are important. Together with the soundtrack, Mawaru Penguindrum is a roller coaster ride which stays unpredictable to the very end.
At this point I usually would start talking about the story, but it’s not that easy to do that. To understand the story of Mawaru Penguindrum you need to watch the whole anime. Not one episode, not 5 episodes, you need to watch the whole thing to understand what is happening. Of course you will find out more and more about the story in each episode, but you will never be able to understand everything until you have finished the show. In fact I have seen many people who still didn’t understood the anime even after it was finished. I can talk about the main topic of the series which is “Fate”. Fate is the word which keeps being mentioned every now and then, and very fast you notice what the whole deal with the Fate is.
The main idea seems to be, that you are not allowed to change your destined future. Every person has a certain future and they are not allowed to change it. That’s what some of the characters believe. And that’s when we get introduced to the Penguindrum.
The Penguindrum offers the chance to change the future. And from this point the crazy ride starts. The whole story is wrapped in countless influences. Be it literature or other references. Specially Symbolism is a huge part in this anime. Every object, every scenery, every dialog and action has a meaning.
To understand all of them, you really need to look stuff up. There is absolutely no way to understand everything right away, and I’m still sure that there are parts which I haven’t understood. While you can go overboard with using too much Symbolism, the way it is portrayed here is clever and works. The way topics like death or rape are visualized is very eccentric. Heck Penguins appear out of nowhere and live together with our main characters.
During the most serious scenes, you will see the slapstick comedy of the Penguins in the background. This is not for the sake of comedy and actually has a meaning. The way the story is progressing is unique and almost eclectic. We are jumping from one scene to another through the banners in the train or the gates at the train stations. Metaphors like this are used frequently and if you think about it, it makes sense. It’s not only the visuals which stand out, but also the soundtrack. Mawaru Penguindrum has many different songs and insert songs. You will see songs being used during the anime, and even Shoujo-esque transformation scenes. Seems like our Sailor Moon director is still damaged from the countless transformation scenes in Sailor Moon.
Despite saying a lot and nothing at the same time, you can tell that the characters are explored in great depth. The characters we have in this anime are all somehow linked together, and the more we progress into the story, the crazier the situation will get. I really like the fact that each character got their backstory and even the weirdest characters will grow on you.
They are all defined by their past, and while they never can be taken entirely serious, as being realistic, they have enough depth that you can understand their way of thinking. Does the series has flaws ? Of course it has, every anime does has flaws. But the biggest flaw in this anime, is at the same time the biggest strenght of it. Pretty much everything I said above can be something, you won’t like. All the symbolism, metaphors and craziness will be too much for some viewer and it’s completely understandable. Watching Mawaru Penguindrum is not relaxing, but actually somewhat exhausting. But if you like this kind of stuff, it’s a very rewarding show.
You will get a lot back, and this anime will burn itself into your brain to the point you will never forget it.
Overall Mawaru Penguindrum is a series, which has everything but is so incredibly strange that you will not understand everything. But thanks to that, it’s also a series which can be great to rewatch, as you might have a different experience in the second run. Mawaru Penguindrum is not only crazy though, but also very funny, powerful and sad. Give it a try if you haven’t already.