Mawaru Penguin Drum: I need to pay more attention to plot details

Tee-hee: those things look like boobies!

I’ve watched episodes 07 and 08 and now I’m more confused than ever. Part of the problem is because I’m used to watching simple-minded school comedy shows and overwrought shoujo bullshit that demand little attention to be paid. This show is a big transition from those genres for me. I’ve actually watched one or two episodes twice now, but I still keep forgetting which characters are which and how they’re related. This really demonstrates the scanty limits of my attention span because there are neither very many characters thus far nor are the relationships particularly complex.

See? I can't even remember the name of this one, despite the fact that she's obviously a pretty important character

That said, the fact that I’m too feeble-minded to remember even the most prominent elements of the plot doesn’t stop me from looking forward to every episode. I mean, what the hell are these red ping pong ball things that the light-haired character is shooting at people? Is she like, turning them into zombies or something?

Zombies would actually be pretty cool. The last show with zombies that I watched was High School of the Dead, and that was less than completely satisfying. I just watched a show on the History Channel about Haitian zombies in which some self-styled “scientists” concluded that zombies are not only real, but they’re created by a very simple process of first feeding a normal person some tetrodotoxin that priests extract from a local type of fugu fish. If done properly, the person then becomes completely paralyzed, so much so that even western doctors can mistake the patient for a corpse. You then bury the person and, later, when the victim recovers, he or she will rise from the dead and be a zombie. Of course, the fact that the amount of tetrodotoxin that would kill a human, according to Wikipedia is a mere 8 micrograms, it seems rather unlikely that there will be any zombie survivors of this process knocking at my door demanding my scrumptious brains any time soon. But you can never be too careful, so I’ll still be sure to cover all my belongings, self, and home with zombie repellent.

The segments about Ringo make me hungry because she's always reminding me of the "Happy Family" dish with shrimp, chicken and beef from the Chinese restaurant here.

I liked all the new revelations recently, such as how Ringo is adopting for herself and fulfilling Momoka’s fate in her stead. The way in which these, by all counts, extremely dramatic, even sombre moments are recalled in flashback with a high degree of absurdity and even some inexplicable humour are really are out there, like the scene about remembering Momoka on Ringo’s birthday in which the mother is a kappa and the father is some kind of teddy bear. Then the house is suddenly underwater and the two get attacked by an eel that reminded me of the big scary eel in the Jolly Roger Bay stage in Super Mario 64 that I was scared of when I was younger.

This also goes to further explain her delusions about — or rather fascination with — Tabuki and “Project M”, which, in light of recent events, we’re lead to believe stands for “maternity”.

Ringo Oginome is really one of the more interesting characters in any anime in recent memory.

It was funny that what Ringo took for an invitation to a date actually had her end up going to watch the Curry Lady perform in her frilly Frenchy fairy tale story which Tabuki, of course, is profoundly moved by. Ringo’s imagination is as wild as ever. I like her imagining Curry Lady as a killer whale.

Stupid Curry Lady had to go and invite Ringo and Shouma to her frilly hoity-toity actor snob party. Poor Shouma gets ordered around by Ringo even at the party. What a cruel-hearted, malevolent, sadist of a whale she is, inviting Ringo to the party just to announce her stupid engagement in front of her. What are you trying to do, Curry Lady? Drive her to kidnap Tabuki? She’s liable to do it.

It does, by the way, look like I was correct about the Men in Black. They are up to something sneaky with those ping pong balls. Either that or the long hiatus has forced Don Draper to venture into the world of cartoons.

But the thing that really keeps me watching this show, besides the penguins, is the sheer weirdness of it all. There are very few shows in which miracle frogs are used to make love potion number 9 in a sauna.

gero gero

Then what’s up with that ending? Is Ringo no longer just your run-of-the-mill stalker but an actual rapist? That’s a pretty appealing thought, but it’s more in line with an eroge than a mainstream TV anime so I doubt things will play out like I started imagining them in my head…which is a bit unfortunate.

I love Hanasaku Iroha

Sixteen years old: still a bud...nonetheless the four main characters in this show have mastered the use of meaningful stares off into the distance. A girl's adolescence isn't easy da mon!

Good to be back home in New York. Our tap water really is the best. I got back on Monday actually. I didn’t realise Penguin Drum wasn’t airing today. Next episode airs on 08/18. Why they air anime so late at night is still a mystery to me. I shouldn’t complain, since it’s early afternoon here when it’s late night anime time there.

