What They Say:
As the search for the mysterious “penguin drum” continues, the twins Kanba and Shouma grow even more desperate now that their sister’s life is in ever-greater danger. The strange riddles that have given their journey so many twists and turns now reveal deadly answers. Strangers with no seeming relationship display disturbing and bizarre connections. The chaos of destiny that governs both the heavens and the earth surges with terrifying and baffling power.
Will the brothers save Himari from death’s closing grip? Or will they lose her to supernatural powers beyond their control?
Contains episodes 13-24.
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 two of the key characters here close together with a very vibrant look that will definitely evoke the Utena mindset because of the outfits and the color design. 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 that focuses on the locations from within the series, particularly the very colorful Takakura house. 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 and TV spots.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first half of Mawaru Penguindrum was something that definitely kept me engaged, though I know I was battling myself internally over the way I kept seeing various Utena style references and being distracted more by presentation than story. But as it progressed, I became more engaged with the characters themselves and what they were offering as we got more about the diary as well as the core cast of characters with Himari, Shoma, Kanba and Ringo. The expansion into others like Yuri definitely helped to showcase some of the elements that would come into it, but a lot of time was spent just getting us to know the characters themselves and their difficult backgrounds.
With the second half of the series, that foundation definitely goes a long way towards keeping things cemented, but everything else just sprawls out in its own kind of surreal way. Much time is spent with the various supporting characters that become key to events here as we get to understand their backgrounds and what’s shaped their lives. The commonality across all of them, and this in the end does include Himari, Kanba and Shoma, is that their relationships with their parents wasn’t good at all. Much of it comes across as very adversarial from the parent towards the child and it defines them in a disturbing way at times. For Yuri, it’s particularly brutal as we see a childhood where her father makes it clear she’s just as ugly as her mother and that in order for him to love her, she has to allow him to fix her. Which means a whole lot of cutting and sculpting along the way. The damage this does to her emotionally is significant and seeing how she can’t make friends explains a whole lot. When a young Momoka attempts to befriend her, quite honestly at that, Yuri can’t see it and thinks that she’s just being pitied.
It’s also through all of this that we do get a greater exploration of the diary itself and what it all means. It’s a story element that I really do like as I’ve had entire series based around it that are longtime favorites. With the idea that Momoka is able to use the diary with some keywords in order to change the time lines, to fix things as she puts it, we see that she has to pay a price to do so. And when she does these fixes, it changes things dramatically and in huge and significant ways. The world we see Yuri exist in with her father is one that paints him in a towering way. Yet when things change after Momoka pays the price, her life takes a very different tone, though that core of it is still there. To complicate things, only Momoka knows what happened prior to the change, which is a tried and true story element but it’s one that gives the character a greater role as it progresses and the mysterious Sanetoshi arrives on the scene. The two are sparring partners in a way when it comes to their goals, though they each want to achieve different things. His knowledge of what she does and his desire to see the diary destroyed so he can forge the future he wants is the main thrust, though for Momoka things become more personal.
With an exploration of the various characters like Yuri, Momoka and Masako that happens across the first half of this set, we get a lot of filling in of the blanks as to their tales and why they’re motivated as they are. With the commonality of seriously screwed up families, there’s a lot to like with how it’s all brought to bear, but it does get to be a bit too blunt at times and dominates without a lot of forward progress elsewhere. As we get these stories, Himari ends up in the hospital again where Sanetoshi nudges things in his direction and Kanba finds himself sucked into the organization that his parents did as a way to come up with money to finance Himari’s cure. What bothered me the most about the way the second half played out is that Ringo and Shoma ended up with reduced roles, though they still play critically towards the end. The two of them were my favorites from the first half and they connected in a way that left me wanting a whole lot more of them. But they’re barely supporting players for a lot of this half and that left me disappointed.
A series like Mawaru Penguindrum is filled with symbolism, overt and subtle, and a whole lot of flash and style that’s mired in substance. When events pick up towards the end of the set, it hits some hugely beautiful set pieces, fascinating animation quirks and designs with the backgrounds and the interactive elements and a feeling of something so rich and deep that you could spend weeks poring over it drawing connections and subtext that’s likely there but open to interpretation. I love series like that, but it also has to connect on the surface level. The show did that for me in the first half but it just crumbled a fair bit in the second half as I felt like you had to be thoroughly engaged in the visuals and subtext to really get the full meaning of it. The more we got towards the end, the less I felt invested in it, which is unfortunate because there’s such a richness about much of this. I suspect this is a show that may be more engaging when watched right after the first set, and one that you really want to sit down and just have a lengthy dialogue about with others to see how their experiences color it. I adore the visuals, the character designs, the animation and the core concepts. But the second half faltered along the way and ended in a way that does feel pretty Japanese when you get down to it, especially in comparison to how Hollywood usually does such things.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Promos, Japanese Commercials, 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: March 12th, 2012
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.