Penguindrum vol. 1 (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 2, 2013 by  

“Penguindrum” vol . 1 is an amazing series.  It’s different from previous Ikuhara works such as “Revolutionary Girl Utena” and even “Sailor Moon”, but with a solid storyline, cool and interesting characters and wonderful animation and art backgrounds, “Penguindrum” is an amazing series that I highly recommend on Blu-ray!

Image courtesy of © 2012 Sentai Filmworks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Penguindrum Vol. 1

YEAR: 2011

DURATION: 12 Episodes (300 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, English Subtitles

COMPANY: Sentai Filmworks


Release Date: December 31, 2012

Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara

Series Composition by Kunihiko Ikuhara, Takayo Ikami

Music by Yukari Hashimoto

Original Character Designs by Lily Hoshino

Character Design by Terumi Nishii

Art Director: Chieko Nakamura, Kentaro Akiyama

Anime Production: Brain’s Base

Featuring the following voice talent:

Marie Miyake/Emily Neves as Ringo Oginome

Miho Arakawa/Monica Rial as Himari Takakura

Ryohei Kimura/Blake Shepard as Shōma Takakura

Subaru Kimura/Illich Guardiola as Kanba Takakura

Akira Ishida as Keiju Tabuki

Mamiko Noto/Shelley Calene-Black as Yuri Tokikago

Yui Horie/Maggie Flecknoe as Masako Natsume

Yutaka Koizumi/David Matanga as Sanetoshi Watase

Once you make a decision, does the universe conspire to make it happen? Is destiny a matter of chance, a matter of choice or the complex outcome of thousands of warring strands of fate? All twins Kanba and Shouma know is that when their terminally ill sister Himari collapses at the aquarium, her death is somehow temporarily reversed by the penguin hat that she had asked for. It’s a provisional resurrection, however, and it comes at a price: to keep Himari alive they need to find the mysterious Penguin Drum. In order to do that, they must first find the links to a complex interlocking chain of riddles that has wrapped around their entire existence, and unravel the knots that tie them to mystifying diary and a baffling string of strangers and semi-acquaintances who all have their own secrets, agendas and “survival strategies.” And in order for Himari to live, someone else’s chosen destiny will have to change. From the creator of REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA comes a story of love, fate, life, death . and Penguins: PENGUIN DRUM – THE FIRST COLLECTION.

Kunihiko Ikuhara is best known for directing episodes of the “Sailor Moon” series but most notably for his work on “Revolutionary Girl Utena”.  While Ikuhara may not be known for having a long oeuvre in his animated career, Ikuhara has won over fans all over the world for his work.

In 2011, Ikuhara returned with a 24-episode series titled “Mawaru Penguindrum” (Penguindrum) produced by Brain’s Base.

Directed by Ikuhara and also co-written along with Takayo Ikami (“Heaven’s Memo Pad”), the series features the music of Yukari Hashimoto (“Mayo Chiki!”, “Kanamemo”, “Toradora!”), original character designs by Lily Hoshino (“Zakuro”, “Mr. Flower Groom”, “Otome Yokai Zakuro”), character designs by Terumi Nishii (“Casshern Sins”, “Death Note”, “Inuyasha”) and background art by Chieko Nakamura (“Eyeshield 21”, “Azumanga Daioh”, “Revolutionary Girl Utena”) and Kentaro Akiyama (“Air”, “Black Rock Shooter”, “Steel Angel Kurumi”).

And “Penguindrum” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sentai Filmworks (volume 1 was released in December 2012 and volume 2 will be released in March 2013).

“Penguindrum” is an anime series featuring three members of the Takakura family.  Kanba and brother Shouma are responsible for taking care of their younger sister Himari while their parents are gone.   Both want strongly to bring Himari happiness.

And we are given a flashback that the reason for them striving to bring Himari happiness is because their doctor has told them that Himari’s health is worsening and she is dying.  So, both brothers are wanting to make sure that their younger sister has a good life before she dies.

With Himari wanting to relive a happy memory of the family going to the aquarium to seen the penguins, as the family are having fun and visit a shop, Himari who is waiting with Shouma (as he is buying her a penguin hat) disappears.  When both Kanba and Shouma are looking for their sister, someone screams to call for an ambulance as a girl is unconscious.

The brothers run out to find their sister passed out.  When they arrive to the hospital, Himari is dead.  Shouma is distraught and Kanba, trying to be the caretaker feels it is time notify family members, which upsets Shouma that his brother is not as distraught as he is.  As the two argue, the penguin cap that the brothers bought for her suddenly brings Himari back to life.

The two are whisked to a special area in which Himari, but in the personality of the Princess of the Crystal, a dominatrix, tells the brothers that she is looking for the penguin drum and if they want to extend the life of their sister, they will do as she says.  Also, letting them know that three blue penguins will be staying with the Takakura’s and no one can see them but them.

Their first lead to finding the penguindrum is for them to follow Ringo Oginome and to watch over her.  As the brothers follow her, they realize something odd about this girl, the fact that she is a stalker of their science teacher Mr. Tabuki.  And she often refers to a diary, which the Princess of the Crystal orders them to get the diary.

But as the brothers try to obtain the diary, someone out there is trying to do the same.

Meanwhile, to make things even more unusual, Himari brings a new friend over to the house….Ringo Oginome.

