Mawaru Penguin Drum 01 – Hell Yes!
July 8, 2011
My first impression of Mawaru Penguin Drum is absolute love at first site. I haven’t been happier about a first episode in years. If, somehow, the rest of the series turns out as well as this first episode, I can see it challenging Haibane Renmei for the #1 spot on my all-time favorites list of anime. Let me stress that I don’t allow shows privileged spots easily. I only have four shows on my Top Ten list of anime for a reason; excellence isn’t good enough. Can I be certain that PenguinDrum will blast past all of the legitimate masterpieces that I have refused a spot on my Top Ten list? No, not from one episode, but I am certainly looking forward to watching how it turns out to see whether it can do so in the end.
So, with all of the mystery that surrounded PenguinDrum, what is it, really? We still don’t know. Oh, we can say a lot more. Start with two brothers, and a dead sister, add in some helpful penguins… Get the idea? A dark family tragedy combined with magical comedy, or is it philosophical Science Fiction with a hint of forbidden Romance? PenguinDrum seems to re-invent itself from moment to moment. When I was in my 20s, I travelled to Venice, Italy to see Carnevale. Venice itself is a true marvel, but wandering around aimlessly during Carnevale was a surreal experience, because before turning the corner I could never know what I was about to see, even if I thought I had come this way before.
The apple is the Universe itself!
A universe in the palm of your hand.
It’s what connects this world to the other world.
The apple is also a reward for those who have chosen Love over everything else.
The Takakura family is the focus of the series, at least so far. The parents are both presumably dead (one shot of the name plate in front of their home, shows two names covered over). As one can see from the above screen shot, and the next two that follow, their home is filled with fascinating details.
Everything looks so good, it is almost difficult to talk about anything else. But there are other things to talk about, for example the fragile relationship between the brothers that (at least momentarily) crumbles when their sister, Himari, died. In fact, several times throughout the episode the brothers compete in one way or another for their sister’s praise or attention. Exactly how the brothers relate to each other, and how their relationship develops, will be interesting to watch over the course of the series.
There is a LOT of imagery related to the subway. Why? I don’t know, but there it is. The characters ride on subways, both real and metaphorical. The signs for the subways stations zip around. The title-card mimics a subway line map. At one point we see Shou’s subway pass. Finally note that in the scene, shown above, where Shou stands in front of the Shinjuku station, the “extras”, or people walking past him, are represented with graphics that are reminiscent of the AIGA pedestrian symbols, intended as international symbols to aid communication in transportation centers.
I loved this episode so much that I could go on and on, but there is one more thing I feel I must REALLY talk about.
With Kunihiko Ikuhara at the helm, there were many wondering if this could be another series as cool as Revolutionary Girl Utena. It certainly has some similar stylistic touches, and out-right references. Some themes may even be back, but this episode denied the audience a full explanation of what lies ahead of us. The Absolute Destiny, Apocalypse? A war against an unjust God? Or just a simple fairy tale?
Well, IMO, this first episode was excellent. I can’t wait to see if PenguinDrum continues to deliver on this level.
UPDATE: There has been a LOT of good commentary on the first episode. Here is one thought-provoking essay that breaks down the symbolism of this first episode.