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Literature / Penguin Highway

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penguin highway is a Japanese science fiction coming-of-age novel written by Tomihiko Morimi (The Tatami Galaxy, The Eccentric Family, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl) published in 2010. In 2018, it received a manga adaptation in Monthly Comic Alive and an anime film adaptation by Studio Colorido (Typhoon Noruda). Yen Press released an English translation of the novel in 2019.

Fourth grader Aoyama and a mysterious older woman known to him as Onee-san (Lady), who is a dental assistant and also Aoyama's first crush, seek out to discover the reason why penguins are suddenly appearing in Aoyama's quiet suburban neighborhood.


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Tropes in this work include:

  • Adorably Precocious Child: Aoyama and Hamamoto.
  • Ambiguously Human: The dental assistant can turn objects into penguins, doesn't need to eat, and sickens if she gets too far from the Ocean. She has memories of living a normal life, but wonders near the end if they really happened.
  • Artistic License – Ornithology: Not in Japanese or English, but in French due to a gross mistranslation. The French word "pingouin" normally means "razorbill", a sea bird living in the Northern Atlantic − but the translation treats it as an equivalent of "penguin", whose actual French translation is "manchot". Thus during the whole movie you get gems like "razorbills live in Antartica" or "the Adélie razorbill". It is likely that since the confusion is frequent among French speakers anyway, the marketing department opted for the cuter word rather than an accurate translation.
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  • Book-Ends: The story starts and ends with Aoyama narrating his intentions as he does his morning routine.
  • Eating Optional: The penguins don't need to eat. Neither does the dental assistant.
  • Eureka Moment: Discussed by Aoyama's father then later played straight.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: And as it turns out, they play a big role in repairing the "sea" which is actually a big hole in the space-time continuum.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The dental assistant destroys the Ocean even though she may not be able to survive at the end. She disappears after, her ultimate fate unknown.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Aoyama and the dental assistant.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Penguins obviously don't naturally live anywhere near the suburbs, much less anywhere in Japan. Aoyama wants to figure out where these penguins are coming from.
  • No Name Given: Everyone outside the research team and Suzuki. Even the dentist assistant is only named Onee-san all throughout.
  • Not So Stoic: Aoyama has his moments. Besides being somewhat obsessed with large breasts, he's also occasionally dropped his facade, especially when under stress.
  • Precocious Crush: Aoyama has a crush on Onee-san, much to the dismay of Hamamoto, who has a crush on him while he's fixated on an adult woman she can't possibly compete against.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Aoyama's father is nothing but supportive of his son's exploits and gives him the means to continue his research. Aoyama's mother is also one in terms of looking out for Aoyama's health.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Played straight by Hamamoto. Somewhat downplayed by Aoyama who has a chess teacher. Said chess teacher is Onee-san, who seems to be more of an average person than a genius like either of the two kids.
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