In the wake of the amazing Mawaru Penguindrum’s debut, lets take a look at the history of anime penguins. If there’s any I’ve missed, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.
1931 Aerial Momotaro
Oft cited early anime, this reportedly has Momotaro getting involved in a war between Penguins and Albatrosses. Or is it just Albatross? You’d think that the fact I’m writing this on the internet means I could just check for myself before writing it rather than just discussing it. Clearly you’d be wrong.
Anyway this was on one of those compilation box sets of pre-war anime that came out a few years back. That was one of those worthy gestures that everyone appreciated, but not many actually wanted to watch. Nice to know it happened though.
1974 Uriqen Animal Rescue League
There was a penguin in this team of animals that did good deeds, but the one picture of it on the internet was down when I wrote this. All I know beyond that is that it aired in Germany.
1981 Dr Slump
Took place in a village called Penguin Village. Beyond that, were there any penguins in the series?
1983-1988 Penguin’s Memory
As the self-declared leading Animated Penguin Historian, and I think my B in GCSE History backs up my claim to that spot, I’m declaring this as the key point in Animated Penguin History. In Japan at least. In Switzerland it is clearly Pingu. And here in the UK it would be that belated arrival at the “teams of funny animals in action stories” table, Avenger Penguins.
Anyway, back the melancholic, possibly alcoholic penguins.
This 1983-1988 ad campaign for Suntory beer featured cartoon penguins of the sort that pervade Japanese Pop Culture through the 80s and beyond. Look to your Parodiuses, to your that episode of Azumanga Daioh where the little girl whose name escapes me dressed up as a penguin, to your Doki Doki Penguin Lands. This dumpy cartoon penguin clicked in an era of super deformed video game characters and has an influence well into the 00s. As we shall see.
So popular were the adverts, that they made a film about them. You know, like how they made TV show out of those Caveman adverts and they somehow decided to make TWO films out of those Rowan Atkinson Barclaycard adverts. Except this film was about the Vietnam War and involved penguins.
1986 Mister Pen-Pen
This chap created by Mayumi Muroyama got two TV specials in 1986. He was keeping up the the dumpy cartoon penguin approach to penguins in cartoons. Look at him! Look at him in his hat and bow tie!
Then in 1995, in the adaptation of the ninja comic, Ninku, a realist approach to the penguin made it to the screen. As well as capturing the realistic look of a penguin, it also caught their ability to carry women on their backs at high speed, their combat prowess and their potent farting ability.
1995 Neon Genesis Evangelion
Also in 1995, there was this shorter running show about giant robots that featured a realistic fiordland penguin. And less farting.
Completing the trio of penguins that marked the mid-90s Penguin boom, was the screen arrival of Sanrio’s delinquent penguin Badtz Maru. He’d originally shown up in 1993, throwing a brick through Hello Kitty’s greenhouse I guess.
1996 Bucket de Gohan
Ginpei the penguin was the star of this zoo themed show based on Kiriko Kubo’s manga. It was directed by Osamu Dezaki’s big brother Satoshi.
1996 Magical Shiho-chan
Of course, if there’s a craze, there’s pornography. And the 90s penguin boom’s pornography was Magical Task/Magical Shiho-chan. Well actually, a quick youtube search reveals it to be an extremely belated, porn version of the Studio Pierrot Magical Girl shows. Don’t think about that too long, it is as creepy a premise as you think it is, and yet could also be argued as being the subtext of those original shows in the first place.
Anyway, the magical mascot character here was a penguin.
1997 Manmaru The Ninja Penguin
His eyes are enormous voids with which to drag you in. He racked up an impressive 48 episodes worth of animal ninja-ry and a Sega Saturn game, before fading into in penguin obscurity. Worth noting the Manmaru manga started in… 1995. What was up with penguins in 1995? Even the US got in on it with The Pebble and The Penguin. Maybe something in Real Penguin History had happened a year or so earlier and the entertainment industry was cashing in its mackerel?
In 2006, the long running animal battling show introduced the character Dawn and her trademark pokemon, Piplup. The creature was popular enough to be the lead critter in the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon spin off (though that one is apparently a human who was turned into a Piplup). This spin-off Piplup wears a bow tie, is this another Mister Pen-Pen nod? Or are penguins in bow ties just adorable and you’d be a fool not to make one wear one?
2008 Penguin no Mondai
This CG show contains the leading penguin in the modern anime climate. That penguin is called Penguin Beckham. Again it’s a dumpy penguin, though this one borders on the spherical. Bringing the super deformed aesthetic full circle, a number of spin off projects have artwork that ape the look of 80s super deformed robot model box art.
So, that’s a brief history of penguins in anime. Let me know in the comments if there’s any notable additions I need to make.