”Am I not good enough?”
-Seiya Kou, Sailor Moon: SailorStars
ajthefourth: When one wants to talk about fated romance, there is no shortage of anime or manga to choose from (never mind the fact that every other medium has an additional wealth of references). However, upon watching this most recent episode of Mawaru Penguindrum, I couldn’t help but think of Sailor Moon: SailorStars. Bear with me, because I do have a point in all of this.
Sailor Moon is a franchise that takes the idea of fated love and makes it the centerpiece of its story. Usagi Tsukino and Mamoru Chiba are not only students (the latter far older than the former) who pass each other and tease each other on the street mercilessly, but they are also (spoilers!) reincarnated fated lovers, whose love was destroyed by a dark force that, in the first season of the anime series, has returned to wreak havoc. Of course Usagi and Mamoru end up dating, and of course you find out that they will be married in the future (and have the most annoying pink-haired child in existence). It’s all fantastic because it’s all fate, so of course they must be in love with each other, right?
One thing that never sat right with me was Mamoru’s treatment of Usagi in the anime (I’m going to leave the manga out of this because Mamoru is a far more empathetic character in that). He never acted like he wanted to be around her, with the exception of when it was convenient and necessary for the plot to move forward. I was well aware that Usagi and Mamoru were fated, and it was all supposed to be terribly romantic, but I could never get behind Mamoru as a love interest, especially when Seiya Kou came along. Seiya, a woman disguised as a man, falls in love with Usagi not because they are fated and it’s all supposed to be terribly romantic, but because Usagi was Usagi: warm, nurturing, clumsy, selfish, a crybaby, you name it. Seiya accepts and loves Usagi for who Usagi is, not who she was or who she was going to become. The above quote comes when Usagi has reached her breaking point, having not heard from Mamoru in months (as it turns out, lest you think Mamoru is one gigantic you-know-what, he was actually dead the entire time). My answer as a viewer was, “No, Seiya, you’re not ‘good enough,’ you’re better.”
Let’s bring these concepts into the many relationships and relationship possibilities that we’ve been presented with in Penguindrum. The above screenshot comes from what I considered a highly romantic and charming scene shared between Ringo and Shouma. The romantic feelings swirling in this moment are building upon prior interactions between the two; it’s what makes their relationship, the things they say to each other, the things that they do for each other, all of their previous mutual encounters are leading up to this moment, just as any moment in a relationship is building upon ones prior. Remember very early on when Shouma saved Ringo from drowning in Episode Four? Remember when Ringo realized her true feelings for Shouma in Episode 11? Remember when Ringo confessed to Shouma and was turned down in Episode 14? There are various other interactions I could bring up as well, the point being that we’ve been shown this wonderful relationship development between these two characters through their interacting with each other in the series. In Episode 19, we are told that Shouma is Himari’s fated one. Similarly, we have seen Kanba repeatedly sacrifice himself for Himari. We have seen implied sexual relations between the two. We have seen Himari’s alter ego both caress him tenderly and look him up and down, oozing sexuality. Last episode we saw Himari ready to sacrifice herself so that Kanba wouldn’t have to suffer any further. And yet, we are still told that Shouma is Himari’s fated one.
I am not bringing these examples up to start some sort of “relationship war” between different fans of various relationships. The point I am trying to make is that, in the series so-called fated relationships, we’ve only been told that they are fated, whereas with the more realistic developing relationships we have been told nothing. In addition to getting the fandom in a tizzy over the relationship that they personally back, I wonder if Ikuhara doesn’t mean to fly in the face of fate with his relationship pairings in this series (if the ending of Utena is anything to go by, we’re in for an interesting remaining five episodes). My hope and expectation based on the character and relationship developments that we’ve seen thus far, is that the characters whose relationships we’ve seen grow, will continue to grow and contradict their so-called fate. Seiya won’t have to acquiesce to a greater love that we’ve been told exists this time around.
There are other relationships swirling the drain of fate that interest me in addition to Shouma and Himari’s, the main one being Momoka and Tabuki. What requirements must be met for one to be saved from the Child Broiler? How does one end up there in the first place, and why does it take a “fated one” to escape?
vucubcaquix: I should’ve been more careful in the language I used in my section dealing with the Child Broiler in the last post. I went on to describe that I believed it was an abstract representation of the moment that Tabuki faced his mortality, as in the day he was on the subway when it was attacked by the Takakuras and Momoka switched the rails of fate in order to bear his burden. After clarifying myself a bit in the comments section, I should stress that I don’t believe that the Child Broiler is limited exclusively to that event in 1995, but rather is an abstract representation of any moment that a character finds themselves in a mortal scenario, possibly one in which they’re willing giving up their tether to the living. Through what we’ve been told in the storytelling thus far, we can infer that this has occurred to Tabuki as a child, and we know that Himari has experienced this through being sickly and frail while being ostracized from the community. In my (sometimes overzealous) attempt to make sense of everything in this show, the visuals of that set and the presence of “unwanted children” kept calling to mind the notion of the popular cultural representation of Limbo. But there’s the added element of everyone who’s spent time in this broiler do so because they are willingly giving up their hold on the world. They’re on the cusp of giving up. If not exactly committing suicide, these characters see no reason to continue the struggle to live. There’s a meaninglessness to the world that they feel they’ve encountered, so the idea of being ground up and being made into an invisible entity as a method to cope seems just as logical and tenable as any other.
