Mawaru Penguindrum – 18 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 11 Nov 2011 (11/11/11!) – Tabuki kidnaps Himari, puts her in a bucket suspended by cables, and blows the cables up one by one as Kanba tries to reason with him. Tabuki wants to punish their father for killing Momoka, who was his savior, that of all mankind, and his only reason for living. When the last cable breaks, Kanba provides a lifeline for Himari, at the cost of his hand, but she is saved, and Tabuki slinks off, warning Ringo, imprisoned in the elevator the whole time, not to turn out like him. She swears she won’t.

It was pretty inevitable we’d get a Tabuki episode this week, and it was suitably dark, befitting someone now so lost, he’s prepared to kill poor innocent Himari as payback for losing Momoka. Like Yuri, Tabuki was abused as a child, first emotionally, as her mother demanded prodigal talent in exchange for love, and then physically, when his hand was slammed in a piano, ruining his future as a pianist. Things get a little symbolic with the “Child Broiler”, but suffice it to say, he’s about to be crushed into oblivion when Momoka saves him, begging him to live for her, who loves him.

Up until the last couple episodes, Tabuki has done a bang-up job concealing both his hatred of the Takakuras and the fact that the one person he chose to live for is gone. For years it stewed in him, culminating in the desperate ultimatum he issues Kanba. For a minute, we really though Himari was history, and the show played it that way, but seeing Kanba’s selfless love for Himari must have reminded him of Momoka, and so he spared her. We’ll tell ya what, now we’d like to meet their father and give him a good punch in the face for what he’s put his poor kids through…only it’s all fate, the good and the bad. Will what the parents do ever be revealed? It would be nice, but at this point unnecessary. This is some sublime drama.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

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Mawaru Penguindrum – 16 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 29 Oct 2011 – This week delves into the life and the past of Masako Natsume of the incredibly wealthy Natsume Clan. Her grandfather Sahei seemed determined that his family never be happy, and drove his son, her and Mario’s father away. She continually dreams of killing Sahei in elaborate ways, but when she wakes up, he’s always out in the yard practicing with a wooden sword. A poorly-stripped blowfish finally does him in, rather than any action by Masako, but he returns from the grave through Mario and challenges her to a similar blowfish challenge. She eats both plates, and while her body works out the poison, she dreams of a train where Kanba and her father are now servants of Dr. Sanetoshi, chosen to “put the world back on track…”

This series seems to know when a character is getting either too mysterious or too annoying, and then comes up with an episode that lifts that character up to a far more sympathetic and likable stature. Enter Masako, who finally gets some meaty backstory. She comes from strong stock; as not even death by blowfish could keep her gramps from messing with her life. As per usual, the devil’s in the details this week, and all the details here work.

From Strauss’ Blue Danube playing over a day in Masako’s life, to the hilariously random ways she dreams of killing Sahei, to Sahei’s equally hilarious and ridiculous feats of strength, and all his misogynist “Saheisms” like this nugget: “I like my tea like I like my women: as young as possible.” But also telling is how much Masako takes after the grandfather she hates. She too has a will of steel. And at the end of the day, her ultimate goal is the same as her stalkee Kanba’s: to protect her younger sibling and have a happy family. But it would seem she’s not quite ready to make the same sacrifice he made to save Himari. She wisely does not trust Sanetoshi, and neither do we, at least not until his backstory is told…


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 15 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 22 Oct 2011 – In this Yuri-centric episode, a young Yuri lives with her horrible, abusive father, a famous, renowned sculptor. He only loves things that are beautiful, and thinks Yuri is ugly, so he “chisels” away at her, leaving a body part bandaged after each session. It is during this abuse that she meets Momoka Oginome, who tries to gain her trust by telling her about a her diary, which she can use to transfer fate to living things, changing their futures. Before Yuri’s father kills her, Momoka transfers Yuri’s fate; her father and the massive tower that represented him is gone, as are her injuries – but Momoka has to pay the price, and dies. Masako infiltrates the bathhouse and makes off with half of the diary, but Yuri still has the half she stole from Ringo.

