“The next day, she’d come out of the coffin, and there was something about the look in her eyes…however, I thought for sure that he must have shown her something eternal.”
-Kyouichi Saionji, Revolutionary Girl Utena
ajthefourth: What exactly in our lives is eternal? With such a fleeting, time-bound existence, it’s no wonder that humanity constantly seeks for eternity. The concept itself is a bit daunting to wrap one’s head around, since all one has to go on are their own limited experiences. If something eternal does exist, then surely it would be outside of the worldly parameters of time and space as we know them. In other words, surely, it would be God-like.
In this episode, Yuri Tokikago takes a page from Akio Ohtori, going for long drives at dusk in a red sports car illuminated by the countless streetlights that she passes. Here, she muses on eternity, how apparently no one will ever find her beautiful, and Momoka Oginome. Yuri, much like Shouma and Kanba, is shouldering a heavy burden of self-loathing and low self-worth. When thinking back on Momoka, she cries out that no one will be able to love her, as ugly as she is; however, there was one person once who did: Momoka. This leads her, under the guise of a sisterly “getting over Shouma fabulously” retreat, to kidnap and drug Ringo in order to force Ringo to do the one thing that she has seemingly left behind in her new world of self-worth and enlightenment, become her sister Momoka.
As it turns out, the questions we should have been asking in regards to Momoka Oginome were not who is Momoka, but rather what is Momoka? This shining beacon of light, hope, love, eternity; seemingly she brought people to life when they were in her presence. Even after her supposed death, Momoka’s influence is astounding, as her memory (as well as her bright presence to Tabuki, Yuri, and Sanetoshi) is always kept fresh in the minds of those whose lives she touched and those who loved her. She is eternal, much like her name would suggest. Yuri is specifically an interesting case, since she describes herself as monstrous or beastly in spite of appearing to be a beautiful and sexually attractive woman. She says that Momoka was the only person to see her true self and still call her beautiful. Tabuki describes Momoka as someone who changed his world so radically that it’s still hard for him to imagine that she is no longer in it. Sanetoshi describes (presumably) Momoka as the one other entity who “had the same eyes” that were able to see the world as he did, and hear the voices of the world as they cried out to him. The only difference was that she refused to agree with Sanetoshi’s view of the path that the world should take.
All of this from a mere 10 year-old girl who was/is, seemingly anyone but a normal girl. She brought light and love to every life that she touched, and her influence extends far beyond her tragic death. Her presence borders on something eternal and she even took it upon herself to forgive and love those like Yuri, whom no one else would love. This sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
vucubcaquix: The insinuation you make about Momoka’s character and nature is an incredibly interesting one, given that the title card, “Princess of Lies” is obviously a play on the Prince of Lies, which casts a very specific pall on Yuri’s character all of a sudden. Even her extended car ride sequence in the beginning of the episode is a reference to a character from Revolutionary Girl Utena, Akio Ohtori. Akio, the Morning Star.
That’s right, this episode implies Yuri to be some sort of allusion to Satan.
What vexes me, is which historical interpretation of the devil that the show means to reference. Is this Satan the Tempter who led Eve to take a bite of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil? It would be both convenient and a happy accident if this were so, since Renaissance imagery has conferred upon the apple the status of the fruit in question which has been used heavily in the series so far.
Is this Satan the Accuser, whose primary job is to point out flaws in God’s creation as he did in the Book of Job? “The world is governed by cruel rules; the needed and the unneeded. I can see the line that divides them,” Yuri states, clearly hinting at an ability to divine what is authentic and inauthentic. She claims that she herself has become something special, adhering to a role that no one else can ever possibly fulfill.
Or is this Lucifer, the Morning Star? The one once above all others who was so close to God that he desired to be an equal, finally professing that it is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven when his vanity and pride led him to believe he could become more like God through his talents and proximity. This is the devil that Islam believes loved God so much that he refused his command to bow down before Adam, for which he was cast out of heaven. “You were the only one… the only one to tell me I was beautiful.”
The different facets of this very famous religious figure are all reflected in various moments throughout the series which makes it difficult to get a bead on what is being communicated here, however this is what I found to be the most provocative idea in this episode, bar none.
ajthefourth: On the other end of the spectrum we have the Takakura family slowly starting to splinter apart. I had hinted at this in the previous episode where, while all is well with their penguins, all is not well with the siblings themselves. Himari remains hospitalized, Shouma is clueless, and Kanba has possibly bartered part of his Scorpion’s Soul for Himari’s life.
This episode continues this trend. We never see the siblings together, and they each are doing things completely independent of one another. Shouma specifically is heartbreaking in this episode, as he is unable to get over his own feelings of worthlessness and guilt in order to let Ringo into his life wholeheartedly. It’s especially sad (much like the ending scene between Ringo and Yuri) because Ringo has a new lease on life thanks to her acceptance of destiny without having to become her otherworldly sister. Yet, Shouma’s guilt is too deep-seated, and he can’t see anything beyond his own selfishness; he won’t let himself get close to Ringo because he believes that she’ll leave, much like everyone else in the past has.
We see Himari go through similar feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing. She makes hand-knit scarves for Hibari and Hikari only to throw them in the trash when she begins to believe that they would never accept gifts from one tainted such as herself. Sadly, the parting between Hibari, Hikari, and Himari seems like it was one that was forced due to the circumstance of Himari’s birthright. The expressions on Hibari and Hikari’s faces were ones of sadness, not anger. Perhaps, if one of the sides had reached out to the other, their relationship may have been repaired. Unfortunately, once again, due to the specter of her parents’ sin hanging over her head, Himari is unable to reach out to others and have any kind of social life beyond her family.
