Fashioning a Fairy Tale – Transformation in Mawaru Penguindrum

Mawaru Penguindrum Fairytale

Last night, on a whim, I watched Mawaru Penguindrum with a few friends, and what an incredible visual experience that was. Immediately, the series bombards us with a dazzling, unreal array of bright colors, gorgeous imagery, and above all, brilliant whimsical fashion.

Mawaru Penguindrum Himari Alice fashion

Himari’s outfits are among the first things that jumped out to me. The adorable blue top, bell skirt, and chemisette remind of Alice in Wonderland. Of course, that outfit is not exclusive to Alice. However, given the image Alice has in today’s pop culture, as well as the emphasis the series places on fairy tales and other fantasies, Himari’s clothes and “her” fashion sense are almost unmistakably Alice-inspired.

Mawaru Penguindrum Alice in Wonderland Alis

I had not thought much of this initially, and simply passed the fashion sense as Mawaru Penguindrum’s way of styling—and perhaps there really is not much more to it. Still, I find the multiple roles of Himari particularly fascinating. Mawaru Penguindrum follows our three heroes as they confront the cold realities of fate and death via a psychedelic quest for the penguin drum. The adventure begins with a transformation of our heroine. Change is a major theme of  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, both of which can be interpreted as metaphorical tales of a confused, maturing girl entering into the adult world; the chaos and emotional turmoil are manifested in the variety of mad dream characters. With that in mind, Mawaru Penguindrum’s transformation sequence, while seemingly unnecessary to the exposition, may in fact be significant.

Mawaru Penguindrum Himari Nadine fashion runway catwalk

That scene is especially stylized when compared to the rest of the series that takes place in the real world. Amid all the train iconography, there is an outstanding high fashion vibe: beautiful dresses, a cohesive collection, and even a runway. Indeed, the setting and the animations are reminiscent of a fashion show, and Himari is the stunning model. She struts down the catwalk with an overwhelming confidence.

Further, as expected of a fashion model, she changes and rocks various looks with attitude.

Mawaru Penguindrum Himari Kanba Shouma Alice

She was the naive Alice, inadvertently chancing upon this wonderland, and perhaps joined by her two cats (Snowdrop and Kitty) or two siblings (Elsie and Tillie)

Mawaru Penguindrum Himari Survival Strategy

But upon entering wonderland, she becomes the mad hatter, suspended in a timeless tea party, exclaiming her version of “Tea Time”—”Survival Strategy”—on random occasions.

Mawaru Penguindrum Himari penguin hat Nadine jester couture

Mawaru Penguindrum Shouma elimination penguin

She is also the queen of hearts, regal in her presence, but a bit undermined by the Jester Couture and the unreasonable elimination of others.

Mawaru Penguindrum Himari transformation sequence Nadine

Or perhaps the Red Queen, dictating the rules of a game that will possibly have the twins running across the board; as well, the white queen, who foresees the future, having come from the destination of the twins’ fates.

Mawaru Penguindrum Himari sleeping alice in wonderland

Of course, Alice in Wonderland is not the only influence on Mawaru Penguindrum, though it is prominent. In any case, Himari undoubtedly embodies elements of these fantasies. The distinct fashion, the unreal colors, and the blatant imagery all scream toward a fairy tale. As we delve into the series further, we question whether all of this is a dream, but not necessarily in the literal sense. The twins are given an illusion of having control over destiny within a game set up by a mysterious being who claims to have come from the end of their fates.

Mawaru Penguindrum Himari Kanba kiss incest

I have no idea how this fabulous dream will end, but I’m willing to follow the penguin and take the red pill with Kanba.


