Colloquium: “The Kiss” in Mawaru Penguindrum Episode 5

"I want to remain as Daddy's precious treasure, for now."

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.

Der Kuss

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.

The entire Penguindrum allusion to The Kiss

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.

Suggested Reading

18 Comments

Filed under Colloquia, Editorials, Episodics, Mawaru Penguindrum, Mawaru Penguindrum, Mawaru Penguindrum

18 responses to “Colloquium: “The Kiss” in Mawaru Penguindrum Episode 5

  1. I’m kind of interested with how the angels are position in that image, since it kind of gives some sort of symbolic meaning on what they do and the sequence in which the pairs are positioned. For example, the first pair (Angels blowing rice cakes on a stove) represents the orals and the constant buildup of lust. The second pair (one angel trying to take off the clothes of the other) represents the nudity and the consummation of love and lust either through intercourse or other means. And finally, the last pair (the pair being overly intimate with each other) represents the aftermath of the event.

    Excellent post, as always!

    • hikoboshiandorihime

      ajthefourth: Yes! Since the angels were the most obvious addition into Penguindrum’s version versus the original painting, they are where most of my attention went at first and your summation of what each could mean is well-thought out as always. Your comments are always appreciated! ^ ^

      vucubcaquix: Man, I hadn’t even considered that the cherubs were any sort of continuity until you mentioned it in this comment. That makes for an interesting commentary, since if the painting is fantasy, then it is just that, a fantasy. But if any of this is foreshadowing in some way (as the ominous top seems to want us to believe) then the cherubs imply something fascinating in that maybe Ringo becomes moderately successful in her attempts to couple with Tabuki. We shall see!

      Also, those are rice cakes?

  2. animekritik

    I hadn’t thought about this until I read this post, but if the Kiss resembles a penis, then the dark cloud on top in the penguindrum version looks kinda like semen.

  3. jreding

    As always a great post with many intriguing thoughts! Since my comment on your episode 5 colloquium ( http://bit.ly/pVp7qz ) I had some time to ponder on references between Penguindrum’s and Elfen Lied’s versions of “Der Kuss”.

    Since the painting appears only in EL’s OP there seems to be no direct connection to the plot, which is based on the manga. Furthermore, “Der Kuss” is used alongside other Klimt paintings. Therefore, I agree with you, vucubcaquix, that it may have been used mostly for it’s visual style. I think the paintings – together with the OP Song “Lilium” – are employed to convey a mysterious and – for lack of better words – “epic” background to the show’s tragic events. I found it notable that Kohta and Lucy in EL’s OP both appear on separate versions of the painting, desiring each other but not united (cf. pp 9 and 10 and 8 and 9 of the Appendix of this rather comprehensive analysis I found on the internet: http://bit.ly/pOTTq7 ).

    Does this have any meaning for Penguindrum? As someone who likes Elfen Lied, at first I thought that maybe this might foreshadow Penguindrum turning into a gorefest of Elfen Lied-like proportions in later episodes! However, “Der Kuss” (like everything else) is used without the slightest bit of irony in Elfen Lied. Penguindrum’s version, on the other hand, is drawn in a lighthearted way, making fun of Ringo’s dedication. Maybe it even makes fun of the overly grave presentation in Elfen Lied!

    Further references I cannot see. I heard that Elfen Lied is virtually unknown in Japan (I hope you don’t think bad of me that I like it!). Maybe Ikuhara-san is not even aware that show used “Der Kuss” as well.