Lastly, there’s Kanba, who is still receiving money from mysterious sources, and is locked in a battle with Masako for who knows what reason. He is dealing with his guilt by trying to save the innocent Himari’s life, even if it means dirtying his hands further and further. It’s still hard to say exactly what the origin of this power struggle between him and Masako is; however, he appears to hate her entire family, going as far to say that he would never accept money from the Natsume family, in spite of the fact that wherever he’s receiving money from currently is far from reputable. It’s interesting that Kanba is ready and willing to dirty his hands with anything except Masako. It makes me even more curious as to what exactly Masako’s family, or Masako herself did to earn such ire and scorn. We also see the scales tip back into Kanba’s favor after he avoids Masako’s attempt to erase his memory by tripping her, in spite of the fact that his penguin’s initial reactions, once again, would suggest that he remains both scared and repulsed by her. What exactly did Masako do? If it was to save Mario, Sanetoshi hints that her price has already been paid. What price and how large was it?
vucubcaquix: I would be remiss if I were to not address the sexuality of this episode. It’s strange to think on it, but sexual fanservice hasn’t been a large presence in this series outside of the Survival Strategies despite the fact that sexuality has played an incredibly important thematic role so far. The Survival Strategies are hinted to be metaphors for intercourse, erotic love is a force in this world, rape has a worryingly high presence, and incest as taboo as an idea that can counter being fated against loving someone you were biologically designed not to. Even the resurrections that have occurred in this world have been inundated with sexual energy and imagery such as with the penetration of Kanba by Himari during their final failed Survival Strategy.
Given the the thematic importance of sex in the narrative, is this why I was unperturbed by Masako’s form-fitting swimsuit that accentuates her body like no other outfit did? Or why the imagery of a nude Yuri and Ringo didn’t shock me as comparably as the allusions to Satan did? Penguindrum is awash in sexuality in many of its facets, and perhaps has more of a negative connotation so far given how negatively erotic love as a concept seems to affect the characters here, but the fact of the matter here is that it matters to the narrative. I felt no dissonance in seeing the proceedings in this episode where in other series that aired this year, I felt a lot of anger at the jarring nature in which fanservice was used that felt completely divorced from the narrative. So much so that I dropped a series on episode three almost sight unseen.
Penguindrum seems different. I don’t believe that this show is above using sexuality to push sales, but my appreciation stems from the fact that the fanservice that was inherent in this episode is borne from an environment that the narrative fostered since the first episode, and that is has something to say and sexuality is just another tool to be used in its repertoire. True art doesn’t shy away from sexuality as it is an inevitable aspect of the human condition, but neither do I feel that it exploits sexuality at the expense of its message.
ajthefourth: As we wrap this up, I wanted to briefly touch upon the scene between Kanba and Sanetoshi, where Sanetoshi says that the money Kanba has provided isn’t enough to save Himari. Separating the salvageable and unsalvageable (to paraphrase Sanetoshi when he talks of the value of Himari’s life) reminded me of something discussed in the comments. Although it was played up for laughs, with Penguin No. 1 separating his special collection cards of women (probably into the ones he approves of and the ones he does not). This touches upon the idea of what is “recyclable” and what is not, as well as (to continue with the Christian theme of this post) the sorting of souls into their afterlife destination.
vucubcaquix: Recyclable? Interesting how many times we’ve returned to that idea, since the penguins themselves debuted in recycling bins…
32 responses to “Colloquium: Mawaru Penguindrum Episode 14”
Hmm, these thoughts on eternal might do well investigating Max Scheler’s philosophical work, On the Eternal in Man. (There are some page scans available in google books) I do like the idea that Momoka was special in a way, perhaps she is innocence, a sacrificed lamb. Saa… ^ ^
As for Yuri as Satan, I would shy away from Yuri as the tempting serpent, because while traditionally Christians connect the Serpent and Satan, Genesis itself is unclear about the relationship. In fact, the kanji of 眞悧 (Sanetoshi) are more akin to the serpent, and/or the mysticism of snakes in general.
The “hook” / connection between the Takakura and Oginome families is being highlighted far too seriously to be convincing imo (turned me off instantly when exposed). It’s something, but I find there are more significant details in the present which could drive the conflict around Ringo [and Shouma] at this point.
And sexuality. I found Yuri’s fierce reemergence in the story a bit shocking, but I’m still waiting to see how these new details play out, if at all. This episode was definitely more serviceable in the second half, but while I found Yuri and Ringo sexy in a dangerous way, I didn’t feel a sense of eroticism. This is contrary to nearly everything the Princess of the Crystal brings. Also, I feel there may be a relevant scene in Takashi Miike’s Fudoh… I’ll leave it at that.
Cheerios with milk.
vucubcaquix: A sacrificed lamb… you’re pretty close to the insinuation we were making about Momoka’s nature.
Yuri as Satan, like Draggle I lean toward the Lucifer interpretation, but in all honesty I was so dumbstruck by the allusion that it was hard for me to make coherent thoughts immediately afterward. It makes for a very complex and more tragic character than what we’ve been given initially about her, but that’s just par for the course given the creator we’re dealing with.
As for that hook, I don’t think it really can be dealt with in any other way, at least I myself am not sure how one broaches that topic without the amount of seriousness and earnestness portrayed here. Given that there are cartoonish penguins present to serve as comic relief and narrative devices, whimsy isn’t completely forsaken, so there isn’t the reverence one sees in other more adulatory pieces one sees about other tragedies and attacks.
