This review contains spoilers.
Anime Name: Mawaru Penguindrum
Genre: slice-of-life, drama, psychological, comedy
RNR: 10/10 – MASTERPIECE
Mawaru Penguindrum is a really strange anime: I followed the introduction and thought it was some generalistic anime which uses hard concepts for the sake of a bland story. I was totally wrong.
On the contrary, this is not an anime built to make you involved in the shortest lapse, nor the one that want to make things clear to understand. It’s hard to unravel, and has a lot of undertwining topics and related messages. I expected much more lighter content, and was disappointed at the beginning: it seemed to be going to nowhere.
It even has elements of distraction (yes, I’m talking about the three penguins, mostly), which I initially found annoying. Now I can see the reason why they are there, and, at a second rewatch, they seemed perfect.
In the end, I think the anime deserves a third rewatch to be completely understood. It has great characters, an incredible plot, and gives great insight to many relationships-related problems. It requires some attention (and patience) to begin receiving those messages, though, and, as such, it’s not “user-friendly”. When you grasp this, you understand why it was done this way. Each piece found its place and nothing seems useless anymore.
Destiny, penguins and robo-bears. Of course. …wait, WHAT?!
The anime begins with a short monologue on destiny. The voice says that he hates it, because if everything is already decided, what is the meaning of our life? I found this introduction bland and boring, but I kept going.
After a while, I was seeing three penguins with three characters doing random things. I was lost. Why are there three penguins, from the start? And, how can this relate to the destiny speech?
Then, you are served with the story of a young girl that loses consciousness, and then life, and of a hat which revives her in the form of an alien, teleporting the other two main characters in a world in which there are two giant robo-bears, all along a complete transformation scene, which was started by saing “Survival strategy!”.
Okay, so, this is the point in which I just could have closed the window and passed to other things. For some reason, though, I stayed. I was lucky.
I’m going to give a brief defense explanation for the three elements.
- Destiny speech: yeah, the speech is bland. I didn’t change my mind. The destiny theme development throughout the series is, though, surprisingly good! The speech is also functional to the character. If you take those words as the ones of a young boy that talks a bit of nonsense about destiny, you’re good, even if you’re a great fan of destiny, like me (and Ringo, see below).
- Penguins: I hated penguins for at least five episode. I think even ten. You get accustomed to them with some time. The fact is, penguins have a meaning. No, not for the plot, but for the genre of the anime: they’re there to make sad moments less sad. They are a softener. I always complained when they overlapped with important dialogues and dramatic scenes. Well, if you see them as a “canvas” and still focus on those dialogues, they should stop being a nuissance. You even get to understand that they’re not hurting your view. If you’re lucky, you get to like them.
An explanation to their behaviour (which is kind of unneded, as they are aesthetics, “canvas”, things that shouldn’t be at the centre of your attention), they somewhat represent godly-like beings themselves, so they’re not involved in human problems. It makes sense. They are like an added layer.
- Robo-bears: well, about that, there is actually a reason: black robo-bears are used by the organisation (see below) for their attacks. It may be a representation of those bears by Himari’s unconscious. I think they’re also there for aesthetic reasons, and as a distractor.
There are lots of strange aestethic choices in this anime, which someone would call “style”. The penguins is its “watermark” (almost literally); there are also Himari’s transformation, robo-bears, paper-people and Ringo’s paper-scenes.
- Paper-people: another element that makes you feel strange: all the non-relevant characters are moving paper shapes. I’ve wondered is a workaround to make things easier for drawing. Well, it may be, but it’s an interesting element. I think this is a way to help you concentrate on the key characters, while making some irony. Irony is the keyword. There is irony everywhere. Even in the depiction of irrelevant characters.
- Paper-scenes: yeah, those are fairly strange. There is an episode in which Ringo imagines things, and in her imagination everything is a theatre of paper characters. I found this funny, and it is even more if you get to know Ringo. Don’t you agree?
Whether or not, let’s keep on and get to the first main theme of the anime: family!
The Family theme
Himari: “We’re so happy, aren’t we?”
Kanba: “Yes, you’re right… there is you, Himari, there is Shouma, and we have a home: this is what is called happiness“
I loved this dialogue. It’s simple, heart-felt, and brings one of the themes of this story. As you know, Himari, Kanba and Sho are three of the four main characters of the story. They’re a family, and you can feel it easily from the beginning. The story starts when the peace of this family is threatened by Himari’s risk of losing her life. And it works wonderfully.
The three boys are always supportive and sweet to each other. Himari keep them tightly together throughout the entire story: she prepares curry, rocket rolls and sweaters for the two, showing her deep, unconditioned affection. Sho and Kan are also always kind to their sister. Their home was painted as she dreamt by the two, and is a reassuring place to get back to when things get rough. The anime is able to convey this “hearth” feeling, and this makes the Takakuras hard to be irrelevant characters for the spectator (and, well yeah, I love them all, and totally empathise with Sho).
At a certain point, Shouma, Kanba, Himari and Ringo find themself having meals together. This suggest an idea of broadened family. It is not casual: those are the four main character of the anime. Also, the strongest bond between living characters are the one between Shouma and Ringo, and the one between Kanba and Himari.
Himari is the center of the Takakura relations. She’s kind to every element of the family, and everyone is kind to her. Ringo even highlights this when talking to Shouma about the importance of their relation. Himari is pure, everything she does is for the sake of other people joy, or for the sake of peace and happiness.
Kanba is much different in background to Himari: he’s both “the father” and “the outcast“. He loves Himari, both feeling affection (as a brother) and attraction (as a lover). He accepts immorality (which is symbolised by his relation with the organisation’s men) but also sacrifice (by giving part of his life-span to keep Himari alive). He’s a complex and controversial character, moved by love and instinct. He accepts help from the “good side” (the Hat / Momoka) and the “bad side” (Sanetoshi).
On the contrary, Shouma is a good character. His destiny is the one of a good boy until the end, where he decides to accept sacrifice for love, sharing his brother’s destiny. He his more “normal“, less “heroic” than Kanba, he has his fears and doubts and tries to do his best where he can. As such, he may be the real “protagonist” of the story, the one in which it’s easier to empathise.
Lastly, Ringo is strong-willed, even shady at the beginning. She is carried away by her “mission”, her desires are twisted by the shadow of responsibility to make up for Momoka’s lack in his family. As this shadow is cast away by Shouma’s presence, she becomes a fair character, ready to help the Takakuras and even to sacrifice herself to save Himari. She’s always led by passion and trust in his doing, but also knows what self-doubt mean.
There’s an important note on their dreams too:
- Kanba wants Himari’s safety, and her love;
- Ringo leaves her fake dream to be like Momoka for the one of having Shouma by her side;
- Shouma wants peace, and also slowly understands that he loves Ringo;
- Himari wants peace too, and also slowly understands her bonds with both of the brothers.
It’s easy to find two “male”, “dream-chaser” characters, Kanba and Ringo, and two “female”, “dream-like” characters, Shouma and Himari. Kanba is running after Himari from the start, while Ringo is running after Shouma after a short while. This brings the plot forward from the first part of the anime, and intertwines with the Momoka matter in the second part.
There’s a catch: the Takakura brothers are addressed as “you that won’t have anything from life”: this turns to be a prophecy in the end, as their dreams are sacrificed and realised at the same time. We’ll talk about this in the last chapter of this review.
Anyways, these relations make Himari’s safeness one of the keys of the story, while the relation between Shouma and Ringo naturally develop because of Himari’s need.
Himari had a dream too: to become an idol, and, in particular, one of the “Triple H” group. The group was never formed (the two remaining girls get famous as the “Double H”), as Himari soon gets ill and cannot keep on going to school (and do any other activity, it seems), so she gives up and accepts the loss. This dream is, though, what brings her to get to know Sanetoshi in the oniric library. Sanetoshi is, indeed, a demon, and relies on the character dreams. He even tries to kiss Himari, as she’s one with Momoka when she has the Hat on.
