Blu-ray Review: MAWARU PENGUINDRUM (Second Half) Baffles While It Breaks Your Heart
(I always thought majorettes were kinda weird anyway...)
Back in May, I reviewed the first half of the anime series Mawaru Penguindrum and was very, VERY positive about it.
Those first twelve episodes tell the story of Himari, a young girl with a terminal disease, who lives with Shoma and Kanba, her two brothers. One day she dies, but miraculously revives, possessed by a strange entity. This entity commands the two brothers that in return for keeping their sister alive for a short while longer, they must bring it a mysterious item called "the Penguindrum".
The rest of the series was spent with Shoma and Kanba, trying hard to find the Penguindrum, stirring up all sorts of trouble for a chance to keep their sister alive.
And as episode twelve ended with one hell of a cliffhanger, I couldn't wait to dig into the rest of the series, resisting a peek at Wiki to see what would happen next.
Well, the wait for people in Australia and New Zealand is over: distributor Siren Visual released the last half of the series on Blu-ray and DVD. Time to see what happened. Does the series conclude in a satisfactory way? Will Himari die and stay dead this time? And will we finally discover what the Penguindrum is?
Two of these items will be revealed in this review! Well... maybe.
With Himari in hospital and undergoing some strange miracle cure, her brothers Shoma and Kanba stop the search for the Penguindrum. Something they are thankful for, as there still is no clue what the Penguindrum is or what it does.
But Himari's medicine comes at a high price. Worse: the entity in the penguin hat still takes hold of Himari sometimes, warning the boys that doom approaches. Evil forces seem intent on destroying their family.
When some uncomfortable truths about their parents need to be faced, Shoma and Kanba have to choose their allegiance. And as a sinister terrorist plot is put in motion, the whole world may need the Penguindrum more than ever...
The Series Revisited:
Getting back into the world of Shoma, Kanba and Himari was a treat, as the second half of the series looked just as good as the first did. Mood-wise I got introduced to a big shift though. Well, "introduced"... the signs where there already, I guess.
The first half of Mawaru Penguindrum was funny, poignant and mysterious. This raised a great deal of expectations for the second half to live up to.
So the big question is: does it? Unfortunately there is no easy answer to that. One thing is sure though: in its second half, the series completely rids itself of the funny, while it beefs up on the mystery and the poignancy.
All this is hardly surprising, as tragedy was constantly lurking around the corner in the first half already. There were also plenty of clues to something unsavory in this happy little family, hinting that the veneer would not withstand much scratching before showing a very ugly secret underneath.
In these, the final twelve episodes, we see all this brought to the surface. Each segment brings new revelations with it, until finally nobody is the person you thought he or she was.
This constant rug-pulling proves to be the series' biggest strength, but at the same time its worst failing. Some of the 'grand reveals' are exactly that, well-announced gamechangers which shock. Pennies drop, puzzle pieces click, and you cannot help but feel impressed.
But other twists are a bit more bizarre, also because often the storytelling relies on symbolism rather than descriptions.
Sometimes this makes the entire package a bit much to swallow. At what point do you lose empathy with the lead characters? How many turnarounds can you cope with? Mawaru Penguindrum demands a lot of its viewers, both in brainpower and in endurance. Oh, and your soul gets mightily stepped on too.
A few episodes from the end, I feared that we'd get a Neon Genesis Evangelion wrap-up, ditching everything likable in the series, to show just a description of one of the lead character's feelings. Thankfully this was not the case, as Mawaru Penguindrum does provide a resolution. While not everything makes perfect sense (I still do not understand many particulars of the villain's plan), you do get to know what happens to all leads.
And you do get to find out what the Penguindrum is...
Spectacular, weird, heartwrenching at times... in its second half, Mawaru Penguindrum turns up the heat. It may even turn a few too many corners, and the absence of levity makes the series harder to stomach.
But it remains one of the most clever and intriguing series I have seen in recent years, and is very much recommended! Maybe I should just re-watch it after a while?
On to the Discs
For the Blu-ray release of the second half of this series, I can almost do a straight repeat of what I wrote for the first half. Note that this release is coded for Region B, meaning it only plays in Europe, Africa and Australia.
Audio and video are excellent, a tribute to the HD-platform. Mawaru Penguindrum is a series with some very detailed sequences in it, especially when things get crazy (which is often), and the Blu-ray provides all the sharpness and color-extravaganza these parts need.
And lo-and-behold: this time there are some extras! We get textless versions of both opening credits and all eight (!) closing credit sequences. Some of these are very good, well worth a watch on their own.
And indeed we also get a trailer, some montages and an artwork slideshow.
Siren Visual also provided me with a DVD screener, but to be honest that one is a bit iffy in the video department if you've seen the Blu. The image is rather soft and based on a nasty NTSC-PAL conversion. There is plenty of ghosting, especially visible whenever you freeze the screen. All the extras of the Blu-ray version are here as well, but if you have a Blu-ray player, buy the Blu. It is DEFINITELY worth the price difference.
And that concludes my review of this bizarre, yet engrossing, series.