Mawaru Penguindrum #4
let's destiny is a neat catchphrase
One of the most interesting things in TV anime is seeing how outside people can handle any material headed by the series’ head honcho (the series director, in other words), and witnessing how they manifest their own styles in presenting the said material in a manner attuned with the original goals and direction the head guy may pursue. In the past I always assumed that a series director was the one in charge of all the episodes in a given series, but over time I realized that the task isn’t only hard but downright impossible, and that there are other directors who help cover the slack with some of them even providing personal masterpieces within the show. In most cases, this situation presents itself readily in series with stylistically daring creators, say Masaaki Yuasa or Hiroyuki Imaishi (examples of which are Akitoshi Yokoyama‘s brilliant episodes of Kemonozume/Kaiba/Tatami Galaxy for the former and Osamu Kobayashi‘s frequent appearances in the latter’s shows: Gurren Lagann #4, Panty & Stocking #5 part B as the most obvious examples). On that note, here we see another instance of such a director, this time one already experienced working under Ikuhara, way back in the Utena days. And, as planned, it was great watching. In hindsight, this episode was long forthcoming.
This episode was a welcome sight after the lackluster showing of episode 3, where the raw thrill and excitement weren’t quite achieved in the same way as in the prior 2 eps. Here we’re back to the same slapdash, energetic, and patently comedic tone of the past episodes, except this time the energy level is taken even higher. It’s like seeing somebody just take the show, add in all the things that already made it interesting, put them all together, and just run away with it to see how it goes. That was the vibe I got while and after watching. It’s infectious, and I found myself being taken every which way the show went. What also interested me about Penguindrum ep4 is the way that it managed to restrain itself, not to go overboard despite the many visual additions sprinkled in this particular episode. The ep staff was running wild here, throwing in a lot of imaginatively quirky tricks every other scene, but you sense that they’re still being careful enough not to go way over the line and become a little too wacky–carefree wackiness being par for the course for Ikuhara’s past show. The vibrant life of this episode was still finely tuned to the overall lighthearted and funny tone of the whole show. It’s an assured piece, hilarious, but assured.
In this episode, we’re greeted with the return of the classy lady in ep 3, the woman in Tabuki‘s house. It’s only now that I realized that she is, in fact, voiced by Mamiko Noto, which either tells of my inability to pay attention or her skill at changing up her voice (though it’s most probably the former). Anyway, it’s also the continuation of Ringo’s story, in which we find her still at her stalking ways, this time staging her antics during a quiet little birdwatching stroll in a park. All this is interspersed with perhaps the defining and unifying element in the episode: Ringo’s daydreams played out as musical sequences with the characters drawn in a kind-of Moto Hagio-esque style or Dezaki’s classic shojo anime, think Oniisama e or Rose of Versailles (it was even referenced). This trick has been pulled off before, but I find its use here as being particularly refreshing and comedic, as the inherent flamboyancy and fabulous-ness of the style was further maximized and even exaggerated. Not that they went a little too over-the-top. The scenes came and went all in keeping with the somewhat restrained feeling and direction in which I think the series wants to go.
The other thing that made the sequences (and the episode itself) superbly pleasing to my eyes is the, you guessed it, incredible use of color. The coloring in the park scenes and even on the characters’ attire was already great and alluring, but they’re even greater in the daydream parts. From splattering in seemingly random blotches of pink and red in the first shot to the neat texture of the greens and the browns and all the others in the succeeding sections, the whole piece was just a feast for the eyes, perhaps even more so than previous eps. It’s nice that the director was able to use and integrate the wonderful coloring work by Kunio Tsujita into his own piece. The first scene in the house (with Ringo and Himari cooking breakfast) was amazing too. One could just lose himself in all those swaths of beautiful colors everywhere.
Shingo Kaneko, the storyboarder/episode director for this ep, had already worked with Ikuhara on Utena many years before, and had presumably done excellent work for him to be called upon years later for Ikuhara‘s next one. Last year he was also called up to direct some episodes of Bones’ Star Driver, which I recall also having some good eps (though I can’t remember which ones he did). Presumably, Kaneko was also called up on that show due to Enokido‘s presence and due to the fact that it was a Takuya Igarashi show (Igarashi of course also being one of Utena‘s rotation directors). It’s all these connections again, linking up all around in anime, where one guy can jump everywhere to do some work provided he knows somebody else in other projects at different studios. It makes me think of how small the anime world really is. You have quite the truckload of anime being put out season after season, and oftentimes the same bunch of guys are working on them. On one show you may see this guy do work, and on another show a week later, you may see the same guy doing work. It’s crazy.
One crazy statement I’ve heard way before this series started airing said even Mamoru Hosoda himself was coming aboard to direct an episode or two, probably based on his Utena connections with Ikuhara (yes, he was one of the show’s rotation directors too). I don’t believe it’s going to happen now, but it’s a nice thought to dream about. Though I probably won’t be surprised as much if we see a certain Katsuyo Hashimoto appear in this show. Maybe.
Aside from those daydream sequences, the episode also didn’t lack in the cute-penguins-doing-cute-stuff category. The volume of which in this episode may have even surpassed the previous outings, which is kinda saying much. The animals did their stuff without taking up too much of the spotlight, instead playing around in the background, making for some disjointedly funny sequences. I especially liked the part where Kanba orders some food in a restaurant and Penguin no. 2 busied himself literally stuck up the waitress’ ass. Also the part where Penguin no. 1 was swimming down the lake looking as if it was going to save Ringo, except he was only hunting for some fish, swimming away as soon as it got ’em in its mouth. It’s moments like this that give the show more punch and vitality. I missed this in episode 3. It’s also really great to see all this densely packed visual information and schemes in the episode play together smoothly, without hobbling the entire episode with the volume of it all. That’s also considering the major developments happening all around the episode, culminating in the escalator scene. It’s a commendable job, stitching together the story with funny gags and offball quirks and making them coexist in a very watchable whole.
So fine was this episode on all those fronts that I was able to get over the fact that there was no transformation sequence this week. I was twiddling my thumbs, waiting for SURVIVAL STRATEGY to ring out, and I was disappointed not to hear it, but watching the episode made me forget about its conspicuous lack. It’d become a fixture in the show, and its absence may take away from it, but as long as it’s balanced by good work in other areas then it wouldn’t matter as much. Which is true for this ep.
I’ve noticed that there hasn’t been any credits so far for script, which would mean that every episode thus far has been storyboarded off-the-cuff. I haven’t seen this approach in TV anime myself, in the short time I’ve kept up with it, and it’s a really fascinating approach. I’ve heard of some rumors where directors would totally scrap the scripts sent to them when they didn’t like what they’ve read, but I thought they were only for some eps. So far the Penguindrum eps have done pretty well following this approach, and it’d probably be better if they just stick with it. It feels more spontaneous this way. Script work in anime is important, too, but in some cases you can remove it completely at no cost to the final product.
Animators in this episode are all unknown to me, but one name did catch my eye as I skimmed the ED credits. It’s some guy named Initial K. I have to admit it’s a pretty clever name. Also makes me ask how many animators/creators in the industry use pen names. Also why some of them like to go uncredited on some projects. Definitely an interesting thing to find out.
WordPress tells me that this is my 50th post in this little blog, which may not mean much, but nevertheless it’s something I find to be a minor achievement. Time moves quickly. I started this blog a year ago without any goal whatsoever and without much to talk about, but here I am, typing out my 50th post. Makes me feel a little mushy…well, no, not really.