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer [the questions of suicide].”
-Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
Several philosophers have broached the idea of suicide, including Kierkegaard‘s embrace of religion, but it’s Camus’ particular idea, that one must live in revolt, that I feel is the most relevant. Himari and Tabuki may have been resigned to their fates at that point, but Shouma and Momoka were not. It’s an incomplete comparison, but there’s a comparison to be made regardless, in that in order for these characters to escape the clutches of the Child Broiler, they both had to be led out by someone who clearly and distinctly rejects the system and perhaps has their own ideas over what kind of meaning to ascribe to their existences. The Child Broiler in the end, may be a manifestation of the absurd realization that life is inherently meaningless, and represents an abstract scenario in which the characters who find themselves in it have to decide whether to give up, or live in revolt.
The comparison is incomplete because the suffering characters who have spent time in the Child Broiler didn’t necessarily come to the epiphany necessitated by this realization and surmounted their problems on their own, but rather depended on an external source to quote/unquote “show them the way.” For Himari it was Shouma, for Tabuki it was Momoka. To be led out of this situation or line of thought by another person is inherently very risky, because your worldview becomes somewhat dependent on the person who saved you, I feel. If Ringo is an allusion to a Giovanni for whom the journey on the Galactic Railroad left a positive impression, this is further confirmation that Tabuki is an allusion to a Giovanni who gleaned the wrong message from his experiences. Tabuki received a new lease on life and a renewed vigor for living because Momoka saw fit to intervene and incite him to revolt against the malaise brought about by his realization of the meaninglessness of his life, but it was incomplete because Tabuki became wholly dependent on Momoka for guidance. Thus when Momoka was no longer a part of his life, he festered and deadened himself somewhat inside.
Something similar happens to Yuri when Momoka is no longer with them. This episode confirms that Yuri, and to a certain extent Tabuki as well, seek superficial material comforts to alleviate the ache of their missing purpose in Momoka. We see Yuri and Tabuki sharing curry on Curry Day (which blunts a lot of the implied menace behind Yuri’s introduction in episode three, though reinforces an idea of facade) and in the superficial act of eating curry as reminiscence, Yuri brings up the idea of marriage as another possibility to balm the ache. The superficiality in the gesture was given voice by Yuri herself by saying that their marriage will be them pretending at the idea of family at first, but like the Double H placard of the day states, that truth will be born from lies. She continues at this wholeheartedly, as we see in the visual metaphor in the screenshot above, she buys curtains to protect against the cold.
But it doesn’t work. Tabuki leaves her. The room is still cold. In a scene that lasts approximately a minute and a half, we see the actress who embraced the superficial and material strain under the hollowness that those comforts provide and let slip the mask of her calculated veneer. Yuri now supplants Ringo for being the most ironic character in the show, and is hurtling headlong into being one of Penguindrum’s most tragic.
ajthefourth: To say that I’ve been paying close attention to Shouma’s character development is an understatement. I’ve been following the twins’ (especially Shouma’s) characterizations with rapt attention since the third episode, and Episode 19 provides a stark contrast to all of the previous buildup we’ve seen in Shouma’s character. Interestingly enough, the scene in the child broiler was the most confident we’ve ever seen him in this series.
Just who is Shouma Takakura?
In the Child Broiler, Shouma rescues Himari from being assimilated by offering her “the fruit of fate,” a Kiga apple, much like Momoka uses the spell in her diary. This would point to Shouma being the baby boy whose birth heralded the terrorist attacks that the Takakuras enacted on the Tokyo subway system, Kiga being the symbol that appears on Kenzan’s jacket, and the money envelopes that Kanba receives. If Shouma was, or is, a special entity like Momoka, was his birth prophesied, and therefore was a catalyst for Kenzan’s organization?
One of the more interesting things in all of this is how the bold, confident, child Shouma of the past ended up as the hesitant, mopey, and guilt-ridden Shouma of the present. The answer, most likely, lies with the parents. When Shouma tells us his allegory in Episode 12, he blames his parents fully for the punishment enacted on his family. When he looks back on his family in Episode 13, it’s obvious that the revelation of who exactly his parents were was extremely emotionally scarring for Shouma. We see the ripple effect in this previous episode while Shouma and Kanba talk on the train with Shouma blaming his parents for their misfortune and Kanba telling him to be quiet.
Even more interesting is the fact that Kanba so obviously backs the Takakuras against the growing suspicion that he may not even be their biological son. From his startled reaction to when Masako said that she was going to take back her past and her truth, one could assume that if he is Masako’s long lost sibling, he may be unaware of it. Himari’s role in all of this has now become very interesting as well, what with her no longer being of the Takakura family biologically either. This would remove the physical taboo between her and Kanba; however, the social taboo would still remain a murky issue.