  • Ryan A in the commentsmakes a brilliant connection between Penguindrum’s fashion and those of famous designer, Jean-Paul Gaultier.Here is a video of a Gaultier show I found that helps to illustrate some points:
  • I watched this anime with the lovely @AJtheFourth and @vuc_, who have written a lovely colloquium on this series.
  • Animekritik notes the wonderful geography. The train station layout of the series somewhat parallels the chess theme in Through the Looking Glass.
  • Oh my god, I sooo wish I have Himari’s clothes, even if some, like the one in the transformation sequence, are awkward in casual situations.
  • Jester Couture ♥

    Karlie Kloss Christian Dior Haute Couture FW 11

    Christian Dior Haute Couture FW11 show, Paris

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58 Responses to Fashioning a Fairy Tale – Transformation in Mawaru Penguindrum

  1. ajthefourth says:

    The thing that I love the most about this post is that we watched the same series and yet came away fixated on completely different things. I honestly hadn’t thought of that entrance as a catwalk. I was too focused on the other visual aspects and the confidence with which she walked. In a way, it was as if Ikuhara was walking down that runway with her, assuring us that he knows exactly what he’s doing. Either way, very sexy.

    Fantastic post, Yi.

    • Yi says:

      Yea, I know right? Even in your and vuc’s post, it’s interesting to see how the two of you emphasized slightly different motifs. I guess it’s what lenses come into the anime with. ^ ^

      Her confidence is definitely something very important to the scene, and it’s a huge part to the whole runway/fashion theme I think. Her strut down the catwalk exudes the regal confidence that only the best models have. It really gave me a huge high fashion vibe.

      Very sexy indeed!!

      Anyway, glad you liked the post. ^ ^

  2. Vucub Caquix says:

    I didn’t mention this during any of my viewing with you guys, but I happened to notice that Mawaru Penguindrum does a really fantastic job of paying notice to the so-called “Treasure Trail”. It’s weird to say this, since I don’t typically react well to sexual fanservice outside of over-the-top comedy, but Mawaru so far is indeed incredibly sexy and pulls it off amazingly.

    • Yi says:

      Yes!! Agreed. I found the transformation sequence incredibly sexy, but never overtly fanservicey. There’s also a sense that the anime flaunts feminine sexuality during that scene. I really liked that.

  3. catchercatch says:

    It’s always interesting to see what different bloggers will talk about of a show. The topic between the focuses of your post and mine couldn’t be more oppositely oriented, and yet I feel that one of the defining things about this show is how much there is to write about it.

    However, let’s talk about your post. You’ve brought up a matter that I find to be representative of Ikuhara’s works: the power of the woman in the setting of a postmodern fairy tale, with heavy doses of magical realism. Everything is not what it seems at first glance, although the characteristic archetypes are readily invoked.

    In Penguindrum, we see the drastic change between Himari and her alter ego, Nadine. Whereas Himari in the “real” world is stuck by the laws of the fates and body; in Nadine’s world, she holds all the cards. In the real world, she can declare that the day is “Himari Day”, and can give orders to her brothers; in Nadine’s world, she doesn’t need to give orders – she is the law. In his trademark fashion, we see Ikuhara’s reversal of gender roles that comes with Himari’s transformation – once led and cared for, she now gives commands. I’m rather looking forward to how Himari and Nadine mature and break the mold. The show gives me transcendental and romantic vibes at the same time, something I hope will be played for their utmost.

    As a side note, I am glad to say that we see a departure from Revolutionary Girl Utena. Himari remains fully a woman, in mind and body, whereas Utena carries what she believes to be the mind of a “prince.” In fact, Nadine’s walk down the stairs seems to exploit the fact that she is a woman, drawing attention to her feminine charms. Utena’s charm plays to the wit of women, on the other hand, in her dress and mannerisms. Interesting that you should note of Nadine’s regal manner; Nadine carries with her the air of a queen, whereas Utena is without a doubt a princess. I believe that this is Ikuhara saying “I’m stepping this up”. The best part? There is an incredible amount written across so many topics on this show, and we’ve only reached the first episode. Here we go.

    • Yi says:

      I saw your post earlier and loved it too. As AjtheFourth said above, it’s so fascinating how we all came away the first episode with different focuses and ideas.

