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Mawaru Penguindrum Collection 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read
Mawaru Penguindrum
Mawaru Penguindrum

When the younger sister dies, the older brothers find themselves with a surreal situation.

What They Say:
Once you make a decision, does the universe conspire to make it happen? Is destiny a matter of chance, a matter of choice, or the complex outcome of thousands of warring strands of fate? All twins Kanba and Shouma know is that when their terminally ill sister Himari collapses at the aquarium, her death is somehow temporarily reversed by the penguin hat that she had asked for. It’s a provisional resurrection, however, and it comes at a price: to keep Himari alive they need to find the mysterious Penguin Drum.

In order to do that, they must first find the links to a complex interlocking chain of riddles that has wrapped around their entire existence, and unravel the knots that tie them to mystifying diary and a baffling string of strangers and semi-acquaintances who all have their own secrets, agendas, and “survival strategies.” And in order for Himari to live, someone else’s chosen destiny will have to change.

Contains episodes 1-12.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is straightforward but well handled as we get the original Japanese in stereo along with a new English language adaptation in the same format, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show has a pretty good mix here as it works the forward soundstage with a really engaging bit of background sounds at times, between the trains and the other more subtle moments throughout. But it also goes big regularly within the show, such as the whole “survival tactic” aspect with all its flashy transformational material. The majority of the show is essentially dialogue driven though with just the characters going about their lives and that’s done quite well. It may not stand out often in that regard, but it works the placement properly, hits up some really nicely done depth at times and in general conveys the warmth that it should, especially when it comes to the music aspects of it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes in this collection are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. The series, animated by Brains Base, is certainly colorful, vibrant and hugely appealing with what it brings to the screen. Nothing was scrimped on here and the overall quality of the animation really does shine, enough so that you can easily forgive the reused transformation sequences that are reworked into most of the episodes. Everything just leaps off of the screen and the transfer captures it very well, with rich colors and very solid backgrounds. The dark colors hold up quite well with no noticeable grain issues or macroblocking and other usual problems are pretty much absent here, leaving us a clean and very appealing looking series.

The packaging for this release comes in a standard single sized Blu-ray case that holds both discs against the interior walls. The front cover is certainly appealing as we get Himari in her transformation outfit with a bit of just creepy enough sexuality to it. It’s filled with plenty of girly colors but it works well in creating a distinct look to it with the darker character costume artwork. The obvious plug towards the Utena aspect is made and certainly not a surprise while the logo is very simple, just going for the Penguindrum aspect itself. The back cover is fairly traditional with some nice character artwork to the right, a slightly dense concept summary to the left and a number of small but colorful shots from the show. The release has its extras labeled clearly as well as the number of discs and episodes. Production credits are very easy to read, being black on white, while the technical grid lays it all out clearly in a standardized format that works well. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for the show is decent but unexceptional overall, especially considering some of the thematic avenues that could have been explored. The two discs have different background stills that are used, the first being the exterior of the family house while the second has an interior shot, and both of them are certainly colorful and detailed while showing just where it is the main characters live. The left side has the navigation strip which runs top to bottom with episode name and number selections as well as submenus for language and extras where needed. It plays up the railway aspect in the slightest of ways when it could have done a lot more. The layout is easy to navigate and there are no problems moving around in it. The disc defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles instead of reading any player language presets.

The extras for this release are included on the second volume where we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequence as well as a brief section for the original Japanese promo videos.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original series from Kunihiko Ikuhara and Takayo Ikami, Mawaru Penguindrum is a twenty-four episode show animated by Brain’s Base that ran in the summer and fall of 2011. The show garnered a whole lot of attention during the lead-up to and through its broadcast in Japan since Ikuhara has a significant following after his work on both Sailor Moon and more notably with Revolutionary Girl Utena. With him doing very little overall in the years since that beyond some manga work and a bit of storyboarding, his return to the full world of anime in big way was certainly worth celebrating. With this collection, we get the first half of the series and you can easily see some of the familiar themes and quirks that Ikuhara ran with in Utenal.

The show takes place in the present day and introduces us to the Takakura family which is made up of the eldest brother Kanba, a younger brother Shoma and a much younger sister Himari. The trio leave in a fairly ramshackle little place in the city and Kanba is the breadwinner while Shoma is a student. Himari, unfortunately, has a name incurable disease and has only so long to live. In a way, she’s already on borrowed time as she’s lived longer than expected, but the situation is generally dire and the brothers are intent on just making sure she enjoys every day. Their focus is on her, making sure she has what she wants and taking her to the place she wants to go when she’s up to it. Luckily, Himari is pretty simple in her desires and just wants to be with her family. And sometimes go to the aquarium where she can see the penguins.

Where things go south is very early on as while at a special aquarium visit, Himari’s time is up and she ends up dead. Thud. Dead. What surprises everyone though, including the doctors after she’s examined, is that she pops back to life. Albeit it only seems to happen after Shoma puts a penguin hat from the aquarium on her head. Himari doesn’t need to keep it on, but the instance has certainly changed things. Where it goes off the rails though is later on though is when, while wearing the hat, Himari takes on a different personality and a huge transformation sequence. It’s here that we learn that the hat has given her life in exchange for a mission to be performed by the brothers. In a surreal bit of space where she abuses them, but the core idea is laid clear – they must find the penguindrum. Not that she knows what it is really, or conveys it to them, but she makes it clear that they must get the diary that a girl named Ringo has.

The show shifts easily into this kind of quasi-stalking angle as the brothers start to figure out what’s going on with Ringo, who is the same age as Himari and eventually becomes friends with her. The set spends a large deal of time on Ringo as the two start to try and understand what it is about the diary that’s special and what Ringo is doing with it. Ringo’s story is actually interesting as it unfolds and has stronger ties to the Takakura family towards the end of the set that reveals a lot of intriguing connections. Her life is certainly not an easy one, but it’s also one that she brings a lot of it on herself. The crux of it is that she uses the diary to plan out how to win over an older man with an elaborate plan. Mr. Tabuki, a teacher that Shoma knows, is the object of her affections and she does her best to insert herself into his life, even as he’s known her for years and treats her like a little sister. And as his own life is changing with the more adult relationships that exist in his world that Ringo can’t quite grasp, being the age she is. Shoma ends up getting heavily involved with her for a number of reasons and it draws the two of them closer, though she’s hugely intent on Tabuki for so much of it that it goes beyond obsessive and into something quite frightening at times.

The opening set here doesn’t really explain what the penguindrum is but it spends its time giving us some really interesting characters that are circling each other in different ways. While Shoma and Ringo dominate, Kanba has a subplot that’s expanded upon slowly and looks to figure into things more in the second set, though it has some key moments here and there. There’s a growing interconnectedness to events that does happen here, but it takes awhile to get there. The main focus is on the surreal nature of things at times as well as delving more and more into the Takakura family situation, which isn’t just laced with tragedy but is pretty much overflowing with it. It all has a point, and circular though it may be to get there, it’s certainly an interesting journey.

In Summary:
Penguindrum is not a show I managed to see before since it was never simulcast and I kept myself away from knowing as much about it as I could. Going into it, you can easily see the influences of Ikuhara’s past work but it doesn’t dominate it. But you also can’t not notice it, which is unfortunate at times. The story that’s slowly explored here has a whole lot of potential to it and it does some intriguing things along the way. The foundation it lays asks a lot of questions but doesn’t answer too many, but does know what it has to answer and tease and what to build on. The last couple of episodes go really far with things but it couldn’t do it without the build-up that’s used prior to that. The set definitely leaves me wanting to know more and see where else it will go.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Promos, Sponsor Bumpers, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 31st, 2012
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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