“Penguindrum” features the following characters:

  • Kanba Takakura – The serious person in the family and is known for being a playboy who dates girls and dumps them.  He cares deeply for his little sister Himari and with the father and mother not home, he is responsible for taking care of the family and maintaining the family finances.  Of the siblings, he is doing all he can to obtain the penguindrum.
  • Shouma Takakura – The innocent brother who has been given the task of following Ringo Oginome to obtain her diary.  He cares for his sister deeply.
  • Himari Takakura – The cheerful sister who is dying from an uncurable disease.  For some reason she is being kept alive by a penguin hat that changes to the Princess of the Crystal, a dominatrix who uses Himari’s body to order her brothers in finding the penguindrum (which will extend her life) or else their sister will die.  Always caring for her brothers and loving to cook, she cares more for them than worry for her own illness.  She was once a member of the idol group “Triple H”.
  • Ringo Oginome – A stalker who is trying to get her teacher Keiju Tabuki in love with her.  In truth, Ringo is following the diary of her deceased sister Momoka and trying to make sure her dream comes true by trying to get close to Tabuki by any means necessary.  Even if he is dating Yuri Tokikago.  But her diary has a connection to the Takakura’s and the Princess of the Crystal has ordered the Takakura brothers to obtain Momoka/Ringo’s diary.
  • Keiju Tabuki – A teacher that Ringo stalks.  A science teacher for both Takakura brothers, when he was younger, he was close to Momoka Oginome.  He is dating Yuri Tokikago.
  • Yuri Tokikago – A famous actress to the Sunshiny Theatre Takarazuka troupe, she loves Keiju and unaware that Ringo loves him.  She thinks that she and Shouma Takakura are boyfriend and girlfriend.
  • Masako Natsume – A wealthy woman who seems to be going after women that were once close to Kanba.  She has an obsession to him and uses a laser slingshot with the potential to erase the memories of individuals.    Like the Takakakura’s, she also ahas a penguin and is after the penguindrum for some reason.
  • Sanetoshi Watase –  A mysterious librarian working at the Central Library’s “Hole int eh Sky” branch trying to assist Himari.  He has an unknown connection to Himari.


“Penguindrum” vol. 1 is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1).  It’s important to note that when it comes to anime production, unlike major anime studios who are very busy developing several animated TV series, films and OVA’s all at one time, Brain’s Base (which is founded by former staff of Tokyo Movie Shinsha) is not one to put themselves in the situation of having too much on their plate.  The good news is that because the staff are not in a major deadline while working on multiple series, they could focus on a series and give it the best quality, even though it’s a TV series.

In the case of “Penguindrum”, everything that you can hope for in a series with many locations, scenery, art backgrounds, characters in different clothing and great amount of detail and shading is featured.  Colors are not subdued or soft, they are colorful and vibrant. I detected no banding issues, no artifacts whatsoever.

“Penguindrum” is probably one of the coolest anime series that I have seen in quite some time and goes to show that TV anime series can look fantastic and it does on Blu-ray!


“Penguindrum” vol. 1 is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (Japanese and English).  Both are the same when it comes to special effects and in terms of voice acting, both are well done.  I typically listen to the Japanese soundtrack but this is one series where the English dub soundtrack is well-done.  Lossless audio is crystal clear from the front channels.


“Penguindrum” vol. 1 comes with the clean opening and closing animation.

When I heard that Kunihiko Ikuhara was working on another anime series, like many anime fans who were stoked with the big news, for me, I felt like it was about time.

Having enjoyed his work for “Sailor Moon” and “Revolutionary Girl Utena”, I don’t know how many times I saw next to Ikuhara at an anime convention that I was covering, asking if he was working on any new projects.

There is this style and also creativity that he brings to his anime series, may it be the fashion aspect or even the Yuri elements and relationships which were pretty bold for an anime TV series.

With that being said, he’s one of those directors that needs creative control to bring that high-level of creativeness and I know that some studios are hesitant unless it’s someone near legendary status in the anime industry.

While “Revolutionary Girl Utena” is from the 1996-1997 (with the film in 1999), it has been over a decade until he got to direct again and this time, it looks like he has creative control with “Penguindrum”.  And his collaboration with Brain’s Base turned out to be very effective as this is one of the coolest, stylish, freshest TV series that I have seen in terms of quality.

As mentioned earlier, popular studios are always working on multiple series and so art backgrounds are typically trees, skies and occasional buildings, but for “Penguindrum”, this is a series that requires a lot of locations.  Characters travel to so many different areas around the city and each background is detailed.  Also, I like it when characters are shown wearing different clothes.  With TV series, to make things easier on the animators for deadline, most often the characters are wearing the same clothes.  But Brain’s Base put a lot of time in making sure these characters have different clothing.

Character designs and art backgrounds are fantastic and on Blu-ray, this is one of the most vibrant TV series I have seen.  If there is one factor that I wish the Blu-ray had was special features.  May it be commentary, featurettes, Japanese commercials or promotional videos, something other than opening and ending credits.

As for the storyline, there is a lot of humor, a lot of flashbacks and twists and turns.  At the beginning, we are often wondering why a character like Shouma is having to follow this crazy stalker, Ringo.  But we slowly see each layer peel away to reveal Ringo’s true intentions but also how her past connects with the Takakura’s.

Suffice to say, when you get to episode 10-12, things get crazy and it leaves you craving for more!

Overall, “Penguindrum” vol . 1 is an amazing series.  It’s different from previous Ikuhara works such as “Revolutionary Girl Utena” and even “Sailor Moon”, but with a solid storyline, cool and interesting characters and wonderful animation and art backgrounds, “Penguindrum” is an amazing series that I highly recommend on Blu-ray!


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