Recent anime watch: My-Hime and Mawaru Penguindrum
Two very different animes:
My-Hime is set in an academy on an island, and follows the trajectory of Himes, girls who discover themselves to have special powers (namely, bonding to a Child, a creature whose power they’re then able to call on–but only on condition they wager the life of the person dearest to them). The main character, Mai, takes care of her sick little brother Takumi, but soon gets embroiled in the business of Himes, and the sinister purpose behind them… I really like the relationships between the girls, and the fact that the person dearest to them isn’t necessarily a romantic attachment; but rewatching it, it’s hard to ignore the ginormous amount of fan service (the anime focuses on breast to the extent it becomes frankly creepy, and don’t get me started on the mini episodes at the end of each big episode, which feature way too much nudity, implied or otherwise). Also hard to ignore the fact that the one lesbian turns into a raging psychopath (to be fair, a lot of people aren’t shown at their best, but since she’s the only lesbian it becomes problematic). Still, I quite like the anime. It’s soapy as heck, and has a big tendency to the melodramatic, but that ending always has me in tears.
Meanwhile, all you need to know about Mawaru Penguindrum is that it was written by Ikuhara Kunihiko, aka the man who brought you Revolutionary Girl Utena. So if you don’t like symbolism-heavy anime, or anime where things fail to be tied together with a little bow… best to give Mawaru a pass, really. It’s kind of hard to summarise, but it deals with the relationships between the three teenage members of the Takakura family, who live on their own following an unspecified tragedy. The youngest sibling, Himari, is seriously ill; and when she dies (in episode 1, so no spoilers) and is revived, her two brothers Kanba and Shouma find themselves hunting for the mysterious penguindrum.
OK, that’s making it sound way more serious than it is. It’s an anime with penguins and in which people actually utter the sentence “the dark bunnies of fate” quite seriously. For about half its length, it’s also overly concerned with the really creepy obsession of a teenage character for an adult teacher, and I really could have done without the implied rape scene in episode 14 (and the psychotic bixesual. Sigh). But then, about halfway through, you earn exactly what the Takakura parents did, and it shifts gears–into a meditation on fate, loss and whether guilt can be passed on from person to person (and you understand why the anime itself is so focused on the subway system. In retrospect, had I been a little more cognisant of Japanese culture, I probably would have understood much earlier). Like Utena, it sort of doesn’t quite make sense but ends with a strong punch that’s enough to make you forget that it doesn’t. Definitely worth a watch; though it’s a bit of a shame the female characters have a tendency to get sidelined, especially towards the end.