Penguindrum Blu Ray Collection 1 Review

Themes surrounding destiny have been around since forever… but have penguins ever been introduced to the mix?

dmncap00003
Penguindrum: Collection 1
, as the name suggests, collects the first half of the anime Mawaru Penguindrum originally airing in Japan from July to December of 2011. Hyped as being from the creator of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Penguindrum had a similar “psychological” type of storytelling that was visually appealing, to say the least. But is its American release something to write home about?

STORY

Explaining the plot of Penguindrum without coming off as brain-dead is no simple feat. As such, I’ll try to just tell things like they are while encompassing the entire summary with a “trust me, it’s not as stupid as it sounds.” Shoma, Kanba are brothers who, with their parents inexplicably out of the picture, are incredibly caring for their younger sister Himari, who has been diagnosed with an incurable disease. One day at the zoo, Himari faints and is declared dead after being rushed to the hospital until she dons a penguin hat souvenir from the zoo, somehow bringing her back to life. The two brothers are then visited by an “alien queen” that takes on the form of their sister, bluntly telling them to find the penguindrum or their sister will truly die.

Just your typical happy family... but with penguins

Just your typical happy family… but with penguins

Based off that brief explanation, you think the series leaned more towards science fiction. At a loss for a genre to brand it myself, I’ll just go by what Wikipedia’s article on it says, which is “Magical Realism: a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.” Yep, that pretty much sums that up. The majority of the story takes place in a real world setting, but when it decides to dive off the deep end, it really dives off the deep end. Upon donning the penguin hat, Himari becomes possessed by an unnamed life form, which transports the brothers to this odd, minimalistic, techno, pink world to talk to them. These sequences are ripe with Sailor Moon-type imagery (as expected, since both series share the same director), but are pulled off in a near parody-like manner, well aware of how over-the-top such scenes are in comparison to the rest of the show.

Before I delve too much into other details, I must say that just in terms of visual and audio presentation, the series really delivers. The music in its most intense moments creates this truly haunting atmosphere, while the sheer amount of detail drawn in some scenes in combination with the trippy camera work is just an amazing sight to see. In any case, Penguindrum definitely warrants this Blu Ray release for those factors.

Brain's Base animation at its best

Brain’s Base animation at its best

Anyway, with all this life-from talk and magical-girl-but-really talk, just where do penguins fit into all this? Besides the penguin-themed hat that drives the plot, the three siblings were also mysteriously delivered three cartoon-y penguins—one for each of them. Each penguin, unseen by all but the siblings, has a distinct personality similar to the sibling they are attached to, serving for heaps of comic relief, not to mention merchandising (gotta have a mascot character!). But while they prove physically useful in early episodes, their main objective as the series progresses becomes more of a symbolic type—adding on to the already long list of symbolism and imagery I am sure the series will become well known for.

While the trio of siblings are the primary characters of the series, however, these first twelve episodes making up this release center on Ringo, a high-schooler obsessed with her destiny. In this way, the series begins to plant seeds of not only perspectives on fate and destiny, but also family and how different upbringings lead to different approaches in life. Ringo’s character and her own take on destiny is in direct opposition with that of the two brothers, who wish only to change the fate of their terminally-ill sister. And as their conflicting paths begin to intertwine, things only get that much more interesting.

The story and direction gone with it can be nonsensical at times; reeking of symbolism at every turn, but in the end provides a lot to chew on, and you’re thankful for that.

PACKAGING/PRESENTATION

The Blu Ray set for these episodes are simple enough. It’s a standard case holding two discs that reveal those weird eco-friendly cut-outs when the discs are taken out. No reversible cover; no ad inserts or booklet; no slipcase… all very simple.

Penguindrum Blu Ray cover, front

Penguindrum Blu Ray cover, front

Penguindrum Blu Ray cover, back

Penguindrum Blu Ray cover, back

It was also rather odd that the first disc has nine episodes, while the second has the remaining three. Maybe 6/6 or even 7/5, but a 9/3 split just seemed very odd to me.

Menus for both discs are equally simple, with a static (albeit one of the more detailed) screenshot from the series, accompanied with a list of the episodes and language options on the left side of the screen (and in the case of disc 2, menu options for special features and trailers). The little subway arrow icons from the series being used for menu icons, and turning into the penguin icon when chosen was a nice touch, though the lack of music during menu navigation was a slight turn off.

DUB/SUB

Of course, an anime review can’t be complete without taking a look at the English dub for the series. As per the norm, there is an option to either listen the original Japanese audio with English subtitles, or English audio with the occasional footer notes.

I am gladly open to any and all dubs as long as they make a point of sticking to the gist of the original script and the voice acting is not noticeably bad. In the case with Penguindrum, I was generally pleased with the cast overall. Shoma’s dub voice came off as wide-eyed and overly trusting (as it should), and Himari’s dub voice fit the typical adorable younger sister persona perfectly (Toonami faithful will recognize her voice as that of Shiro from Deadman Wonderland). My real gripe is with Kanba’s dub voice. Even if I was fine with him having a noticeably different accent than his siblings, I still wouldn’t be able to forgive his overly forced lines that really show that the voice actor is struggling to maintain said character’s voice while also trying to emote, only to fail to do both. The only other character dub voice that may trump Kanba’s in terms of bad performance would have to be the one for Mr. Tabuki who doesn’t even seem to be making an effort to emote, with the only plus side being that he doesn’t have as many lines to say as the rest of the cast. An overall third offender to the acting community has to be the voices for children extras, who put as much effort into their performance as a character in a Peanuts holiday special… except not nearly as endearing. As a whole, it’s an acceptable dub, but I would probably stick to the original Japanese version upon future re-watches.

