Thu 24 Nov 2011
If you’ve been following anime to any degree the last few months, you know about Mawaru Penguindrum, the show by Brains Base that everyone is praising. Praising it for being super deep, loaded with symbolism, and telling a gripping story that keeps you at the edge of my seat. Yeah, yeah, the show is fine. There has been more than one instance where I honestly could not leave my seat during a scene or I could not wait for next week’s episode. Penguindrum does lots of things right, and it does them quite often, but the problem is the big picture.
I believe I have been very patient with Marawu Penguindrum. For the first half of the show, I have again and again claimed that “now the plot is start to kick in”. First on episode 3, then episode 4, then episode 8. I think there are people who are still saying that after the most recent episode. Penguindrum is addicting because there’s a new , well-executed plot twist every handful of episodes, and there’s that “omg what???” factor that draws us in. But this creates an incredibly convoluted storyline. In Ikuhara’s effort to bring intricacy and depth to the plot, I think he created something far more complex than it needs to be. You can tell that plot twists are starting to become more and more bizzare — from the first one, when we find out that Ringo is an obsessive stalker, to the most recent one, where we see that Tabuki is a broken and twisted sociopath that sought to avenge Momoka all this time. It’s not what good storytelling is about, it’s spanking a mule every few minutes so that it doesn’t stop walking. What should it do, then? How does it tell its story while keeping the plot comprehensive to viewers? I don’t know, I’m not the paid writer on the staff. (There are going to be spoilers after this break)
And don’t tell me that I’m just not cultured enough to appreciate this show; no anime should ever be written to be accessible only to Ph.D. holders from the University of Douchebag. A good show scales itself to work on multiple levels. Look at Madoka or Cowboy Bebop, they are functional in the highest levels of literary dissection, but they also work as simply entertaining stories. As a purely dramatic story, Penguindrum lacks that elegance. Flashbacks litter the show, and I feel that entire episodes are dedicated to grafting a “backstory” to each character. We slowly get the story of Momoka revealed to us, but the pacing just felt drawn out. The comic relief with the penguins is nice and light, but I feel like it’s so egregiously out of place during some of the more serious scenes that it exceeds the limits of juxtaposition and distracts from dialogue. Additionally, some characters (i.e. Shouma) are gratingly annoying and totally useless. Yes, I admit that I’m nitpicking pretty hard right now, but how can I not? Especially when people are dropping 10/10 reviews on MyAnimeList like roses after a performance.
There’s also loads of symbolism in the show — from subways to peaches to bullets to apples. Truly we have not been bombarded with so many motifs since The Catcher in the Rye. That’s great, and it’s always fun dissecting these things and figuring out what the director is trying to tell us. But that’s not the point of anime – a show like Penguindrum should never have to rely on puzzles and wordplay to be great. I don’t feel that the mystery surrounding the two black bunnies that accompany Sanetoshi is contributing anything to my enjoyment of the show. A subway sign comes up alerting us that a flashback sequence has started. Great, it means that the writers think we are so dumb we can’t figure it out ourselves. The most outstanding example for me was that dream Himari has in episode 9. She’s standing in a library and a secret door is a block rearranging puzzle that solves itself and opens. OH GOD WHAT DOES IT MEAN?. Is
Shinbo Ikuhara really thinking he can entertain us with garnish and decoration? The abundance of completely unnecessary details in the show really made me ask, “what’s the point?”. Oh, and the members of Double H are named Hibari Isora and Hikari Utada. Haha, that’s cute.
Don’t get me wrong, Mawaru Penguindrum is good and I like the show. Underneath the exploitative and confusing storytelling is something that is quite entertaining and commendable. I just feel that in Penguindrum‘s case, less is more.