This episode began with a fresh new opening sequence, so we knew that a big episode was in store, and it didn’t disappoint one bit, opening up an entirely new can of whoopass by answering a lot of questions hanging out there, among them, who was Momoka? We finally see and hear her, as she befriends Yuri. Momoka has god-like powers. Her diary can transfer fate as easily as transfering subway routes (we friggin’ love that analogy). We also know what killed her, and that was a selfless act that saved Yuri from The Worst Father In The World. So there’s a little bit of Jesus in her, too. And how about the fact that the Tokyo Tower used to be a massive stone skyscraper in the shape of Michelangelo’s David? Weird. Wild.

Was was so amazing about this week is just how much managed to be dished out. Not only do we learn a bunch about Momoka and Yuri, but Shoma realizes the error of sending off Ringo so forcably, and comes to save the day – although, true to fate, he doesn’t have to go far, as he just happens to be in the hotel room right next to the one where Yuri has Ringo tied up and ready to do awful things to. We also have a great surprise cameo by Masako, taking back half of the diary after an excellent little battle between the two feisty women. So now we know just how powerful the diary (penguin drum…) is. And if Ringo was successful in using it previously, than it’s clear she too had to pay some kind of price for every fate she changed.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

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Mawaru Penguindrum – 14 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 14 Oct 2011 – Now that he knows his parents killed Momoka, Shoma can no longer bear to see or hear Ringo, and warns her to stay away from him. Kanba continues to struggle to find the cash to save Himari, and Masako confronts him directly. Ringo goes to a bathhouse with Yuri, who not only knew Momoka, but believes she was her soulmate. She drugs Ringo and proceeds to have her way with her…

Poor Ringo! First she receives the full brunt of Shoma’s angst, only to be spirited away by Yuri in her Jaaag for reasons heretofore unknown. Ringo acts surprisingly normal here; it’s Yuri who completely goes nuts. And of course it all comes back to Momoka. Yuri was the one who stole half the diary. Not an episode of this series takes place anymore that doesn’t contain some twist or turn that changes everything. It’s why it’s stayed so good and so fresh.

While Ringo is on her wild ride, Himari and Shoma are both very moody. Shoma’s angst comes from knowing what his family’s responsible for, but it’s still unfortunate he pushes Ringo away. As for Himari, her illness, whatever it is, has prevented her from reaching her dream, and she feels worthless compared with her celebrity idol friends. Here’s hoping everyone cheers up a little next week. Look on the bright side, guys: your subway system rules!


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 13 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 7 Oct 2011 – “Dr.” Sanetoshi makes a deal with Kanba (somehow involving his heart) In order to administer a serum that restores her back to life. The episode deals with a host of flashbacks that document that fateful last day the Takakura children ever saw their parents. The police placed them in a hotel room as they searched their home for further evidence of their parents’ crimes, which resulted in deaths, including Momoka’s. Sanetoshi muses about fate, and whether it truly exists.The Tokyo Sky Metro celebrates its tenth anniversary. Ringo sends an email to her father stating she knows of his second family; she believes it was fate to encounter them.

Nothing in this world is pointless. Apparently, nothing in this series is pointless, either. The series continues to squeeze as much as it can out of every scene, every setting, every word…and every sign. Hints trickle down here and there, but like any good mystery, only enough to hold our interest; no more. This much is clear (which wasn’t earlier); the siblings’ parents did awful things. After all, they were “senior members” of something, for chrissake…that can’t be good. Also, the Metropolitan Police doesn’t send a battalion of detectives to your house on a whim.