Moving right along though, Hanasaku Iroha is great. I take back everything I may have said about not caring for the premise. After seeing the first episode or two there were a couple of things that put me off, constituting big hurdles to enjoyment of the show, but once the show overcame them, its brilliance became clear to me. I couldn’t get past what I saw to be a half-hearted setup where Ohana ends up at Kissui Inn because of her irresponsible mother running away from her debts. That seemed unrealistic to me. The first episode confession event and Ohana’s subsequent minimal reluctance to leave Ko behind were also a hard pill to swallow. I also hated her grandmother so much that I didn’t think I could stomach watching more of the show. All of these roadblocks to enjoyment of the show were intentionally set up, almost as straw men, although I don’t like to use a term with such a negative connotation, just so that the show could proceed to obliterate them in its characteristc growing pains style and claim the mushy remnants of the viewer’s heart as its well-earned battle trophy.

You're mine now!

Nonetheless, I did continue watching it. It’s rare that characters are developed so subtly and skillfully that I can hate someone at first as much as I hated Okami-san and, by now, grow to love her just as much as I loved Yuina from the start.

Say what you will about Ano Hana — it was fantastic and made me weep some high value tears — but I may have to revise my previous assertion that it was the best of last season. Hanasaku Iroha has more episodes to work with and not only can afford to take a more subtle pace, but it benefits from it by allowing the intricate, analytical explorations of each character that are its great strength. All of the characters are so likeable and earnest, even Takako. Ohana though is, of course, impossible to hate, even more so as a little girl.

Her isshokenmei work ethic and spunkiness are, perhaps at times, overwhelming, but that’s all right, since not overdoing things is, itself, just one of the many lessons she is learning on her journey. That said, Ohana isn’t even my favourite character. She’s nice in a slightly typified take-on-all-comers genki na shoujo type of a way and there’s nothing wrong with that. To me though, she’s a lot less interesting than Minko and Yuina. Despite not getting most of her accents, it’s that quirk of hers and her ambivalence about her future that make Yuina the most likeable character for me, I think. I loved the episode in which the class had a filed trip to the ryokan in which her would-be-boyfriend Yosuke works and, in the end, she helps him clean the bath, proving herself to be capable of working only to later reveal to him that, though she doesn’t know precisely what she wants to do in the future, it should be something she enjoys, rather than working in the ryokan. Ah~ they’re growing up!

I really want her massage chair. It looks really nice. Too bad The Sharper Image went out of business. Whenever I used to go to South Street Seaport I would stop by The Sharper Image shop there and try out the massage chairs.

Minko, meanwhile, is probably the most interesting. If Tooru were the protagonist we’d call her a tsundere and character development would stop there. But that’s not the focus of the story, so her personality is allowed to be unraveled in a way that’s not constrained by the typical character archetypes of harem shows with male protagonists. She has a number of really nice facial expressions. Of course, the fact that she’s played by Chiaki Omigawa doens’t hurt either.

My only remaining complaint is that I still get Jiromaru and Enishi confused. One of them should have purple hair or something so the viewer can tell them apart.

Finally, Nako might be my least favourite character. This isn’t because there’s anything particularly disagreeable about her; it’s merely that I find her the least interesting. I still enjoyed the episode about her wanting to change her outward personality to more closely resemble her inner self that she displays at home, but I still think she’s somewhat more limited in the depth of development we’ve seen with her. She’s a pretty standard character type: the shy, nurturing (she cares for her siblings), large chested, introverted, poor with men, self-conscious, soft-spoken beauty. There’s nothing really wrong with hers being a conventional character type; it’s a staple precisely because it makes for a likable character with good potential for popularity. Saying that she’s the last on my list of characters isn’t really a bad thing since I love all four of them; it’s just that I think I’m least enthralled by her story. I think that, if not Ohana, either Yuina or Minko are captivating enough to be the protagonist, whereas with Nako, I don’t think she would be enough to keep me watching if she were the protagonist. She’s extremely likable as the supportive friend though.

Other than the simply excellent storytelling and character development in this show, something in particular that I think stands out are the dreamy sequences. For example, in episode 10, the scenes in which Ohana was sick in bed with fever and kept having all sorts of crazy delusions were far out. It reminded me a bit of El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer, my favourite episode of The Simpsons, except her visions actually made some sense, pertaining to work, Ko, and Jiromaru’s story.

The metaphor used in episode 18 of the sea and land was cute but very effective and unmistakably Nakoppoi, with the sea representing Nako’s home life and inner face, while the land represeents her outer face that she displays in society and at work. The sequences where she was a mermaid and all the other characters were friendly little sea creatures (even Mame-jii!) except for Okami-san who was somehow still smoking, despite the serious impediment of being underwater were quite fun, yet still meaningful.

Ohana’s imaginings are really interesting and dreamlike too, such as in episode 19 when, in preparation for the cultural festival, she pictures Ko in waitress garb.

There’s just the right amount of comedy in this show to prevent me from falling into despair, as I’m prone to do at the slightest provocation. Tomoe is a source of much of the lightheartedness that this show props itself up on, as are Jiromaru and his literary creations, but I think the funniest moments come from Takako.

Her silliness is enough to lighten the mood when it’s necessary, but never crosses into the territory of slapstick or anything that will completely distract the viewer from the heavier themes of a given episode.

I think you could call this show “heartful” and not sound like an idiot.

I really regret being quick to judge this show when it started airing. On the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t listen to myself back then and drop the show. I would have missed out on, though it sounds ridiculously clichéd to say this, a moving story of the adolescence of four young girls and their, uhm, trials and tribulations as they learn to live and love. Ah, well, I suppose that’s why I always dodge the question when people ask me why I like things; I spout nonsense like that which makes it sound like the work in question is trash. Be that as it may, it’s a show overflowing with love and warmth and valuable lessons about growing up and the valuable moments in life.

Bwahhh~ I feel myself growing alongside them!

It’s one of those shows that I really feel like I should buy on Blu Ray to appease that guy in my head shouting about my abysmal internal morality imbalance I’ve racked up over the years from watching fansubs. I doubt he’ll win though. I’d spring for R1 BDs at R1 prices, not R2 though unless I could get ’em at R1 prices, which is unlikely. Or should I even use DVD region shorthand when talking about BDs? the price discrepancy still exists so I guess they’re still useful designations, despite USA and Japan both being region A.

I succeeded in making a two-desktop wallpaper in Debian

Those Tea Party jerks are just a bunch of IRL trolls. I can hate them 'til the cows come home, but I can't deny that successful troll is successful. I get enough amusement out of listening to the warm bodies on the TV express exaggerated concern over where the country is going and what it means for families like yours, like that irritating stooge Diane Sawyer. Incidentally, my two least favourite people on television were Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer, so all I need is for the latter to drop out too and then I won't have to worry about breaking my hand on my TV screen anymore. I really hope Michele Bachmann becomes President so that she can resign and get a reality TV show where she and a cast of LGBT Wiccans must compete for Red socialised health care while paying high taxes to fund regulatory agencies that extend common carrier laws to FTTH providers and reduce the terms for patents and copyright.

No, it’s not about taxes, it’s about my cake-themed wallpaper. KDE has support for setting a different image as wallpaper for each desktop for people with multiple monitors, like me. Gnome doesn’t. So you have to either use a tool like nitrogen to set separate images as wallpaper or make a composite wallpaper yourself. I tried nitrogen but it doesn’t work with Nautilus. You either have to run Nautilus with the –nodesktop feature turned on or use something other than Nautilus altogether. I don’t like either of those options. I did actually try using –nodesktop with OpenBox and nitrogen but even like this I still had problems. The desktop wallpaper would flicker like crazy. If I were prone to seizures I’m sure I’d be quite angry right now if I weren’t dead.

So I gave up on the seizure inducing nitrogen and decied I’d go ahead and hide all the Gnome panels, move the cursor to the corner of the screen so it wasn’t visible, and take a screenshot of the two images next to each other. I’m now using that as my wallpaper set via the Gnome Appearance menu. This is a very irritating way to manage wallpaper, but meh, it’s better than using an entirely different window manager just to get a purely cosmetic feature like wallpaper working the way I like it. It’s not ideal, but acceptable.

Mawaru Penguin Drum: The curry of fate!

Looks yummy

Apparently Himari and I have one thing in common: we’re both allergic to milk. She’s so cute.

This outfit had the unfortunate side effect of reminding me of a cow-girl character in Toppara: Zashikiwarashi no Hanashi, by which I mean the bovine variety, not the Western cattle herder variety.

I like the part where the brothers break into Ringo’s room for good and noble reasons.

Ringo is still pretty scary though.

There are limits to how far the adage "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach" can be strained and still be valid

I like Ringo’s little fantasy scene at Tabuki’s doorstep.

Noooo! Don't eat the Penguin Drum!

Unfortunately she runs into his real girlfriend and the connection between her curry and her fate is made clear as her curry comes into direct conflict with the non-fatal curry Tabuki’s girlfriend made in an unmistakable attempt to ruin Ringo’s life and destroy her very much not imagined relationship with Tabuki.


This episode made me very hungry. I just bought Fantasia on Blu Ray and watched some of it a few hours before watching this episode of Mawaru Penguin Drum. Perhaps for that reason I was specifically impressed by the mushrooom things in the house, which reminded me of the dancing amanitas in the movie, pictures of which I’m not brave enough to post and risk angering Disney.

There are lots of neat decorations like that in the show. That’s one of the reasons I like it so much. The environments aren’t bare and sterile like so many other programs in which the homes of the characters don’t look as though anybody really lives there.

Summer 2011: Still enjoying Usagi Drop

No, this isn't Rou Kyu Bu!

Now that the question of which shows are being simulcasted, which are unlicensed in U.S., and which are being oversubbed is more or less answered, I can enjoy these shows without worry because I now know that even the shows that are being simulcasted have groups working on them other than HorribleSubs. It does make me feel slightly guilty about downloading licensed shows, but meh, I’d even prefer to watch raws, pausing every few sentences to look words up in the dictionary rather than pay for legal anime that’s been professionally translated…if it comes down to that. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this peculiar situation that’s been going on for the last year or more where few people seem to care if shows are licensed in R1, since it sure seems unlikely to last more than two to three years before some Kazaa-esque debacle goes down and some 12 years old boy gets sued for downloading Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu (I wonder if this sounds as stupid in Japanese as it does in English…).


But Usagi Drop is still great. It doesn’t make me less of a man that the shows I enjoy most are primarily mushy, touchy feely shows where characters grow, learn, and forge strong bonds with friends or family and learn the value of the intangibles in life. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that the fact that I watch shows targeted at little girls and women just shows how unshakably confident I am in my manliness, that it is not reduced an iota by biting at all the old tricks used to garner emotional investment from viewers is a testament to its might. It would be more correct to say that it’s actually increased by such willingness to easily succumb to more or less entirely visceral appeals for my sympathy.

I love how the viewer gets the feeling that Rin is the one acting as the parent, at times leading Daikichi both literally and figuratively, rather than the other way around. Simultaneously, we're shown just how much of a kid she really is, despite her hardiness and maturity for her age, when she becomes too embarrassed to be seen being carried on his shoulders in front of other children.

That’s not to say that there’s not good reason for the viewer to feel sympathy for Rin. Putting aside for a moment the fact that she’s completely adorable, the figure who has acted as her parent for most of her life is gone, she’s thrust into an unfamiliar environment in which it’s made quite obvious to her that she’s an undesired intruder, and, to top it off, Daikichi is not the most traditional of parental figures one can imagine. Lots of terrible, tragic things have happened to her so my urge to kidnap her and keep her here in my home so that I can hug her any time I want to is not entirely unreasonable, even without the cuteness.

Widdle win is sweepy...

Too comment necessary.

But all thought of the plot aside, she’s very cute. This is good. I like it. It could have been annoying, but the repetition of Rin waking Daikichi up, instead of the other way around, as we would expect to be the case with a responsible parent, was effective. When Daikichi reverses that pattern by waking her up at the end of this episode, the viewer is supposed to get this rising feeling in his or her chest, like “Awwww…ickle Daikichi’s growing up. Maybe things will be okay now”. That didn’t quite happen to me, but it worked well enough. It’s a gutsy move doing repeated scenes like that, since it could fail horribly and simply prove irritating and heavy-handed. This did feel a bit immoderate, but not so much that it felt unwatchably clichéd.

Awww; the phone is as big as her face!

The best part of the episode was while Daikichi was at work and Rin was at school and the scene kept switching between the two. The sense of sameness between Daikichi, working hard at his job, and Rin, working hard at nursery school and just being a kid in the face of all the horribleness that follows her about, is expressed without words, a good example of not laying it on too thick, as it were. At least I didn’t think it was too sickeningly blunt. It’s not too subtle though and you can’t really miss the big blinking sign that goes off and reads “Hey viewer! Look! They’re both growing!” but it’s still a reasonably reserved episode, maintaining the mellow pace that I found so attractive in the first one. It’s good to see Rin making friends, but then sad as their parents pick them up, one by one, leaving Rin alone eventually as she waits for her workaholic guardian.

I was often in Rin's situation in preschool, stuck spending time alone with teacher, waiting for someone to pick me up. Having a nice teacher helps.

Finally, I like the nocturnal enuresis thing. It’s not often that the topic is broached on TV. During the first episode I thought of the sleeping arrangements and said to myself, “Oh boy! There’s bound to be some urine jokes in this show”. Well not only was I right, but I didn’t even have to wait very long! A urine scene in the second episode! For Kiss x Sis we had to wait five whole episodes for this.

I'm OK with this.

This ranks up there with Mitsudomoe and Fight Ippatsu! Juuden-chan!! in terms of how prompt the onset of pee jokes is (episode 2 for all three shows).

Ah yes, no matter how old I get, pee never stops being funny.

Summer 2011: Usagi Drop

I don’t know how many more shows I’ll be watching this season, but this one will probably be on the list. In a rare deviation from my norm, I actually knew the basic premise of the show before watching it, unlike my usual practice according to which I watch shows based on how eye-catching the promotional artwork is. For this reason and this reason only, I was not disappointed by the conspicuous absence of bunny rabbits.

As with all high class art, the show begins with a funeral. Things can only get more upbeat from here, right? I hope not actually. The slowish pace and low key atmosphere established by the first episode work really well. This jives well with how little dialogue there is. The protagonist’s interest in Rin is conveyed through meaningful glances and changes in music and subtle shit like that.

I'm sick of characters gazing off into the distance like this, head filled with complicated thoughts. For all we know, Rin could be watching two squirrels fighting right here rather than having some convoluted internal dialogue about her uncertain future.

There’s a lot of contemplating going on here and rustling of bushes and wind. The imagery changes to suit the mood. Prior to the intro everything is all flowery and springtimey and idyllic:

This bloomy vaseline on the lens thing stops as soon as the funeral begins. Then there’s some neat use of lighting and framing to make the viewer feel the same mushy way about Rin that Daikichi does. Despite what a downer the guy seems to be, Rin takes a shine to him and they do some wordless bonding.

I’ve got to watch the next episode to see how I feel about the show. It may become clichéd and uninteresting. It somehow reminded me of Koi Kaze. I’m not entirely sure why, but perhaps it’s the pacing and mellowness of the first episode; it certainly wasn’t because my lolicon senses were tingling. There’s no hint of that here at all and I don’t say that sarcastically. If there were, it’d just ruin everything the show has going for it.

To restate my complaint from the other day though, why couldn’t Rin be ugly? She’s already unwanted. It’s not too much of a leap to make her ugly and fat or something. There are lots of people who think eyepatch girls, pegleg girls and even dialysis girls are moe, so don’t underestimate the ability of the audience to love a character. They don’t all have to be so damned adorable in an obvious way.

Summer 2011: Mawaru Penguin Drum

This is an interesting show. At the least, it’s quite beautiful. I will certainly keep watching it. I still don’t know what it’s all about, but at least I get the penguin bit now. It’s certainly good looking so far, with lots of bright, pretty colours and even some flowery iconography. Maybe that’s obligatory, I dunno.

I love how the place really looks lived-in

The viewer immediately notices that, in a way very similar to Utena, there are scenes in which all of the characters other than those in the main cast are drawn as simplified, anonymous figures, apparently close relations of the man on the men’s room door:

Not that I’m complaining, but I’d once like to see an anime in which the protagonist has a really ugly imouto who the viewer is supposed to love. That’d be a challenge for the viewer. I guess Kuragehime was a bit like that, though Tsukimi wasn’t anybody’s sister. Nonetheless she was supposed to be “ugly” or at least not “pretty” in a conventional way and still succeeded to be moe. Regardless, Himari is undeniably cute as a button:

There’s a little bit of a fairy tale vibe to the show. The three main characters are siblings, but the sister, who fulfills the Ill Girl trope, is a little bit princessy in that the doctors all said long ago that there’s nothing they can do for her and she has little time left to live, as so often seems to happen on TV. Every day is precious, or something like that, so the three value every day they have together. Anyway, that’s how they end up at the aquarium to see these fucking adorable penguins:

M-M-Moar cute penguins!

But oh noes! My favourite imouto dies!

I never saw this coming!

But it’s okay ‘cuz she has a special souvenir hat that revives her, albeit possessed by some spirit that says something or other about fate and the like. We’re warned that her life is prolonged only temporarily so we should be prepared to see this again:

So the cool part here is that once she’s revived using the power of this fate thing and the penguin hat, these penguins start helping out everywhere, finding the protagonist’s train pass, umbrella, killing roaches, sewing, and so forth.

So this is all pretty cool, so much so that I’d like some penguin helpers of my own, even if it means exceeding the 78 degree voluntary limit on air conditioning suggested by Mayor Bloomberg. The only problem is that only the three of them can see the penguins, despite how industrious and adorable they may be. What follows is a henshin scene for the ages. There’s no use taking screen captures of it (and besides, this page already probably takes 9001 minutes to load). There’s some great music in this scene too.

Is Himari being controlled by the hat? What is this about obtaining the Penguin Drum? Of course, the viewer is meant to be confused, but there is also the right amount of humour in here so that I’m genuinely eager to see the next episode. It’s also good that it’s nowhere near as experimental as it could have been. I love shows like Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei as much as the next guy and cannot really criticise it, but I can at least complain that it’s a lot of work to watch. The same is true for masterpieces like Ghost in the Shell; they require some effort on the part of the viewer to appreciate. While I’m not saying by any means that this was superficial, what I think I am saying is that it’s relatively easy to become immersed in the very first episode. It’s not so challenging in the beginning so as to be off-putting to viewers who aren’t interested in something that requires intent focus.

I suppose it’s required that I confirm that I didn’t miss this visual nod (or perhaps I’m imagining it):

No matter how many times you see it, pulling a sword out of somebody’s chest is really neat. I like this show and will continue to watch it. I will also continue to watch Yuru Yuri and Ikoku Meiro Croisee. I don’t know who’s cuter: Yune or Hinata

Perhaps I’m a bit of an extremist

but Shoujo Kakumei Utena is the greatest show ever made.

On a kick I went ahead and watched the whole series in several days. I had started watching it several times before, but never got past the episode 12 to 15 area. The currently airing season is boring except for Ano Hana so I wanted to finally watch one of the various shows I had been meaning to watch but never finished. That meant I would either watch Oniisama e, Versailles no Bara, Sailor Moon, or Utena. Since watching any of those four shows would be a major time investment I knew I had to think carefully. Like everyone else, I loved Star Driver for inexplicable reasons, so when I heard about Ikuhara Kunihiko’s new project, Mawaru Penguin Drum, which will be airing in July, I knew I had to finish watching Utena before that. It didn’t hurt that I already knew that the show was ingenious, having watched the first dozen or so episodes in the past.

Now I’m neither a smart nor sophisticated person, so perhaps I’m at a disadvantage as a viewer. I know there were many references that went straight over my head. I had to look on Wikipedia to find out what a “Santa Maria della Consolazione” was. Nonetheless, I think this show hints at some universal truths which, if I could distill the material down enough to uncover them, would prove enlightening.

That’s both the worst problem about the show and its greatest strength and why I felt like crying on more occasions while watching this show than I would have expected: everything seems important and profound but the viewer never knows why that’s the case. I don’t want to use words like “Kafkaesque” to describe the show because I’ve not read enough of Franz Kafka’s work to talk about him or compare his style to Ikuhara’s. But when you read something that everyone’s read like The Metamorphosis, you keep saying to yourself, “Yes, this Kafka guy is saying something very adroit here about society or the human condition, or something like that. He must be. I wonder what it is exactly?” It’s like that. You’re moved but you don’t really know why. I’ll make no pretense of understanding anything that happened in the show. I will recommend this show to everyone I meet, but if they ask me, “Well, if the show is so great, why don’t you give me a plot synopsis?” I’d be at a loss. Let’s see, there’s a mysterious student council that secretly manipulates the whole school, something about the End of the World, duels, roses, princes on white horses, and arena rock. Sounds like a masterpiece, right?

Well, it really is. A good strategy to secure the viewer who is hanging on the threshold between “keep watching” and “drop” is to open with a bit of the meromero factor: i.e. make them turn to mush. That’s what this show does and it does it well. I wasn’t on the edge, but if I had been, introducing Utena to the viewer through the fairy-tale narrative of her meeting with her prince and vowing to become one herself following the deaths of her parents as a little girl, juxtaposed with scenes of her cleaning everyone’s clocks in basketball sends the viewer head over heels for her immediately. The viewer sees her in her boys uniform immediately, sees her get chewed out for it, sees her popularity with the other girls and hears her called “like a boy”. Introductions are accomplished succinctly. From here on out it’s a beeline for the surreal stuff that the viewers who weren’t on the fence came to see in the first place.

This is where it gets confusing though: within the first ten minutes of the show. It stays that way too. What’s all this “bara no hanayome” stuff? Who is Anthy and why is she “engaged” to Utena? I don’t know how to describe the feelings or thoughts that went through my head the first time I saw the stair climbing scene to the duel area and heard the theme “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku”. Every time thereafter that this imagery was repeated, however, it never failed to give me chills.

Again, it’s a mysterious effect that this show, the repeated imagery in particular, has on the viewer. The viewer starts to think, “Hmm, could it be, after all, that this show is…formulaic?

No. Well, not in a bad way, at least. I watch House on TV. House and Utena are two very different shows, but they have one important aspect in common. House starts at 8:00 pm. At around 8:30 Dr. House and his team think they’ve figured out what the ailment the patient suffers from is called and how to treat it. Of course, the viewer knows that they are wrong; there’s still 30 minutes before the show ends so he can’t be correct yet. At 8:48 House is in the middle of some unrelated task, stops, stares straight ahead, gets a funny look in his eye, the music changes and the viewer knows he’s figured out what’s really wrong with the patient. This happens in every episode but it doesn’t make the show any less fun to watch. Utena has this effect on the viewer as well, but it’s done in an even more satisfying way that in House.

In Utena the episode begins and we have some background story about whichever character is getting a turn in the spotlight today. The apprehension builds throughout the first half of the episode. Perhaps there are a few moments of comic relief, but the trend is mounting tension. In the second half the main conflict builds until it reaches a critical mass at around the 17 minute mark. At this point the silhouette “kashira kashira” chorus appears and says something that, like all of the allegorical and symbolic elements of the show, is both germane and yet somehow completely abstruse and never quite as decipherable as you’d like it to be

At this point your chest is tight, your knuckles are white, wrapped around the arms of your chair and your heart is beating so quickly you feel it’s about to burst through your ribcage. Just when you can’t take it any longer you see the forest behind the school, “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku” begins to play, the familiar imagery comes out and you experience an unsurpassed catharsis.

This is all well and good, but what is the show about? Of course, I don’t really know. There are some prominent themes and maybe the case could be made that is has a continuous plot, but I can’t adequately encapsulate it in words. There are a lot of well-known anime motifs in this show, one of the most recognizable being the student council. They’re elite, they’re pretty, and they’re powerful. There’s also a characteristic absence of adults. Akio is an adult, I suppose, and there’s the teacher who scolds Utena for wearing a boys uniform, but adults don’t play much of a role in the overall story. In fact, I think that’s one of the themes. The prince that Utena looks up to tells her not to lose her nobility even when she becomes an adult. Akio loses his nobility when he becomes an adult. He seemed like an alright sort of person as a youngster. He saved Utena, didn’t he? Were the writers taking a page out of Wordsworth and saying that adults=bad, unimaginative, selfish creatures who have lost sight of the valuable things in life along with their sense of wonderment and innocence? Bah, that’s what happens when you think about any single phenomenon in the show; you thing you’re getting somewhere understanding the significance, the “message” behind it, but then things get muddled and you don’t know what’s allegory, what’s sarcasm, what’s satirical, what’s metaphor or what’s reality anymore. Perhaps adults just don’t understand. It’s even in the song. 「これ以上話をしてもあなたには見えない。昔の話にすがる大人には言い訳が似合う。」ってところ

A lot of viewers seem to call this a “yuri” show. I don’t know about that. I’m going to have to watch the series again one day for a better perspective, but I don’t think that lesbianism is such a big theme of the show itself. I think that viewers certainly like projecting lesbian themes onto the show and interpreting things as confirmation of those projections, but I just don’t see much of it. I think that what people are viewing as lesbianism is more about the seeming rigidity of gender role mores contrasted with the actual fluidity of gender identities and roles that constitute a continuum, rather than a dichotomy. The relationship between Anthy and Utena is not really lesbian. There’s nothing in the show that can’t be interpreted symbolically. In one of the songs played during some duel or other there are some lyrics referring to the anima and animus. I think it’s more useful to look at Anthy and Utena in these terms, respectively. The idea that Anthy and Utena are two sides of a single character is also conveyed, to some extent, in the bed they sleep in in Akio’s apartment and when they lie down in it, their silhouettes first melting into and then moving past each other. Of course, that’s about as far as I got in my thinking on my first complete viewing of the series. If I try to go any farther, such as wondering, “What is the show saying about gender? Is it saying the categories into which we assign people, without consent, are too inflexible? too proscriptive?” I end up losing track of my thoughts. One thing that’s made abundantly clear is that these categories do shape our social interactions and have consequences that are not always immediately apparent. I think this bit is symbolized by Anthy, Bara no Hanayome, being trapped in that sword-filled prison-ish thingy

Of course, if Anthy is the girly one and she’s imprisoned, as it were, doesn’t that mean that the show is making a normative statement? Don’t you then have to interpret her imprisonment as an indictment of Utena for not being “girly” enough? Of course, the show is certainly not saying that — all of Utena’s qualities are celebrated, both “feminine” and otherwise — but the anima/animus symbolism might lead you in that direction, which is just another reason why this show is so confusing. You can read anything allegorically, but even when you do, different people will come up with different allegories. I will watch this series again and I’m sure I’ll come up with some completely different ideas.

Speaking of watching it again, I will probably buy the DVDs. I’m poor and fundamentally a pirate; I rarely buy DVDs, especially anime. I don’t like buying R1 DVDs because I feel like it’s not much better than buying those Malaysian DVDs with English, Chinese and Malay subs. If I’m going to buy a DVD or Blu Ray I’ll buy the Japanese release. I buy media on disc not because I will watch from the disc — I rarely buy anything I haven’t seen — I buy it because I like it and will proudly put it on my shelf, rather than in a box in a closet, like I do with all the rubbish shows and movies I’m embarrassed I own. That’s why I feel conflicted about buying the new R1 DVDs that came out on June 7. But the Japanese DVDs are just absurdly expensive, even as far as Japanese DVDs go. If there are going to be three box sets of Utena released here in NA and each is about USD 40 it means I’ll be spending quite a bit of money for something that I only want to own as a symbol of how much I like the show. Still, I do sometimes buy multiple physical copies of novels if I like them enough. In other words, this is not completely out of the ordinary for me. I’m still not sure though that I want to spend up to USD 120 on DVDs of a show that I already have on an HDD. I probably will though. I’ll feel guilty if I don’t. At least I already own the R2J DVD of the movie so I won’t feel tempted to buy that over again.

This show is not as deadly serious as it can feel sometimes. There are moments of comic relief in most episodes and there’s even an animal mascot, Chu-chu.

There are couple of what can only properly be referred to as gag episodes. Luckily, they all focus on my favourite character, Kiryuu Nanami. Even these episodes are surreal and, though they are sufficiently different in mood so that the viewer takes them in a different light from the rest of the episodes, there’s still something very affecting about them. The episode in which Nanami, so entranced by what she mistakes for a fashionable brand name, prances about sporting a cow bell, ultimately turning into a cow in mind, body, and even speech is, admittedly, pretty silly, but I enjoyed it.

Nanami is my favourite student council member, followed by Jury and Miki. Jury should have gotten another episode. The only opportunity the viewer had to get to know her intimately were the episodes about the fencing captain Ruka. On the other hand, Miki was featured prominently in several episodes and so was Nanami. The cutest bit of the whole series for me was the episode in which Nanami believes she has lain an egg and secretly cares for it. I nearly melted when she realises that she can’t ask anyone for advice because it’s possible that all the other girls have already been laying eggs for a long time and that she, laying her first egg at this stage, would be made fun of as a late bloomer.

Ahhh ~ why can’t I have an imouto like Nanami?

I loved this show. They sure don’t make ’em like they used to. Although my head is still spinning from the enigmatic plot and symbolism, one final thing that I can say with confidence is that the music is every bit as important a part of this show as the artwork, dialogue and voice actors. It’s got one of the most distinctive sound tracks of any show I’ve ever seen and, although I mentioned that the song “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku” gives me the chills, many of the other themes also give me the goosebumps. The song called “Akio car” on the soundtrack is just great. This is the song played during the scenes in which Akio is driving that freaky sportscar, showing people the sekais they nozomu. Hearing it makes me feel like I’m in that strange, dark, streetlight-lined roadway that seems to continue forever but never gets anywhere. I’d buy the soundtrack collection as well if it weren’t USD1400.

I’m not sure I have anything more that I can coherently express in proper sentences about the show at the moment, so here are some more pictures of scenery and Nanami: