Penguins Work In Mysterious Ways

 Anime, Mawaru Penguindrum  Comments Off on Penguins Work In Mysterious Ways
Jul 312011

I’m at a complete loss as to what to say about Mawaru Penguindrum.

I think that’s why I’m digging it so much.

The actual plot of the series is pretty damn straightforward:

Siblings live on their own. One sibling has generic anime wasting disease. Said sibling dies, pulls a Jean Grey, and is now Pengoenix (That’s Penguin + Phoenix. I’m quite clever like that.). Chibi Jean Grey wants her siblings to find a McGuffin because of Mysterious Plot X. There’s also penguins and stalkers.

What baffles me about Penguindrum isn’t the plot. What baffles me is what, exactly, is the point of it all? There’s a bunch of rambling about fate and destiny and whatever, but we get mixed messages about all that. It seems like its destiny that the sister was saved (Finding that magical penguin hat most likely wasn’t chance. She was fated to have that hat save her. Probably.), and that’s a good thing in most peep’s books, but at the same time we have crazy stalker apple chick and her Death Note of Love scenario. She thinks she’s fated to do all of this stuff with her old man crush, but she’s clearly a messed up girl who’s one step away from becoming a murder-suicide statistic. She doesn’t paint a pretty picture of predestination.

So I kinda toss all of that out of the way for now. Fate’s good. Fate’s bad. Fate’s seriously fucked up either way. There isn’t much to speculate about because things seem like they could shift radically at any moment.

And it’s that vibe that confounds me and fascinates me. It’s like when I’m having a dream. I’ll be experiencing the dream and I’ll get to a point where I realize I’m dreaming. That’s the moment were some people will kick into lucid dreaming– they’ll start to manipulate their dream to suit their whims. I’ll do that as well, but there are times where I don’t. I’m fully aware that this is a dream, but I don’t wanna interrupt what’s going down. Sometimes, instead of lucid dreaming, I just let the dream keep going in its own direction. Or at least I trick myself into believing that I’m not actually manipulating the dream consciously.

That’s how Penguimdrum feels to me. I feel like I’ve come across some random dream of mine, and instead of sitting there and trying to twist things around to suit my fancy I’m just letting my subconscious screw around on its own. For now, I’m not the least bit interested in theorizing or predicting the direction in which Penguindrum will go. It isn’t because I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed that the series doesn’t go the way I anticipate. Rather, I get the feeling that any of my guesses will be futile because Penguindrum doesn’t seem to be playing by any recognizable rule set. Thus far it isn’t even matching up with its director’s previous effort, Revolutionary Girl Utena. It has some of the same ritualistic tendencies, and some of the visual flourishes are the same, but that’s about it. Even all the talk about fate seems to differ, since Utena gave a pretty clear picture about its feelings on all of that from the get-go through Utena’s eyes.

And while we’re on that Utena tangent, I find it interesting that Penguindrum doesn’t have such a main character focal point. While we seem to focus on the middle sibling, he has yet to act as an audience cipher. It’s less a matter of “we’re experiencing the events through his eyes” the way we did with Utena (Or the way we often do in most other series.). We just happen to be following him along since many of the events just happen to go down in his presence. That lack of “main characterness” has made the whole experience somewhat impersonal, but I dig that. This isn’t one particular character’s story, it’s about all the shit that’s transpiring.

But yeah, Penguindrum is an odd beast. I have no desire to outguess it because I’m genuinely interested in seeing where its madness will lead us.

I guess you could say I’m stalking it, curious to see what it does when it gets home at night.

Game of Death

 Anime, Mawaru Penguindrum, Mazinkaiser SKL  Comments Off on Game of Death
Mar 292011

Sorry about the whole “not posting shit” thing. That kinda happens when all that real life stuff we all hate decides it’s more important than meaningless anime nonsense. Without going into too many details, let’s just say my past few weeks have revolved around funerals, obnoxious relatives that need to learn how to grow the fuck up, and traveling to the northern wastelands of the US to teach stupid people how to do shit.

Anyway. Kaiji. It was awesome, for the most part. Let’s talk about that awesomeness.

