Mawaru Penguin Drum – 08

[Nutbladder]_Mawaru_Penguindrum_-_08_[D5F12DF5].mkv_snapshot_00.17_[2011.09.01_20.33.40] [Nutbladder]_Mawaru_Penguindrum_-_08_[D5F12DF5].mkv_snapshot_02.58_[2011.09.01_20.35.41] [Nutbladder]_Mawaru_Penguindrum_-_08_[D5F12DF5].mkv_snapshot_06.19_[2011.09.01_20.39.02]

Going into this show, one of the nagging questions was whether Ikuhara Kunihiko could restrain himself long enough to deliver a focused, coherent and entertaining two-cour series.  Well, we’re a third of the way through now and at this point if the jury was required to render a judgment, I think it would be a resounding “No”.

We have a tendency to romanticize big stars when they’ve been away for a long time, and that’s certainly the case with Ikuhara.  The rose colored glasses of nostalgia would say he’s an infallible genius, but I think an honest assessment would say that’s he’s an extremely talented but deeply flawed director.  All of his work has been plagued by a tendency for self-indulgence, repetitiveness and loss of focus.  The maddening thing is that at his best, he’s one of the best – visionary, funny, disturbing.  But there are times when I really think he’d have been better off restricting himself to movies or OVAs, and this is one of those times.

I want very much to like Mawaru Penguin Drum – and there have been times over the last two months when I have, a lot – but right now Ikuhara is making it very hard.  Where to begin?  The humor is recycling, and starting to recycle the recycled humor. Ringo’s stalker act was wearing thin by the second episode she appeared in – right now she’s just scary, and not in a good Yuno Gasai sort of way.  The fantasy sequences are basically the same joke retold over and over.  The only humor that’s really working is the antics of the penguins, and frankly, that’s as repetitive as any of it – it’s just that they’re so damn cute and Ikuhara – even at his low ebb – retains his incredible eye for scene composition, producing effective sight gags consistently.  Even that’s starting to thin out, though.

Really, the big problem that’s been plaguing MPD since the very beginning is a lack of engaging characters.  At this point Shouma remains the only character remotely sympathetic, and he might be dead (though I rather doubt it).  Kanba and Himari never broke out, but they’ve been reduced to stage props and no one else has been around enough to make any impression.  Ringo is certainly the biggest issue.  No matter how bad her family situation it’s impossible for me to feely anything positive for her, not even pity.  She’s ruthless, insane, megalomaniacal, delusional, and this week proved herself capable of rape and worse.  And this is the main character?  It didn’t look that way once, but it sure does now – and Ringo cannot remotely carry a show. 

The thing is, I really wonder what Ikuhara wants us to think.  With one hand he glorifies Ringo’s behavior by dressing her up all in the moe clichés of the medium and his eye obsesses over her relentlessly.  On the other, Shouma – the only decent and sensible one in the central cast unless you count the witless stick figure Tabuki – calls Ringo out for exactly what she is, a crazy bitch who doesn’t think twice about ruining anyone’s life to support her insane delusions.  So where does the director come down on all this?  As usual, Ikuhara’s focus is so scattered that it’s hard to tell.   If I had to guess, I suspect the POV he’s espousing is something like “Yeah, I know she’s a crazy bitch but isn’t she great?  She’s cute and she’s just so damn nuts you can’t help but love her!  Don’t you just want to stare at her for 22 minutes?  Laugh at her, smile at her, love her!”

Next week is going to tell a lot about my future with this series.  The tone these last couple of episodes has just been so distasteful and unpleasant that I really don’t know if I want to be involved with the show much longer, but there is an element both of genuine curiosity – can Ikuhara get his form back and deliver on his limitless talent, as he often did in the first few episodes? – and morbid fascination as if witnessing a terrible car wreck.  Those can only take you so far, though, and if Ikuhara doesn’t take a few steps back from the brink I don’t see myself following him much longer.

