I came in expecting Absolute Destiny Apocalypse, instead found myself watching Mr. Raindrop. Well OK, not quite, but I hope I wasn’t the only one who thought of Elizabeth upon seeing these penguins.
Ikuhara is baaaaaaaaaaack~!
I saw Revolutionary Girl Utena for the first time last year (originally in preparation for Star Driver, which didn’t turn out exactly as planned), and the comparison I found myself making with the artstyle, particularly in that baffling movie, was with Shaft. I’ve seen Utena fans froth at the mouth with this comparison before, but they have some similar stylistic quirks. For example, how there would be one key object of focus on screen, such as Utena’s pink hairdo, while the rest of the screen would be devoted to artsy fartsy whatever. Or how the architecture of the buildings started to overlap and become ridiculous as the silhouettes of the characters walked along a hallway. Given the timing of Utena, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Shinbo drew inspiration from it in his directorial style.
But we’re not here to talk about Utena though, are we? I just brought that up because of how PenguinDrum has that same visual inventiveness and embracing of animations ability as the stranger Shaft shows do. Mind you, probably a more accurate comparison would be to Trapeze, what with the cardboard cutout background people and the multicoloured rooms. The design of the settings feels very Kenji Nakamura, while the cuts and scene transitions feel very Shaft. I’m spending a rather long time talking about the animation style, but that’s primarily what you’ll be gaining your enjoyment from, because the actual dialogue and character interactions are rather dull.
When it’s being totally mad, PenguinDrum is a whole heap of fun. However in the downtimes between madness, such as when the three of them sit around eating oishii food and generally being insufferably nice to each other, it’s fairly dull. It doesn’t have the same sense of humour Utena did to get past those moments, and the dialogue doesn’t have the intelligence or the inventiveness of something like Trapeze. The down scenes are obviously important to contrast with some of the later totally mad scenes, but that doesn’t excuse them for being trite and boring.
But when it gets down to being totally and utterly mad, it’s fantastic. The bitchin’ transformation sequence is unashamedly colourful and inventive, with what looked like a stride down the most colourful spinal chord I’ve ever seen. What it does do well compared to Star Driver, the last supposed successor to Utena, is that you can already see the point to the story. It’s already flaunting its themes in your face, like a gay pride parade that just charged through your front door. In Star Driver, all its colourfulness and fabulousness failed to obscure the fact that, even after 8 episodes, I was totally failing to see the point of the whole thing. PenguinDrum is more than just pretty colours and bitchin transformation sequences. I just hope their conversations get a bit more interesting from here on. Or alternatively, they could just ignore the mundane everyday conversation and keep to being utterly mad for the entire series, a direction I would be totally on board with.