kenholic hates this anime most in 2011 (hint: penguins)

My list of favorite anime in 2011 is currently in the works, but in putting it together, I became torn upon reviewing the shows I watched last year due to the presence of one particular series.

Mawaru Penguindrum (Bonus Coverage - My Most Disliked Anime of 2011 - Spoiler Free)

Just like how I couldn't stand Revolutionary Girl Utena, I just couldn't get into its spiritual successor, Mawaru Penguindrum. Let me get this straight though, Penguimdrum is light years better than Utena. The production values, the stylized animation, the music, all the bells and whistles - it's pretty good. In fact, I can agree that objectively in terms of creativity and imagery, it earns high marks and arguably belongs in any top five shortlist of best anime of 2011 (including mine). As an anime, I don't hate it. That's a real dilemma then, because as a form of art, I really, really disliked the execution behind the kind of storytelling it attemped.

There are people who find anime like Penguindrum and Utena to be complex and provocative, a throwback to old Greek tragedies about fates and destiny (with a distinct Asian flavor, i.e. red strings of fate); but there's a real fine line between smart psychological thinkers like Serial Lain and Perfect Blue, and random messes like Penguindrum. In the case of Penguindrum, we have a rare anime that allows for a lot of symbolism to be explored throughout this series, but I argue to what end?

When dealing with pseudo-fantasy layered realities, either imagined, inside someone's head, or even magically real as allowed by the storytelling universe, boundaries are purposefully blurred for a cerebral effect. Finding or interpreting the truth can be a fun exercise. It's a lot like trying to find reason and rhyme in another person's madness, provided the creator leaves behind a consistent set of keys to build an organized story tree. I feel that this is where Penguindrum gets lost; it meanders around, going back and forth, but never latching onto any solid footing because it is fundamentally inconsistent in the madness of its characters.

It's a natural process for characters to grow and mature as a story progresses. That's not the type of inconsistency I'm talking about in this series; it's character motivation. The things that drive characters to do the things they do; i.e. love, greed, power are common in all forms of storytelling. Well, in Penguindrum, character motivation is all over the place which really causes me some *wtf*, *facepalm* moments. You know, if I wanted to do some spoilers, and took some conclusions REALLY REALLY FAR, I could come up with some extremely high concept explanations of what I think happens throughout this show, and it might be entertaining to the right audience. But I won't do that here. Getting back to the idea of "doing it right" though, stories like these leave it up to the audience to draw their own conclusions.

So if it's up to the audience to exercise their imaginations and all that good stuff, then why should I care? Well, what really irks me then is that Penguindrum is an example of a story that is pretentious enough to make you think that they know what they are doing, when they really don't. To this point, I haven't even touched upon the lack of explanation behind many of the physical plot devices employed by the anime - the memory altering devices, the magic spells on top of the supernatural abilities exhibited by some of the characters. Very few of these, if any, are ever established as a "thing"; like a kid's playground game where you didn't know about my super secret satellite defense that blocks the nuclear death ray that you just pulled on me because my holy ninja fountain pen just stopped the interest on the thirty year fixed mortgage loan I owed to you, these things "just exist". And that is what is absolutely maddening to me. Despite it's wishy-washy characters and weak grasp on its universe, the anime presents its ending with such matter-of-fact conviction that it blows my mind. I mean, don't get me wrong, it was a fantastic and powerful ending, but it literally didn't make any sense.

Which leads me to another thing. Penguindrum reminds me of the one movie that I will always hate for the same reasons: The Fountain (by Darren Aronofsky). According to Imdb: "Spanning over one thousand years, and three parallel stories, The Fountain is a story of love, death, spirituality, and the fragility of our existence in this world." Yup, that tag is the same concept that this anime tries to present, just in a different medium.

All I have left to say about either of these two, is that attempting to come up with a logical explanation for their stories will more than likely cause your brain to explode from pure nonsense because these shows are figuratively attempting to divide by zero. Which is to say, there's actually no real substance in them. How's that for allegory? Word.

[One final note: The fact that Penguindrum has inspired this rant might actually mean that it will hold a special place in my hall of distinguished of anime. Maybe like a wall of notoriety or something. Come to think of it, I could think of a few more to add onto that list, but that would be a story for another day.]