“It really was a day like any other
We had breakfast together in the morning.
The three of us went to school.
Our parents went to work.
We smiled by the door and waved.
But they never came back.
That was the last time we were together as a family.”
ajthefourth: The above quote was said by Shouma Takakura following his personal description, accompanied by flashbacks, of the day that he and Kanba discovered that his parents were highly sought-after criminals, accused of executing and possibly masterminding a horrifying terrorist attack. If you would, please compare that to the quote below:
“The night before…the family was saying over dinner, ‘My, how lucky we are. All together, having a good time’ …a modest share of happiness. Destroyed the very next day…”
-T.A. from Underground- The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche
In our eighth post on this series, I remarked that perhaps one of the directions that the series was going in was to address the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks in an indirect way, by linking various characters’ relationships to the attacks in order to paint the picture of a far larger social commentary. Then, no one knew how directly the series would reference the attacks. Ringo’s sister Momoka as one of the casualties, Shouma/Kanba’s birth as the trigger with their parents as the perpetrators, they’re all very closely related to what happened on March 20th, 1995.
Aiding the series immensely in its commentary is its excellent character development. It’s easy to say that we would not care nearly as much about the specter of terrorist attacks in Mawaru Penguindrum, gristly or no, if we didn’t first care about what happens to Shouma, Kanba, and Ringo, not to mention the periphery characters of Himari, Sanetoshi, Masako, Tabuki, and Yuri. All of these people in some way were touched by one horrifying event and it’s through their development, or refusal to develop and remain victims, much like Shouma in this latest episode, that we can begin to feel the after-effects of such a devastating event.
Recently, I’ve been reading the book Underground- The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche that was organized by contemporary author Haruki Murakami, who also penned the short story Super Frog Saves Tokyo from After the Quake, a collection of short stories about the 1995 Kobe Earthquake. Super Frog Saves Tokyo is referenced heavily in the library scenes in Penguindrum, and is most notably the book that Himari is searching for when she descends into the library (for reasons that have yet to be revealed. Perhaps they never will be). Both books deal with the uncertainty and difficulty returning to an “ordinary life” following a widespread national trauma; however, the main difference between the two is that, while After the Quake deals in abstraction, philosophy, and fantasy, Underground (which was also seen briefly in Penguindrum episode nine, when Himari is searching through the stacks herself) is a collection of interviews from survivors of the gas attacks, which weave a narrative through real-life recollections of witnesses, family members, and of course, the survivors themselves.
In addition to weaving a fascinating story with allusions to fairy tales, philosophical concepts, works of art, and humorous penguin antics, Mawaru Penguindrum is also doing a good job of creating lively characters to live through what is seemingly a larger social commentary. This somewhat reflects Murakami’s own admission as to why he so pursued the gas attack survivors in order to write Underground. “I had a hunch that we needed to see the true picture of all of the survivors, whether they were severely traumatized or not, in order to better grasp the whole incident.” he writes in his preface. The implications are fascinating when one considers that they could possibly be witnessing Ikuhara’s own commentary to the Japanese response to the attacks.
To close out this section, I’ll leave you with a quote from H.S., one of the gas attack survivors who spent three days in a coma before somewhat miraculously returning to life. It ties very nicely into the somewhat garish nature of the Tokyo Sky Metro’s 10th Anniversary Celebration in this episode of Penguindrum.
“I believe we must have a full debate to satisfy everyone, and use it as a test case of where responsibility lies with incidents of this sort. We must give serious thought to how we can make good such crimes and how any retribution is to be decided… Furthermore, in order to prevent the recurrence of such a terrible incident, there needs to be a public debate about how we as a nation deal with such crises… The most important thing for Japan at this point is to pursue a new spiritual wholeness. I can’t see any future for Japan if we blindly persist with today’s materialistic pursuits.”
-H.S. from Underground- The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche
“I love the word ‘fate’.
You know how they talk about ‘fated encounters’?
Just one single encounter can change your entire life.
