First Impressions: Mawaru Penguindrum – Hype Can Lead to Vitriol

Oh boy. Here we go.

If there’s anything [C] has taught (or reminded) me recently is that hype is kind of scary and it can lead to inflated expectations. Inflated expectations alone aren’t frightening, but it’s when they aren’t met that leads to vitriol. I loved Utena and I still adore it, it’s one of my top 10 anime. That’s why I was very excited for Mawaru. I think most people who’ve seen Utena and/or Sailormoon were looking forward to this, especially the Ikuhara fans.

Remember Star Driver? That had three people from the Utena team, writing, producing and directing it. And it was a fun ride, but not fun enough for me to stick with it for 26 episodes. No. Before airing, it was also hyped up a lot. Placed in a pedestal labeled something like ‘Utena’s spiritual successor’ or whatever. I think this says a lot about the current state of mind of many anime viewers: We want something as good as Utena again! That’s pretty sad.

UTEN– Oh wait, no.

Ikuhara probably doesn’t want Mawaru to be compared to his previous magnum opus but I greatly doubt that’s how most of his fans feel.

Mawaru Penguindrum could either be the biggest hit of the year or maybe not. But that won’t change the fact that currently, the expectations are high and as I mentioned earlier– the hype can either be an advantage or disadvantage.

I’m not sure what the hell the show is about aside from penguins and three siblings: Kan, Sho and Himari. Himari, the only girl suddenly dies but is revived by a penguin hat that possesses her, then some penguins arrive that only the siblings can see. Later, there’s some crazy transformation sequence and something about Survival Strategy and Kan ends up getting something ripped off his chest (could it be his *~kokoro~* desu?). After this, we find out he has incestuous feelings towards Himari and kisses her in her sleep. But this is anime, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t any incest.

It’s not anime if you don’t want to bang your sister.

It’s tearin’ up my heart when I’m with you and when we are apart I feel it tooooo~

The first episode of Mawaru Penguindrum was…okay. The visuals were out of this world, it’s extremely rich in imagery. There’s mystery that wafts over the show ominously. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the juxtaposition of colorful artwork and darker themes after all. I think it’s clear from the get go that there’s a disparity between reality and the siblings’ world. Mawaru doesn’t really give us a concrete plot, it does however attempt to console us by barraging us with bizarre events, flashy animation and unique visuals. Also, when people say it’s an amazing transformation I expect something mind blowing. I had loud pop music blasted into my ears and some elaborate strip show.

Most expensive stripper ever.

Mawaru doesn’t stop there though, I sort of decided to take down some themes Mawaru may or may not to tackle:

1. Man versus fate

2. Death and the afterlife

3. Survival Strategy – which I assume is the survival of the species by mating. I read up on penguins and I think it’s worth a mention that penguins tend to form monogamous couples for the breeding season. Ikuhara loves dabbling on sexuality so I’m convinced he has this in mind when he used penguins in the story. And then, the incest– which human society frowns upon. Unless that’s your kink, you dirty otaku!

4. Nihilism – “Those of you who won’t amount to anything, There is no god etc.”

5. The fragile state of reality – It seems that there’s  a huge gap between the siblings’ home and their surroundings. Also, the fact that other people can’t see the penguins gives me doubts on whether anything happening here is real.

I may have missed a couple but I’m sure more people will be able to spot most of what I missed. The themes are what I’m mostly interested in as the main trio is pretty dull. I’m far more interested in the side characters seen in the OP, really.

Specifically her.

And this dude. Also, that Utena-esque shadow silhouette is awesome.

None of the siblings or the penguins piqued my curiosity. And the episode seems too keen on proving that it has deeper themes, when in fact, most of the people watching this were expecting exactly that, that and fabulousness. I can imagine those unfamiliar with Ikuhara’s work could go and say: “Oh well, that was strange but at least it’s interesting” or “What is this I don’t even…”

The script isn’t very remarkable either, but this could be because of the weak voice acting and repetition of the cryptic monologues. I know mundane conversations are meant to enrich their personalities, an intimate peak into their lives. But here it’s just mostly things I don’t really care about. Like I said, maybe it isn’t the script at fault but the voice actors. Or maybe I don’t find the beauty in siblings talking about recipes.

It’s not anime if your brother isn’t riding you either. This guy is living the life!

So in the end, I’m more invested in the themes and imagery than anything else. I need something to take [C]’s place anyway in terms of a show I can take apart and scrutinize. I already have a couple of theories but I don’t know, I don’t feel like posting them without seeing more episodes.

