“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…