Mike is a sensitive soul that has seen too much. His story begins with him in the midst of the Delta War, a in-universe analogy to the reallife Vietnam War, when this poetry-loving individual sees the horrors of war first-hand. While he survives and gets discharged after injury, several friends don't make it. Shell-shocked, he tries to find his place in the world, becoming a drifter, participating in underground fighting rings, and acting generally numb to the world until he settles down in a nice, quiet town to take care of their library. There, he falls in love, contends with a love rival, and discovers that running away from his problems only results in them exploding in his face.
It's very poignant. Very serious. And every single character is a cute penguin.
Conceived as an Anime vehicle to promote popular 80's-era Suntory Beer, this movie is one of the most jarring things to watch, as you see penguins that appear like they belong in a children's show with a script that is on par, in both content and tone, with The Deer Hunter. It also features the song "Sweet Memories," by Seiko Matsuda, one of the all-time most successful idol singers in Japan.
Penguin Memories provides examples of:
- Because You Were Nice to Me: When Mike finds a bird injured on the road, he immediately gets it to his home and tries to take care of it the best he could. And although Mike is willing to let the bird go after it successfully recovers, the bird is willing to stay with Mike instead.
- Bittersweet Ending: Mike's assault against Bob Adams and the others for attempting to take away Jill and for murdering his bird results in him being arrested and being found guilty, albeit sentenced under a three-year suspension. Nevertheless, he leaves Lake City due to his crimes and guilt over his loss, but thankfully Jill decides to follow him whether he goes.
- Bloodless Carnage: Particularly jarring in the early Vietnam-like scene, in which three penguins are shot dead with machine guns and yet not a single drop of blood is shed.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Jack does not appreciate Mike being engaged with Jill, as Jill's father has begged Jack to marry Jill. Despite this, Jack has feeling for Susan instead; as such he's willing to let Jill go as he believes Mike is a better lover for Jill than him.
- Creator Killer: In-Universe example, Jill's mother wanted to be part of the music industry but her only record sold poorly that it ended her career before it even began. She tries her hardest to get Jill to bail out before she ends up in the same situation.
- Differing Priorities Breakup: Mike wants to live a quiet life, while Jill wants to explore and be known to the world. Both set setting aside their differences however, after Jill's mother talks Jill out of the music business.
- Everything's Better with Penguins: ...well, sort of.
- Fight Clubbing: After his return from the war, Mike becomes a drifter who participates in underground fights for cash to get by.
- Gratuitous English: All the penguin names. In particular, "TOOOOOMUUUUUU!"
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Mike's refusal to go with Jill to Central City is mainly because he wants to live a normal, quiet life, as a way to mediate his trauma. This leads to the two falling out for a while.
- If I Were a Rich Man: Bob fantasizes about the potential of Jill's successful career and how his profession as her music manager will make him rich.
- It's Personal: Mike's pet bird being killed by one of Bob Adams's henchmen results in Mike going all out against them. And then the police show up.
- Mature Animal Story
- Mood Whiplash: The art style versus the subject. Also, when the random singalong with the penguin chicks happens.
- The Musical: Given the romantic interest was voiced by an Idol Singer, pretty much a given.
- Recycled INSPACE: The Deer Hunter with penguins. Also, Penguin First Blood.
- Returning War Vet: Mike is one of these.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Mike spends much of the movie like this.
- War Is Hell: Delta War is a horrifying ordeal that traumatized Mike. First, he had to see a group of escaping refugees gunned down by a friendly helicopter squadron. Then, Tom was killed by enemy gunfire as he attempts to save Mike when he was injured trying to stop the massacre. Finally, Al fell from the helicopter when it tried to dodge rockets fired upon from below.