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BY THE POWER OF DIOS THAT SLEEPS WITHIN ME...oh wait, wrong show

Mawaru Penguindrum #1

After around a decade or more (give-or-take) without any major production under his belt, it’s really quite astounding for a director to just come back and pick up where he’d left off, and that’s following what could have been his finest work. That’s a mark of talent right there if there ever was one–I imagine not a lot of people can pull that trick off as easily and as seamlessly as what Ikuhara did in the first episode of his brand-new show. But still, it seems unfair to just lay all the credit on him. As in Utena, the director has, yet again, a group of talented people collaborating with him this time, and their collective effort made the first episode of Penguindrum as strong as it was.

 

When I said “picking up where he’d left off” earlier, that wasn’t to say Ikuhara just lifted everything he’d so comprehensively established in his prior major show (mostly in terms of the visual package) and pasted it all to his newest project. It’s been a long time since I’ve first watched Utena, but I could detect some fairly substantial differences from that show to this one, which is quite satisfying for me, personally. Visually speaking, Penguindrum looks as if it places most of its focus on the colors of the backgrounds and on the minimalism of the scene transitions, as opposed to the more washed-out color array and the more elaborately rendered background designs, plus the overall feeling of grandiosity in Ikuhara’s previous show. The buildings in Penguindrum are drawn normally, but the things inside them are elegantly colored and bright–the best example would be the shack in which our main cast live. The tiny room where their activities in the episode take place is brimming with fresh vitality and an energetic surge of life–from the dinner table, the cupboards, to the walls–thanks in most part to the excellent coloring job in the episode.

The episode itself is quite quirky, suffused with equal parts goofiness to equal parts drama, never letting the flow of events completely drop to either one, but maintaining a sensible balance between. This is an Ikuhara show, after all, so there’s going to be a lot of goofy stuff that’s going to happen. But I didn’t feel as if the episode itself was as in-your-face as I expected, rather it felt as if it was saving its ultimate attack for a climactic event. The episode was pretty damn funny, but it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s more a smattering of funny events here and there that round out the thing. It was filled with just enough dashes of unhinged things to take the viewer off balance, and trip him up. Not too loudly and garishly executed at all. And the climactic event did occur soon enough–the transformation sequence was a mash of bold, striking images amid an admittedly minimalist backdrop, complete with insanely hilarious actions only a man like Ikuhara can possibly think up. That whole sequence made the episode for me, as it was a perfectly glorious punctuation mark to an already brilliantly quirky show. Ikuhara definitely announced himself and then some with the first episode of his new work.

But really, aside from that, the aspect that impressed me most in the episode was the coloring job. More than the animation itself, the colors painted in this episode gave the affair a vibrant sort of energy and more than enough dashes of freshness and life to steal the show for me.  The colors also brought a lush, unique kind of texture to the art/backgrounds, something that I don’t really see that often in TV anime. I doubt there are other anime airing right now with such an effort and attention put forth on color design alone. The episode boasted an expansive array of colors, with all sorts of stuff painted seemingly without a planned order or structured outline (like, this should be colored that, or that should be colored this). Simply put, the coloring work in the episode (or the show itself, in general) is just wonderful.

All of this is thanks to the efforts of one Kunio Tsujita, who was also the color guy (designer/supervisor) who handled the job in past Madhouse shows like 2008’s Casshern Sins and most recently Yuasa‘s 2010 show Yojohan Shinwa Taikei. I’ve never really taken notice of color designers before–in Yojohan, for example, I attributed every part of the visuals to Yuasa and his crew of animators–but this guy’s work in Penguindrum finally made me sit up straight in my seat. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of Casshern, but from what I’ve seen I can say it also had great color work, expertly contrasting between the drab, gray, ruined setting and the brightly colored characters, while in Yojohan the guy did a superb job evoking mood through the ever-changing colors from one scene to the next. Look forward to this guy’s work. He’s quite excellent.

Penguindrum #1 notables

Storyboard: Kunihiko Ikuhara

Ep. director: Shouko Nakamura

Animation director: Terumi Nishii

On the animators’ side, the episode had Akemi Hayashi, Sushio, Shouko Nakamura to name a few.

Akemi Hayashi, Shouko Nakamura, Shouko Nishigaki, and Yoshihiko Umakoshi grace the OP animation as well.

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