While we’re piecing together more about the past, we’re wondering more and more how much longer Kanba can keep up whatever he’s doing to pay Sanetoshi to keep Himari alive, possibly tempting fate. Since the day their parents disappeared, the three “haven’t amounted to anything” by society’s standards, but they’ve stayed together as a family. The pain their parents caused to both Ringo, her family, and Tabuki through Momoka’s death is something Ringo always thought could be healed by becoming Momoka. I like how Tabuki seems to set her straight.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 12 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 1 Oct 2011 – Shoma describes to Ringo how his family killed her sister Momoka on the day she was born. It involved some kind of multifaceted operation that somehow resulted in a subway accident that claimed Momoka’s life. With Shoma and Kanba unable to retrieve the penguin drum, Himari weakens, and the headdress loses its power, which would result in her death. Kanba won’t allow that, and gives his own life energy to her, as he had in the past to revive her, but it’s not enough, and Himari flatlines…

It can be tempting to feel like you’re being strung along with Mawaru Penguindrum. It’s constantly shooting out hints, but it keeps so much below the surface sometimes, you start to wonder: how much of this will make sense by the end, and how much will just never be explained? Is the “Destination of Fate” a future setting? What’s with this talk of taboos, followed immediately by Kanba kissing a nude Himari? And what is the librarian doing with those oompaloompas?

The last few episodes were actually quite revealing from a storytelling standpoint. We now know for certain that Kanba made some kind of a deal to save Himari; it wasn’t a miracle. Shoma too seems to know more than he’d let on early in the series. It could well be that phenomena like helper penguins and survival strategies were old hat to the bros before the series even started? This and many, many other questions still abound. Fortunately, Mawaru Penguindrum has plenty of time to address them. So we’ll remain patient and have faith it will all come together by the end.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 11 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 23 Sept 2011 – Kanba confronts Natsume at her manse, where he dismisses her as a crazy stalker. He demands the diary half back, but she refuses, as her little brother Mario is in the same situation as Himari – wearing the penguin headdress and with pink eyes. Shoma recovers and Ringo decides to continue Project M by memory, using another frog ritual to make Tabuki fall madly in love with her. It works, but only for one night, and when he advances on her she demurs. Yuri suggests it could be because she’s actually in love with Shoma. During a survival strategy session, Shoma confesses to Ringo that he and Kanba were born on the same day as she was, and are responsible for her death…

Wait…what? What? What was that? By golly, week by week this series keeps churning out pure awesome mania. While we knew Ringo probably wasn’t actually over or done with Tabuki, we weren’t expecting her to actually succeed in seducing him (albeit with a disgusting frog ritual), and I sure as hell didn’t expect her to choke when the time came to lay the guy. Not after all that determination and nudity we’ve seen from her previously. The past couple episodes, her mind has been on Shoma more than Tabuki, which is huge. But because she’s so messed up in the head vis-a-vis Momoka, she doesn’t even realize that she could be in love with Shoma.

As for Curry Day…it was an exceptionally busy one. Not only were Ringo, Kanba, and Shoma born on the same day, Momoka died. Also Natsume and Mario are somehow involved. How the boys killed her, we haven’t the foggiest idea. How would they remember something that happened the day they were born anyway? Whatever they know has to have been second-hand info from their parents, right? Where are their parents, anyway? And why didn’t IMAGINE girl demand the penguin drum this time? Curiouser and curiouser…


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 10 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 16 Sept 2011 – Shoma survives the car accident and wakes up in the hospital, where Kanba and Himari are with him. Ringo apologizes profusely. The redhead then kidnaps him. The ransom is the half of the diary Ringo still possesses, which Ringo is willing to give up to save Shoma. After Kanba fails at subterfuge he’s sent on a psycadelic wild goose chase, where the redhead teases him. Ringo gives her the rest of the diary, abandoning Project M and her duty to become her sister Momoka. Also, Shoma hopefully learns now NEVER TO EAT ANYTHING GIVEN TO HIM.

We can’t believe we’re only ten episodes in, this series so jam-packed with stuff. Some of it can lead to near-critical levels of Whimsy, But we’ve not yet tired of its rich imaginative-ness (IMAGINE!), because this isn’t just about eye candy. The candy is just that, icing on a cake that is a really good, rich, clever, intricate mystery. Hints to its answers are hidden in plain sight. There’s terrific action, but it doesn’t overpower the proceedings. And then there’s the characters. The redhead is still an enigma (what is the ‘it’ she insists ‘must be crushed soon’? Kanba?) but she showed some playfulness for the first time, suggesting we may learn more about her soon.