I agree with you on the sexuality here. While no doubt many will find the sexuality titillating to a degree, and I myself did as well, that wasn’t the primary feeling I got from it. It was definitely danger, alarm bells ring EVERYWHERE when you see Yuri stare at Ringo unflinchingly as she drinks…
ajthefourth: I assume that by the scene in Fudoh it has something to do with a certain hermaphrodite student. I’ve never seen the film myself, but it seems that most are equating her allusions to Yuri’s “ugly body” to her being a transsexual or a hermaphrodite. Personally, I’m not as concerned with exactly what is wrong with Yuri’s body as much as I am wondering what these allusions (and the series’ allusions to Satan) mean for Yuri’s character.
On that note, I agree in that I don’t think the role of the tempter/temptress (in spite of her actions towards Ringo and Tabuki) is the one that’s going to tell us the most about Yuri, or her backstory. It would seem to me that the role of the jealous Lucifer suits her the most out of the different facets that David described, and the one that is closest to the character of Satan from Paradise Lost, which Draggle touches upon a bit further here. More specifically, I can see her being jealous of others who won Momoka’s favor, especially Tabuki. In light of events in this episode, I think it’s safe to say that Yuri was most likely only using Tabuki to get to Momoka somehow.
And who knows, we know so little about Tabuki, perhaps he is also aware of this facet of their relationship but either doesn’t care or wants to see Momoka again himself.
Thanks for the comment!
I lean towards the Lucifer interpretation. Eve’s tempter is a worm, who grovels on the ground. The Satan of Job is God’s gambling buddy (I’m not sure how you got pointing out flaws from this?). It is Lucifer who is a Prince, the bright Morning Star. The main similarity I see with Satan is as a tragic figure: after Yuri’s separation from Momoka / Lucifer’s separation from God, both believe they will never be loved as they are again. They continue to fight an eternal, hopeless battle against God / fate.
ajthefourth: I agree wholeheartedly (see part of my comment to Ryan above). Also as I say to Ryan, I’m the most interested in what it means for Yuri’s relationship with Tabuki, or rather, for Yuri’s relationship with anybody. Seemingly, she would be the incredibly jealous type, especially since she holds Momoka in such high esteem. One has to wonder if Tabuki is playing the role of humanity in all of this; the new favored plaything of Momoka (in Yuri’s eyes).
Most interesting is how Yuri says that no one will ever touch her or reach her heart again. Does she have some deep-seated sexual/romantic trauma that she is trying to cover up, or is she referring to Momoka and how no one but Momoka will be able to touch her heart? It will be interesting to see where the series takes Yuri’s character from here on out. Thanks for the comment, as always! ^ ^
vucubcaquix: The impression I got from Sunday School (which was ages ago, I admit) was that the Satan of the Book of Job was more of a prosecutor poking holes and claiming to see flaws in His creation. It’s a bit of stretch I’ll admit, but hearing Yuri describe her ability to see the lines that divide the prosperous and non-prosperous, the needed and unneeded, struck me as a bit accusatory, and I bent the interpretation a little bit for sake of creative license when writing that section.
In any case, I’m with you in that the idea of Yuri as a sort of Lucifer Morning Star has a MUCH more solid basis for speculation and is supported more thoroughly in the work.
The phrase “Unfortunate, for the young to suffer for the sins of their parents’ generation.” Is enough to describe what’s happening to the Takakura siblings as of this episode.
Unfortunate for the young to suffer the sins of their parents generation, and also, unfortunate for the young to feel as if they have to continue to suffer, *cough* Shouma *cough*
the snake and satan are two different, separate biblical characters. the snake is just a snake, dude. ;)
Actually, the Bible isn’t specific about many things, one of those being Satan, so the serpent is often interpreted as being a manifestation of Satan, or at least as having some relation to him.
to the tree
Like FV says, the Bible is pretty vague about these specific things, and the specific details have been lost over time and translation upon translation, but we’re concerning ourselves with the popular cultural depictions primarily like that of the snake being a manifestation of Lucifer/Satan in Paradise Lost and just like in our description of Sanetoshi as a kind of St. Peter or the imagery of the apple as the fruit responsible for Original Sin.
We don’t put it past Ikuhara to actually understand some of these finer points about the Christian mythos, but… the average Japanese otaku probably doesn’t (given Evangelion’s popularity, heh heh). So, we figure that Ikuhara is deliberately playing with the more popularly recognized interpretations of these motifs for the sake of the primary audience.
Oh, what an amazing episode.
I agree, at this point we shouldn’t be asking ourselves who Momoka is, we should be asking what she is. Or rather, what she represents. I’ve come to see Momoka as a more abstract character, so I’m not so interested in her identity but rather what she stands for in this world of Penguindrum. In my opinion, she stands for the victim, the loss of someone dear. She may be a combination of all the victims from the attacks, or maybe just an idealization of the victim itself. Either way, the ever-pure, good and special Momoka seems not so important as a person, but as a gaping hole left behind. I think her “all-mightiness” is in fact a way to conjure up all these painful feelings of loss from the characters, a majestic start to this ripple effect. It’s as if Kunihara has stitched a variety of “pieces one would miss” from someone who died, yet Momoka still feels like an individual entity. She was a girl with a special and unique view of the world, a view so strong it’s equal in power to an otherworldly Sanetoshi’s view. I haven’t posted anything about last week’s episode (was a busy week), but one of the things I took from Sanetoshi’s monologue/dialogue was this rather interesting view on Momoka. They were both equals, being able to see the world in it’s entirety, but they were incompatible, doomed to stay apart. Now, Sanetoshi is someone who wants to challenge fate, defy it to see if it actually exists, maybe even to achieve the “optimal path for the world” he is able to see. And then comes Momoka, a girl who loves fate to the point of writing a future diary, yet had her fate cruelly halted by the attacks. She was also very special to the ones close to her, having an importance that is life-changing to both Yuri and Tabuki (even to Ringo, the sister she never met). Although I can’t pin-point the reason for her wholesome view of the world, I don’t think there has to necessarily be one. The way I see it, she was a girl who had a remarkable ability to accept the world, good or bad, and an ability to love someone unconditionally (this seems to be the case with Yuri). I think that, when she met Sanetoshi, she was given the choice to challenge fate. She, whose life had been ended by an unspeakably cruel act, had a choice, a light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, she refused. Why, you ask? Because despite being able to see the world in its entirety, despite being able to see the good and evil there is, the ugliness, the cruelty, she didn’t seek to change it. She believed in fate and accepting it. She knew there was more to those people behind the ugliness, the cruelty, and she chose to believe that. She chose to believe all of it has a purpose – she chose to believe in the gray area. Thus, Sanetoshi could never be with her.
This is a very interesting view that, as has been discussed by you in the previous post, mirrors a Japanese way to see the world. There is nothing decidedly good and evil – the world is painted shades of gray. This has always seemed like one of the most important themes in Penguindrum to me.
Now onto Yuri. She is one of the people who were changed by Momoka. Momoka saw through her, she saw through the ugliness of her body and still loved her. She grasped Yuri in her entirety, and still loved her, the only one who ever truly managed that. Her death has therefore left Yuri broken. You’ve said you thought of Yuri as the Devil due to a number of allusions, but I think she is yet another character broken by fate, broken by the death of Momoka. I can’t think of her as a purely evil presence. Although she is about to rape Ringo (and possibly do even more harm to her) and is a current menace, she is no more broken or inconsequential than Ringo herself a few episodes ago. All she wants is a world with Momoka in it again. Isn’t that what all of them desire? Also, I don’t think we should take the visual references to Utena as having the same meaning and interpretations. Directors often use the same symbols/images in different works with different meanings, so we should be careful when comparing Utena to Penguindrum. Kunihara may repeat some imagery and themes that he feels are particularly powerful, but I don’t think he intends to redo Utena in any way. For a director to wait this long to make another work, it’s most likely because he has found something new he wants to say, and thus I prefer viewing it as a genuinely new work, separate from Utena.
Needless to say, I loved how Yuri’s situation was introduced. I’m always amazed by the ability Kunihara has to introduce all these unexpected, amazing turn-of-events that, crazy as they might be, make all the sense in the world. It’s a marvellous parade of broken people in a vibrant world that takes a life of its own. I applaud the show’s creators for achieving that feeling. And now, lesbianism has swiftly been introduced in this show, without a grand, ominous flair, but with a very simple yet effective scene with Yuri and her co-star. One thing that I’m curious about (and I think most people too) is the nature of Yuri’s shame. What is it that makes her body ugly? I’m thinking she might be a hermaphrodite, because, if it was just an ugly deformity, her co-star wouldn’t want to have a relationship with her. In turn, if Yuri was a hermaphrodite, it might instigate sexual curiosity, leading to her co-star “loving” her in a depraved way rather than a true one (like Momoka).
Amidst all of this, there is a character I’m fascinated by – Natsume. She’s pretty much forgotten – she doesn’t have much screen time, repeats the same phrase often, and people don’t remember her much when discussing the show in depth. Yet, I think Natsume is, like Shouma, one of the characters who quietly holds a much higher burden than we think. During the 13th episode’s fantastic 2nd part (I really loved the 2nd part, the 1st part left me a bit perplexed though. More on that later), we hear a phone call from Natsume to a radio show. “Brightness and darkness must coexist”, she says. On the very few lines she utters, I suddenly gained a much larger respect and admiration for her character. She always seems contrived, cold, distant, always repeating the same phrase as if she was a robot. Yet, here she shows, under the guise of a cold hunter, a humanity, a heart, a sensibility that we hadn’t seen thus far. Yes, because to this show, Natsume is the darkness. She is the (or one of the) obstacle standing between the twins and the Penguindrum. She prevents their success by stealing the diary. She messes with Kanba’s life and his previous girlfriends. She is madly in love with Kanba, yet she never deceives him into loving her, never makes herself more likable. And that’s because Natsume has come to the cruel realization that “brightness and darkness must coexist”. She holds herself down, preventing everyone from seeing her most human side, allowing the twins to freely hate her for what she does, even though it hurts her that Kanba doesn’t love her back. And why? Because she has accepted to become the darkness. Without trying to make herself likable, without trying to look deep. She is the quiet darkness so that the twins can be light. And so Sanetoshi says “You have paid a sufficient price”. Because she has, in fact, sacrificed herself to defy fate. She is alone. She is the villain, yet she too is fighting to save someone she loves. Under the cold facade of love being nothing more than a hunting game, she truly loves Mario. And everytime she utters the cold, lifeless words “Oh no. It must be crushed soon”, I feel what lies behind those words a little bit more. And I came to think – What does she want to crush so badly? I don’t think it’s the twins anymore. I think it’s fate. In fact, I believe Natsume is also the daughter of one of the Sarin Attacks’ perpetrators, which explains why she thinks of Kanba as an equal. However, like Momoka and Sanetoshi, they are incompatible. While both despise fate, Natsume accepts the darkness, we might even say she understands what her parents did, yet Kanba hates his parents for it, never even attempting to truly understand why they did it. This is why he hates Natsume so much, yet Natsume loves him as an equal. He is the only one who might be able to understand her, yet he sees the world in a different light. Not only that, but they must also compete to save their loved ones – Himari and Mario. So Natsume resigns to being the villain, the darkness, which brings me to the present, 14th episode.
Here we see a Natsume laying herself bare in front of Kanba and being ignored. She isn’t good enough. She isn’t even a contender for Kanba’s love. Yet, she still worries about him. “You’re standing on the tip of an iceberg right now” she tells him. She is worried about him, about the depths he is willing to go to (like in episode 11). She doesn’t want him to lose himself. Actually, Kanba is the character who is in most danger of losing himself. Shouma, depressive and desolated as he might be right now, voluntary stays out of the frontline, quietly affecting the events and having a sensibility which allows him to see both sides of the situation (as happened before with Ringo), something which, unfortunately, is a little uncertain as of now because he can’t accept his friendship with Ringo out of guilt. Natsume has resigned to a certain role. Ringo has come to terms with this mess of a situation and the death of her sister. Yet, Kanba is the one who is always strongly pushing forward, no matter what it takes. He is becoming so blind out of love for his sister that whatever means he uses doesn’t matter anymore, as long as Himari is alive in the end. He is, in fact, in risk of making the same mistake as his parents – he might get deep into something bad and damage the fate of innocent people just to save Himari. This is why Natsume is wary of Kanba – she doesn’t want him to become such a thing. And this is why I think we should all be wary of Kanba for now, and why I find myself looking forward to scenes featuring Natsume.
One last thing: one of the reasons I didn’t post about the last episode was because it left me a bit speechless. Not because I didn’t understand it, but because it marked a huge turnpoint for the story’s mood. So far, it has mainly been about the hope of finding the Penguindrum, the hope to change fate, the hope to keep Himari alive. When Himari died a second time, I wondered how they would bring her back and still keep all that hope alive. Guess what, they didn’t. This second resurrection is very, very different from the first one. As the first one was a miraculous event, this one feels like more of an artificial, controlled situation. The moment Himari comes to life again isn’t even presented with grand flair – it’s a scene with a few stop-images and an ominous narration about the goddess in the background, strangely ending the first part with an intervention from the rabbits. It was a disjointed, strange scene, which made me a bit confused at first, and even annoyed. It’s like the creators intentionally made it in a way that I can’t relate to the siblings’ momentary joy, that I can’t be happy for Himari’s resurrection. And I think they did just that. The resurrection, once a beam of hope that opened all possibilities now seems more like a desperate contrived attempt with an end which isn’t all that bright. In a matter of minutes, the show became grimmer and less “open”. This change annoyed me at first, but I came to admire it very much during this week, and seeing the route they’re taking with this episode, I applaud them for taking the story this way. To me, this was a bigger risk than dealing with incest or any such thing. And thank god Kunihara isn’t afraid of risks.
With Himari and Shouma depressed and Kanba running out of control, I think something very meaningful will happen soon. I feel sorry for Ringo though. She had finally come to terms with her sister’s death and with herself, only to be lured by Yuri into becoming Momoka.
This must be – what do you call it again? – irony of fate.
Oh god, I didn’t notice the size of this until now. Sorry, I don’t know why but the wall-o-text just keeps increasing. orz
Don’t worry. It was a good read.
ajthefourth: As early as episodes one and two, I had mentioned that we had avoided comparing this series to Utena for several reasons. The reason I brought up the quote from Saionji (and the Shadow Girls’ canned peaches joke) is because I do believe a common theme is humanity’s search for something eternal, a God, fate, or some sort of entity that is beyond our own scope in order to comprehend life itself. This is addressed in both works, although I definitely agree that Penguindrum is addressing it in a completely different, and more pointed, way; more of a social commentary.
As Murakami says in Underground in regards to why people possibly join cults:
Sorry for the long quote, but Murakami says it far better than I ever could.
I disagree with the fact that Kanba may be the character most in danger of losing himself, since I actually think that it’s Shouma who is more on the tip of the iceberg. Yes, Kanba is digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole, as Natsume points out; however, he still has something to fight for: Himari. As long as he has Himari’s life to fight for, he still will continue to fight. Shouma, on the other hand, seemingly has nothing. At the very least, even if he is about to repeat the mistakes of his parents, Kanba has passion, which is something that I would personally argue is more fulfilling than Shouma’s ennui and depression, no matter how misguided his intentions may be.
I too, am very interested to see Natsume’s side of the story. I really like your character analysis in that, in already coming to terms with her “role” she has made a genuine and large sacrifice. I mentioned this elsewhere, but their acceptance of roles/fate can also be seen in how well their penguins follow them. Esmerelda and Natsume seem to be very in-sync, as well as Himari and Threetie. Both have seemingly accepted their fate, and therefore their penguins’ actions reflect their owners actions, whereas Shouma and Kanba are still lost or unaccepting of their roles/fate, which is why you see their penguins eating/looking at porn respectively, even when the brothers are in important/serious scenes.
As for Himari’s death, I completely agree with you and your commentary on the series’ tonal shift. I think that it’s inevitable that Himari dies, and she herself has seemingly already accepted her death. This is why I continue to wonder what Himari would think were she to discover what her brothers (especially Kanba) were doing to keep her alive.
It seems that the Takakura siblings are going to continue to drift further and further apart, each of them approaching their own unique precipice.
vucubcaquix: Holy cannoli, that is a comment.
I think I’m somewhere in between with regards to Kanba. Yes, he has passion, a focus, a goal, but that also means that he has something that can be used against him. It gives Kanba an opening that Shouma may not necessarily have because Shouma may be too far gone in the other characters’ eyes to actually have a tether to this world to exploit outside of his sister. What this means for the plot, or what the ramifications are for each of the said characters is something I’m not sure of .
As for Yuri, what I’m about to say here will hopefully be buried under a mountain of words and other comments, but despite the allusions to Satan or Lucifer in the show, I don’t necessarily automatically equate her as evil because of that association. I say that because of my status as a nonbeliever. I’m more open to alternate interpretations of Biblical characters and stories without the immediate reactions of one who is more intimately tied to these stories and characters, including the famous portrayal of Lucifer in Paradise Lost as that of an anti-hero. Lucifer is almost tragic in that story because he is one of the few of God’s creations that is given unconditional and unfettered free will, but the pride that came with that meant that he refused to bow down. To be given the ability to determine your self worth, then ordered to be submissive would make you feel as though rebellion is your only choice. As if, it’s your fate to turn away against your creator.
But… I don’t want to get too far into that discussion, since it evokes a lot of passionate opinions in people.
But yeah, you’re right about the approach one should take towards Momoka. It’s the same conclusion that Emily and I reached through our conversations on skype. The way you describe her is particularly wonderful, in that she has come to represent an abstract idealization of the victim of the gas attacks, an amalgamation of everything that has ever been lost by anyone as a result of that event. It elevates her to this near mythic status that becomes very interesting within the context of Penguindrum in a gallery of near mythic characters. Ringo wants to become her, Yuri wants Ringo to become her, Tabuki is lost without her, Sanetoshi may be in love with her, the brothers are reacting in different ways to realization of their connection with her, Masako is hunting for her diary, and Himari… maybe invoking her spirit during the Survival Strategies?
Each character is tied to her in some way, and she is the central figure through which each of their threads loops through. It is upon Momoka that the answers to every single one of our unaddressed questions may lie on. Boy, if that doesn’t sound like some kind of deification, I don’t know what does.
Sorry, I went a bit overboard. I do like your comparisons to Utena, and I think they are interesting and important for understanding the director and his work. Although I do like to see Penguindrum as a new and separate work, there are some details and comparisons that shouldn’t go ignored. I’m sorry for saying otherwise.
However, I still think that the car scene and the nickname “Princess of Lies” don’t mean that Yuri will be the “Satan” of the show. I think the name, and possibly the car ride, are more of an indicator of her hidden personality which can commit atrocities like the one she is about to do to Ringo. To me, it’s more of a way of stylishly hinting to a hidden darkness inside a seemingly pure character than necessarily a way of branding her as Satan.
But in this sense, too, the car ride is most likely a reference, a hint to the hidden character of Yuri. So, again, sorry for putting it aside.
I want to clarify a bit what I think about Kanba and Shouma. I do think Shouma is the character in most danger of fading away because he’s increasingly depressed. However, I think Kanba is in most danger of doing something like what his parents did. It’s curious actually: Shouma is on the edge of a cliff because of his unwavering morality and humanity, which led to his depression, while Kanba is on the edge of an “iceberg” because he is giving up his morality and humanity for the sake his sister. Both are in danger for opposite reasons.
Oh, don’t worry. Believer or nonbeliever, taking the conversation that way it’s perfectly fine by me. If Yuri turns out to be Satan, the Lucifer from Paradise Lost is the most likely choice in my opinion, since his role is so morally ambiguous, fitting Penguindrum much better than the “traditional” Satan. However, there’s an gripe I have regarding the representation of Satan in Japan. Due to the “gray world” Japanese mentality, in Japan (especially in anime) Satan is often represented as morally ambiguous – more Paradise Lost than Christianity. Maybe it’s because they find it more interesting in a narrative context, and that’s OK, but it lacks the Christian basis that the image of Satan has in Europe or even America. The reason why Paradise Lost is so interesting and powerful is because it’s an exception. Satan had always been seen as a pure evil presence, as it still is, but in that particular work he was presented as someone with motives, someone with a pure origin, someone who wasn’t just evil. And this image works so well and so interestingly because it stepped away from the main rule – Satan is the essence of evil.
Now, in Japan, it seems like they adopted the Paradise Lost version of Satan too early, and it doesn’t have much background to contrast with. Sure, there are also instances where Satan’s name is used to name the most unthinkable things, but what worries me is that, when Satan himself is represented, he often seems to be someone who is half-good, half-bad. Aoi Exorcist, although a bad, bad anime, is a recent example of that. This mentality worries me, because it leads to a diluted, even corrupted version of the western image of Satan. I often enjoy seeing the way Japan merges pieces of other cultures into its own in really creative and unique ways, but some instances like this one just come across as a misinterpretation or a toned-down version of something that is too culturally significant to other countries to be toned down. It reminds me of the problem with the West and Geisha. Often in western fiction, the Geisha are regarded as part-prostitutes. This ticks of the Japanese, because they weren’t prostitutes, only possibly a very, very small part or “fake-geisha/comfort women” were involved in prostitution. It ticks them off because it’s something culturally significant, and yet foreigners don’t grasp it correctly.
Basically, cultural background makes everything complicated. Even if Kunihara intends to use the image of Lucifer from Paradise Lost intentionally and is well aware of the original image of Satan, it’s still rocky ground.
Thank you both for replying, as usual. This blog has truly become a part of my enjoyment from watching Penguindrum.
There’s always been something fascinating about the way that Penguindrum addresses sexuality. Not necessarily in the sense that it exists, but in the sense that it feels much more sexually comfortable than most anime I’ve seen – the show isn’t just using blurry nudity to tease the audience into buying Blu Rays, sexuality is a genuine thematic element of the show in its own right. Even things like hugs, kisses and intimate contact between two people that are usually reserved for the very end of a series as a reward for a victorious couple happen fairly often and tend to add a lot to the moods of scenes in which they are used. For example, in this episode, we have the scene where Shouma tries to get Ringo out of his life by rejecting her. The focus on her hand clinging to his jacket says just as much as the actual words in the scene do and, in my opinion, is a large part of what makes the scene so powerful – the show could say that Ringo is desperately trying to hold on to what she has with her best friend and that Shouma is trying to hard to get rid of her because they care about each other so much and because she can hurt him so much because of this if she rejects him, but why waste the words on exposition when an intimate still can say it so much better?
And then we come to the end of the episode with Yuri and Ringo. Usually rape is a storytelling devices I greatly dislike, since a great deal of fiction uses it as a cheap way to stir up sympathy for a character or to show how evil a villain is. Here, though, all of the sexually charged scenes between Yuri and Ringo this episode are used to explore Yuri’s character without demonizing her or trying to make us pity her necessarily. It struck me that Yuri genuinely enjoyed bonding with Ringo and that she felt honestly sympathized with her after she was rejected by Shouma, and I think that hurting Ringo like she intends to do will bring her no pleasure and that Yuri herself is fully aware of this – she seems almost sad and regretful after drugging Ringo, and yet she intends to go through with her plans regardless. Yuri just seems so desperate for a kindred spirit that she’s willing to go to some horrible lengths to fashion one. Yuri’s story and the current situation certainly need to be told well in order to avoid being exploitative, but after the way that the Gas Attacks were brought up earlier in the show I trust Ikuhara and Penguindrum to do so.
ajthefourth: I am in complete agreement with your assessment of Yuri’s actions towards Ringo here. In fact, in a way, they reflect Ringo’s attitude towards Yuri earlier, when she was trying to fulfill Momoka’s destiny at all costs. Ringo was a lot more messy with her emotions, but I never had the feeling that she bore genuine ill will towards Yuri, just that Yuri was an obstacle in her path. Her confrontation with Yuri when Yuri returns to their apartment to find Tabuki pressing Ringo relentlessly speaks volumes, in that Ringo has no malice, and is very upset at what she feels as if she has to do. (This is also addressed earlier, when Shouma calls her out on it, and tells Ringo that she has a black heart).
Yuri is much like Ringo in those scenes, except with her emotions far more under her own control. Realizing that she has one thing that she wants to see again (Momoka) whether it is right or wrong, she is determined to fulfill that destiny. Her playful attitude when she describes her relationship with Tabuki to Ringo (“no…that was a lie, it’s really this…no that was a lie…”) there is an air of sadness that hints at the fact that, although she may have had to manipulate Tabuki, (and perhaps she had also been jealous of Tabuki and his relationship w/Momoka in the past) that she doesn’t necessarily want to do it, she does it because it is her only option to see her love again. Her character seemingly has many facets and I agree that the series will most likely handle them with care in the coming episodes.
vucubcaquix: Your description of the scene between Ringo and Shouma isn’t unique to Penguindrum, it’s actually a strength that’s inherent to all of the best animation out there. The movement of illustrations coupled with music when utilized to their very best, can convey so much meaning to the audience without the use of any dialogue at all because of the efficiency of the conveyance of information through abstraction. This scene in Penguindrum is a recent example, but I’ve also seen it in many of Pixar’s works, and coincidentally enough, the first season of Ika Musume. The scene is pregnant with emotive power, but I don’t think I singled it out because I more or less expect it in the shows that I’ve invested myself in.
But yes, Yuri. Penguindrum is toeing a fine line with it’s use of rape as a narrative element. Rape has been used very ham-fistedly in lesser works as a means to conjure cheap sentimentality or shock. What I mean by cheap, is that it’s deployed in the narrative against a character that may not have been given either sufficient time or characterization in order to properly ingratiate themselves with the audience. The result being that we have an element in the storytelling that has a lot of inherent power and drama attached to it for a section of any given audience that doesn’t have a solid story foundation to support it or at least excuse its presence. It rings hollow and exploitative precisely because of how powerful it is as a subject.
Penguindrum isn’t above criticism, and while it’s still far and away my favorite show of the year, there were I felt a few distasteful gags regarding the gas attacks that pierced the veneer of the flawless production that I was bearing witness to. I’m confident that Penguindrum will handle the themes it has introduced appropriately, but it isn’t a given. Just color me optimistic.
Finally got to see this episode! I have to be somewhat random! That red car of Yuri’s? Dammnnnnn that was some nice animation usually I hate on CGI cars but not to bad.
Yeah it seems like the siblings are now dealing with their own solo problems and Shouma and Ringo damn! Well I do like how those two characters are not like forever shipped together but they do seem made for each other that and he has other things to worry about in his life than Ringo for now.
Kanba dude! I really want to know where he gets all his money from, not sure if he is a “hit man” or not but he sure can defend himself like on that train! Maybe he is just that awesome without trying? LOL
And last..ya…Ringo you trusted Yuri waaayyyy to much! Then again you were drugged so we can’t blame you to much, damn Yuri I guess she was just so lonely! Either way rape is bad yo!
ajthefourth: I loved the car scenes. The reflections were gorgeously animated and I loved the framing of the car by itself on the road with the night skyline overlooking it. The drive was very Utena. ^ ^
Ringo was also in a very vulnerable position, having just been rejected by Shouma. She was in a bit of a lonely spell and Yuri definitely took advantage of it. Seemingly, she has been waiting for an opportunity to ambush Ringo for a while now, and saw her time had come here.
I was laughing at the fact that Kanba looked up Natsume’s skirt when he tripped her. Seemingly he will do anything for Himari. Anything.
Thanks for the comment!
vucubcaquix: I’m going to let you in on a little bit of speculation I heard about Kanba. I don’t know how true it is since there isn’t much that’s been said about it, but I think I read in a blog somewhere that he thought that Kanba may be in to some super shady stuff with these people, like prostitution or human trafficking. They said it because Kanba has a reputation as being a real ladies man, and can get almost any girl to do anything he wants.
