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Mawaru Penguindrum Review

December 22, 2011 By: Nopy Category: Anime

Few anime are as weird or wonderful as Mawaru Penguindrum, just think of the number of series you’ve seen with rockets, teddy bears, a pink stairway, penguins, and a girl in a cool costume all packed into a minute and a half with moe-fied rock music playing in the background.

If that video didn’t give you an idea of what Penguindrum is about, here is the plot summary from MAL:

Three siblings, twins Kanba and Shouma, and the in-and-out-of-the-hospital Himari who’s in poor health, live together at the Takakura home. One day, when the siblings are out on a trip to the aquarium, Himari collapses. The doctors state that nothing can be done for her anymore, but then, a miracle occurs…

The series was written and directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara (creator of Utena), produced by Brains Base, and consists of 24 episodes. Mawaru Penguindrum is one of the most complex anime that I have ever seen. It deals with various themes such as family, revenge, incest, yuri, and most importantly, fate and destiny. Coupled with extensive use of symbolism and metaphor, Penguindrum proves to be a highly abstruse anime for those not familiar with classical literature.

As with many stories, Mawaru Penguindrum starts out with a quest: find the penguindrum in order to save Himari’s life. Soon afterwards, Mawaru Penguindrum takes on a format very similar to classical Greek plays, consisting of a tragic hero (or heroes), a predetermined future, and even something akin to a Greek chorus. I won’t spoil the series here, but if you pay close attention to the first episode, you will find that the ending is given away in one of the penguinhat’s statements. This is much like how the Oracle of Delphi predicted Oedipus’s future in Oedipus Rex at the very beginning of the story. With the viewer now aware of the ending, it is then the journey that must shock and entertain the audience with plot twists and sudden revelations.

While Greek plays had a chorus to help explain actions happening on stage, it would be a bit difficult to incorporate something like that into an anime. Instead, Ikuhara went with what I will call the Double H Train Ads. If you pay attention to the yellow screens on the train, you will always see a pink and blue girl, members of the idol group Double H, performing some silly actions. Take time to think about what they are doing, and you will realize that they are guiding you through the anime, sometimes helping to make sense of some of the more inexplicable scenes.

Anyone who watches a few episodes will probably wonder, what exactly do all of the crazy things in Mawaru Penguindrum mean? Well, to find the answers, you will first need to watch Revolutionary Girl Utena and take a few more literature classes. So as not to spoil anything, I will just explain a couple of the oddities in Mawaru Penguindrum: the elevator and the apple.

The elevator I’m referring to is the one that Tabuki takes Ringo and Himari on in episode 17. Tabuki’s purpose is similar to the vast majority of characters who rode the elevator in Revolutionary Girl Utena: revenge. In Revolutionary Girl Utena, characters ride the elevator to seek out the power to bring world revolution, only to have their own world “revolutionized” in the end. Tabuki was also “revolutionized” and realized the destination of his fate, returning to the elevator without accomplishing his original goals. Revolutionary Girl Utena references like this are littered throughout the series, making it a must-see before watching Mawaru Penguindrum.

One of the elevators in Revolutionary Girl Utena

If a certain holy book is to be believed, the apple represents knowledge and sin. With that in mind, all you have to do is look at who has an apple, and more importantly, figure out who has eaten one. Of course, this is not something that just comes to you; a bit of attention must be paid towards the actions of each character to figure out who the sinner(s) is/are. With that out of the way, all you really need to do next is wait for the punishment.

To anyone who is still lost after watching Revolutionary Girl Utena, I also recommend you read up on tragic heroes in Greek literature (Oedipus Rex is a good choice), the story of Adam and Eve, the Greek Fates, and the river Styx to gain a basic understanding of the references in Mawaru Penguindrum.

Enough literary babble though, I’m sure some of you are wondering about other things such as the animation quality. For the most part, the animation was good. A few poorly drawn faces made their way into the mix, but were barely noticeable. The bright colours and dark scenes really helped to bring out the drama in the story.

