ajthefourth: Towards the end of Revolutionary Girl Utena, director Kunihiko Ikuhara and his writer Yoji Enokido decide to re-introduce the audience to its Greek chorus element, The Shadow Girls, by showing them briefly out from behind their customary screens and shadow puppetry, talking to the main character, Utena Tenjou, in class. The Shadow Girls then proceed to put on a play for Utena and the two other main characters. In doing so, they present what has come before and recontextualize it a bit; setting the stage for the series’ final arc, The End of the World.
Enokido is seen doing this once more with Takuya Igarashi (another former co-worker of Ikuhara’s) in the recent series Star Driver, using drama club president Sarina Endou as the all-knowing entity of the series. She, along with the main characters themselves, put on a play at their school festival that, much like the play in Utena, reviews key story elements while also giving them a slightly different meaning by providing new information to the audience. Double H seemingly isn’t going to play as large of a part as their predecessors in recontextualizing the story for their audience (barring any new information forthcoming in these last two episodes); however, their appearance signifies a key shift in the story. We are now in Penguindrum‘s final story arc.
Having paid close attention to Double H’s slogans in the past, I loved the message that frames this episode: Coming to see you…right now! (It’s apparently a relevant movie reference as well.) Not only does it cheekily point to Double H’s figurative stepping out from behind the curtain to reveal their true selves to the audience, but it also references a few of the meetings that we see in this episode; in particular, the reuniting of Masako and Kanba as a younger sister and an older brother.
We’ve seen these siblings meet each other purposefully once before, in Episode 11 when Kanba visited Masako at her home. During their meeting, Masako alludes to hunting and the image of a parent elephant being shot in place of a child appears repeatedly. It is also in this episode where Masako tells Kanba that he is on the edge of a precipice. With our new knowledge of Kanba’s role throughout the series, it’s not so hard to believe that the elephant being shot is actually representative of Kanba, sacrificing himself in order for his younger sister and brother to lead normal, healthy lives away from the cult of Penguinforce and their father.
In addition to this, it’s interesting to recall Penguin No. 1’s reaction to Esmerelda as Masako and Kanba’s weighty banter occurred in the background. Esmerelda was in complete control, divesting Penguin No. 1 of his pieces of armor that he had worn to the mansion, presumably a reflection of Kanba’s preparation to call on Masako for the first time in what could have possibly been years. In the end, although neither party is declared the victor, Penguin No. 1 leaves naked, on a stretcher, a further allusion to the fact that Masako had the upper hand. Knowing what we know now, it’s interesting that Kanba is presumably shown to be as scared as he was during this entire exchange. My thoughts are that it is due to the fact that he, now remembering the truth of his and Masako’s connection, was terrified to let her see just how close to the edge of that precipice he already was. After having stepped in magnificently to save his younger sister and brother, what a waste it would be for him to befall the same fate of the father he had attempted to save them from. Worse still, is the fact that he became deeper entrenched in the group in order to save another “family member” not related by blood.
vucubcaquix: Much has been made (and a lot of it by us) about the thematic connections between Penguindrum and the works of Haruki Murakami. My partner knows his works well where I comparably do not. However, I do know a bit about the genre that’s been associated with him, Magical Realism.
Basically, without getting too far into the nitty-gritty, magical realism is all about setting up detailed accounts or portrayals of the real world (as in the one we live in) and introducing magical elements that are either commonplace, accepted, or even mundane to the characters in some way. A recent mainstream example is Stephen King’s The Green Mile. (It’s a great movie too by the way with Tom Hanks, in case you don’t have the patience or time to read the novel).
Now I want to say a little something about Urban exploration. I promise I’m going somewhere with this! Urban exploration is all about accessing parts of the urban landscape that are off-limits to the public or are just normally unseen. Paris has a thriving urbex culture since they’re situated on top of centuries-old catacombs and mines, and Chicago’s infiltrators are busy trying to access defunct CTA tunnels and abandoned theaters and hospitals.
Kanba is confronted by Masako in Ikebukuro, and they enter the statue located in front of the department store there, they find themselves entering Tokyo’s abandoned tunnel system. I brought up Magical Realism earlier before, because this scene, while established to be occurring in the real life neighborhood of Ikebukuro replete with recognizable landmarks, also has in it the improbable penguinbombs and the sudden inclusion of that vast network of tunnels that is architecturally improbable. Former reporter Shun Akiba has written a book about his finds and claims that there is nearly 2,000 km of secret tunnels underneath Tokyo. That’s all very well and good, but it starts to merge with the fantastical when Mr. Akiba talks about secret codes hidden in decades old maps and government conspiracies to ridicule him and debunk his claims. He still has a cadre of believers, but the the Tokyo Tunnels nowadays have become something more like an urban legend.
The Magical Realism motif has been fairly consistent in Penguindrum, but with this episode it’s made clear that while the majority of the characters have come to grips with their situations in life, condescending ever closer to reality and setting aside many of their inherent delusions, where Kanba has not. When Ringo has been on screen lately, her world is populated with flesh & blood representations of people. Living, breathing, commuting. She is in and of the world once again after having dabbled in love potions made from frogs and trying to bend fate to fit her interpretations like a misguided religious zealot. The scenes with Kanba in this episode however, show him in a world still populated with the two-dimensional matchstick avatars. This serves a two-fold purpose: 1. it’s a clever budget saving technique; 2. it shows Kanba is still fundamentally removed from the world around him.