      Ooh, that’s a really good point about Himari giving the orders on Himari day. I hadn’t made the connection with the queenly Nadine, but yea, there’s certainly a very distinct female confidence and power pervading through the show. I love it!

      I’ve heard several comparison to Utenam and I’m kind of ashamed to admit this, but I have yet to see Utena. (I’ll probably watch Utena after Penguindrum.) I am really looking forward to watching Ikuhara’s brilliant return. Should be a fun, romantic train ride~

  4. The runway, at least from the image you posted, evokes train tracks… wouldn’t you say so?

    • Yi says:

      I agree. While watching the series with vuc and Emily, I think one thing that consistently gets noted is the train imagery. Undoubtedly, that’s the most prominent feature, but I did want to offer my own lenses. ^ ^

  5. Ryan A says:

    I enjoy the comparison to Alice as it highlights a nice fantasy aspect to the premise. Bringing in the idea of a fashion show to the transformation is also grand. I believe one of the most stunning bits of that particular sequence was the sharp removal of attire. In a way it reminds me of a Gaultier show, where the girls float their prowess down the runway, removing items with almost a viciousness and leaving them to form a pile. It screams, “I’m taking this off” without a whisper of sound.

    The fantasy elements were elusive for me, but one way I perceived the transformation, and maybe “Nadine” in general, was in relation to cabaret. The dark, but flamboyant “costume” carries sex in the seams. The provocative chant, not quite song, but lyrical. And of course, the stage, this strange area which the boys find themselves cuffed and dominated. One’s inner masochist would find such a situation more than magical, and it does well.

    Maybe my take was shallow and more detached from the characters, but I’m fond of adding these aspects together; I have a thing for Alice’s adventures. We’ll see this where it leads us. Glad you were able to write on this series.

    • Yi says:

      Oh wow, some really in depth points here! And now I’m totally seeing this in a new light. It’s a brilliant tie in to Gaultier. Brilliant!

      Anyway, I found a video of an event that showcases the undressing:

      It’s totally a flaunting of feminine sexuality, but not in a shoddy way. Rather, with fierce confidence to showcase the different possibilities.

      I remember watching an interview with Gaultier, in which he describes a show he had that showcases “French Punk Couture.” He talks about French can-can and Moulin Rouge girls during a time when those girls would reveal everything when they lift their legs. The Gaultier version takes that frilly, fuzzy super femininity and sexuality and combines it with its antithesis, punk.

      It really reminds of what Penguindrum does with the train imagery and the fashion.

      I kind of want to write yet another post exploring Penguindrums fashion.

      Thanks, Ryan. ^ ^

  6. Cyurio says:

    Wow. That’s a pretty looking anime right there. I’m definitely picking this up this season.

  7. Overlord-G says:

    Oooh, Alice in Wonderland comparisons. Well done, especially now during the Summer season with the epic release of Alice: Madness Returns. Also Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite stories of all time.
    To tell you the truth, the main reason I checked this show out was because of the penguins.,,,FREAKIN’ PENGUINS! PENGUINS RULE! not as much as bears but they’re awesome nevertheless.

    • Yi says:

      It’s one of my favorite stories too, so I often go back to it… Maybe too often. ^ ^
      Anyway, thanks for the compliment. And penguins are super nice indeed!

  8. abscissa says:

    Wow, Alice in Wonderland! That story is always dear to me. I’m also enjoying the fantasy and funky art of this series, and for some reason the visuals reminds of Arakawa as well. I think the premise is interesting. I like the fact how there’s something dark behind those pastel colours. But the only thing why Penguin didn’t fully impress me is right away I saw Kyubey on the penguins—but maybe I’m wrong. To make it really awesome, hopefully, despite the references, this series will bring something unpredictable and new to the table. Because otherwise, for sure the fans will complain and will forget all of the wonderful things about it.

    • Yi says:

      Yep yep. I love Alice in Wonderland as well. Can’t remember how many times I’ve read the book and watched the Disney movie. I think that’s why I too often see its influences in things. Anyway, I felt a little Kyubey in the penguins too, hence the comparison of Nadine to the unreasonable queens. Tempering with fate is always tricky, and I have a feeling this “game” is set up to fail. But we’ll see, I suppose.

      Also, I have a feeling that this anime will be very unpredictable. Having references and displaying influences from other works do not limit it to predictable plot. Rather, it will be interesting to see how things will be taken, be re-imagined, and I think Penguindrum is set up perfectly to do that. As of right now, I have no idea what will happen in the next episode.

  9. 2DT says:

    Ever heard of a ballet called Still Life at the Penguin Cafe?

    It isn’t related at all, I’m sure. 🙂 But it does remind me of how awkward penguins are on land, versus how amazingly graceful they are in their element. I believe Himawari said so herself.

    • Joojoobees says:

      Ha ha! I hadn’t seen that before, but I had the Penguin Café Orchestra record (back in the ’80s, when we used records).

      I think there is something a little surreal about penguins. Birds that don’t fly, but swim, like fish do. The awkward way they walk.

    • Yi says:

      @2DT: I’ve never seen this, but how awkwardly adorable! Penguins really are such funky creatures in their little tuxes. ^ ^

  10. Tsuki says:

    Wow, it’s impressive how only this first episode got the blogosphere buzzing, and how there are so many different interpretations of the exact same episode floating around the internet. Personally, I’m not the literary type, so I can’t exactly speculate with references to literature.

    The super bright color pallette does make me think that there is more of a “childlike” mindset amongst the cast, still rather naive and not quite grounded in reality. Nadine’s presence will likely ground their perspectives a bit more, or at least drastically change how they perceive reality.

    A little bit of odd symbolism here is the fanshion in which the “runway” actually connected between the two robots. The runway connects to Nadine’s robot around the crotch area, and then Nadine appeared after an expansion of the stomach. I wonder if all this has a connection with the whole “survival strategy” talk, as well as the references to the apples earlier on in the episode. These little details are rather peculiar, and I just can’t seem to figure out how they all fit together in the bigger picture @_@

    • Yi says:

      I’m very surprised at the reaction the blogosphere has to Penguindrum as well, especially considering that there were almost no hype prior. (At least I didn’t know about this until a few days after the first ep. released.)

      “Nadine’s presence will likely ground their perspectives a bit more”
      There’s a lot of merit to this idea. The bright colors in Himari’s life almost feel too unreal. It’s a bit ironic that Nadine’s presence might be the one to ground them, isn’t it?

      I’m still piecing together all the things as well, and that’s precisely what makes it so fun! A number of people have noted the robots and the sexuality present in the transformation sequence; some of the above comments made some really some very good insights regarding this. It’s certainly something to think about, how it fits into the story, into survival strategy, and into that incestuous kiss.

      Well, I guess we’ll just have to see how it all comes together. I can’t wait!

      Thanks for the comment. ^ ^

  11. tsurugiarashix says:

    I noticed the Alice In Wonderland influence, but seems like their are more inverted fantasies involved too. One thing that is for sure, their is a lot symbolic pieces in this series, but think I will pick on them later as the series moves along. Not sure why, but this does remind of me various fairy tales and one unlikely one: Peter Pan. Not sure why….

    Nice post as always ^^

    • Yi says:

      Agreed. There’s a lot of influences from various fairy tales and other literary works and stories. While watching, Emily pointed out references to Night on the Galactic Railroad. The first episode also displays prominent motifs from common children’s stories and fantasy.

      Anyway, it’s hard to dissect them all. All I could do was focus on one, the one whose fashion made quite a statement in the episode. After all, I am a bit (too) fixated on fashion recently, perhaps because of Haute Couture. (There was a major show in Paris very recently.)

