Pepepepengiin is the latest short anime from DLE, famous for irreverent comedy anime such as Taka no Tsume (Eagle Talon), and Q-Transformers. However, it is also brought to us by Sanrio, the masters of the “character goods” business behind Hello Kitty and such like. Expect a lot of cute, mixed with a lot of crazy–with a healthy dose of “Japan.”
The title is a wordplay on the Japanese word for Penguin and assemblyman, as in, member of the the Diet (the Japanese version of Parliament or Congress). The setup is that, in a world where penguins have built up their own civilization–the United States of the South Pole–a young penguin named Sean Enoshima joins the numerous parliamentary debates. And… That is pretty much it. Interestingly, all of the topics brought up at the assemblies are typically Japanese.
The twist is that Sean himself actually does not speak, instead, he makes “Pe-pe-pe” noises. It is the other penguins who speak and react. And these interactions prove to be hilarious. That is not to say that we can’t tell anything about Sean’s personality; on the contrary, he’s actually often quite aloof.
What is most entertaining is probably the little windows of insight into Japanese society, and the everyday mentality that each episode offers. Most Japanese watching this show would probably feel a sense of familiarity with the issues raised, while for foreigners, it can be rather enlightening.
Usually, each episode begins with a debate on a particular issue in the penguin society that needs to be addressed, and the decision on what to do will come down to a vote in the assembly. Most often, however, neither side shifts the decision, and instead a totally new proposition is given as a solution.
For example, after a heated debate on whether it is best to directly ask a friend to return loaned money or to wait until he or she does so, that instead choose to forget about it while drinking beer. When there is a debate about whether or not to take one’s shoes off to go back into the house on the way out because they forgot something (since it is a faux pas in Japan to step inside a house with shoes on), the decision is made to reminisce back to nostalgic days of yesteryear–since when you go back inside you might find an old photo album. Odd acts of incomprehensible randomness permeate the otherwise real Japanese conundrums.
Some of the most out-there episodes so far are also most “Japanese.” Episode seven is a rare exception with no debate, which features Sean and his boss going out drinking, as Japanese bosses and employees are prone to do in order to unwind.
The focus is on acceptable and unacceptable behavior in this scenario. Specifically, what is permitted under the umbrella terms of bureikou (which refers to the concept of temporarily casting aside norms and decorum according to rank) so as to enjoy a good time as equals. Most work hierarchies in Japan enjoy this and the lower-level workers see it as a way to let off a little steam from the stress of the rigid structure within the office.
In the episode, the boss takes Sean to the various entertainment establishments that typical Japanese workers enjoy, such as kyabakura and karaoke bars. Sean however, begins to test the limits of bureikou, by snatching his boss’s sake away from him and drinking it or knocking him round the back of the head when the boss tells a dumb joke.
This would get him severely reprimanded in an office environment, but here they are laughed off. Sean continues to challenge the boundaries of his relationship with his boss by asking him for extra food on his plate, interrupting his karaoke performance, etc. In the end, when it looks like the boss is angry and decides to punish him in the morning, he receives a polite text message from Sean thanking him for the wonderful time in polite language. This causes him to forgive Sean after all.
The other episode is episode six, which is about whether or not it is appropriate to give one’s opinion in front of one’s superiors, or simply to agree with theirs–another typically Japanese conundrum.
Sean and two other penguins, one around the same position and the other much more senior, are coming out of a movie. The younger penguin struggles to catch up and agree with everything the senior penguin says about the film, even though his opinion is clearly different. When prompted, Sean, however, gives no regard for the others’ reactions whatsoever and directly says that he thought it was completely boring.
At first this appears to have angered the older penguin but soon after he praises Sean for giving his opinion and instead berates the other one for not being straight with him. The decision taken on this issue by the assembly, then… is to simply say “Pe-pe-pe” whenever in those situations. Again, these decisions hardly ever fall into the “for” or “against” categories.
Interestingly, the end credits usually have a graph with results of an actual survey that DLE conducted regarding people’s thoughts on the topic of the episode. In case you are interested, 62.2% of those respondents said they would give their opinion of a movie without considering others, while 33.3% said they would say whatever the others said.
Pepepepengiin is some good old-fashioned Japanese weirdness which can be rather insightful for those interested in the Japanese mindset. At two minutes per episode, it is enough to put a smile on your face and brighten your day, maybe for a little, before you have to get back to the stress of your responsibility to society.
Lastly, this being a Sanrio enterprise, Namba Parks in Osaka is offering a special Pepepepengiin themed menu at Café Costa! Expect to see many more tie-ins and merchandise to come!