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Entry updated 31 May 2021. Tagged: TV.

Japanese animated tv series (2011); original title Mawaru Penguindrum; vt Mawaru Pingudoramu. Brain's Base. Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Written by Takayo Ikami and Kunihiko Ikuhara. Voice cast includes Miho Arakawa, Ryōhei Kimura, Subaru Kimura, Yutaka Koizumi and Marie Miyake. 24 25-minute episodes. Colour.

Himari Takakura (Arakawa) dies shortly after collapsing at an aquarium. As her brothers Shoma (R Kimura) and Kanba (S Kimura) mourn she sits bolt upright, now adorned with her recently purchased penguin hat, and announces: "Survival strategy! Rejoice for I have decided to extend this girl's life". Hamari has been possessed by the Princess of the Crystal, whose Technology-heavy transformation sequence ends with her marching out of a giant Mecha bear. Later, the Princess instructs the siblings to "obtain the Penguin Drum" in return for Himari's extended life, saying this is "probably" held by schoolgirl Ringo Oginome (Miyake). Ringo was born on the day her sister Momoka died in an act of terrorism performed by the Takakura siblings' parents: the event deliberately evokes the 1995 Tokyo subway Sarin attack. Ringo's parents treat her as her dead sister's replacement, so she feels compelled to emulate Momoka's expected life.

Himari's health deteriorates again. A Dr Sanetoshi (Koizumi) offers an expensive treatment: Kanba, morally blinded by his devotion to Himari, gains funds from the remnants of his parents' cult by helping them commit a new atrocity. Dr Sanetoshi is the ghost (see Supernatural Creatures) of the cult's leader, defeated by Momoka, whose diary contains a Magic spell that shifts fate's tracks by changing timelines (see Alternate History; Dimensions; Parallel Worlds), but at a price: part of Momoka's soul went into Himari's penguin hat (she is the Princess). Ringo uses the spell to defeat Dr Sanetoshi, though it is Shoma and Kanba who pay its cost. At the end we see Himari and Ringo as friends; Himari no longer has brothers, though they have been Reincarnated as children. The Penguindrum was an apple Kanba shared with Shoma, and Shoma then shared with Himari, when all were hungry – or rather, it was the kindness those deeds represented.

Thematically the series explores the effect of parental figures on children: their actions, expectations and attempts to mould into some ideal (though abuse such as violence and incest is addressed as well); also considered are the pressures to conform, whether from capitalism, a powerful older generation, or cults (see Psychology; Sociology; Politics). Regarding the omnipresence of penguins, Ikuhara has remarked on how, being birds that can't fly, expert swimmers that need to come up for air, they don't really fit into any environment: maybe a reference to humans and the societies they create.

Frequently referenced is Kenji Miyazawa's story "Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru" ["Night on the Galactic Railroad"] (written circa 1927; in Complete Works of Kenji Miyazawa Vol. 3, coll 1934), with the brothers being based on its main characters. There are also nods to Haruki Murakami, including his non-fiction Andāguraundo ["Underground"] (1997), about the Sarin attacks, and his short story "Kaeru-kun, Tōkyō o sukuu" ["Superfrog Saves Tokyo"] (in kami no kodomo-tachi wa mina odoru, coll 2000; vt After the Quake).

The mix of subject matter, surrealism, humour and melodrama – which might all occur in the same scene – is sometimes overwhelming. The plot is elaborate – the above summary is heavily simplified – and adorned with often beautiful if frequently obscure metaphors. Overall, Penguindrum is a visually stunning, memorable Anime: a worthy follow-up to the Director's iconic Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997-1999). [SP]


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