Such special encounters are not coincidences.
They’re definitely… fate.”
Ringo is such a fascinating character in the context of this show’s setting. I once wrote about how determined she was to enact her fate, her destiny, and that it played into the conflict between the Existentialism of the brothers and their perception of an uncaring Deterministic universe. They are both casualties in a sense of the same event, however the children of the perpetrators grew to despise the causality wrought about by the action, and the younger sister of a victim grew to love the relationships she forged as a result of that event.
She sees meaning in her encounters, there is a purpose to knowing and becoming familiar with those around her. She is enacting a Teleological argument.
Teleology concerns itself with the idea of there being final causes inherent in nature. It was accepted amongst the old philosophers that there is design and purpose in human actions, coming from the Greek word telos which means “end, purpose”. Something is teleological when it is for the sake of an end which is either inherent in itself or assigned to it by something external like humans.
The Teleogical argument is used by Christians to argue for the existence of God, because the existence of order and direction in nature denote a purpose to it being so. Order and direction means that there is meaning inherent to the events of the world, thus there must be a deity present that is enacting the grand narrative of the universe. Even if terrible things happen, it’s all right, because it happens for a reason. Given my description of Ringo as a kind of believer and the diary as her scripture, I don’t believe it’s a stretch to see her employ the same kind of religious affectations here to reaffirm her beliefs and allegiances to the idea of fate and destiny as being ones of benevolence.
Penguindrum is a show concerned with fate, inherent meaning in the world, and the conflict with the views of ones who see meaninglessness in everything. This episode was a poetic reminder that reestablished the core themes that were introduced in the very first episode, and all done in an incredibly poignant manner.
ajthefourth: The above quote is said by Tabuki in response to Ringo’s fervent wish that she had never discovered the truth about Shouma’s parents. It could be said that Ringo’s ideas of fate, in fact, come from her relationship with Tabuki, as the idea of fate is seemingly how he has, to some extent, been able to move on from the attacks and the death of Momoka. In the above scene, which calls to mind episode six, Tabuki reaffirms these ideas for Ringo, which she then reiterates to herself on the train, surrounded by the slogan “It takes three years to grow peaches and chestnuts, eight years for persimmons.” localized as “Rome wasn’t built in a day” it hints to the fact that it takes a while to produce something meaningful or great.
It has taken a while, but Ringo has seemingly come to terms with her life and is ready to move on in a new direction. As my partner alluded to above, this is all done without the abandoning of her belief in fate. This change in her life, and renewed self-awareness can be attributed to none other than Shouma, the boy who believes that it is impossible for anyone to care about him because of his parents’ atrocities. Ringo’s questioning of Tabuki in regards to his attitude towards Shouma and Kanba would suggest that she is also having a hard time accepting Shouma’s birthright. However, the text message to her father would suggest that she has decided that life is too meaningful to hold such grudges (again, this is all done in tandem with her continuing her faith in the idea of fate, although she is no longer trying to become her sister). Hopefully, the series will show how their friendship progresses from this point on. It’s no secret that Shouma is my personal favorite character, and the romantic in me would love to see Shouma come to terms with himself through Ringo’s meddling, much like her own personal realization would appear to have begun when he stopped her from raping Tabuki, telling her that he “couldn’t leave her alone.” I am a bit wary for Ringo now. Once a character like hers reaches such a catharsis, it’s usually a sign that said character will be moving on soon. Himari’s death was more of a plot device for me, despite the fact that she was shown as an innocent victim, where Ringo is a far more real and emotional character. In spite of these death flags, I certainly hope that she doesn’t leave us soon.
