12 Days XI: Zettai Unmei Seizon Senryaku

「little world」/「momoc」

Yeah, I made the same joke last year. But who would’ve thought that we’d get two Utena derived shows within a year? Certainly not me.

But yes, Mawaru Penguindrum is a show that has penguins in it.

It’s fascinating how different Penguindrum is from Star Driver but still manage to be so heavily evocative of Utena. Having Penguindrum as a comparison, I realized that there really was no reason to expect that Star Driver would make as many callbacks to Utena as it does. I mean, it’s not like Igarashi and Enokido hadn’t worked on stuff together before.

Like Star Driver, Penguindrum exudes its own sense of style. In Star Driver, a lot of that is constrained to the more fantastical parts of the show, like whenever we’re dealing with Cybodies and the Glittering Crux. There’s no such separation in Penguindrum. Even in the real world, the architecture and shots of the locations are still really surreal. So while in Star Driver, there’s a clear delineation between real and fantasy, we’re often left wondering which is which in Penguindrum.

And the penguins don’t help very much in this department either.

Looking back at Star Driver, there actually isn’t that much weird stuff going on during the school life section of each episode. I mean, yes, weird events happen and all, but what you saw was pretty much what happened. In Utena, weird things where we’re not really sure how to take happen in the school life parts, which is the route that Penguindrum takes.

Structurally, Star Driver resembles Utena much more because of the clearly defined events that take place in each episode. On occasion, we’ll be missing, say, a song or something but for the most part, we know how each episode goes down. Penguindrum is not very repetitive at all, at least not in how each episode goes. Yeah, there’s SEIZON SENRYAKU, but those are really more diversions than a shadow play and then ZETTAI UNMEI MOKUSHIROKU followed by a substantial duel or APPRIVOISE followed by GINGA BISHOUNEN and a substantial duel.

Of course, all three still make use of visual symbols and phrases and keep on repeating them a lot. The obvious messages are pretty obvious because they’re shoved in front of you, but it just sort of piles on to you to the point that there are probably some other messages hidden under this mound of symbols you’ve suddenly got. I mean, every goddamn thing that shows up on the screen or uttered by anyone is probably a symbol. Has anyone dissected the Triple-H/ARB songs yet?

Penguindrum also differs from Utena and Star Driver by not being about a prince who strolls into town and upsets the establishment trying to revolutionize the world. Certainly, we’ve got our shadowy cabal trying to revolutionize the world, but it’s really more about two brothers trying to save their sister, which is much less grand. Of course, the penguins would probably deflate any sense of awe pretty quickly.

Not that I don’t appreciate the penguins. I think they’re an awesome part of the show. It’s an interesting way of adding another layer to all of those symbols we’re buried under, in that they supposedly are reflective of the state of mind of the characters they shadow. More importantly, their antics are just plain enjoyable and the show would be much more depressing without them.

Does the choice of penguins mean anything or does Ikuhara just really, really like them? It is a mystery.

Man, I wish I had a penguin that mirrored my internal thoughts and did errands for me and was invisible to everyone except me.

12 Days III: Zettai Unmei Apprivoise

「世界を革命する力を」/「ポチョムキン」

「世界を革命する力を」/「ポチョムキン」

Even before I watched it, I associated Utena very closely with Evangelion. Both of them were supposed to be subversions of their respective genres and filled to the brim with weird as hell symbology and abstraction. The difference is that after actually watching them, I ended up liking only one of them (I’d come around to the other one later on, after a viewing of Rebuild).

In terms of weird stuff and layers of meaning, Utena definitely wins out. Okay, Evangelion is filled with religious symbols and references, but it doesn’t push abstract symbols as blatantly as Utena does. Weird psychology and stuff about singularity can’t really match up to twirling roses and heavy use and repetition of motifs. I thought people weren’t serious about the repetitiveness of Utena until the second or third time Utena grabbed the handle to open the door and ZETTAI UNMEI MOKUSHIROKU poured out of my speakers.

I think my problem with Evangelion is that I’ve experienced about a decade’s worth of influence from it, to the point that the things that made it special didn’t wow me when I got around to watching it. It’s kind of like the people who really love fantasy but are bored by Lord of the Rings. Utena doesn’t have this problem because it’s so crazy that no one has attempted to emulate it. So, watching it was actually a really new and refreshing experience.

Of course, I lied when I said that no one has tried to make anything like Utena, because Star Driver is something that is like Utena, even if it doesn’t take it to the same extent (no huge twirling roses here). Being written by the same guy probably helps. But I imagine that half the reason I’m enjoying it so much is because I “get” it. The repetition doesn’t bother me at all and the weird non-sequiturs and general quirks aren’t as jarring as they would have been if I wasn’t watching out for those things.

It definitely makes it a lot easier to reconcile things like the weird intersection of school life and magical robot fights. The obvious parallel and precedent is the Utena duels, but there’s no way for anyone who isn’t aware of this already to pick up on the fact that the robots punching each other and the characters’ personal struggles from the first half of the episode have anything to do with each other.

Beyond the structural similarities though, the other thing that I really like about both Utena and Star Driver is that they have style, likely a product of the symbolism they’ve tried to inject into each show.

But yeah, I don’t think any other show has quite impressed instances into my mind like ZETTAI UNMEI MOKUSHIROKU and friends.