Okay, I should point out that what I said is that "Penguindrum is the worst thing Ikuhara was done"—not saying it's the worst show of all time, just that, in comparison to Ikuhara's other works (well, "work"—he himself has complained about chafing against the producers' demands on Sailor Moon
, so I don't count it in the same category as Utena
, Schell Bullet
, et al), it hardly even holds a candle. If Mashimo Kouichi out out a show like Penguindrum
, I'd even call it one of his best shows—but because it's Ikuhara, the bar is that much higher.
(As an aside: concerning Ikuhara himself, I'd say people give him too much credit. The best projects he's worked on were very much team efforts; I doubt Utena
would have been half so good if Ikuhara hadn't had Enokido or Saito to rein in his natural craziness.)
One can sum up pretty much anything briefly if one wants to and proclaiming that a character is "useless" doesn't really tell much. What is the purpose of evaluating characters by how useful they are? And how does that serve as criticism of how "terrible" an entire series is?
Because everything in a show is put there for a reason. If Ikuhara included Mario and Momoka, it's up to him to give them a purpose for existing—but he didn't, and that is what's so disappointing, because even the most minor characters in Utena
were full of life and vitality.
What about the brilliant soundtrack of the series? Or the oddball humor delivered by the penguins? Or the intriguing Aum/cult thematics? Or Ikuhara's fabulous visual style in general?
The problem is that, while there are all these intriguing pieces, they come together to a great big nothing. For example, it's a neat visual trick that the background characters are all traffic signs, and it gels with the train motif in the series—but what does it prove? What is it saying? Whereas in Utena, you see that the generic extras are the same four
designs repeated over again, you realize, "Oh, it's because with all these extraordinary people, everyone else gets marginalized so that they might as well not even be there." It even becomes a major theme of the second cour. (Yes, there was the theme of "chosen" vs. "not chosen" in Penguindrum
, but even that was done better in Utena
(This is not to say abstraction for abstraction's sake can't be entertaining! But I expect more when I'm watching, not a two hour movie, but a twelve hour TV series.)
Of course, even Utena
had more than one thing to say—the classic shoujo of the first arc is nothing like the Eva
-esque second arc, and the third arc is more like a melange of the two with lots of sex. But you feel, throughout the entire show, that these characters are chafing against something and want to be freed. That is the central conflict. In Penguindrum
, thanks to the style of storytelling Ikuhara used, the character's goals aren't just changing, they act like they were always like they were now and spit in your face for even trying to decipher it. Even the best MP analysis I've seen
admits it's three stories being told in one series, and I don't feel it tells any of the three stories particularly well. Maybe if it had actually tried to tell
them, instead of spinning a riddle about space aliens and trains.