By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Distributor: Shout! Factory
Release Date: August 6, 2019
The anime adaptation of Tomohiko Morimi’s novel, Penguin Highway, is coming to home video! Those who have not seen this anime last year at Fantasia 2018 either had to wait for a local (film festival) screening or this Tuesday. Life is certainly a highway for young Aoyama (Kana Kita), a 4th grader with an IQ of about 105. He aspires to be a scientist, and hopes to visit the moon one day. But first, he has to answer the question of why penguins–who typically prefer cold arctic conditions–are in a sleepy suburb of humid Japan.
He meets a young woman whom he calls Lady (Yuu Aoi) who works at his dentist’s office, and they form an unlikely friendship. Life at school is rough. He’s rather stuffy since everyone identifies him as a nerd. As a result, he’s constantly teased and bullied. He can stand up for himself but he is stronger when his two friends are there to help. Ultimately, the narrative does not differ from, for example, Trollhunters. His just-as-nerdy pal, Uchida (Rie Kugimiya) tries but Hamamoto (Megumi Han) ends up being more handy. The threesome eventually even has the bully team up to deal with a mysterious orb found in a meadow nestled deep in a forest. Just what it is, nobody knows.
Aoyama feels he has to solve the mystery. After all, his keen sense of note taking and observation gives him the confidence to figure it all out himself. He notices the penguins do not display typical behaviour; they’re not Mr. Popper’s Penguins and seem to have their own oddball agenda. Although the boy is not current on astrophysics, I surmise the globule of water (known as the ocean according to this lad) is a wormhole of some sort. However, it’s not a true portal. For this lad to figure out what it does requires a lot more than a keen knowledge of life, universe and everything.
The story offers some wacky humour ala Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe style but Stranger Things this anime is not. The colourful atmosphere created by ex-Ghibli animator Hiroshi Shimizu is more light-hearted. The tale is more about Aoyama coming-of-age, and perhaps even getting a seeing a glimpse of a girl he’s not so interested in actually be a future incarnation. It’s very unlikely that she is an adult projection of his younger sister either.
Not even the interview with Morimi (one of the two featurettes included in the video release) suggests who Lady is. In Japanese, Aoyama is addressing this woman as an older sister than Lady. The translation is decent, and I found the dubbed version accurately portray the characteristics of these characters quite well. This author was honoured to be approached by Studio Colorldo in their desire to adapt his work. He even mentioned it followed his novel well. Although, to satisfy my own inquisitive nature, I may well have to pick up the book (Amazon Link) to see if my theory is right. The Sherlock Holmes in me must know.
4 Stars out of 5