This is only the first episode though, hopefully it’ll pick from here and improve. There’s a lot of potential in Mawaru Penguindrum whether or not it lives up to the hype is something we’ll have to wait and see.


12 thoughts on “First Impressions: Mawaru Penguindrum – Hype Can Lead to Vitriol

  1. no fun

    I didn’t know about the Utena connection when I downloaded it; so I watched it for few minutes but it bored me and I deleted it. (´・ω・`) Maybe I’ll wait until it’s over and then decide whether or not to watch.

    1. Mira Post author

      I’ll watch…or at least try to watch it for you. This is my punishment. I hate the word ‘fate’.

      Anyway, I think it’s good you didn’t know the Utena connection before watching it, that way you can give it a better evaluation. Of course, I don’t know what bores you. But I have an anime blog, I sit through borefests like Idolm@ster and Ikoku Meiro no Croisée so you don’t have to.

      1. トゥットゥル~♪

        Ikoku Meiro no Croisée actually sounds like something I might enjoy (loved Emma etc), but there is a manga so I’m gonna read it instead of watching.

        Anyway, I finished the episode (fast forward aww yisss). Colours flashing! Families incesting! It was… unremarkable.

        I don’t have any constructive criticism (I rarely do.), everything about this episode seemed incredibly forced. From the cringeful drama to explosions of whimsy I was left wishing that they would give me a reason to care whether this precious fucking child dies or not (although to the girl’s credit she is an actual child not a sugar twee monster of the Zoey Deschanel type). I might stick around for a few episodes but I don’t think I’m ever gonna finish it (24 episodes what am I made of time?). Their animation budget is gonna run out after 5 episodes anyway.

        (penguins = cute; bear robots = not so much)

  2. E Minor

    Most expensive stripper ever.

    I’ll say. You pay top money and she doesn’t even come with both eyes.

    Also, when people say it’s an amazing transformation I expect something mind blowing. I had loud pop music blasted into my ears and some elaborate strip show.

    Yeah, some blog said that this scene was the best animation they had seen all season. It’s got style, but c’mon.

    1. Mira Post author

      I’ll say. You pay top money and she doesn’t even come with both eyes.

      Glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed it. Sure is derpy in here, might as well distract people with an underage girl stripping.

      Yeah, some blog said that this scene was the best animation they had seen all season. It’s got style, but c’mon.

      Sitting through QUALITY ANIMATION in T&B and [C] has done something to these people. In your opinion though, which show has the best animation so far?

      1. E Minor

        I think Mawaru Penguindrum looks great for the most part, but certainly not for that scene in which I think the character animation lets it down. If it’s the background animation that people are raving over, most of it is CGI so I’m not going to give it much credit for that.

        Mawaru Penguindrum, like Usagi Drop, excels when it comes to filling in the details in the anime’s static backgrounds.

        I think Kamisama no Memo-chou is also up there for all around animation quality.

        Weird CLAMP-y designs aside, the character animation in Blood-C’s fight scene is one of the most aesthetically pleasing things I’ve seen thus far in the young summer season, if not the most.

        Uh, I might be missing a show or two, but those are the notable examples off the top of my head.

        1. Mira Post author

          I do like the background art for Mawaru, it’s very surreal and fun but yeah, most of it is CGI. The character animation have shining moments that would make [C] proud.

          I haven’t seen the second part of Kamisama no Memo-chou because the first one bored the fuck out of me but there was a lot of pretty things to look at and some scenes were very well drawn.

          Yeah, I have yet to see something as remarkable as that fight scene. Watching it in HQ made me appreciate Blood-C in general really. Also, that OP was pretty damn good.

          I’d like to see Dantalian no Shoka next week, it looks promising on the animation department too.

          1. E Minor

            Dantalian no Shoka, huh? On the one hand, it’s GAINAX so the animation will probably be above average if not great. On the other hand, not another show with a precocious midget girl.

  3. Sapphire Pyro

    I don’t think there had been much hype on [C]… but I agree to the expectations.

    Oh yeah, who did you quote on the themes? They seem so spot on… totally didn’t think the survival strategy to be related to penguins O_O

    1. Mira Post author

      I think the hype was mainly from Mononoke and Kenji Nakamura fans like myself. 😉

      The themes were something I wrote myself. I know I missed some and it’s only the first episode but I might as well assume there’s more because this is Ikuhara after all. XD

  4. Rita

    I for one don’t feel it’s overhyped at all. Penguindrum is honestly the highlight of my Fridays. Each episode is more entertaining than the last IMO.


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