The music was surprisingly catchy without sounding too much like bubblegum pop. The different versions of the ending song and the number of different ending songs was also impressive, encouraging me to watch the credits all the way until the end. That proved to be a good thing in one episode where an important scene played out after the ending.

Mawaru Penguindrum is one of the best anime that I have seen. The complexity of the story and mix of humour are a good blend for anyone who likes deep stories but also enjoy elements that make up simpler anime. I recommend this series as an anime that every fan should at least give a try.


For more information on how Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum are related, read my article on the similarities between the two. You can also check out my review of Revolutionary Girl Utena if you are interested in the anime but haven’t seen it.

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18 Comments to “Mawaru Penguindrum Review”

  1. Penguindrum was such an enjoyable series…but I feel like a re-watch is in order for me to see whether or not I fully appreciated the wild ride I was on for…25 weeks (I believe one week there was a break)
    Justin recently posted..Thursday Lab Report #16: ANN’s Answerman Brian Hanson

  2. Mawaru Penguindrum…it’s rather unique in its own way. Bright colors, dark stories, heavy on symbolisms and many more. After watching the last episodes and then recall back the earlies ones…whoa…Penguindrum has come a long way. But the transition from crazy Ringo days to crazy Yuri/Masako days to sad Takakura days was done smoothly that I hadn’t notice the change until I start recalling how has the series progressed since day one.

    I didn’t realize the elevator in that episode meant anything. Haha. I have not watch Revolutionary Girl Utena. Maybe I’ll pick it up some day.
    Hoshiko recently posted..What I Relate To In Tamayura Hitotose

    • It’s hard to imagine that the series progressed from stalker Ringo to what happened in the last episode so smoothly. I think the stalking stopped once Ringo realized her own feelings.

  3. I don’t like the word “fate.”

    Not because of the concept it represents, but because of the word itself. Because when I hear that word, it’s almost never clear what concept it’s being used to represent. Is it a force? Is it an intelligence? Is it just a word for the outcome that happens to come true? And how can a “fate” be known in the absence of “conventional” information sources?

    I’m not especially concerned with the symbolism and allegory and subtext of Mawaru Penguindrum. That can wait. I’m more concerned about the text. Now, not all questions need to be answered. Groundhog Day, in my judgment, doesn’t suffer from the lack of a known cause for its time loop. Same for Princess Tutu and Drosselmeyer’s powers. But some works do suffer from having unanswered questions. (And that means Watsonian answers, not answers such as “because I really wanted to have a cute girl turned into a car.”) I don’t know what makes a question one kind or another, but I think Mawaru Penguindrum had an unfortunate number of the latter.

    What exactly is “fate”? Why does it have a train? If somebody is “meant” to do something, who or what means them to do it? How can children be forced to suffer as “punishment” for the crimes of dead parents? Why penguins? (Did Momoka just like penguins? That might explain so many company names and such being penguin-themed.) Why bears? Why bunnies? Why apples? Where did the diary come from, and how did Momoka, no more than nine years old, come to possess it and learn its secrets? Why are wounds the price for using it? Given the finale’s events, why does Yuri remember her father and how did Momoka survive her own fate changes? What is or was Momoka, beyond Ringo’s older sister? What exactly was the penguin hat’s small-S strategy? Why did it want the diary? How did its pocket universe come to be formed, and why does it have the appearance it does? Why did the Penguindrum have that name, and why did the hat send Kanba and Shouma out to get it and imply it was the diary? What were the penguin familiars actually for, beyond serving as comic mirrors to their masters? What did Sanetoshi need Kanba for? Is the Child Broiler an actual, physical building with an actual, physical location? If so, when and by whom was it built? What about the library Himari found under the aquarium and its entrance? Why does Masako have the authority she does? (I don’t care how her memory slingshot works, beyond “just fine, thanks.”) How did Kenzan die? If it was murder, who did it and why?

    I’m perfectly happy with fans having to fill in some blanks. That’s what fans do. But Mawaru Penguindrum doesn’t even give enough information and structure to do that. Maybe Ikuhara was out of practice and/or unused to having to compress a story into 24 episodes. Maybe ancillary material will shed some light. But what I most fear, from his reputation, is that even he doesn’t know, that he deliberately refused not only to write something that made sense to him, but to write something that allowed any explanation at all — that Mawaru Penguindrum is in fact nonsense.