I don’t know if it’s true or not, but that’d be really crazy…
This episode reaffirmed one of Ikuhara’s most terrifying quirks: the ability to hide meaning and important character development in even the most seemingly inconsequential of moments. Back in episode 7, I was upset that the show was spending time on depicting the Tragedy of M on stage in all its ridiculous glory that it could have spent actually getting stuff done, plot-wise. Then I discover with this episode that The Tragedy of M held the key to Yuri’s character the whole time and that the time spent on it wasn’t wasted at all! IKUHARAAAAAAAAA
I was pretty curious about Masako’s character this episode. Previous episodes have painted her as the villain, but in this one it almost felt as if she was being cast in a heroic light–when she ran in and took out everybody with her slingshot on the train, they played the music from when Kanba was biking after the penguin hat and everything! It’s almost as if Kanba’s fallen far enough that either Masako is on equal terms with him now or that she’s actually in a better position than he is. Moreover, if both Kanba and Masako are supposedly taking orders from Sanetoshi, why are they fighting each other? Could both be unaware that they are taking advice/under the control of the same person? How many different factions is Sanetoshi manipulating/on the phone with/involved in?
I’m a little worried about how they’re going to portray Yuri’s character in the episodes to come–her character could so easily swing from interesting to offensive and gratuitous if she isn’t played correctly. I think Ikuhara has it in him to walk that line properly, since he was able to portray sexual relations so well in Utena and pretty damn well so far in Penguindrum. We’ll just have to see, I guess.
From what the creators have said, the next episode is an important key to the show, going into detail about Yuri’s past, Momoka and the Penguindrum. Looking forward to it!
ajthefourth: Your comment on the Tragedy of M brings up another thing that I’ve been meaning to address: episode four. Episode four was about the time when many viewers began to get fed up with Ringo and wanted to see more screen time from the brothers (especially Kanba) and Himari (myself included). However, as it turns out, this may be another episode to watch out for in terms of Yuri’s attitude towards Ringo, and Yuri’s characterization in general. It’s also the first time when a penguin’s actions so outwardly defies their owner’s actions (with Penguin No. 2 catching a fish while Shouma decided to save Ringo’s life instead). I’m definitely going to be rewatching this seemingly filler episode again for characterization, so thanks for reminding me! ^ ^
Sanetoshi is seemingly toying with Kanba a lot more than he is with Masako, so Masako has probably already “paid her price” or enough of a price that Sanetoshi appears to trust her more and share more with her than Kanba. As I mentioned before, it certainly makes me wonder as to what Masako gave up in order to achieve this kind of relationship with Sanetoshi, where he only toys with and prods Kanba to fall deeper into whatever mess he’s in. I really loved FV’s analysis of Masako and Kanba above.
Me too (but I look forward to every week regardless)! Thanks for your continued readership and the comment!
vucubcaquix: Auuugh! I was rewatching the first six episodes to introduce the series to a very good friend of mine (to excellent results) but we stopped just short of episode 7, so my memory of the episode’s proceedings aren’t very fresh in my memory. Also, I believe that’s the one episode we’ve missed blogging due to various circumstances that came up in our lives.
I have the same worries that you do about Yuri’s character. I’m optimistic that Ikuhara has the chops to be able to pull it off with flair, but he’s not above reproach either as I stated in my response to madchemist above.
But like everyone else here, man oh man am I waiting for next week’s episode! Every episode, really. My breath since episode nine has been in a permanently bated state.
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I think the observation of Yuri fulfilling the Luciferian ideal is a good one but to me it is how Yuri views herself and not how the narrative handles her, Shouma falls into despair and self loathing turning his back on his “torch” Ringo and who shows up but Yuri, representing the endpoint of despair & self loathing, despite. She is where Shouma will wind up if he continues down that path, duality again. The narrative is using her as a mirror to him.
My theory on where Kanba is getting his money came together this episode as well due to the visual cues from #1 when he scattered the cards with the girls on them, he’s acting as a scout for the dark forces on the train, mixing selling them into prostitution or pornography if I were to guess.
The only other questionable insight I have this week is that using Shouma’s fairy tale analogy Sanetoshi is the tree representing life, change and possibility, in of itself amoral and only indirectly in conflict with the goddess representing destiny (more duality there) but influenced by the rabbits who want him healthy enough to keep dropping fruit for them to scavenge at any price, they have become parasites to him.
As always fun stuff and I’ll see you next episode!
ajthefourth: Oh my gosh, Shane, this is fantastic! I love your commentary on the characterization of Yuri here and what it means for Shouma! Thank you so much for contributing this (since, as you probably already know, the characterization of the siblings, especially Shouma, has been something that I’ve be focusing on since day one).
Is Sanetoshi the tree? I’m still of the opinion that the tree is something integral to Kenzan Takakura, be it an ideal, the spiritual leader of his group (i.e. a Shoko Asahara figure), or his wife/family member who was precious to him. Then again, I’m also of the opinion now that the Goddess is representative of society and isn’t one specific figure in Mawaru Penguindrum itself, which is probably horrifically wrong, however, I do think it fits within the social commentary on the gas attacks that I’ve gleaned thus far. I like your interpretation of the rabbits, though.
Thank you for commenting!
vucubcaquix: How Yuri views herself, and not how the narrative views her… That is… perfect. Holy shit.
Also, I may have subconsciously jacked your speculation about Kanba in my response to Fosh above, unless we both cribbed it from forums or twitter or something.
@Emily Your position on the Goddess is brilliant and I’m inclined to agree, after all what other than society is nurturing and protective to people as a whole but can be vastly cruel to the individual? My reasoning on Sanetoshi is based how he does not really speak of Momoka as a person he has known but is shown following her ghost through the hole in the sky annex, i.e. finding her ash in the akashic records(akasha being sanskrit for sky).
@David The idea has been rattling around my subconscious since the girls were after Kanba and Natsume erased their memories(which could be seen as an act of kindness in a few ways) but gelled she burst in on the train meeting and Esmeralda scattered the cards(knocking over his house of cards so to speak), replacing them with her own. So I’m not surprised if others nailed it down faster than I.
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