ajthefourth: One of the most enjoyable things that this current season’s series Mawaru Penguindrum brings to the table is its style. From the opening moments of the first episode at Himari’s bedside, to the explosion of energy and attitude that is the “Rock Over Japan” transformation sequence, Penguindrum slickly bombards its audience with style. Behind this presentation lie various allusions to art, literature, religion, philosophy, and various other thematic elements that tie in with the story. It’s not necessary to know all of these to enjoy the series, but for people like me and my blogging partner, it allows us to geek out at the various references. A prime example is the use of painter Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” as shown in a scene from the series above and, since there was no new episode this past week, we’re going to share some of that geekery with you.
vucubcaquix: Gustav Klimt was a turn of the century Austrian artist who was known to paint in something called the Symbolist style, which is known as a sort of a response to the Romantic Tradition of the earlier 19th century. I won’t go too much further into the histories of the various art movements since it’s beyond both my scope and the scope of this post, but let’s still have a look at this painting in particular.
When it was debuted in 1908, it took the art world by storm. He lived with his mother and sisters at the time, but it belied the fact that the man was obsessed with sex. You see the image of the two lovers embraced in each others’ arms, with man kissing woman on the side of her face. If you take a step back and consider the outline of the lovers, you’ll see that it resembles the shape of an erect penis. One discussion that popped up afterwards was whether Klimt’s celebration of human sexuality was to be taken rather discreetly, or if it is indeed rather overt. The difference being in how you interpret the level of the passion between the lovers and how clear the image of the penis is to you.
ajthefourth: It’s fairly clear to me, although perhaps I’m simply obsessed with sex as much as Klimt himself. When I look at this painting, it drips with sexual imagery and a possessive nature. In addition to the more masculine, almost militant, imagery of the black and white squares that pepper his attire and the contrast of the soft circles and flowers that pattern hers, there is a forcefulness by which he embraces her. His body takes up more physical space on the canvas than hers, and appears far more static, while hers is fluidly melding into his, seemingly pressing forward to meet him. I’m also intrigued by the possessive nature that his hands appear to have, grasping at her to hold her head in place with force, while her fingers are looser and bent. This more submissive nature is echoed in the curling of her toes, which is often attributed to feelings of sexual desire or happiness.
vucubcaquix: I recognize the contrast in the visual imagery between man and woman, but I have to disagree on the tension that you perceive. Yes, the man is more aggressive in that he is the one who is actively kissing, but I feel only marginally so. If this was a more passionate embrace, it would be reflected in a more tense pose in woman, but rather, I have a tendency to view her as being in a much more languid state. I say that because I see her right hand as being lazily draped over his nape almost as an afterthought, rather than interpreting her as pulling him closer to her.
vucubcaquix: I feel that the Penguindrum creators may have seen the painting in a similar fashion, since we see Ringo’s hand once again draped over Tabuki’s nape. I still interpret it as being somewhat gentle since, as an object, a person’s glasses need to be handled gingerly to warn against breakage. The sexuality is still present in this interpretation, if somewhat muted with the removal of the direct visual allusion to the penis and the absence of an actual kiss. But with the minor changes come certain ideas and mental images to my mind.
I see the act of the removal of the glasses as a first step in a now standardized ritual between an advanced couple. The love between them is still very much present, but with several years on the white-hot passion between them has died down and has given way to a song and dance that they’ve performed on each other for a long time. She’ll take off his glasses, he leans closer to her. They take each others’ clothing off slowly, carefully, to avoid creating too much mess. They lightly kiss each other and hold hands as they retreat to their chambers for the night. It feels serene, comfortable, a feeling I’d be envious of.
ajthefourth: It’s a feeling I’d be envious of as well, but David’s attempts to distract with sex do not deter me from completely disagreeing with his opinion. It could be coming from what we know of Ringo’s personality, but I can’t help but see Penguindrum‘s version of the painting as being a bit aggressive as well, only this time it’s the female half of the partnership acting as the instigator.
The most telling thing for me that conveys this aggression is the hand, described as gentle above, that holds Tabuki’s glasses. I see it as a coy, sexually-charged act to get Tabuki’s attention, hardly the ritual that you described, David. Her fingers are curled, but rigid, and the way that they hold their fragile cargo seems far more careless than caring. Her body, instead of melding into her partner’s, appears to be pressing up forcefully against Tabuki. It’s also interesting to note how Tabuki appears to be a lot gentler than his original counterpart. Instead of kissing Ringo, he is warmly pressing his cheek against hers, his hands are cradling her head rather than holding it in place and, most importantly, we can see the expression on his face: a kind, warm expression. It’s as if even the painting knows that Tabuki may love her, just not in the sexual way that she would want.
One of the most striking things about the original Klimt painting is the sense that the couple is sealed in their own little world to the exclusion of all else. Together, they have created their paradise, possibly reaching a higher plane than their own surroundings. This is given a completely different meaning in the Penguindrum. Yes, Tabuki and Ringo are off in their own world; however, this is shown not through their mutual sexual desire, but through the presence of several cherubs that appear in and around the pair (the most interesting of which are blowing on a small Japanese grill in an attempt to cook something right around the area of both Tabuki and Ringo’s genitals) to which the characters are completely oblivious. This becomes especially ominous as one looks at the top of the painting and sees a gathering of skeletal figures (that resemble the personification of death) munching away at one of the cherubs. It immediately caught my attention, especially since it’s at this point where Ringo notes her “successful” attempt to eat curry with Tabuki. Perhaps it’s the series’s way of telling us, and possibly warning Ringo, that her continued pursuit or romantic assault on Tabuki will only lead her to suffering and pain.
vucubcaquix: So my attempts to distract you with sex may have failed, but I still disagree on how aggressive and tense the lovers in Penguindrum’s version are supposed to appear. I will concede however, that the female in the latter interpretation does indeed become the instigator in this affair. It’s highlighted in the image itself near the knees of the the two characters, where you’ll see two cherubs interacting with each other. The cherub on Ringo’s side is actively undressing the cherub on Tabuki’s side, which parallels the fact that the first article of clothing that was taken off is Tabuki’s glasses by Ringo herself. What’s also interesting to note is that Tabuki’s cherub is also somewhat resisting being undressed which may play into Emily’s view of Tabuki being gentler than his Klimt counterpart and may very well not be interested in Ringo sexually.
There’s even more that can be said about this entire scene. For instance, there’s a strong incestuous undercurrent in the tradition of the Electra Complex by having all this take place during Ringo’s dinner date with her father, and seeing her gaze at him somewhat starry-eyed during the whole scene. Not to mention that I notice a physical resemblance between Ringo’s father, Satoshi, and the object of her affections, Tabuki. Even note the same hair color! But, this post is getting long in the tooth and our eyelids are getting heavier by the minute. We’ll have to leave any such further speculation and analysis unsaid as we wait impatiently for next week’s Mawaru Penguindrum.
ajthefourth: Sounds like an excellent idea, David. I’ll see you then.
vucubcaquix: Have a good night, Emily.