One dub change people that originally watched fansubs will be quick to notice is the translation of “seizon senryaku” to “survival tactic” rather than the already accepted “survival strategy.” It’s a minor complaint, but to know the series is doing well enough to have a US release only to be ignorant of fan terminology is something of a letdown. And while you can argue that “survival tactics” is easier to match when dubbing, it should be noted that the term “longevity tactic” was curiously used on one dub occasion (perhaps the remains of an old script that made its way into this release).

"kyu!"

“kyu!”

The sound the penguins make, as minor a change as it is, is still noticeable enough to make note of. In the case of the original Japanese version, the voice actors for each of the three siblings also voiced the according penguin the sibling was “attached” to. For the English dub, however, the penguin’s notable “kyuus” are replaced with generic quacks (and whether or not the quacks are voice by the according sibling is hard to say), removing that extra layer of connection between sibling and penguin. Curiously enough, though, Shoma’s “kyuu” ringtone on his phone was not replaced with generic quacking—just another of the growing list of small overlooked details.

Another aspect from the dub to note would be that any instances of singing are kept in Japanese, with translated lyrics playing in the subtitles. Lyric subtitles are fine enough, but in the case when playing the episode with the Japanese audio, the subtitles play at the bottom of the screen right on top of any spoken dialogue, which can make things pretty muddled. In terms of lyrics for the opening and closing animations, subtitles switch between being translated in some episodes, to being subtitled in romanji for others—an odd problem I’ve seen in many anime releases that really shouldn’t be a problem at all.

As expected with most anime, on-screen Japanese text is occasionally present and as such needs an according English translation in subtitle form. This is done well enough for all instances of Japanese text on-screen and is even done so using an equivalent font—something I usually never see outside of fansubs.

The one real odd bit about this release’s subtitles is its use of footnotes. In general with anime, footnotes are typically used to explain language barrier jokes and the like. For this release, however, footnotes seem to appear willy-nilly. Take the following, for example:

Penguindrum, subtitle footnote

Penguindrum, subtitle footnote (or would it be a “headernote” in this case?

“Apparently,” huh? Even in the case that the footnote-er is correct, I feel like this bit of information is something that deserves to be found out by the viewer rather than blatantly explained on-screen by some third party. And while the handful that show up can be helpful, I feel like having said footnotes in some kind of accompanying booklet would have been less intrusive.

In the case of subtitles for the Japanese version, they seem to be nearly identical to the script used for the English version—something I never see with anime. This makes me think that the subtitles themselves are some kind of oddball hybrid between the English script and the Japanese translation done for the sake of the subtitles being accurate no matter which language track you’re watching the series in. Such is fine and a practical solution for not wanting to have multiple subtitle tracks on the release (one to match the English, and another to match the Japanese), but it honestly just comes off as more lazy than anything else.

Maybe it's a riddle? A tongue-twister?

Maybe it’s a riddle? A tongue-twister?

But even with all these minor flaws and unnecessary quirks, my one true complaint when it comes to these subtitles would have to be the handful of typos found in them. Something that can be solved with a simple spell check and re-read shouldn’t be a problem for an official product and honestly is what makes this release feel rushed.

EXTRAS

As simple as this release as a whole is, it is good to know that there are at least some special features. Besides the textless opening and closing animations that have become standard for all recent anime releases, the inclusion of original Japanese trailers for the series was a nice touch. Not to mention the video from either special feature makes for excellent desktop backgrounds.

Awesome, awesome, desktop backgrounds

Awesome, awesome, desktop backgrounds

OVERALL

Penguindrum is an excellent series and even upon re-watching still stands as something I could watch in marathon mode with no problem. This particular release, however, comes off as incredibly phoned in. And while it may look nice upon first glance, numerous nitpicks pile up and make this release not as good as it should be. Hopefully, all kinks will be fixed when the second half of the series is released in March.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

One Response to Penguindrum Blu Ray Collection 1 Review

  1. Justin says:

    It was also rather odd that the first disc has nine episodes, while the second has the remaining three. Maybe 6/6 or even 7/5, but a 9/3 split just seemed very odd to me.

    Generally I’ve noticed, in playing more BDs, a lot of anime discs have more content (Episode count, from 1-8 or 1-9) in the first disc than the second. Generally the second disk has less episodes and has extras. I think it’s because BDs have more space, but that’s just a guess.

    “survival tactic” rather than the already accepted “survival strategy.”

    Well, we can’t necessarily say with certainty that was the original meaning since Japanese language is difficult to translate; it does make for awkward acceptance, and well, I can probably wait to hear how it sounds in English. Oh, and the more you talk about the dub, the more I start to dread it.

    Yeah, when I saw that footnote, I was a little bit thrown off. I think this is a case where Sentai went a bit too far in the translation there.

    So in other words:

    Penguindrum: Excellent, should get people to buy it
    Sentai: Crappy, taking advantage of people wanting it to not even work on the series properly. Sadly, that sounds like Sentai :(

    But yeah, I recently got this anime in the mail. This will be my third time watching it. Above all of the things that go on in this anime, the best thing I can say above all else is that I was entertained. It is simply a ride from start to finish. The first time I watched it was difficult for me, but I still enjoyed it, its second half making me struggle immensely; the second time, I marathoned it and enjoyed it much better. I wonder what I’ll think for a third time? Anyways, solid review of Penguindrum :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: