My first introduction to Kunihiko Ikuhara was through Revolutionary Girl Utena. It made me re-evaluate how I approached and felt about fiction. I still think well of shows like Waiting in the Summer and The World God Only Knows, but Utena is just on a whole other level. It was only natural that I would look into watching Mawaru Penguindrum shortly after I first experienced Utena. My friend Ally had been liveblogging it on Tumblr, and it appeared to be exactly the kind of follow-up show I wanted.
This isn’t really a blog post about Penguindrum. So if you were after an indepth look at any of the themes, episodes, or specific motifs of it you’ll have to look elsewhere. Instead here this will be self-reflection of my experience with and around Penguindrum. So if you’re after something not massively self indulgent I might upload an editted version of my Philosophy of Film formative if I hear back from my lecturer and it isn’t The Worst.
A month or so after finishing Utena I found myself at Alcon. I didn’t really have money for the con. I had afforded accommodation and ticket price from the previous term’s student loan, but anything else I had to beg from my parents for. Practically speaking, I had enough for maybe a night out and food to last the event. It was a wonderful early birthday present and I, having just finished my first year of Uni, did the only sensible thing and bought Penguindrum rather than clubbing or eating comfortably. I still enjoyed the convention. I enjoyed the panels, the performances. I enjoyed spending time with people in cool cosplay and even noticed the graveyard of roses place in the beginning of the Utena movie. But when it came to partying and merch I simply homed in on Penguindrum, bought it, and hugged it till the end of the con.
I don’t really interact with the friendship group that I attended that con with anymore. I do think well of some of them but I have grown apart / am done with most of them (The less said about some members of that social group the better). There is good reason for this, but that ultimately doesn’t matter. That con experience of buying Penguindrum and enjoying my time with those friends are somewhat inseparable. At the time I knew I was saying goodbye to that social circle. My main connection to them was moving to Japan and my second year of Uni would further distance me from those old school friends who I’d barely interacted with since leaving Sixth Form. Penguindrum is a series predicated on moving on from the vicious and corruption of the pasts. In a coincidental and minor way it marks a kind of moving on in my own life. Utena may have sparked it, but Penguindrum cemented and built on my relationship with media, at just the time I moved from one clear period of self to another.
Between that first watch alone over summer, and the second watch with my anime society I learnt and indulged in more of Ikuhara’s influences and early works. Belladonna of Sadness, Night on the Galactic Railroad, even the first season of Sailor Moon. Without making claims of superiority or depth, Ikuhara had inspired a paradigm shift of sorts in me. I cared less for authentic worlds or plot details in media, and instead had moved onto a more openly phenomenal and thematic outlook. This helped me appreciate future shows, such as The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, all the more, and made the rewatch all the more powerful. Certain themes that I’d since read about in Penguindrum popped out all the more. Early and consistent foreshadowing pained me, even from episode one. And every week I got to enjoy hearing people at my society either loathe the show, enjoy the show, or consistently insult Ringo for her actions.
Watching a show with people and watching it on your own can be vastly differing experiences; I probably would never have cared for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure if it wasn’t for my Anime Society watching it in my first year. Throughout the years I’ve been lucky enough to have the Society vote in many favourites of mine, Kyousougiga and Shirobako to name a couple, that people would otherwise be adverse to. Whereas my first watch of Penguindrum was an increasingly stressful bingewatch, watching it with my society meant only a few episodes at a time. I could take in the events of each batch of episodes slowly and with future context. It was a completely different experience.
I dunno when I’ll next watch Penguindrum. Maybe I’ll finally have gotten round to that rewatch of Utena. All I do know is it’ll probably be after I’ve finished University, this is my last year after all. The current socio-political climate is tough. Penguindrum is about a very different set of affairs with a very different set of socio-cultural pressures. To even suggest otherwise would be factually false. But the love and empathy it teaches in response to lashing out at the past is still important. It will forever be important. Ikuhara’s works are often brutal, but they’re ultimately hopeful and kindhearted. The world may not be pure, and it may be unbearable at times, but there’s nought we can do but our best. At the very least, when I get round to my next rewatch, I hope that I appreciate even more in Penguindrum, as I have with every rewatch of the Utena movie.