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DVD Review

DVD cover

Box 1/2


Starring (voice): Ryohei Kimura, Subaru Kimura, Miho Arakawa and Marie Miyake
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 12
Available 06 May 2013

Himari Takakura passes away after going out on a trip with her brothers, twins Kanba and Shoma. She was, however, miraculously saved by a spirit in a penguin-shaped hat. In return for her extended life, the twins must search for an item known as the Penguin Drum with the aid of three penguins, which are visible only to the siblings...

In the committee-driven, market-led world of TV anime there aren't many distinctive authorial voices, but Kunihiko Ikuhara, the head writer and director of 2011's Penguindrum, perhaps more than any other deserves the label of auteur. His input into the Sailor Moon R TV series in the early 1990s, followed by his adaptation of the manga Revolutionary Girl Utena into a heady allegorical saga overflowing with symbolism and emotion, made his name among anime fans in Japan and abroad, and so word of a new show from Ikuhara – the first since Utena – caused justified excitement. It's great to be able to report that Penguindrum is both something that could only be created by Ikuhara and like nothing else seen this decade.

Beginning with the bizarre deathbed resurrection of sweet-natured Himari – in a dazzling musical sequence that retains its audacious power and wit despite being repeated numerous times throughout the series – Penguindrum tosses us into the story of the perturbingly close-knit Takakura siblings, all but left to fend for themselves in present-day Tokyo after a mysterious event deprived them of their parents. It would be a spoiler to discuss the nature of this event in a review, yet not only is it pivotal in recent Japanese history, but Ikuhara allows the series to refer to it constantly through framing, design and recurring motifs, befitting his standing as one of the most visually literate and subtle directors in anime.

The true nature of the catastrophe is allowed to simmer away in the background during these early episodes, though, as the enigmatic hat spirit sends Himari's devoted brothers, forceful Kanba and timid Shoma, on the trail of the alleged Penguin Drum, tentatively identified as a diary in the possession of high-school girl Ringo Oginome. The reason Ringo values this diary so highly unfolds gradually, but not without a great deal of brilliantly executed and frequently jaw-dropping farce as her obsessive self-imposed romantic pursuit, closely followed by the befuddled twins, twists the plot of this first half of Penguindrum into fiendish and unique shapes. Acting as a surreal chorus are the penguin attendants summoned by the hat, whose background antics are both peerlessly funny and a pointed commentary on the foibles of the human characters.

It's fortunate that Ikuhara has a resourceful animation studio at his disposal, and Brains Base, makers of Princess Jellyfish, Baccano!, Durarara!! and many other distinctive TV anime of recent years, rise to the challenge: the animation and music are superb throughout, and the breaknecks turns from comedy to drama are executed with flair. It's frustratingly difficult to do Penguindrum justice in a review without giving away large portions of the plot, which is both complex and surprising, but only one part of the show's value. The writing and direction are the real stars here, as Ikuhara tells the story of the Takakura family and those who surround them through metaphor and symbolism rather than the soapy dramatics and monologues favoured by most anime, and while it's questionable whether Penguindrum ever hits the heights of the near-legendary Utena, it's still unlike anything else in recent years.

I can't recommend this show enough if you're looking for something different and intelligent in anime – the only issue with Kazė's fine release lies in the DVD subtitles, which unfortunately feature spelling errors that creep in just often enough to distract the viewer. It's something I'd strongly advise on disregarding as much as you can, though, as Penguindrum is a show like no other and a scintillating addition to the year's anime schedule. And the second volume promises even stranger things. Wonderful stuff.


Richard Hunt

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