A Triumphant, Unique Debut
- Episodes : 1 (film)
- Genre : Sci-fi, Mystery, Adventure
- Airing Date : Aug 17, 2018
- Producers : Studio Colorido
Penguin Highway Introduction and Story
The first feature-length film from director Hiroyasu Ishida and the recently founded Studio Colorido, Penguin Highway is an adaptation of the 2010 novel of the same name by famous author Tomihiko Morimi whose other anime-adapted works include Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (The Tatami Galaxy), Uchouten Kazoku (The Eccentric Family), and Yoru wa Mijikashi Arukeyo Otome (Night Is Short, Walk on Girl).
Keeping with Morimi’s unusual storytelling, Penguin Highway centers around the curious appearance of penguins in a suburban Japanese town and a young boy named Aoyama. An extremely precocious fourth-grader, the studious and serious Aoyama makes it his mission to discover the origin of the mysterious birds through a series of experiments with the assistance of his friend Uchida and a strange, beautiful woman from the dental clinic who he is infatuated with and calls Onee-san.
1. Intriguing Premise and Mystery
Penguin Highway’s setup is strong. There’s no doubt that the inexplicable appearance of adorable Antarctic avians will provoke at least a little curiosity in almost anyone, and this film does a great job at slowly revealing its secrets to keep things interesting until the end. Secondary story elements, particularly Aoyama’s relationship with Onee-san, are also woven into the main story quite well to further explore the main theme of coming-of-age. Endings can be crucial to this genre and we’re happy to report that Penguin Highway’s turned out to be quite satisfying, leaving just enough open to spark the viewer’s imagination and revealing its secrets without over-explanation.
2. Stunning Art and Animation
Especially for a relatively new and somewhat obscure studio, the quality of craft displayed in Penguin Highway is really remarkable. Ex-Ghibli character designer Yojiro Arai’s work here strikes a nice balance between the house style of the famous studio and his own, slightly modernized take which feels comfortably familiar yet visually distinct, adding to the memorability of the characters. The animation itself is similarly great with no jarring moments of drops in quality or distracting CG and includes some really fun work, the penguin transformation sequences and character expressions in particular. Many of the backgrounds are also totally gorgeous and rich in detail. In short, the art is superb!
3. Great Soundtrack and Voice Acting
While singer-songwriter superstar Hikaru Utada’s ending theme "Good Night" might steal the show a bit (stay for the credits!), Penguin Highway’s lovely orchestral soundtrack is excellent throughout and very well integrated into the film with smart use of leitmotif. Being composer Umitarou Abe’s anime debut, we hope to hear more from him in the future! We also enjoyed the voice-acting which expressed the characters wonderfully with highlights being Kana Kita (another anime debut!) as Aoyama, Yu Aoi as Onee-san, Rie Kugimiya as Uchida, and Hidetoshi Nishijima as Aoyama’s father.
1. Bizarre Boob Fixation
Probably the most questionable aspect of the film lies with Aoyama’s outspoken fascination with breasts, mainly Onee-san’s. The nature of that relationship is also somewhat complex, to say the least, and might come across as strange to some given that Aoyama is only in fourth grade. To be clear, there’s nothing actually illicit that happens, implied or otherwise, and Aoyama’s passion can also be funny at times. It’s nevertheless at least a little weird and arguably given too much screen time, especially considering that it’s otherwise a very kid-friendly film and billed as such.
2. Small Story Hiccups
Some parts of Penguin Highway’s story were definitely handled better than others. For example, one thing that seemed a bit underdeveloped, given the amount of time spent on it, was Aoyama’s classmate Suzuki. A stereotypical bully character who goes through something of a redemption arc that’s a bit oddly paced and contrived at the end when he has a sudden change of heart despite how negatively he’s portrayed throughout the vast majority of the film. There are a few other examples but we think, overall, that they’re minimal and won’t detract much from your enjoyment.
Altogether, we think that Penguin Highway is an anime film you should absolutely see if you get the chance, particularly if you are a fan of sci-fi that leans more towards the whimsical, adore precocious child characters, coming-of-age stories, or... penguins! The sheer quality of its production value alone probably merits a watch that you’ll enjoy all the more if the story connects. With so many newcomers to the industry involved with Penguin Highway, we can’t wait to see what’s next for the talented staff that Studio Colorido has brought together. Penguin Highway was an excellent debut!
We hope that you enjoyed this review! Is this the best penguin anime ever? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below and be sure to stick around Honey’s for more of all things awesome, anime or otherwise. Until next time, be on the lookout for penguins!