[Nutbladder]_Mawaru_Penguindrum_-_08_[D5F12DF5].mkv_snapshot_14.40_[2011.09.01_20.48.31] [Nutbladder]_Mawaru_Penguindrum_-_08_[D5F12DF5].mkv_snapshot_15.49_[2011.09.01_20.50.29] [Nutbladder]_Mawaru_Penguindrum_-_08_[D5F12DF5].mkv_snapshot_18.43_[2011.09.01_20.50.54]
[Nutbladder]_Mawaru_Penguindrum_-_08_[D5F12DF5].mkv_snapshot_20.37_[2011.09.01_20.51.09] [Nutbladder]_Mawaru_Penguindrum_-_08_[D5F12DF5].mkv_snapshot_21.39_[2011.09.01_20.51.33] [Nutbladder]_Mawaru_Penguindrum_-_08_[D5F12DF5].mkv_snapshot_22.18_[2011.09.01_20.51.56]



  1. A

    I have yet to watch the episode, but I want to make a point about Ringo.

    Yes, it's clear that the way Ringo had been presented as the star … in her head. Throughout the past episodes, she had had these outrageous fantasizes about how she was the central figure to win over Tabuki's heart and save him form a demonic women who is trying to devour him.

    Notice that the only moment where her view is shown in a positive light is when she is thinking about them, not when other characters (such as Sho or the Princess) are. Every one who knows what she's doing is treating her as a crazy bitch, and she's the only one who's acting like she's the star.

    To me, it never appeared like she was painted as the main lead. She's a tragic figure yes, but her action are never shown to be sympathetic, but as extreme and desperate. Sure, Ikuhara is clearly having fun with her illusions and day dreams, but I don't think that can be taken as a sign he want us to love her.

    More after I watch the episode.

  2. I'll be very interested in hearing your comments after you see the ep, Arabesque. Thanks for weighing in.

    I might just add, even if we accept your interpretation of Ikuhara's intentions, since Ringo is dominating the narrative to the near-exclusion of almost everyone else, does it effectively matter?

  3. w

    Speaking as someone who holds Utena up as an example of perhaps my favorite TV anime ever (and would argue against it being repetitive or unfocused), MPD has been very disappointing so far. I think most of your comments hit the nail on the head–Ringo isn't remotely sympathetic, and wit most of the screentime devoted to her, we know very little about anyone else in the cast.

    In retrospect, the only episodes I enjoyed without reservation were the first and the fifth. The others, in contrast, revolve around wacky shenanigans and mind-theater way too much for my liking. Perhaps it's like comparing apples and oranges, but Utena's strangeness coalesced into a pattern and narrative intensity, helped along by the complexity of its characters and thematics. Also a sort of immediacy with the iconoclasticness of its pink-haired heroine wielding a sword. There's nothing so far about MPD that strikes me as this immediately likable or enduring, and the show suffers as a result.

  4. d

    Hmmm, still like this show. Well, considering that I have dropped Ryokubu, Itsuka Tenma, Sket Dance and R-15 (this cause somehow it does not play). And am thinking of dropping Memo Chyuu, this helps fills the gap. Especially as it is between Nichijo and Baka test and that I need some comedy. I like how the plot is moving slowly yet is still moving in REALLY VERY SUBTLE ways.
    Guess I am okay with slow moving plot as long as something is happening (must be from watching too many no brainer action movies). The comedy helps although hearing Tabuki's voice really pisses me off. Which is surprising as I like the seiyuu.

  5. N

    Finally the episode with Shoumas accident aired. No, I am not sadistic, but I did spoil myself with the single fact that he will have an accident, I don’t know if he is alive or not, but knowing this single fact took away a lot of the speculating fun I could have had.

    I can understand that you didn’t like the latest episodes, they are all very dependent if you like or can relate to Ringo as a character. Personally I did have problems with the episode before, which was unnecessary filler, but not so much with this one.

    To make it clear, I don’t find Ringo likeable (Shouma is the only character I would call so and I hope he isn’t dead) or her actions right or even understandable, but (for me) she is still interesting from a character analysis standpoint of view.

    I liked the comment from Arabesque because I am feeling mostly the same way. Extreme and desperate is very good characterization of Ringo. She grew up thinking that she is unnecessary and at some point she threw her own life away, to do what SHE thinks has to be done.
    You said you don’t even feel pity for her and that is the difference as I do. I guess she never had anyone she could turn to and talking about things would have probably solved the whole problem (and would have been the right way).