Himari, though, rejects Sanetoshi, and seems to reject even her dream. She never asks for it, never works to make it happen again, even after she’s finally out of the curse that makes her ill. Maybe she is too altruistic to focus on that. I find it sad, as many other things that concern the end.
Ringo Oginome is the fourth and last main character of the story, and is introduced by a speech which is Sho’s one, mirrored: she says she loves the word “destiny”, and thinks that everything happens for a reason.
Do you remember when I said that Sho’s speech was good to define the character? Now you can see why: this mirroring is key for the story, and is the coin flipped to describe the theme of destiny.
In Mawaru Penguindrum destiny is perfectly neutral, and incredibly relevant at the same time. There are at least three “paranormal” elements that can influence destiny. The fact is, a positive change always causes a negative change. Balance is actually maintained until the end. Let’s have a closer look on the paranormal elements of the anime:
- Momoka’s Diary: magical artifact that can make the “change of destiny”: the users pays a price on his/her body, and the destiny of someone is changed. The modification changes everybody’s memories, apart from the ones of the holder.
- The Black Penguin Hats: the artifact is able to keep Himari alive, by taking Kanba life in exchange (survival strategy). It contains Momoka’s will (and soul?)
- Sanetoshi’s medicine: Sanetoshi seems to have a magic medicine that helps Himari stay alive. It seems to be connected to the shady organisation led by Takakura’s father. In reality, Sanetoshi is a demon and seem to be able to defy the neutral destiny rules (e.g. for Masako resurrection).
- The Penguindrum: it is an apple, the “fruit of destiny”. The apple is able to save one person from destiny’s punishment. The apple doesn’t work if it’s split, though. The Penguindrum must be rebuilt to work.
While Momoka’s Diary exists from the beginning to the end of the story, the other two elements are relevant for the first and last half, respectively, while the real Penguindrum is discovered at the end (the brothers initially think that the Diary is the Penguindrum).
Those element help the anime to keep its appeal and to move the story forward. Being Momoka’s sister, Ringo is tied to the diary, and tries to realise what she reads in it. She’s like a guardian of the magical item. The diary is what makes the Takakuras meet Ringo. It’s the mean by which Sho and Ringo find their deep bond, and Ringo is brought aboard to be one of the main characters.
When the diary is torn in two parts by Kan’s sister, then stolen by Yuri, the story is brought onto those characters. The items help keeping the camera on the relevant elements all the time.
Himari’s safeness is the final objective of the story, and one of the two cornerstones of the story. This objective requires the “Penguindrum”, which is an unknown element, which is uncovered in the second half and is, basically, Kanba’s life. Kanba also pays the entire amount required to keep Himari alive until that moment. The first half is paid with his life-span, the second half with his “morality”.
The Penguindrum‘s nature is understood only at the end of the story, the Diary is thought to be the Penguindrum instead. See last chapter for details on how it probably works.
Momoka’s Diary is, though, not in Kanba’s hands. This means that Himari must be kept alive until this happens. This is done by the two magical items mentioned above: The Black Penguin’s Hat and Sanetoshi’s medicine.
The Hat asks for Kanba’s life-span, in exchange for Himari’s.
Sanetoshi asks for plenty of money in exchange for his medicine, which Kanba get from his father’s organisation (making him collaborate with the organisation is his aim). This means that the Hat is truly neutral, while Sanetoshi is like a demon: he can help someone without bonds but is interested to his own return.
Momoka, Center of the Worlds
Momoka is the other cornerstone. She has lost her life while trying to stop the organisation attack, which was led by Sanetoshi. While she manages to ban Sanetoshi from the world, he manages to curse her, so she is bound to the Hats and Sanetoshi is transformed into a phantom curse.
Let’s imagine that Momoka was still alive, and Ringo and Sho were friends. Momoka would have discovered Himari’s bad destiny and changed it. End of the story.
Momoka is, though, lacking. This is because of the organisation – hence Takakura’s faults, so her lack is tied to her family.
Many people must endure her lack. Let’s see who:
- Ringo wants to be Momoka to make her family whole again. She want to be Tabuki’s spouse to fulfil this mission, which she calls “Project M”.
