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DVD Review

DVD cover

Box 2/2


Starring (voice): Ryohei Kimura, Subaru Kimura, Miho Arakawa and Marie Miyake
Distributor: Manga Entertainment
RRP: £29.99
Certificate: 18
Release date: 21 October 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...

Part two of Penguindrum resumes the story at a critical juncture, as the still terminally-ill Himari, kept in good health by now by the power of the mysterious and demanding penguin hat spirit, appears to reach her limit for the final time. Kanba's desperation to save his sister is taken advantage of by the sinister librarian previously encountered by Himari, who appears as a doctor, calling himself Sanetoshi and providing medicine that can prolong Himari's life once more, for an undefined and steep price. Since Kanba is already morally compromised to the hilt by his previous endeavours to pay for his sister's treatment, he readily accepts.

The first half of this second portion of Penguindrum focuses on the other characters affected by the catastrophic 'incident' of sixteen years ago that, in their own eyes and those of the world at large, left the Takakura siblings cursed: good-natured teacher Tabuki, his glamorous actress fiancée Yuri, Tabuki's determined stalker Ringo and the enigmatic Masako, who has her own obsessive interest in Kanba. Yuri's grim past is played out in an increasingly shocking series of vignettes that go a long way towards earning this volume its 18 certificate; it's a tale of abuse and salvation that's twisted even by director Kunihiko Ikuhara's (Utena) standards. Tabuki, in turn, goes through a bizarre transformation from the inoffensive soul we know to a ruthless criminal, seemingly resigned to his role as the one to punish the Takakura children for their parents' crimes even as he recognises the futility of revenge. And Masako's pursuit of Kanba is revealed to be motivated by a penguin spirit of her own as the absurd saga of her wealthy family bears its own inescapable responsibilities.

As Ikuhara ties the characters' fates together and weaves them into a dark evocation of the 'incident' obliquely referred to until now – the 1995 terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, here reimagined as a bombing campaign by a similar millenial cult group - the series' themes of destiny and selfhood come into focus. While the melodramatic family saga of the Takakuras and their associates sometimes feels overblown, Ikuhara handles his material with such skill that the design, music and direction carry the story deftly. While sinister magus Sanetoshi lacks the presence of Ikuhara's most famous villain, Utena's Akio Ohtori, the metaphysical trap all the characters find themselves in is a more effective adversary. 'I hate the word “destiny”,' Kanba bitterly repeats throughout, and the directionless anger at the world's injustice and limitations that could inspire an Aum-like incident comes to life in Ikuhara's hands.

While the theme of destiny and the desire to overcome the world bears odd comparisons with the recent Steins;Gate, Penguindrum is a far more ambitious and intelligent series, despite its occasional faults. Being a TV anime with the attendant budget and schedule issues, animation faults visibly creep in at some points and the repetition of such elements as the hat spirit's entrance may test some viewers' patience; the issue of odd errors with the DVD subtitling, noticed in the first volume, also continues. It's a vividly entertaining and thought-provoking series for all that, funny, horrifying and moving by turn, and lavishly packaged by Kazé. One of the essential releases of this year.


Richard Hunt

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