Kanba and Himari have a cute talk about gifts from girls (in which gifts are described that Redhead later provides). And then there’s Ringo. The shock of seeing her slave boy hit by a car seems to be enough to snap her out of her derangement. She didn’t mention her unrequited love Tabuki once this week. Nor did she mention fate or destiny. Instead, she did something very redeeming: she gave it all up for Shoma’s sake, after he saved her life. Just when you though she’d gone off the deep end, she’s human again, and a nice one at that.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 09 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 9 Sept 2011 – From the aquarium gift shop, Himari follows Threetie to a massive, bizarre library where she meets the librarian Sanetoshi, who reads from numerous books stories that reflect events in Himari’s past, focusing on her former best friends and Hibari and Hikari, who she broke up with. They are now famous idols.

Well, for those who wanted a dedicated Himari episode, and we count myself among them, look no further. Beginning, middle, and end, this was All Himari. That’s because it was all a dream…but what a dream! We learned things about her we never knew. We credit the series for including so many little foreshadowing visual puzzle pieces which this episode proceeded to assemble to create a picture of her past. The fact it was all a dream also allowed for some pretty cool Willy Wonka-esque visuals. The library itself is an architectural gem.

Now we know who the girls in the subway PSAs are! Now we know the significance of the three girls in the ending sequence! Now we know that pink-haired girl in the opening…isn’t a girl! Himari was a spoiled brat who scarred her mother for life. She also could have been in a idol trio named “Triple-H” (a name you can be sure the WWE would have a problem with), but blew it. So much new information, so many new questions. Sanetoshi is real, despite appearing in a dream. And he calls Himari the “Bride of Fate.” Himari wakes up to the news that Shoma has been hit by a car. Not a great way to wake up.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 08 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 3 Sept 2011 – Ringo’s measures grow more and more drastic as she attempts to fulfill her destiny as written in Momoka’s diary, attempting to rape Tabuki in his sleep twice. The second time, she has drugged him with cake and is stopped by Shoma, just as Yuri arrives. They escape, and Shoma learns Ringo’s true motivations. The diary takes a fall, and is snatched up by a passing motorcycle – likely the woman with the black penguin. Shoma is hit by a car after saving Ringo’s life.

Ringo just happens to see her estranged father at the zoo gift shop…with his other family – definitely a potential blow to one’s mental balance – and she didn’t have much to begin with. She tells Shoma (and us) that she has to carry Tabuki’s child at all costs – not for her, but her duty to her family. That’s why she’s going so far to bed him. All this attempted rape and obligation to get pregnant juxtaposed with such silly romantic (and western) daydreams present quite the stark contrast.

The line between Ringo and Momoka is definitely beginning to blur, and her obsession has progressed from creepy to downright life-threatening (not to mention morally and ethically wrong). She is now responsible for Shoma getting hit by a car. I doubt this will snap her out of her percieved duty and it surely won’t convince her to enter a more normal, reciprocal relationship with Shoma (if he lives), but in any case, she’s lost half her diary – and with it the complete map of the path she believes she must walk.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 07 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 26 Aug 2011 – Plans are being accelerated left and right. Yuri the Orca aims to marry Tabuki, who is firmly under the spell she’s cast upon him through really tacky singing (so to speak). So Ringo takes more and more drastic measures (dragging a hapless Shoma along for the ride) to ensure that what is written in the diary will become reality. There are lots of bathroom signage extras this week; I personally think they work as a money-saving device: they enable the core cast to have a very impressive wardrobe (i.e. not just school uniforms).

Last week showed that Ringo truly has more screws loose than tight, and this week only reinforces that. Not only are there more whimsical period daydreams, she tries to get a seasonal frog to lay eggs on Shoma’s back for a love potion (Penguin #2 gobbles them all up…perhaps by design). She’s also not above fully exploiting Shoma’s love for his sister by ordering him to do increasingly strange things. But after everything these two have been through, it’s really fun to watch them interact, despite the fact Shoma is totally submissive to her. His resistance is limited to complaining.