      Anyway, thanks for reading. ^ ^

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  13. Xine says:

    You have your way of making a series totally unfamiliar to me appear to be really interesting. ^^

    • Yi says:

      Haha, it’s not me; it’s the series. But thank you. ^ ^

      Penguindrum, from the first episode, looks to be very interesting though, so if you have time, it might be a good watch.

  14. hoshiko says:

    I find it very interesting how this series managed to be fun and colorful yet at the same time dark and causes one to question about ourselves. The first few sentences are deep and perhaps made us ponder our existence for a bit. And then suddenly, it was bright, colorful and fun.

    There are definitely elements of fairy tale in this series, most of them found within the siblings’ house and around them. Oh, and one more thing – I totally like Himari’s room deco.

    • Yi says:

      True true. I actually found the very bright colors to almost have this somewhat infectious feel, a nauseous psychedelic brilliance. It may be my cynical side, but I have a vague suspicion that things will turn even darker (though still brightly colored).

      I totally love Himari’s room too!!

  15. ~xxx says:

    This show had pulled out something colorful on such very deep, dark theme..
    And not to mention this one was the biggest surprise for me(next to Kamisama Dolls), and I hope I could continue watching this [I’m having 6 shows under trial].

    Well, I hope it could not get too much deeper for I could make another speculation in it. [I still remember how much speculation I put in Madoka.]

    • Yi says:

      I’m probably for sure going to stick with this anime. It’s showing a lot of potential, and looks to be quite a stimulating anime, visually and emotionally.

      Haha, Madoka was quite something, wasn’t it? If the first episode is any indicator, I wouldn’t count Penguindrum out of being just as discussion worthy as Madoka.

  16. necrocosmos says:

    Quoto: Oh my god, I sooo wish I have Himari’s clothes, even if some, like the one in the transformation sequence, are awkward in casual situations.
    Do hardcore cosplay session and place photos on twitter:D. Would be hardcore. Well u seem kinda busy lately thou i see why, moving is kinda pain in ass. Back to topic she got kinda awsome outfit, and resemblence to Alice in wonderland is awesome, its one of my favorite books, thou hard to believe that, i like how surreal it is, and absurdity in it is awesome. I wonder how Penguin will be.

    • Yi says:

      Haha, maybe~ I have never actually cosplayed before; it would be fun to do one sometime. There are quite a few outfits from different anime that I have on my mind. Anyway, Alice seems to be almost everyone’s favorite book. I really enjoy it as well. It’s just so… trippy and fun!

      I’m actually going to be a little bit freer this next few weeks until the end of August I think. I’m not leaving for Taiwan until then. (Kind of want to stay in the US for as long as possible…)

  17. Nopy says:

    I thought the first episode was so psychodelic that I didn’t even notice the high fashion in it. The whole episode just blew me away, I had to know what kind of mind this came from. Looking up the creator, he was the one that wrote Revolutionary Girl Utena, and he looks really fruity.

    • Yi says:

      Yea, a lot of talk has been tossed around about Ikuhara’s return to directing. I haven’t seen Utena yet, but this makes me want to, and it’s only been the first episode!

  18. This is one of my most anticipated summer series, and I’m glad to see that you enjoyed it as well! Now with my laptop finally fixed, just need to finish the spring series and start watching the summer series (particularly this one)….

    • Yi says:

      Interesting. I actually didn’t know about this anime until like about a day before I watched it, which was a few days after its release. I only picked it up because some people dragged me into watching it. I’m really glad I did though.

      Anyway, have fun with summer watching~

  19. wieselheadf says:

    The anime wasn’t on my agenda at all, but I thought when Yi blogs about it, it can’t be bad 😉
    The last two days I started a few of the new summer animes and so far Penguindrum was my fav.

    Like Nopy I was also mainly blown away by it’s psychodelicniss, the penguins were so funny ^-^
    I enjoyed the trip and there seems to be a meaning behind it. The story looks very interesting and it is good that this anime is 24 episodes long.