    • hikoboshiandorihime

      ajthefourth: I still haven’t seen Elfen Lied, but I’m impressed with how much thought you’ve put into this. ^ ^ Personally I would be shocked if Ikuhara wasn’t at least vaguely aware of Elfen Lied’s usage of the painting, simply because anime is such a niche industry. Then again, Ikuhara has been “out of the industry” supposedly since Utena, so possibly not. One thing I really appreciate about his direction and storytelling is that it seemingly comes from real-life experiences and references from outside of anime. I feel that, all too often, recent anime directors only work within the scope of other anime, and don’t neccessarily bring in too many other influences. Another reason why I love Ikuhara’s use of “The Kiss” in the scene, and the fact that it leaves so much to brainstorm and discuss. Thanks as always!
      vucubcaquix: Virtually unknown in Japan? That’s interesting since during my tenure on a Certain Anonymous Imageboard, Elfen Lied was regarded with quite a bit of infamy, so my perspective on its relative popularity is a bit skewed since it was a frequent topic of conversation.

      I agree with Emily in that perhaps Ikuhara was aware of it’s existence and perhaps it’s use of the Klimt painting since EL was produced within the anime studio system, but I agree with you in that it’s use in EL’s OP was more than likely just a stylistic decision since it’s presence has no bearing on the plot of the show whatsoever. Whereas with Penguindrum, the camera lingered on the painting during Ringo’s dialogue with her father in a deliberate attempt to evoke certain emotions and elicit speculation within the audience.

      Elfen Lied was very violent from the outset. I don’t think it’s within Penguindrum’s repertoire to succumb to the same level of violence as EL, since nothing like that has been forecast even five weeks in. But I still look forward to analyzing any other allusions this show will throw at us.

      • Break

        its been some tme, btu i read in an interview which was printed in the initial release of the german DVD version of elfenlied, that the klimt-paintigns were used because the director has a small colletction of klimt-pictures, and someone else in the staff, forgot the names, got inspired by them after visiting him.
        … man i feel like i havent really sai danythign of worth.. but its just taht i found this colloqium prettty late and most thigns of worth have already been said ! XD

  4. Yea, I really like Klimt, specifically because of the sexuality; some of his other works (like his sketches) are marvelously neat and provocative. Now for some thoughts…

    I enjoyed the way you guys debated the imagery, especially the polarization involving passion and aggression. I have to say, most of this is what’s apparent, it’s what we sense and feel from the art, but I think there are some deeper veins, especially when we bring Penguindrum’s rendition. One of the words I was looking for in this post was dependency (more specifically but not exclusively, sexual dependency). I’m not sure that’s a word which comes to mind when viewing Klimt’s original, but with respect to Ringo and very much so the Electra Complex, I feel it is a deeper reveal. Sexual dependency need not carry negative connotation, but it encapsulates the representative relationship with concision (be it gentle, aggressive, or undoubtedly passionate [yet delusional]).

    On the surface, it’s easy to see dependencies (necessities even) between father and daughter, and I believe that’s where we start with near the entirety of Ringo’s character. It’s pretty clear her family life isn’t all together, and perhaps it’s a projection (displacement) which has led her to Tabuki; father fascination, needing someone to fill that role. This is fairly common, and even something I’ve seen in my sister’s relationships, though she would never actively suggest the man she compares all others to is, in fact, our father, my mom and I have an understand. So what of Ringo and dependency, on her Tabuki, her father, and her diary… very curious.

    Maybe Ringo isn’t exactly brewing chaos, but it seems she does have a lot of internal activity.

    • hikoboshiandorihime

      ajthefourth: Wow, what a thoughtful comment. While the aggression and passivity in regards to his and her sexuality respectively in the original painting will be discussed for eternity (Is he forcing her? Does she actually want him?) it’s hard to dispute Ringo’s feelings in her version of “The Kiss.” She is clearly delirious with happiness. As for a dependency, she does seem to depend on Tabuki and the diary as a way to ensure her own future happiness. The appearance of this painting while she’s at lunch with her father is interesting because he seemingly is not very dependable (and this may be the reason that Tabuki has possibly supplanted her father’s position in Ringo’s mind). The diary is something she can depend on because it is “fated,” Tabuki is someone she can depend on because…?

      I’m very much looking forward to finding out more about Tabuki, especially in light of your comment, what David had to say, and also what others have been saying after episode five.
      vucubcaquix: Dependency is an excellent word and I’m now kicking myself for not having thought of it. It fits in her character to be dependent, since she was already dependent on the idea of the diary as being a scripture that laid out her fate, so it’s not much of a logical leap to ascribe her being dependent, sexually or otherwise, to other people like Tabuki or her father. I guess I did subconsciously hint at the idea of dependence with my reference to the Electra Complex, but I didn’t make the overt connection in mind.

      I know what you mean about displacement and projection. My own younger sister has come to the realization that her husband is very similar to our father in that they’re both religious, conservative, and in general pretty staid individuals, which sadly I believe has been the genesis of their current marital problems and is leading to their divorce later this year. I had to clarify that what psychologists mean regarding a lot of these theories is that we don’t necessarily actively look to date or couple with our parents, but rather that our parents are just our first frame of reference for comparison and evaluation of the opposite sex when we do look for partners. Psychosis occurs when using them as the model for comparison that someone looks for exact copies to displace their own latent physical attraction to their parents, and that may be what’s up with Ringo as well.

  5. Yi

    What a fine geeking out this is. ^ ^ I really enjoyed watching this episode with you two.

    Agreed with AJtheFourth that there is a very overt sexual imagery in Klimt’s Der Kuss. The penis, the orgasmic toe curling (though the toes are curled in a different direction than usual), and the embrace all feel very erotic. And I do agree that there is a very passionate, forceful tension.

    And likewise with Penguindrum’s Der Kuss. I’d even argue that this embrace is even more aggressive and more sexually charged than Klimt’s. I think in addition to what was mentioned (body pressing and angels especially), Ringo’s curvature is more delineated. Her thighs are not just lined up, but more as if she’s rubbing them together in a self-arousing movement. The trail of blood is also very telling. Ringo is very much the more sexual one.

    One final note, the ominous clouds is a very interesting change from the original. In the original, the opulence is often interpreted to be sexual liberation and finding fulfillment and redemption in sexuality. In Penguindrum, that opulence is offset by the cloud, a cheap grill, and the absence of the golden beaded veil on the woman. I think you’re right. Ringo’s sexuality may just not bode well for her.

    • hikoboshiandorihime

      ajthefourth: Thank you! We enjoyed watching this episode with you as well, and obviously you’re welcome to ping us at any time! ^ ^

      I’d agree that it’s more aggressive, but not necessarily more sexually-charged. Ringo is more forceful, but even with the added violence of the angel being eaten in the top part of the painting she also appears to me as less dangerous. All of the sexual imagery you mention is present, but it’s all for naught if Tabuki isn’t interested (he appears in the painting to be more sleepy than anything else) therefore I feel that the original painting is still more sexual. Whether the woman wants it or not, she’s actively inviting or fighting off her lover’s advances, which makes her more of an active participant, unlike Tabuki.

      In light of recent events, I’d say it’s not working out so well for her thus far…thanks for the comment!

      vucubcaquix: That point you bring up Em, about Tabuki appearing more sleepy than anything else, probably contributed to my interpretation of the scenario being one of a familiar routine between an advanced couple who know each others’ contours and expectations.

      The white hot passion may be missing, but the fact of the matter is, in the universe of this painting they may still be about to have sex.

      But of course, given the recent development between Ringo’s and Tabuki’s characters, showing Tabuki to be sleepy in this painting can serve as a gentle foreshadowing in Ringo’s own imagination about the teacher’s lack of physical response.

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  9. I believe that the “object” the cherubs are grilling is a mochi, which does have the tendency to puff up (and sometimes explode) when grilled. => http://todomatsu.com/archives/2009/01/12/Mochi.jpg

    Additionally, if you listen to Ringo’s monologue on that particular frame, she mentions “jealousy”, which is “yakimochi” in Japanese. Coincidentally, “yakimochi” also means “grilled mochi”.

    I’m not entirely sure about any sexual symbolism there, but I know for sure that is one horrible (yet funny) pun. =P

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