Friday, August 10, 2012

Utena V.S. Penguindrum - which one is a "better" show?

Being deep in the mist of my own SKU/MP post series both series fic (currently struggling with the second Nemuro/Penguindrum research chapter), I've been rewatching both SKU and MP over and over again, along with reading many online reviews of both shows.  It seems like most people out there (with some exceptions, of course) still think that SKU is a better show than MP, and I have to say I agree with this common consensus. 

The following is my own opinionated ratings of some core elements shared by these two shows:

SKU 8, MP 9.5
SKU focuses on the (largely) student interactions within an fictional boarding school to cover topics like contemporary Japanese feminism and teen angst.
MP uses the very real 95 Tokyo Subway Attack to to cover topics like modern Japan's guilt-by-association viewpoints towards family members of criminals, the punishing pain of living, the (highly limited) ways of coexisting with fate.
Both series stress the power of human sacrifice to bring about salvation and/or change of fate (Anthy taking the Swords of Hate while defending Dios, Utena taking the Swords of Hate while trying revolutionizing Anthy, Momoka and Ringo both getting burned when they use spells to help others, Kanba and Shouma getting erased from reality for changing Himari's fate)
I consider the story of MP (when stripped of the fantasy elements, of course) to have more relevance to what people of all ages (not just girls and teens) face today (especially when living in Japan), thus why I give MP's plot a higher rating than SKU's.   

SKU 10,  MP 7.5
Both SKU and MP use highly stylized animations and editing techniques to give their own respective stories their "surrealistic" qualities, and they both employ "greek chorus" characters (Shadow Girls vs Double H) to dramatic effects. 
That being said, I find the SKU eps to be a lot more engaging - and certainly more emotionally moving - than those of MP; in fact, I dare say that the styling techniques used in MP's presentation makes the story needlessly convoluted when it does not have to be so; MP is, at its core, a genuine human drama, and I think a simpler, more direct way of presenting MP's story can make the story appear more "sincere" than in its current "odd-ball for odd-ball's sake" presentation. 

SKU 10, MP 7

While the main characters of both shows undergo a lot of development throughout the course of their story lines, the SKU characters came across to me as being more layered and fleshed-out, in spite of how the MP characters are the ones being put through the more dramatic situations.  A lot of that had to do with the aforementioned superior story presentation of SKU, where the characters are presented in a way that makes them more vivid and accessible to the viewers despite their stories being admittedly less gut-wrenching than those of the MP lot.  Also, I find the human emotions (and interactions) in SKU to be depicted in far richer details than what I see in MP (where the love/hate emotions of the characters do not seem "layered" enough to match the dramatic quality of their story).  On the topic of details, while animated in the 90's, the SKU characters' facial expressions and body languages are simply far more detailed than those of the 2011 MP characters.  Plus, I find the voice acting in SKU to be more emotionally authentic than the borderline affected screeches (especially from Ringo and Masako) I heard in MP (I know Touga's voice actor is the same as Shouma's dad, but he didn't really have enough screen time in MP to make a difference).

There are other elements that can affect a show's quality (like animation quality and music), but their effects pale in comparison to that of the above three IMHO.  Thus why I find SKU to still be a superior show than MP.

Thread for this topic at In the Rose Garden:

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