I dig the way the series plays manages to (in a relatively organic way) go through three of the traditional “conflicts” within the context of its whole “gambling to save your ass” storyline. The Restricted Rock Paper Scissors bit plays out the whole Man vs. Society bit, where Kaiji has to deal with and manipulate various social/game rules and the way people interact to his advantage. The Race bit is all about Man vs. Himself, where it’s people’s fears and hubris that lead to their defeat. Then the final bit, with the E-Card game, comes down to the classic Man vs. Man, where Kaiji has to deal with one man’s scheming to keep from getting a drill shoved into his brain.

All pretty damn obvious stuff that doesn’t really need to be pointed out, but I dug how these conflicts seemed to be segregated on purpose. And if you wanna get all haughty and shit you can start comparing Kaiji’s plight to the sort of shit that classical heroes from Greek tragedies would have to put up with. It’s really does feel like Kaiji’s a modern-day gambling equivalent to Oedipus and his buddies– all dealing with ridiculous trials in a seemingly hopeless quest to make his meaningless mortal life halfway decent. All he needed was a third act where he has a daughter and she gets roped into a lethal game of Hellish Hopscotch or something. Then the trilogy’d be complete. Maybe that happens in the second season.

That said, I think the series pretty much peaks with the Rock Paper Scissors game. The RPS deal is pretty damn brilliant. The game’s rules are set down from the get-go, and they’re complete enough that you could actually recreate it if a bunch of deadbeat dudes owed you some serious scratch. And that arc nails down all of the traits that we see repeated in the next two: Kaiji’s frustration with being in a situation he can’t control, the way he can scheme up some brilliant plan on the fly, and the way he finds ways to come back from the brink of death. We get that same cycle of events during the other games he plays, and in that regard the whole thing starts to feel like a shounen action series– all repetitive events repackaged with different rules and villains to fill out a storyline.

But whatever. There’s a hell of a lot of sadistic glee to get out of seeing people squirm on a ledge, literally inches away from plummeting to their deaths. And the whole ear drill thing was great. Way more interesting than your usual shounen glaring at each other and talk about power levels and energies in your belly and souls in your sword or whatever. Sure, it’s just a silly anime cartoon thing, but there’s real stakes on the line– the sort of shit that actually kinda makes sense. It’s probably hard seeing yourself being some super powered super hero dude (Unless you have delusions of grandeur like me, but we all can’t be me.), but it’s totally plausible to see yourself being strapped to a table with a giant blade ready to whack off your fingers. Maybe not the strapped down to the table bit, but the bodily harm and financial ruin at play in Kaiji feels more real.

This shit’s pretty much Dragon Ball Z for adults. And that’s kinda cool.

But I don’t care much for how we’re getting a second season. I rather liked Kaiji’s story arc in this series. He “comes back from the dead” in the RPS game and finds himself even worse off than before. He manages to survive the race game only to find himself cheated out of his prize. He manages to foil the rich dudes’ scheme and win some cash money in the E-Card bit. He gets arrogant and tries to stick it to the man one more time only to have everything come crashing back down on him twofold.

In all of this Kaiji really does change as a character. He goes from being a punkass kid with entitlement issues to a down and out bum to a man who grasped “greatness” only to have that victory destroyed by his arrogance. He’s genuinely grown over the course of the series. Maybe for the better, maybe for the worse– or maybe it’s just a sidestep sort of development where he’s where he’s always been, just with a different view– but he’s had the sort of arc that few anime characters seem to get. He’s come to an epiphany at the end of the anime, and I’m pretty damn satisfied with him with him coming to this realization.

Do we really need to get another 26 episodes or so of the same manipulative games with the same peaks and valleys of drama to only come to what I’m assuming is a victory for Kaiji over these rich scumbags? Does we really need that moment of victory in order to feel satisfied?

Does the main character have to win before we feel the story’s been told? Sure, that’s cool and all, but this is one story where I don’t think we’ll need it. I’ll watch the sequel, and I’m sure it’ll be cool and all, but sure as hell don’t need it. Kaiji’s a pretty damn good series as is. Not quite inserted into my top list, but it’s close.

And dude, I totally wanna learn how to slam down cards like the peeps in this series. Those are the real mad gaming skills right there.