Re:cycle of Penguindrum

Re:cycle of Penguindrum

ANN’s coverage of Anime Boston sponsored by Yen Press!

When Anime Boston announced that the RE:cycle of the PENGUINDRUM movies would be premiering, I did something I’d been intending to do for a long but hadn’t gotten around to: I watched the original Penguindrum anime. In theory, I could have understood these recap videos on their own, but that would have required understanding Penguindrum, an anime with a reputation for being odd and complex even by Kunihiko Ikuhara’s standards. I reasoned that seeing the show first would be the best way to absorb the tale and determine whether any misunderstanding with the movies was due to editing or the material itself.

These two films are likely to be seen more by existing fans than by newbies, therefore I’m not alone in viewing RE:cycle of the PENGUINDRUM as an opportunity to rewatch Penguindrum. This isn’t a Rebuild of Evangelion-style reimagining, but rather the series cut down to just over four hours, with only a small amount of additional footage as a bonus. Even though I’d just finished the original series the day before the convention, I enjoyed rewatching the RE:Cycle shorts since it’s interesting to relive Penguindrum’s story with full knowledge of the characters’ secrets and what’s going to happen to them.

A framework story centered on Shoma and Kanba as kids visiting the Hole in The Sky library accounts for almost half of the additional material. They are greeted by Momoko in the penguin costume, who is holding a young penguin, and are shown to the story of “Mr. Frog Saves the Penguindrum,” which explains them what will happen in their future, AKA the plot of the TV anime. This additional information blends seamlessly with the previously nonlinear stuff and adds to the story’s theme of fate vs. free will.

Other new scenes include a new opening song and a slew of live-action images of various series settings and tank creatures. The animated characters are blended into the live-action film in a technique similar to Sarazanmai’s end credits. These montages function as breaks from the accelerated story. In practice, I’m not sure if the goal is to increase otaku tourism to these regions.

Is the RE:Cycle edit an improvement on the series? You may make a stronger case for Part 1 than for Part 2. The TV series can be difficult to get into in the first few episodes, before the character backstories begin to fill in and, especially, before the big midpoint reveal lends historical heft to its wacky fantasy, so moving through them at a faster pace with less recycled footage generally works well. There are also some sequencing improvements: in Ringo’s story, shifting up the flashback to her parents’ talk makes her more fascinating rather than obnoxious early on.

However, some of the cuts have a negative impact on the tempo. For example, the way the love potion tale is shortened in Part 1 makes Ringo’s change of heart seem more abrupt, as compared to the more natural progression in the program. These pacing concerns are particularly obvious in Part 2; whereas the first half of the Penguindrum TV anime could have been sped up, the second half is so densely packed with story and character development that almost any cut will result in something being lost. Even taking breaks between episodes to mull things through and compose your emotions is an advantage of the serialized format that is inevitably lost in this version.

Finally, here is the same Penguindrum that everyone knows and loves, simply simplified, slightly rearranged, and with a bare minimum of new material. It’s nevertheless an interesting and powerful story, done with enough style and weird humor to keep it entertaining despite the fact that its subject matter is serious and painful. These aren’t the best versions of the story, and their repetitive nature makes them easily avoidable, but the good part is still good.

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