As an aside, it’s interesting to note that Ringo and Tabuki’s encounters often have a purple hue to them, as does the peach imagery on Tabuki and Yuri’s apartment, as well as the peach imagery surrounding the Oginome apartment. Momoka’s hair, if we’re going by this episode and her funeral picture, is a purple color, as are her eyes if they do, as Sanetoshi hints at in his monologue, see the world exactly as he does. Momoka has been a specter over their interactions since the beginning of the series.
vucubcaquix: Momoka’s specter looms large in the Hole in the Sky Library, as Sanetoshi speaks aloud about the loneliness he harbors as he is simultaneously able to hear the voices all over the world. This power, this authority, that he claims to have enables him to feel as though he knows and understands what is best for the world. He alone claims to have the long form perspective to see the grand narrative of the universe. But as he explains this to an entity or entities present, he speaks of how lonely this makes him feel. The audience is to assume that the girl in question who is able to see the world and listen to the music in the same way as he, is the same girl who was the sole victim on the Marunouchi line. But this is what brings him the most sadness, since this very special girl, also rejects his ideas and vision for the narrative of the world.
This is language that is reminiscent of an alienated deity, yet I am reticent to assign the role of the Goddess to him since the Goddess is primarily concerned with enacting punishment for those who defy fate. After all, punishment has to be the most unjust, right? After all, it would be no fun if the punishment ended here, right?
That is the capricious Goddess’s whims according to Shouma’s allegory. What gives me pause when conflating the role of the Goddess to Sanetoshi, is the fact that he is more concerned with the ramifications of Himari’s resurrection on the concept of fate itself, and whether or not it is indeed the law that governs the universe.
That sounds like a power struggle to me.
Who Sanetoshi addresses in his monologue in the middle of the episode is confusing. There were at times where I felt that he was addressing the audience and their questions such as the rationale behind his resurrecting Himari, and explaining his love for a girl who saw the same world as he did which the audience is to presume is Momoka since her presence is made known to us simultaneously. But there’s a sudden change in the direction of his speech as we suddenly learn that he was addressing two discrete beings at the same time. Who are these two beings? Are they the rabbits who accompany him as he sets about his duties in the world? Or is at least one of them indeed the veil that he bestows upon the bride of fate? Would that make the other being the veil bestowed upon Mario Natsume? There are a lot of visual implications to denote that Momoka has indeed resurrected and is present in the world, but that her consciousness, her essence, is inextricably tied to that of the veil that was bestowed upon Himari. That raises a lot of interesting implications, and one wonders if someone else’s essence is within the veil of the penguin prince.
ajthefourth: At their parting in episode nine, Sanetoshi tells Himari that she will learn whose bride she is at the destination of fate, and that she should know the place. We had been thinking all this time that Himari was far more conscious of her actions as the Princess than the series initially had let on. However, what if it was not some otherworldly princess character that Himari was channeling, but Momoka?
Sanetoshi says that, immediately upon meeting Momoka, he knew that they were never meant to be. This could be the reason for his delving into whether fate controls the Mawaru Penguindrum universe. It also ties in to why Himari (with the Penguinhat on) was so clear and assertive in her spurning of Sanetoshi’s kiss before being returned to the “real world.” As for the child broiler scene and her fated groom, Wabisabi had already addressed that the silhouette of young Tabuki is reminiscent of Himari’s fated one that she shares an apple with (not to mention that her shoes in that scene match Momoka’s red/pink shoes in the library). Momoka and Tabuki, Himari and Mario. It will certainly be interesting to see where the series goes with these tangled red strings.
vucubcaquix: This all leaves us with the single dangling thread that is Yuri. We asserted in last week’s post that Yuri was both the reincarnation of Momoka and a possible identity for the Goddess. Her being Momoka’s reincarnation doesn’t seem as tenable as it once was despite my adamant insistence. However, the possibility of her being the Goddess is still there. The Goddess is beautiful, otherworldly, and concerned with the punishment of those who defy their fates. There have been no overt signs as to how she reacts to those who would defy her, but Yuri does have a very controlling and domineering presence in Tabuki’s life.
Yuri is beautiful and otherworldly, and the name she bears, 時籠 Tokikage, hints at the nature underneath that polished surface. A fate, a destiny that is unchanging. A “time cage.”