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Penguin Highway Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read
A strange journey of childhood.

A strange journey of childhood.

What They Say:
Budding genius Aoyama is only in the 4th grade, but already lives his life like a scientist. When penguins start appearing in his sleepy suburb hundreds of miles from the sea, Aoyama vows to solve the mystery. When he discovers that the arrival of the penguins is related to a mysterious young woman from his dentist’s office, they team up for an unforgettable summer adventure!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this film brings us the original Japanese language and the English language adaptation in 5.1 using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The film has a number of really good moments of whimsy that the sound design crew gets to work with, such as the various flying moments for the penguins or some of the other aerial tricks, and this along with the few other action scenes come across really well. There isn’t a moment where it feels like it goes big in an overwhelming way but everything fits the smaller nature of the project and its locations, but encompassing them in a larger way. Dialogue is pretty straightforward here with what we get but it’s very well placed as needed and there are some very fun moments of directionality to be had throughout. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally in theaters in 2018, the encoding for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film fits easily on a single disc with the extras with plenty of room to spare. Animated by Studio Colorido, the film has a great look with lots of beautiful colors, some really standout moments in color design in general, and very fluid scenes whether the more obvious ocean-based pieces or the smaller moments between characters. Taking place in a small Japanese town with lots of camera movement throughout the city, the bold colors work well and the high-motion sequences hold up wonderfully with no visible noise or breakup during regular playback. The character animation is solid, we get a lot of strong detail to the backgrounds, and the overall result is what you expect from this studio as they look to establish a bigger place in the feature film realm.

The packaging for this edition that has the DVD and Blu-ray comes in a standard-sized Blu-ray case with an o-card. The o-card replicates the case artwork but with better paper stock quality so the colors pop a lot more and look richer. It’s a solid cover with the two main characters together surrounded by penguins and the colors, especially her shirt, pops really well. There’s a lot of activity here with all the penguins swimming about and the center placement of the two leads, at very different heights, looks great when pressed against the larger blue background. The back cover provides a good summary of the premise as well s a clear listing of what extras there are on the discs. The shots from the film fill up the majority of the cover but we do get a light blue section along the bottom that goes into the production credits and technical information along with a lot of various logos. Within the case, we get an ad for the novel and artwork on the reverse side that shows off a two-panel spread of the kids in front of the bubble.

The menu design for this release opts for the static approach as it uses the main piece of the cover artwork of the two ostensible leads with lots and lots of penguins flying about all around them. It’s colorful, nicely active, and sets the right look to draw you into it all. Sadly, there’s no music playing here so it’s not quite as engaging as it could be. The menu selections are quick and easy to load and getting around both as a main menu and as a pop-up menu during playback is easily done. The downside is that if you stop this film during playback it’ll have you start the complete load-up again as it does not remember where you left off – making for a very frustrating experience.

The extras for this release are welcome as we get a cute promo for the film done to the theme song as well as a brief look at some of director Hiroyasu Ishida’s past works to get a feel for his style. Unfortunately, the four films aren’t given translated names here so they’re not all that easily identifiable. Ishida’s interview here, clocking in at twenty-one minutes, is definitely fun to watch as he comes across as young and nervous with the whole thing. It’s a good way to get a feel for someone who is moving into the bigger picture realm. We also get a video interview with Tomohiko Morimi, the original author, who comes across kind of in the same way. This clocks in at twelve minutes and it’s good to see his reactions to the adaptation.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the novel by Tomohiko Morimi, Penguin Highway was Studio Colorido’s big project for 2018. The studio has been producing some beautiful shorter works and involved in a number of other productions to good effect. The novel for this came out back in 2010 and was pretty popular, resulting in a long approach to getting it animated. The film brought on Makoto Ueda to handle the screenplay while Hiroyasu Ishida, who has directed several short films, took on the directing duties. The result is a two-hour film that deals with a coming of age story pretty well while also just delighting people who wanted to have lots of animated penguins running around being quite adorable.

The premise is pretty simple as we’re introduced to Aoyama, a fourth-grade student that if we had a lot of characters like this as leads would be problematic. He’s a very confident but not too cocky type who knows he has value. He’s really good at school, he handles family life well, he’s got big plans for down the line, and he knows he’ll have a lot of options for wives in the future because they’ll realize just how great he is. You can see that being kind of endearing to a point depending on how it’s presented and the film does it well, though it’ll throw up red flags for some. Aoyama isn’t interested in other women, however, as there’s one that he wants to make his wife. The unnamed lady works as a dental assistant and she’s admittedly kind of charmed by him. Like, to the point where she’ll go out with him during the evening and play a little chess at a cafe. And call him out for the way he keeps looking at her chest, which he admits is nothing like his mother’s and is a source of much interest.

Aoyama has a good cluster of friends in school, including a girl who will really catch his eyes as his sites readjust by the end of the film, and he has a bully that he has to deal with as well. He’s a bully that Aoyama does provoke more often than not but it leads to the kind of relationship where they work with each other once the main storyline gets underway, learning and growing from each other. The main storyline is a strange one, however, as it involves the sudden arrival of penguins in town. They’re in a small field initially that Aoyama is drawn to but it leads to a lot more of them, and some surreal aspects of how they get around and where they come from. Aoyama and company try to figure this out themselves with an approach of science and fact as he does the research, and that has them looking for the rookeries where they may be staying while trying to adapt.

The growing number of penguins makes for some big and fun scenes as they move from grounded to more magical elements and flights of fancy while the human side allows the kids to be like most kids in projects like this, easily able to deal with adults to keep on moving forward and getting past the police as necessary. It’s fairly standard but there’s such a solid execution of the whimsical aspect that it’s easy to get caught up in it all as it goes along, as the dental hygienist makes her way into the story more, and we see what must be done to ensure that the penguins are safe and survive. It’s not really a story about the penguins, though they make it sillier and more enjoyable, but rather the usual coming of age piece for a young man like Aoyama who has methodically planned out his life for many years to come. It’s to get him to slow down, admire what’s around him, and be drawn into the lives of others, including that of his bully so that they can both grow.

In Summary:
Penguin Highway is that strange little title where it just wants to delight in itself and is completely able to without seeming to elite or aloof. There’s a simplicity to it since it’s focusing on fourth-grade students but they’re able to feel a bit more real than some other projects because of the grounded nature of them while still having the imagination needed to dream big. There’s a lot of great penguin moments throughout, which was what I was mostly looking for, but it delves into things well for Aoyama and his struggles with how it plays out. The release here is pretty strong overall with a great looking and sounding encode, a solid dub, and some rather welcome extras. It’s definitely the kind of film that’s easy to try out and get drawn into because of how well-executed it is and the beauty of the animation that Studio Colorido puts together.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Interviews, Promo, Trailer

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

Released By: Elevent Arts via Shout! Factory
Release Date: August 6th, 2019
MSRP: $26.99
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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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