    • Yi says:

      Hehe, I’m very happy my post was able to get you to watch this, and even happier that you liked it! (p.s. It’s my fave too… Or tied for my fave. This season’s so strong.)

      The psychedelic qualities are one of the first things that attracted me to it. It’s so vibrant and so fun! That it has a fascinating premise is great too, especially when backed by such visuals.

      I didn’t know this would be 24 episodes, but I do appreciate that it has room to work. Looking forward to following this weekly, or more likely, marathoning it at the end of its run.

  20. Kyokai says:

    Everyone was pretty much ready to go poo on this when the initial trailers were airing but I definitely had an eye out for this one and boy, was a entranced! The first episode was brilliant and a sight for sore eyes with beautiful everything but for some reason I noticed the backgrounds more (I stopped at many scenes just to see all the colours and details of internal decoration). I’m definitely joining the train of this one. ^^

    • Yi says:

      You have a good eye. ^ ^

      I’ve never seen the trailer, but I feel in love with just the opening sequence. So beautiful and so much fun!! The background is really something to look for too.

      “I’m definitely joining the train of this one. ^^”
      Loll, I see what you did there~

      Thanks for reading!

  21. Persocom says:

    I’m with Nopy, I didn’t even notice the fashion, aside from her transformation outfit because the whole episode just blew my mind in general XD Nice observations though, and I’m definitely in this till the end as well. Quite possibly the most emotional rollercoaster first episode in a long time. I’ll definitely be reviewing the series when it finishes, and if it turns out as good as I’m hoping now, may even buy it.

    • Yi says:

      The more I watch it again and again, the more I get the fashion vibe. It just feels so designer-ish. Aside from that, I loved the premise and the story too. It’s very emotional indeed. And it feels like it would only get more dramatic later on. I have a feeling this will turn out really well… I hope.

  22. hypermediacreator says:

    Interesting take on the Alice in Wonderland influences. In episode 2, there’s a fairly obvious Cinderella reference, which I’m sure you’ll catch – if you haven’t seen it already.

    • Yi says:

      Oh yes definitely! Thanks for the heads up. ^ ^ I’m not sure if I would’ve caught it actually on the first watch if I didn’t look for it. I wonder how this will play out.

      Anyway, I don’t think I’ve met you before! Thanks for reading and commenting~

  23. I think the stripes around her blouse somewhat prevented me from seeing the Alice in her. But that transformation is just awesome! I’ve played that short little scene over and over and over. Great song, great animation and very psychedelic background. I’m a little bit disappointed that they seemed to just reuse the same exact animation in the 2nd episode, but still awesome.

    I also found out that the song is a remake of a 1987 song by ARB called Rock Over Japan. Now I’m waiting for a full version of that short clip of a song 😀

    • Yi says:

      True, the stripes are not exactly the classic Disney Alice outfit, but I thought the overall look is very reminiscent of her. At the very least, it inspires a whimsical, dream-like, fantasy setting.

      The transformation is gorgeous indeed. I loved it too! I think I’ve watched it close to a dozen times just for writing this post.

      I wouldn’t mind watching it for 24 episodes.

      Ooh, thanks for the info on the music. Definitely getting the full version too when it comes out. Lovely~

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  25. Swordwind says:

    How colorful~

  26. CainHyde says:

    Wow… it looks interesting.
    I’ve been wanting to check the anime since seeing the title.
    I haven’t been watching it yet, but I’m hoping to see a Penguin somewhere in the anime.
    Preferably rolling like what the title suggest to me.

    Yi, are you watching the raw version or sub?

    • Yi says:

      It is totally interesting, that I think! I love it. And there are some adorable penguins in the anime, so yea. Not quite sure if they’ll be rolling though. ^ ^

      I’m watching the sub version. My Japanese isn’t that good, and for an anime with a pretty complicated story, I don’t want to miss anything.

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