Mawaru Penguin Drum – 10

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Or, “The budget crunch episode”.  But full points for a re-cut ED sung by the incomparable Horie Yui.

I don’t know if this is a renaissance episode for MPD, though it was certainly pretty good despite the nosedive in animation quality.  But my goodness, this is complicated – this is a very hard show to watch. I don’t especially want to have to check 10 websites to try and figure out all the hidden meanings in every episode, though on the other hand I absolutely appreciate that Ikuhara is making something complex and difficult – and I love cultural references.  Just maybe not this many, or this obscure.  I think there are a few things a viewer should check out to help see this series in context:

  • Revolutionary Girl Utena.  Love, hate or indifferent, this is undeniably Ikuhara’s seminal work and clearly a major influence on his most current one.  Yes it’s 39 episodes but I think a familiarity with Utena really serves well in understanding MPD.   If that’s too daunting there’s an Ikuhara-directed film version – it’s not nearly so good but would at least acquaint the viewer with the themes at work.
  • A Night on the Galactic Railroad.  Clearly, this has been a major influence since the first episode.  Deals with themes of friendship, death, and fate, and one can’t see imagery like the “child boiler” in episode 9 without thinking of NotGR.  If the novel isn’t your thing, try the anime film.  It made some odd choices – like turning the human characters into kitties – but it’s pretty solid and very smartly done.
  • Super-Frog Saves Tokyo.  The short story by Murakami Haruki is available on this site and elsewhere, and is very short indeed – so no excuses.  It’s from a book titled “After the Quake”, which is a collection of stories dealing with the Kobe quake of 1995 – which we know is vital to this anime in some capacity, along with the Sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway. That this story was the one Himari was looking for in 09 is no coincidence.
  • FLCL.  No, there is no direct connection – but a very strong indirect and spiritual one.  The writer of Utena, Enokido Yoji, was a scriptwriter for FLCLMPD is one of the few series since FLCL that’s actively tried to operate on multiple levels of consciousness while offering psychedelic and surreal imagery.  Frankly, I think FLCL is worth viewing as a testament to how this can work when done correctly.  FLCL crammed all of its massive intellectual and emotional content into 6 episodes, and despite the subtlety of its meanings it wasn’t like it was written by the Illuminati – you could actually make an interpretation just based on watching and using your brain.  Whereas MPD relies on obscure cultural references and wears its impenetrability as a badge of honor, FLCL derived it’s multiple layers from elemental human experiences – puberty, longing, fear.  All you had to go to make an interpretation was look inward – you didn’t need answer key websites to consult after every episode.

But I don’t mean to bash this series too much, because it is genuinely interesting, so back to episode 10.  The cliffhanger with Shouma was certainly resolved quickly enough, though it segued just that quickly into another one.  Thankfully, Ringo was once again a supporting player (though the preview hints she may be back in the spotlight next week, alas) and she did show that, at the very least, she’s capable of shame.  That’s a small step but a significant one, I suppose.  However, while I was impressed with her willingness to give up the diary (well, half of it) to save Sho, I wasn’t so impressed with her stupidity in tossing it to Masako without any indication that Sho was alive. 

Meanwhile, Kanba continues to prove himself a creepy and unlikable character.  If you can get past the siscon stuff, his reaction to Sho’s abduction was rather cold and arrogant, I thought – he was so sure of his own superiority that he was willing to risk his brother’s life for it.  The scene with Himari (and her penguin) knitting was interesting for several reasons.  Of course Kanba’s answers about annoying gifts from girls were important later, but there’s also the matter of why Himari was asking – and I suspect the answer is, either something for Shouma or her “fated one” the mysterious Mario Natsume.  Kanba, of course, would love nothing more than to have Himari knit something for his perverted self.

All of this comes together nicely when Kanba is ultimately lured into Masako’s trap.  Clearly she used to be a girlfriend, but how did she know which presents annoyed Kanba?  Did she give him all those gifts herself with ugly results, or does she know because she stole the memories of other former members of his harem?  Masako’s motivations are a key element in all this, and still something of a puzzle.  A simple desire to possess Kanba seems to be some part of it, and then there’s Mario (Aranami Kazusa) who makes another brief appearance on the subway as the episode closes.  The most obvious theory is that Mario is her brother and that he – like Himari – has died, and Masako needs the penguindrum for the same reason Sho and Kanba do.  But could it really be that simple in this Byzantine plot?  And I found it interesting that she called him “Mario-san”on the train when he announced himself with “Survival Strategy!”  To my admittedly non-native ear that sounds an odd choice of honorifics – surely an older sister would refer to a younger brother as “Mario-kun” or “Mario-chan”? Perhaps Mario is an older sibling…

There were many joys this week, most especially for me hearing Horie Yui tear into a baddie role with relish. It’s against type for her but she’s pulling it off beautifully.  The penguins had their share of amusing antics at this hospital, especially #1 fishing for panties, with disastrous results.  When MPD gives us a lot of plot and a balance among the characters, it can be extremely good.  It’s still unnecessarily confusing and seems unsure of just what it wants to do, and Shouma remains – for me, anyway, the only likable and empathetic character among the cast.  Those are major problems, but as long as the show doesn’t go back to obsessing over Ringo’s depraved psyche like a dog worrying a bone, I’m happy enough to put up with them in exchange for the exciting visuals and thought-provoking plot.

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8 comments

  1. d

    I see the show being confusing as it's biggest strength rather than it's biggest weakness. :)

    That's a good point about Himari- why was she asking those questions? Her leaning in close to pat Kanba on the head didn't seem all that innocent either.

  2. I definitely don't see Himari being brocon for Kanba – I think that was just a comforting gesture. I could see her being brocon for Sho, however, and that pissing Kanba off to the point of homicidal mania.

  3. d

    Oh man, yes, now that would be awesome!

  4. Or should I say, fratricidal mania…

  5. K

    If you can get past the siscon stuff, his reaction to Sho’s abduction was rather cold and arrogant, I thought – he was so sure of his own superiority that he was willing to risk his brother’s life for it.

    Quite honestly I had a very different impression about Kanba's feelings for his brother.

    Kanba is certainly flawed and has issues in how he treats girls but he does care about Shouma. Maybe not in the way he cares about Himari (but that is another issue entirely).

    Remember in the beginning of the episode Himari talked about how worried Kanba was about Shoma(sitting up with him all night)

    As for how Kanba acted when he found out Shouma was abducted…I feel it was arrogance (a fault of Kanba's) and Kanba wanting to play the hero (recall his actions in episode 5 with the Penguin Hat as well) Kanba always puts it on himself to protect his family. There is also the situation with how he gets the money to let them stay in the house (something neither Shouma or Himari are aware of). In this case however, Kanba was definitely in over his head. Once he realized this he *does* everything Shouma's captors ask of him. And screams "Hurry Up and Let Shouma Go".

    Another thing to consider is Kanba doesn't take the diary from Ringo and even tells her to hold onto it (ignoring what happens later).

    I do wonder if Kanba will have to choose between Shouma and Himari later down the line. And no I don't necessarily think he will choose Himari (even though it might seem like that now).

  6. I think the fact that he doesn't take the diary and try to swap it for Shouma is exactly what I'm talking about, though. It's arrogance and the notion that he's willing to risk Shouma's life by trying to have his cake and eat it too.

    Does he care about Shouma? Sure – I haven't forgotten that he stayed at the hospital (which anyone in his shoes should have, frankly) or that he's clearly engaged in some nefarious activity to keep them in the house. But it only goes so far, and I think we saw those limits express themselves in this ep.

  7. K

    But my point is he wasn't risking Shouma's life OR Kanba wasn't thinking of it like that. He thought he could save his brother on his own. Not saving Shouma wasn't an option, as he said to Ringo he promised to get Shouma back.

    Kanba had good reason that he didn't want to let the diary fall into someone else's hands. As he said the diary is important to them too..but it's Ringo he tells to keep the diary safe because it is important to her as well.

    which anyone in his shoes should have, frankly

    What some should do and what someone does because they care are two different things.

    But it only goes so far, and I think we saw those limits express themselves in this ep.

    But I didn't see any limits. I didn't see it as the diary or Shouma. I saw it as the diary AND Shouma. This is completely different. Again it shows arrogance on the part of Kanba but not coldness towards his brother.

  8. w

    Yeah, from the sound of the preview, it looks like the next episode is going to be Ringo-centric. But the fact that it's apparently titled "You've Finally Realized It" (or "At Last You've Opened Your Eyes," as I've read elsewhere) makes me think that it's going to be the one to irrevocably burst her bubble (or worse!)

    Also the next two episode titles after 11 sound pretty ominous (13 being "Yours and Mine Crime and Punishment") so I'm guessing that from this point on, we've jumped into the deep end. Then again, Penguindrum is nothing but unpredictable, so really I have no idea?

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