When the occult fails her (in a gross egg-laying scene), the diary tells her the M in Plan M is for “maternity”. Combine this with Kanba and The Hat’s suggestion they simply get the two in bed together, and Ringo decides to break into Tabuki’s house and somehow get pregnant with his child. Procreation is a survival strategy, after all. However, we don’t actually see who’s under the covers when Ringo enters the bedroom.

Meanwhile, the shifty redhead continues tailing Kanba, who receives another envelope of rent cash from the trenchcoated stranger on the metro. Also, this is the second straight episode where they don’t even bother showing Himari in her non-possessed form. The survival strategy song-and-dance happens rather randomly. I would hope at some point they shorten it. It’s starting to remind me of Star Driver’s Tauburn summoning…we don’t really need to see it in its entirety every week.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 06 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 19 Aug 2011 – Whatever screw is loose in Ringo, it’s getting looser by the week. Kanba’s woman troubles are far more serious than he had predicted. Shoma is no closer to ‘obtaining the Penguin Drum’, drawing the ire of The Hat. The animated displays on the Metro warn of an impending trap. Yes, it’s a typical Penguindrum so far: jumping all over the place, yet totally cohesive and monstrously entertaining.

Somebody has it in for Kanba in a way that makes his other exes’ scorn seem trifling. This mysterious woman with orange hair and blue eyes is eliminating the memories of Kanba’s exes. Holed up in her ginormous mansion full of marble busts, she vows to methodically destroy Kanba. She claims to control fate. Who is she? Momoka? (Wild guess.)

Momoka supposedly died years ago, and was Tabuki’s first, possibly only true love. Ringo inherited her diary and believes it is her destiny to become her sister – which means being with Tabuki. Her obsession is starting to have physical consequences – she has a high fever, and is prone to uncontrollable actions that – ahem – scare Shoma and make her mother get the wrong idea.

This is all deliciously excellent buildup. We’re itching for more answers, as always, but in the meantime the show does a superb job keeping you constantly interested in what’s going on, not simply longing for what’s to come. “Plan M” is something both Ringo and the mysterious “memory assassin” mention as well – it probably doesn’t mean “marriage” or “matrimony”, but could mean “Momoka” – another reason we suspect she could be Ringo’s sister.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 05 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 8 Aug 2011 – Well, with Ringo visiting the Takakuras so often, it was only a matter of time until she was exposed to the survival strategy. The ball starts rolling when, desperate for answers, Shoma asks Ringo point-blank to study her “fate diary.” He lets on that he knows more than he should about it, triggering a faceoff with Ringo that is interrupted by Himari, under the control of the penguin headdress.

We love how Ringo essentially fills in for Kanba here, shaking up what had become rather repetitive sequence by painting outside the lines and going after Himari. But she isn’t aware the hat is keeping her alive – not until she tears it off and throws it out into the street. There, it gets caught on the tailgate of a frieght truck, and boom: you have your Splendidly Over-The-Top Pursuit that proves this series can be every bit as adept at quick action as it is with slower stuff.

There’s a lot more going on though. Kanba isn’t around for the survival strategy because he’s off making sure he and his siblings can keep living in their house. He receives a bundle of cash from an unseen stranger – perhaps the same guy who threw his ex-girlfriend down the steps. Meanwhile, the anti-Kanba plotting proceeds apace, coming to a head with Asami Kuho about to get a face-full of red nerf ball.

Both the cash envelope and strange balls bear that omnipresent penguin insignia, seen in so many places, it’s hard to know what is or isn’t related more directly to the survival strategy than previously believed. Also, are the siblings’ parents dead, or just missing? We’re enjoying all the mysteries that are cropping up, and with 24 episodes, this series has plenty of time to build up a rich web of them.


Rating: 9 (Superior)