    Here’s hoping some useful information is pieced together in the coming months by fans.

    (Disclaimer: I’m only five episodes into Utena. Avoiding spoilers as best as I can.)

    • You raise some very good points, and the questions you ask are what I’m seeing all over the internet right now. I don’t have the answers to all of them, but I think I can explain some of them.

      Having an explanation of the series in a review would be taboo (due to spoilers), so I’m writing a new post with the conclusions I came up with. Hopefully I can have it up by Christmas and help answer some of your questions.

    • > Why does Masako have the authority she does?

      Er… wasn’t that explain quite clearly? She was the granddaughter of a rich man, and inherited when the grandfather died both because her father had been disowned for being a terrorist (becoming the Takakura’s father) and died in the original incident. Wealth = authority.

  4. The show took me on a long and quite interesting journey with all the different topics which were placed into the story. From hilarious comedy to deep drama, nearly everything was in Mawaru Penguindrum.
    I really liked that nearly all the characters were fleshed very well and went through some development.

    It was also a very creative visual experience for me, one of the most play and colorful anime out there.

    I guess there were a few things I couldn’t understand (Im not sure if the writer of the story could :p), but nevertheless the whole story was understandable and enjoyable. It was not my favorite kind of end, but it was a good conclusion.

    merry christmas ^-^
    Wieselhead recently posted..Aizawa Nao by Orchid Seed (nsfw)

    • I know, the ending was kinda bitter-sweet. Considering how Greek tragedies usually turn out though, it’s the best we could hope for besides a happy ending.

  5. Mawaru Penguindrum was definitely a charming series, but I really didn’t like how it left everything to the “viewer imagination”, but well we’re talking about Ikuhara…:P
    feal87 recently posted..Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai – Yozora is lovely! Second Season?!

  6. What I enjoyed with this whole Penguindrum experience is how it made us think and speculate. This show did a great job engaging us with its characters and animation. However, looking back as a whole, the questions that this show generated are more than the answers that it provided–with that, I have mixed emotions.

    But, overall I truly enjoyed Mawaru Penguindrum. The final episode is well constructed and heartwarming. Plus indeed, this show did a fabulous job with its music and designs.
    SnippetTee recently posted..12th Day of Anime: Finding a Timeless Favourite

    • Making the audience use their imagination almost guarantees that you’re going to get a discussion going around a story. The music and designs also added to the imagination, which was a great decision.

  7. That series was WOW.

    I didn’t expect it to end like this. Last episode I thought the best solution would be to let Himari finally sleep in since she already accepted her fate.

    The boys. They died for love. A promise made when sharing the apple of fate ;__;
    I’m satisfied with how it turned out, it’s bittersweet. At least Shouma and Kanba are together, and the penguins too.
    Fabrice recently posted..Merry Christmas!

    • I wasn’t expecting it to end that way either. It wasn’t until the last scene that everything finally clicked for me, but it was still an entertaining series.

  8. First of all,excuse my poor english …after reading some of the théories on this site, there’s something that have been bothering me. In the story of adam and eve, ..i always thought that the apple was a symbol for sex, and, as the story was going, espacialy about the M project, the maternity project. A lot of symbols are used in this anime to représent actual actions, like the child broyer (we dont actuly see childrens beind killed) it is like it didin’t hapened, like those childrens didin’t existed, like it is for other persons in the anime …am i imagining things or the only place where humans are humans and not stikmans is in the train??? going back to the maternity project … it seemed rather important and wasn’t just ringo’s crazyness for other characters mentioning it.

    • I haven’t heard of the apple in the book of genesis being a symbol for sex, but then again I’m not a christian. I don’t have all of the answers, but the way I see it, everything that happened was in a sort of parallel dimension where the brothers were trying to help finish Ringo’s spell and cast away the doctor. Once he was gone, the world returned to normal.


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