There is a grandiosity to his station that is in truth completely unrealistic. How many high school boys do you know are the head of a dangerous national cult operating out of a vast network of underground tunnels? Who do you know can control the movement and detonation of bombs through their smartphone? Who do you know who would figure out and so willingly believe that a magical penguin hat was controlling their little sister in some bizarre alternate universe?
Kanba has been through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole, and of all the characters, has done the most to uphold the fragile illusion of it all by diving in wholeheartedly.
ajthefourth: In last week’s episode, “The Door of Fate we Chose,” I listed various references that the series has alluded to (overtly or no) throughout it’s run thus far and ran them through the filter of the ideas of fate and destiny. This week, I’m going to take a bit of a different approach while keeping the references in mind.
In this moment, Tabuki highlights a theme of isolation and abandonment by society. Running the risk of repeating myself, everyone should take a look at the quote by sarin gas attack survivor H.S. in this previous post from Murakami’s Underground: the Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. His call is for one of introspection, reflected by Double H’s slogan and a faceless female voice heralding the 10th anniversary of the fictional Tokyo Sky Metro.
It was mentioned in a comment in a previous post that the timing of Penguindrum was interesting, since it allowed the series to usher in the last of the Aum Shinrikyo trials, and it becomes even more interesting when considering this recent string of articles regarding cult awareness.
Let’s consider Tabuki himself for a moment. He became an unwanted child due to his demanding mother and his younger brother’s assumed prodigious talent (a reflection of how very “unfair” the world is). This is what made him an invisible child or entity, sending him to be ground into shards by the Child Broiler. In a stunning turn of events, Momoka rescues him with the message that she loves him. Momoka then ends up dying, presumably in order to stop Sanetoshi from having complete success in his attacks. Tabuki, as he later says to Ringo, goes into stasis due to the fact that Momoka, who changed his world, was no longer around. Instead of moving on with his life, a piece of him remained frozen in time, seeking revenge or some sort of exchange for Momoka’s life.
Tabuki’s words to Yuri above are something that she seemingly figured out (perhaps in that very moment in Episode 15 when we as an audience were left scratching our heads as to why she suddenly decided not to rape Ringo, or perhaps in the moment where she slapped Tabuki for saying that they were a fake family) prior to their separation and subsequent reunion. It’s something that is reiterated in Night on the Galactic Railroad through the character of Giovanni. If Tabuki had only continued to reach out, to get to know other people instead of dwelling on Momoka as his only friend, then he would have continued Momoka’s legacy far better than seeking revenge for her death ever would have. It’s well beyond me to presume what the overarching message of Penguindrum is. Perhaps, like many things, it’s all up to interpretation and how much we ourselves are able to glean from it, in addition to the themes that we connect it to. If so, then this theme of relationships, friendships, and love of a supposedly unwanted society member is one that continuously crops up for me personally. It’s what I see woven in the fabric of the storytelling more than anything else; the idea that taking the risk and befriending someone may save their life. It’s inherently unsubtle or “cheesy” but the way it’s presented within this series, and against the backdrop of such a significant event, is impressively artful.
vucubcaquix: Remember when I said that in this episode whenever Kanba was on screen he wasn’t surrounded by people but rather the avatars of people? That’s almost true. The few scenes that have him featured on the same screen with non-avatar versions of people go out of their way to highlight something important about Kanba’s character.
It seems as though he’s crossed the Moral Event Horizon.
If not, he’s at least dangerously close to doing so. Minutes before, the bombs that he detonated dispatched unmarked squad cars that had officers tailing him. The violence of what happened to those men occurred just off screen, but there’s no mistaking or rationalizing away what happened to the S.W.A.T. officers who attempted to arrest him. Kanba murdered them, perhaps dozens of them. Men in the line of duty, who may have even had families of their own. He altered the fates of every single person associated with those who’ve lost their lives, continuing a reoccurring cycle of tragedy that began with an attack on a subway line sixteen years ago.
Kanba feels that he is doing all of this for the sake of his adopted sister, that he is going to reverse the fate that was cruelly bestowed on her that she rails against, and that he is doing all this of his own power. It’s becoming more apparent however, that none of that is true. Kanba borrows Sanetoshi’s power and it’s through Sanetoshi’s influence presumably that he rises in the ranks of the Kiga Group. Himari has long accepted her status (as early as Episode Nine perhaps), which may in fact make Kanba’s efforts vainglorious in nature. If it’s the case that Himari has accepted her fate long ago, than it’s looking less and less likely that Kanba will be effectual in changing anything.
Kanba does not know that. Of course he wouldn’t, or he wouldn’t be the tragic character we see now heading on towards his tragic end. He is instead consumed with a self-defeating kind of pride which blinds him to everything outside of his expressed purpose and goal. Himari’s physical advances won’t distract him, neither will Masako’s desperate pleas. He is a man being consumed by his burning desire to be of use to the ones he loves, so much so that he has become blinded to them.
What will be left after it burns away for Himari? The hideous, charred heart of a scorpion? Or stark, white ash?
Only two more episodes until we find out…