Mawaru Penguindrum – OST Vol. 1 – Review

Album Title:

Mawaru Penguindrum Vol.1 Bonus CD

Anime Title:

Mawaru Penguindrum

Artist:

Yukari Hashimoto

Catalog Number:

SSX-10205

Release Type:

Soundtrack

Release Date:

October 26, 2011

Purchase at:

CDJapan, Play-Asia

Tracklist

Show »

Track Title Artist Time
01. The Children of Fate Yukari Hashimoto 3:49
02. Sparkling Yukari Hashimoto 1:49
03. Boy Meets Girl Yukari Hashimoto 1:42
04. The Murder of Penguin 0 (Audio Drama) Yukari Hashimoto 15:33
05. Penguin Mission Yukari Hashimoto 2:22
06. Here Comes Sexy! Yukari Hashimoto 1:48
07. Labyrinth of Coral Yukari Hashimoto 2:01
08. The Joy of Our Desiring Yukari Hashimoto 2:03

Review:

Though it’s been over a month since Mawaru Penguindrum has finished airing, its impact is still palpable. There has been much discussion about whether the show lives up to its own reputation, but most will agree that the show does exactly what it intends to do, in the way it wants to do it, with little regard for anything else.

It’s a bit of a cliché to say so, but the soundtrack takes a similar approach. In the same way the show marches to the beat of its own (penguin)drum, the score’s strongest trait is that it follows no precedent. Instead of adhering to any preconceived genre or setting at all, the tracks conform to exactly what’s called for emotionally at that point in the script. Need a dramatic jazz orchestra? Done. Doing an outlandish storybook sequence? Try an eccentric operatic number sung in pseudo-scat. There’s an undercover spy mission in this episode? Commission a grungy latin jazz tune.

This shotgun method to the soundtrack can be seen as inelegant, but in reality comes off as an incredibly honest effort by Yukari Hashimoto. It’s in many ways a refreshing change of pace from the typical shackles of genre pretense.

What is important is that the songs are never cynically strange for the sake of strangeness; the tracks are so purely sincere in going about their business that they end up ringing very true, and often incredibly beautiful. This first volume is a scant 7 songs (omitting a drama track) but runs such a gamut of emotions and styles that its miniscule 15-minute runtime is actually rather grueling. Between its 7 songs, this volume contains an instrumental power ballad, a couple jazzy operatic numbers, an electronica track, and vocal chamber pieces, among others.

The caveat is that the soundtrack’s pursuit of breadth over depth runs counter to its episodic release format. The sporadic tone of this volume combined with its short length makes it seem incomplete somehow, like a single puzzle piece to an implied much larger picture. This is in no way a fault of the songs themselves, just a regrettable distribution decision.

The Children of Fate

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Staggered soundtrack release schedules usually mean that there’s at least one big “anchor” track to beef up the track list (see: Cowboy Bebop and “Tank!”), and here, that more or less takes the form of “The Children of Fate.” Imminently catchy and hugely dramatic, there is no finer breed of background track than “The Children of Fate.” The enduring litmus test of a good soundtrack number is whether or not it stands on its own without its show as a basis, and this stands mightily. It’s also worth mentioning that the melodic elements in this track form the backbone (of what little there is) of the recurring thematic components in other songs in later volumes. It’s a worthy listen that makes its mark as one of the best standalone tracks to come out of anime in recent memory.

It’s somewhat of a bait-and-switch, then, because those expecting similarly exciting songs to follow will be rather disappointed. The rest of the songs are charming in their own way; they’re just not as overtly fabulous as the above. It’s a bit more disingenuous that every track subsequent to “The Children of Fate” proceeds fairly chronologically to its appearance in the show, whereas “The Children of Fate” plays in much later episodes. The producers knew that the track would hook listeners, and, indeed, I continue to listen to the later volumes largely in order to encounter a track that lives up to “The Children of Fate.”

Sparkling

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