This is another strange show, in that you do not realize how all the stories are interconnected, as well as not getting the answers you need to understand what is going on, so it is going to take some dedication in viewing it. OK, the full title for this is “Mawaru Penguindrum”; otherwise, you may have a hard time finding it as merely ‘Penguin Drum”.
Initially, we drop in on the Takakura family, currently composed of (left to right) Kanba (the playboy type), Shoma (the innocent one) and Himari (the terminally ill one). Mom and Dad are missing (and we’ll find out why later in the series), so it’s just these three and the mysterious Uncle Ikeba (just a voice on the phone).
One day, they decide to go to the aquarium, where they purchase this really ugly penguin hat for Himari. As they are paying for the hat, Himari collapses. She is taken to the hospital, where she dies. As the brothers mourn, they are surprised to see Himari suddenly spring back to life, fully cured of her condition. The doctor calls it a miracle, as her condition was such that no one comes back, much less gets cured.
However, there is a great price to pay for this, as she is possessed by a spirit, the Princess of the Crystal, which lives in the hat and has decided to extend her life, though she returns to normal whenever her penguin hat falls off. Now, when the Princess arrives, she is wearing some kind of dominatrix outfit, with a high French Cut bottom, a flaring dress that trains behind her, a cinched corset, really wicked boots and a very condescending attitude.
The next day, the siblings receive a shipment of a frozen box, which are later revealed to be a trio of strange penguins that no one besides them can see. Just then, the hat possesses Himari again, explaining that she has extended her life but in exchange wants the brothers to obtain something known as the Penguin Drum. But they are not told what it is, so they have a hard time trying to track it down, as well as absorbing both the abuse and the resentment from the Princess.
Now, there are four storylines going on at the same time, but we do not know how they are interrelated until the story unfolds. If you remember my comments about the “Semi-Colon Series”, this is similar in structure to “Stein’s;Gate” as we are not certain as to what the reality is. The story lines include:
Ringo and Momoka Oginome. Momoka was Ringo’s older sister and died on the day Ringo was born.
Yuri Tokikago and Keiju Tabuki. Mr Tabuki went to school with Momoka and Yuri was also a friend, but they have an odd relationship.
Masako Natsume. She used to date Kanba, but is also involved in getting the Penguin Drum “Triple H”. This was to be an idol group that headlined Himari with her two friends Hibari Isora and Hikari Utada, but fate had other plans, so they are now “Double H” (and, no, that’s not a bust size; it refers to their names and the first initial. Pervert!)
This show is designed to keep you off balance. Even so-called filler episodes (like the one with Sanetoshi Watase at the library) serve a greater purpose. Everything revolves around flashback (which tell you they are coming) and the subway line. I was amazed that these folks ride the subway and they cars are practically empty. But since we have symbology and hidden meanings and social commentary coming along for the ride, a lot of it is a head-scratcher. Are the subway notices merely a foil for comedy, or is there something deeper going on behind it all?
One aspect of the show that bothered me for the first half was the transformation sequence. Much like you see in “Sailor Moon” and “Wedding Peach”, I find it to be placed in when the script is running a bit short. It runs about two to three minutes and certainly gobbles up time as we see the Princess make her appearance after she calls out “Survival Strategy” and take the brothers to task for failing to find the Penguin Drum (don’t worry, you will eventually discover what it is).
What irked me in the second half is that it just got weird to be weird, or, closer to the mark, strangeness to showcase strangeness. The problem with trying to relate this is that now all plot points are critical to the story and to say something is to give it away.
Here’s the truth about Mom and Dad. Ooops, that’s a spoiler, so I can’t relate it.
Here’s the truth about Masako. Ooops, that’s a spoiler, so I can’t relate it.
Here’s the truth about the whole family. Ooops, that’s a spoiler, so I can’t relate it.
Here’s the truth about the doctor that saves Himari. Ooops, that’s a spoiler, so I can’t relate it.
Here’s the truth about Momaka’s death. Ooops, that’s a spoiler, so I can’t relate it.
Crap! What CAN I tell you?
I feel that “Penguin Drum” was a loss. There are all these teasers and false trails and shifting realities to the point that there is no genuine consistency in telling the story and what it is all about. I felt it wanted to be bizarre just to be weird or surreal or off-kilter. If I want a ‘weird’ show, there’s always “Bo-BoBo Bo-BoBoBo”, which is really weird. This show came off both as annoying and repetitive. And some of the characters you wish would just burst into flames, as they were quite repugnant. The Yuri arc was both annoying and pointless as it went, ultimately, nowhere. Oh, and in this case ‘Yuri’ is fully what you think it means.
Now, this is a gorgeous-looking show, even when things go off the tracks (and since a good portion of it is spent on the subway line, which is a huge metaphor AND a plot point, I cannot go further), but at the end of it you feel empty and the actual ending (and, to its credit, it does end) is a bit of a cop-out, as well as going on a bit long to make its point. Adding to my discomfiture is that the first 12 shows were rather languid, whereas the last 12 seem to speed along and could have taken out another two shows to make the landing a bit smoother.
If you want something completely different that isn’t a man with three buttocks, you should give this show a spin, but you just may not comprehend it.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 8 (Very energetic)
Plot 8 (Despite misdirection)
Pacing 7 (Sometimes too fast, sometime too lethargic)
Effectiveness 6 (A real cheat at the end)
Conclusion 8 (It does have an end)
Fan Service 3 (A similar show would be “Okamisan”)
Overall 7 (Points for trying something different)
And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. Isn’t it electrifying?