After stirring our imaginations with a magical mix of surreal drama and comedy, the first half of Penguindrum announced itself as something special. Collection 2 looks to cement the series’ place as a new anime classic, pulling no punches as it concludes the Takakura Family’s ordeal. Does Penguindrum fulfill its destiny as a series that will stand the test of time, or will it suffer the fate of other ambitious shows that miss the mark? Let’s share the fruit of… review?
Penguindrum Collection 2
Studio: Brain’s Base
Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: March 12th, 2013
Penguindrum Collection 2 covers the series’ final 12 episodes, focusing on the Takakura’s dealings with a mysterious man named Sanetoshi. The initial survival tactic to save Himari seems to have failed, leaving Sanetoshi and his strange magic as the only alternative to keep her alive. Unfortunately this comes at a price, and it quickly becomes clear the family will never be the same again.
While the first half of Penguindrum wasn’t exactly all fun and laughter, the second half takes a significantly heavier, darker tone. As the story sweeps back the curtain on the seemingly idealistic lives of the cast, strong implications of terrorism, rape, incest and abuse form the true foundations of their intent. Rather than depicting those elements explicitly however, Penguindrum dives even deeper into its surreal, symbol laden storytelling, completely blurring the line between literal and figurative by the series’ end. In a way this makes the darker elements of the story even more unsettling, forcing you to really use your brain and understand the weight of the message.
Despite the dark subject matter though, Penguindrum ultimately leaves us with a beautiful, positive message about love, family, and self sacrifice. The series climaxes in one final, beautiful, audio/visual tour de force, spiraling gently down to its simple conclusion and leaving us with more questions than when we started. That may frustrate some viewers looking for explanations on the literal who and what and why, but for me that is a sign of good art. The important questions Penguindrum leaves us with are about ourselves, and I think people will be discovering and discussing them for a long time.
Not much has changed quality-wise compared to Collection 1, with the uneven animation quality more than accounted for by the stylish visual design. I was still not impressed with the English dub work, especially since the second half requires more intense acting than the first. The dub is generally serviceable, but there were definitely moments that felt unnaturally flat or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, too over the top. It works if you like to watch your anime dubbed, but if you have no preference I would recommend sticking with the subs.
As expected, Collection 2 packs in clean opening and endings, as well as a few Japanese commercials and promos. Normally this would be pretty standard fare, but for Penguindrum’s second half there are actually six different ending songs. These songs are all performed by the theoretical Idol group “Triple H” (trust me, it makes sense when you watch the show) and add a beautiful, haunting sadness to the conclusion of each episode. It helps that the songs themselves are fantastic. As I mentioned in my previous review, each one a gorgeous pop re-imagining of the songs of Japanese rock band ARB. Despite being condensed versions of the songs cut to fit the anime, it’s a much more satisfying addition than the usual clean ending bonus extra.
Ultimately your opinion of Penguindrum will hinge on your willingness to accept their method of storytelling. If you’re looking for a neat and tidy plot to take you from Point A to Point B, chances are you’ll find the series’ surreal imagery and symbolism to be a pretentious waste of time. For those who do buy in though, Penguindrum becomes one of the most artistically rewarding anime series in recent memory. I feel confident it’s a series that will stand the test of time and is definitely worth picking up.