- Tabuki wants Momoka back, as he loved her. For this reason, he threatens Kanba and seeks revenge.
- Yuri also wants Momoka back, as she loved her too. This is the reason why she chooses to marry Tabuki, and tries to steal the diary from Ringo, to be able to make the Change of Destiny and bring her back.
- Sanetoshi, who is actually a magical being – defining himself “a wizard”, loves Momoka (yes, him too), because she’s the only one that sees the world with the same eyes.
So, well, there are lots of characters that want Momoka back, as they’re deeply tied to her. The problem is, their desire is impossible and usually led by fear or the unconscious.
Ringo’s desire of forced love is obviously twisted: it is impossible and excruciating to be another person. This also leads to her stalking Tabuki (also obviously wrong), to the point that she drugs him and tries to act like Yuri to trick him. She’s a sweet, sweet girl, but she feels bad for her family, which was shattered by Momoka’s disappeareance, and tries to do anything she can to change that. She feels like it’s her mission, even if she is partially aware of the heavy load and bad consequences of such choices. Shouma manages to carry her away from that desire, as she gets acquainted with true love.
Tabuki’s desire of revenge nearly brings him to self-destruction. He’s saved by Kanba, who protects his sister with all his might, without compromise, reminding him of Momoka.
Yuri’s desire of bringing her back makes her convince Tabuki to marry her and fight the same battle. Her desire won’t, though, never be realised. Their marriage also comes to an end. This failure brings Yuri to try and compensate through alluring Ringo to an hotel, as a replacement for Momoka. This fails because she is attacked by Kanba’s sister, who wants Momoka’s diary. My thought is that she wouldn’t do anything really bad at the end, even if left unchecked, though.
Sanetoshi’s desire to be with her is simply impossible: he’s like a demon, she’s like an angel. They walk similar paths but have mirrored goals. He’s aware of that, and actually opposes her will.
To everyone, Momoka means “hope”: everyone strives to have her back, as they cannot live without hope. This is true also for Ringo, but her “hope” is the hope of her family.
If you design a graph of relations between Mawaru Penguindrum characters (I think I will, someday), Momoka is at the centre. She is also the means by which many relations are formed. Instances are: Momoka x Tabuki, Ringo x Tabuki, Tabuki x Momoka, Yuri x Tabuki, Yuri x Momoka, Yuri x Ringo.
A brief note on curry: Momoka’s family prepares curry the on Momoka’s birthday. Curry is another interesting element introduced by Ringo, which represents familiar relations.
The Diary’s strife
The contention generated by the diary, which is divided in two parts when Yuri tries to steal it, sees three parts:
- Shouma and Kanba, who need it to save Himari
- Yuri and Tabuki, who need it to bring back Momoka
- Masako, who need it to save Mario.
Masako (Kanba’s blood sister) gets the diary from Ringo through keeping Shouma as hostage.
The three parties want all want to save someone through the use of the “Change of Destiny”, but until the two parts of the diary are not got together, this won’t happen. Shouma and Kanba couldn’t use it before because Ringo kept it away from them, so they have to fight the battle.
The moment in which the diary is torn in two parts is also the moment in which the story focuses on Yuri & Tabuki and Masako backgrounds.
The Natsume Family
I think this is the weakest background of the anime. Masako is the grand-daughter of a financial lord, who dies because he eats badly-cut ball fish. Her father, who fled from home due to his grandfather oppressive authority entrusted her with the duty to guard her brother Mario. She fights for the diary to gain the possibility to save Mario. Mario is, though, not a relevant character. He is always in the background. Hence, it is difficult to empathise with Masako.
It seems Masako has a strong interest in Kanba, who is also her blood brother. She kisses him, one time, and is desperate for his attention, which never receives until the end.
Yuri Tokikago & Keiju Tabuki
These, instead, work both wonderfully for the story.
Yuri Tokikago as a young girl is abused by her father, a crazy artist who wants to change her, as he thinks she’s ugly. She left her without her mother (by divorcing or killing her, it is unclear), and tries to isolate her to abuse her with his chisel in his study.
At that time, Yuri meets Momoka, who says she’s beautiful and does her best to protect her. Her father tells her that she’s not worth her trust, and continues to abuse her. Momoka, though, fights him assertively by standing at Yuri’s side, and finally saves her through a Change of Destiny.
Yuri feels both affection and love for Momoka, and is a great character for this role.
Tabuki lives parental abuse too, as her mother exert pressure on him telling him she loves only children that could reach success. He tries to play the piano, but his younger brother outmatches him. Before this disparity is clear, Keiju breaks his hand to stop playing. Her mother, though, “discards” him nonetheless.
He finds himself in the metaphorical children-chopper place, in which children are made invisible. Momoka gets in and tells him that she loves his music. He says that she’s going to stop loving him, as he cannot play no more, and she answers that she loves the music of his heart.
Momoka is always so sweet and determined in what she does, that I cannot help but like her every time.
She saves Tabuki, probably making a Change of Destiny and hurting her hand too. She says “We’re the same now”.
As you already know the older version of Tabuki because of Ringo’s part of the story, you end up loving both.
Momoka’s loss is, as mentioned, translated in Tabuki’s revenge, but Kanba’s determination is what stops Tabuki from committing the crime of killing Himari. “Momoka…”, he says, noticing Kanba’s resolve. He’s saved again by her ideal, and this is, again, bittersweet and heart-warming.
The Train of Destiny
The anime last episodes undercover a whole lot of information.
First of all, it is made clear that Kanba is working with his father’s organisation. He’s gathering the money to pay Sanetoshi’s cure. The cure, is, though, a lure for Kanba: it gets weaker and weaker, and Sanetoshi tries to trick Kanba into thinking that the only way to save Himari is to help him “destroying the world”.
Kanba decides to help Sanetoshi and fights his way into this. He’s found by the police but helped by Masako, who makes him possible to flee. She’s severely injured.
Sanetoshi gives Kanba the proof that he can help Himari by bringing him to her sister’s death bed and resurrecting her.
Kanba then tricks Ringo, bringing her to the acquarium and managing to burn her part of the diary. He also had her sister part, so he burns it. Sanetoshi couldn’t touch the diary, so he reaches his aim, as he was worried he would fail because of the diary.
Kanba, Sanetoshi, Momoka, Shouma and Ringo all meet on the “train of destiny”, which is half real, half oniric place.
A brief note on the “95” number (which is recurring and present in this scene): it probably refers to 1995, year in which “Tokyo subway sarin attack” took place. I found out that this anime has been conceived in response of that event.
Sanetoshi says that all people are forced into boxes, which is their ego, and cannot reach out to each other. This is the reason why the only solution is to destroy the boxes, hence, destroy all people.
Parallel to this, Shouma remembers when he first met Kanba: they were kept prisoner, and Kanba shared an apple, the fruit of destiny, with him.
So, we know that Shouma shared his fruit with Himari, and Kanba with Shouma. This means that they are all tied by the thread of destiny.
Kanba, Shouma and Himari all meet at the oniric “Survival Strategy” place. Shouma gives his life back to Kanba, in the form of the fruit of destiny.
Ringo pronunces the diary formula, by guessing it: “Share the fruit of destiny with me”: the phrase works, and Himari is resurrected. Kanba pays the price and this breaks the curse on Himari. He says that he has found his true light. Shouma confesses his love for Ringo, and pays the price of the curse for her, enfreeing her from the fire and disappearing as his brother.
The curse is broken, as also Mario (Masako’s and Kanba’s other brother) is cured.
Shouma and Kanba seem to have been deleted by the Change of Destiny. Himari, though, finds a piece of paper inside the stuffed bear the brothers repaired for her.
The brothers are then depicted as younger, while walking down the road besides their home. They explain that the fruit of destiny (i.e. the Penguindrum) is for the ones that have decided to give up their life for love. Their dialogue is worth being quoted, as it is one of the best closing I’ve ever seen:
Kanba: “In other words, the apple is also a reward for those people that have decided by themselves to die for love”
Shouma: “Yes, but if you die everthing ends!”
Kanba: “No, it does not! Kenji means that it is from there that everything begins!
Himari: “I love the word “destiny”. I believe in this: in this world, we’re never alone.”
Himari: I won’t never forget you. Ever since… ever since… [I love you (episode title words on screen)]
This is how the anime ends. It made me cry even if it was the second rewatch. Words on the apple are also found at the beginning of the anime, so that the closing recalls opening.
After this recap (and shed tears), here are the main points for this great, wonderful ending:
- Masako finds some space, this gives a bit of background to her, and it is nice.
- Sanetoshi makes up for a great antagonist. I still love him, the “Pink Prince” is one of my favourite Mawaru Penguindrum characters.
- We have a dramatic, suffered, yet undoubtly good ending: even Kanba, which is the most “demoniac” character among the main ones, finally repents, and finds peace in a world in which nobody should suffer, by sacrificing himself, and not the world. The “sacrifice” element is essential, as it gives much strength on the themes of love, family, and the bonds of destiny.
- The post-ending words are wonderful. I love Kanba’s lines (this and the one on family in the beginning) a whole lot. The anime have my 10 out of 10 also, and especially, for this.
Reasoning on Penguindrum
Well, as the anime is all about “finding the Penguindrum”, I’d like to end this review having some thoughts on the matter! This image, whose source is unknown, wonderfully depicts what happened. I’m going to add some bullet points here!
- Kanba finds the Penguindrum in his prison-box. He’s the chosen of destiny, the one that could survive.
- Kanba shares the Penguindrum with Shouma, in an attempt to save him from starving. The Penguindrum is, though, uneffective if split, therefore no magical effect is applied (maybe the apple is useful as food, but it does not activate its magical powers).
- Shouma shares his part of the Penguindrum with Himari, when he saves her from the children-chopper. The actual object is another apple, but it is like a ritual, therefore, at this point, Kanba has 1/2 Penguindrum, Shouma has 1/4, Himari has 1/4.
- Himari is punished for her families bad acts. Mario is punished too, but it seems irrelevant here.
- Kanba gives half of his Penguindrum to Himari, and also gives his living energy through Survival Strategy, cooperating with Momoka-Hat.
- Energy is worn out, so Himari is again doomed to die.
- Sanetoshi gives the medicine to Himari, in exchange of money from Kanba. Himari’s curse is slowed.
- Shouma tells Himari to stop their relation. Himari gives him back his scarf, and his 1/4 Penguindrum (in fact, she also says “Now we’re like strangers”).
- Shouma returns his 1/2 of the Penguindrum to Kanba: this is the point in which the Penguindrum is finally “found” (as it is made whole again). Ringo makes the Change of Destiny to save Himari.
- Kanba gives the Penguindrum to Himari, vanishing the curse. Shouma takes the side effects of the Change of Destiny in Ringo’s behalf, saving her life. They both disappear due to the Change of Destiny, so Shouma kind of “doesn’t lose anything”, as he would have disappeared anyways.
- The Change of Destiny also recreates the Penguindrum, which is given to the two Takakura-boys. Or, this is what I manage to understand from the image.
About the last two points, there is much to wonder about. What I think is:
- The Penguindrum is needed to lift the Curse. Which is impossible even with resurrection.
- The Change of Destiny is needed to resurrect Himari, who is dead (or nearly dead?) at the time of the Penguindrum use (and Change of Destiny), alongside with the canceling of the organisation’s attack.
About the last point, I’m in doubt: the two boys join with the three penguins to go… where? Also, why are they so young? How can we be so sure that the Penguindrum was given back? It may have one use, and then it disappear from Time-Space.
I left it in italics, because I would like to discuss it with you all in the comments!
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Your score & comments
I close the review with a space in which you can leave a score for the anime! If you’d like to publish your own review, please tell me, I’d be happy to host it alongside this one, to see different aspects of the same work of art, which is, in my opinion, a masterpiece of its genre. If you want to simply post a comment on the anime, feel free to write below in the comments space!