    I liked this episode (more specific just the talk between her and Shouma) because it is the first time she personally states that loving Tabuki is her duty (implying she has to, not she wants to) and before you see her picking up her journal you could see for the first time that she has doubts if doing this is the right way.

    The question for me is how much longer can she turn away from reality and what will happen if she is going to realize, that her dream (all we be good if I will live my sister Momokas Life) won’t be coming true. In other words what will happen when she is going to break?

    I think that this episode has to be the turning point for Ringo, sure she can still play her play as she has done before and forget the fact that Shouma had this accident because of her (I am really hoping he isn’t dead), but I really hope she isn’t.

    I see were the Yuno comparisons are coming from but for me they are fundamentally different.
    The important point for me is that Ringos “love” is pretty much fake. One point that made Yuno Gasai such a fascinating character for me was, that you could see that she genuinely loved Yukiteru, even in all her craziness you could see that he was her everything.

    I find Ringos “love” Tabuki himself a very strange character you called him witless. I find Tabuki as he presented with his every day happy attitude very fake almost artificial. You could see in his conversation with Ringo in a former episode, that his personality is different and the question for me is, why he is acting so different.
    My personal guess is that Yuri is doing the same thing Ringo does, making the destiny come true in her favor, maybe she brainwashed him?

    All in all Mawaru Penguin Drum is a strange show, I still don’t know what to feel about it, being different doesn’t equal being good for sure, but most of the time it equals interesting for me and that is still the case here for me.

    I agree with you that it would have been a better show if it has been shorter, but even if the elements are recycled I still find some of them entertaining (e.g. the penguins, the signs in the train, the flashbacks)

    Even if I didn't found the Ringo episodes unwatchable my favorite episodes were episode 1 +5 (least 4 + 7). Therefore I would prefer if the show goes back to the life of the siblings. (Have I mentioned before I want a living Shouma?).

    I would be interested in what happened to their parents, I want to know more about the penguin hat and I want a prober characterization of Kanba and Himari oh and more humor that isn’t Ringos daydreams (which I find boring most of the time). I hope Ikuhara is going to use the time wisely.

  6. Perhaps it's like comparing apples and oranges, but Utena's strangeness coalesced into a pattern and narrative intensity, helped along by the complexity of its characters and thematics. Also a sort of immediacy with the iconoclasticness of its pink-haired heroine wielding a sword. There's nothing so far about MPD that strikes me as this immediately likable or enduring, and the show suffers as a result.

    Wingblossom, I think this says it pretty well. Somehow, what worked (albeit more for you, but for me as well) in Utena – both the girl and the series – isn't working here with Ringo and MPD. "Nothing immediately likable and enduring.

    Niana, for me, if Ringo is at the center of this show I just don't enjoy it very much. I don't want to spend time with her – I can't even feel pity for her anymore, though I did at first.

    Yuno Gasai is fundamentally different from Ringo, in far too many ways for me to go into it here. There's a sincerity to her insanity, as you say, but also a matter of selflessness – every whacko thing she did, she did for her love. She's also – and this is critical – still a side character in terms of physical presence. Much of her role in the series is the impact she creates and the discussion the other characters have about her, much more so than her dominating the screen herself.

  7. N

    As I said that that is the difference as I still pity her, however if she doesn’t change her behavior the next episode she will get on my nerves for sure because Shouma is a person who did care for her (Yes I am calling her a bitch caring)

    I just wanted to answer your comment to make clear I can understand anyone who has a problem with Ringo and the last thing I would do, is to convince you otherwise. I just have my personal reasons to find her still interesting in a psychological way, that is all I wanted to say. For me this show is far from being perfect, but I certainly don’t mind spending time watching Mawaru Penguin Drum. I would drop this without a second thought, if I would feel otherwise.

    I couldn’t agree with you more about Yuno, and I could say many more things about Mirai Nikki but why discuss it now, when the anime starting soon.
    I hope you can understand me, writing in English is difficult for me because a lot of the implied meaning and reading between the lines is often lost in translation.

