Darling of the erudites and intellectuals, Mawaru Penguindrum is a series quite unlike any other. A visual and cerebral feast, it explores the ideas of fate, of families and, as the title would suggest, penguins. Its allegories and layers however are unfortunately but an enticing mask for a flaky and unsatisfying story beneath. Morsels of exposition are stingily doled out when not being secreted away behind monologues or incongruous character histories.
Usagi Drop proves that good characters and a solid story never go out of fashion. It divorces itself from so many anime tropes - big eyes, sparkles, eyecatches - that it seems hard to understand why it was animated in the first place. With both the time-spanning manga and feature film recently released, like Kimi ni Todoke, you can now pick your particular brand of drama. But as the curtain closes on the final episode, it's obvious that without the watercolour palette, Rin's sparrow smile and the abstract perfection of animation, the series could only be half as charming and half as endearing.
The story cheats somewhat by placing Rin as a cogent six year-old rather than a bratty teenager or howling babe, either end of that spectrum and moments such as losing one's first teeth, or going to school for the first time are lost and replaced by times far less adorable. Similarly Rin's demeanour as a mature proto-maid and Daikichi's chronic sensibility smooths over a lot of the abrasiveness that adopting a growing child would entail. Like all good stories though, it is brevity that keeps the story tight. Eleven episodes means omissions and dangling threads are many, but crucially these do nothing to alter the warmth at the heart of the series.
I'm on a quest to understand exactly why I like the anime that I do. It's relatively easy to enumerate which ones I like more than others, MyAnimeList exists more-or-less exactly for this purpose, but that doesn't really explore what makes a show excellent beyond an attempt to pattern-match (studio, release year etc.) or to compare with others to find compatibility and recommendations.
How do you make a series laden with references to violence, sex and bodily excretions starring two thoroughly unpleasant women entertaining? If Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt is any indication, you give it to GAINAX. Suffering the same initial incredulity as Lucky Star's promotional material had when it was first revealed, the series is a riot of aggressive stylisation, wildly varying animation and a barrage of provocative jokes. Puritans will denounce its cavalier depiction of fornication, the no-holds-barred treatment of various human fluids or the utter crudity of it, but in only three episodes there has been nary a repeated scene or situation. But most of all: it's just plain fun.
Splitting the running time into two separate segments, two story of angels sent from heaven to defeat marauding ghosts is only background noise to the bickering and bedlam the two sisters get up to. The pace at which each story moves is astounding with some beginning right in the thick of the action and only coming up for air when the credits hit. There is no character development here, each one wears their personality - foibles and all - on their sleeve and instead of being hindrances, end up as ammunition for the bedlam that every episode entails.