  8. Your English is great – I understand you 100%!

  9. S

    Agree with you completely. Ringo is becoming very difficult to watch and I want to bitchslap her so badly. She's a horrible lead and Ikuhara better have a darn good reason for making us bear with her insanity. Shouma has been getting on my nerves as well but I'm glad Shouma FINALLY grew some balls this week.
    Still not giving up hopes on MPD yet. If I can sit through the horrendous Blood-C, MPD should be a piece of cake right? Having that said, I sincerely hope the new episodes move the spotlight away from Ringo and Shouma. They've been painfully hard to watch and the show could definitely use more Kanba, Masako and Himari!

  10. d

    Since when did Yuno Gasai become the standard of approved psycho Yanderes?

  11. Since she damn well said so…

  12. A

    Well then, I had spent my weekend catching up to some shows, dropping others (farewell Snore no Exorcist, Sacred Seven) and after about an hour and a half of penguin goodness, let me just say that I respectfully disagree with you Enzo.

    After this episode, it's fairly clear to me that Ringo isn't meant to be taken as someone who's completely sympathetic, but as a deranged and dangerous person, to herself and to others. Look at the way the attempted rape scene scene plays out. Nothing about it is meant to be taken as positive. The dramatic lightning, the darkness, the evil smirk, the music, the dialogue … and even before that, when she's on the train and Sho thinks that she's going to blow herself up, or when he tries to cheer her up after learning that Tabuki moved, or when she sees her father with the women and her daughter. Notice how in her delusion how she sees the two as eels wrapping themselves around her father, strangling him and dragging him down the bottomless sea, despite him being the one who proposed to the mother, and sounding really happy about it. Ringo had, in typical fashion, had altered the reality in front of her eyes and made so it fit's with her own vision of fate and destiny.

    And that's really the point of her character. Ringo embodies the central conflict and message of the show about how people go against or accept destiny, all with great hints of irony and allusions (though those tend to get too much ''on the nose'' I'll admit). She follows a plan that she believes will grant her happiness, only for it to create more misfortune for herself and those around her. What's more, it's clear that her vision of how fate is going in her favor is clearly contradicting how the events around her are unfolding. Tabuki is falling in love with Yuri, and she sees her as someone who will devour him. When she goes off trying to ''save'' him, every step she takes shows that fate isn't on her side, and that what she's been doing had been the opposite of what she's preaching. All these desperate measures she takes, how different is it from all the actions Kanba is doing for Himari (and I suspect once we get into Act 2 next episode, that all the things Ringo had done will be used as a measuring stick for the things Kanba will be doing from now on for her sake)? To me, Ringo is the perfect representation of the entire show, and it doesn't strike me as the show spending too much time on her, since she connects too much with the overall message and overreaching plot to be treated otherwise.

    Now I'll give you that the comedy might have not been as funny, and it might've worn thin on you, but it hadn't with myself. But generally I don't think that the show had been a failure, at least not in the sense of what a failure is in anime. And I don't think we can judge that a show is a failure just from the first act alone, when there are two others about to be seen, and the next coming up.

  13. A

    @Guardian Enzo
    ''even if we accept your interpretation of Ikuhara's intentions, since Ringo is dominating the narrative to the near-exclusion of almost everyone else, does it effectively matter?''

    Yes it does. Just because a character's view point or presence is the most overwhelming one in a story, that doesn't mean that the message or the narrative needs to agree with them.

    Light was the main lead in Death Note, but the story didn't end with the message that he was correct in what he was doing. Lex Luthor: Man of Steel by Brian Azzarello even takes this to the extreme, having everything told from the point of view of the most self righteous, egoistic man in fiction about how he's the only thing that can save man kind from evil, all the while doing the most deplorable things ever. Heck, Yuno Gasai does outright evil things for the sake of love, but that doesn't mean the story shies away from calling out as it is.

    That's what it is with Ringo, there is an underlining hypocrisy to her actions, to her goals, to her believes. She deludes herself into being the star, imagines the world revolving around her (and Ikuhara takes great pleasure from playing out those delusions on screen, because they make for great visuals) and the show calls it out as it is all the time, either via Sho or the rest of the cast when they are talking about her (notice how Kanba and the Princess of the Crystal insult her. Very rarely is Ringo every mentioned positively in the show outside of her own head).

Leave a Comment