When I see this show spinning farther and father off into the bizarro world, I wonder – does Ikuhara read his own press clippings and try to live up to them, or is he really this twisted?
OP2: “Shounen yo Ware ni Kaere” (少年よ我に帰れ; Boy, Return to Me) by Etsuko Yakushimaru Metropolitan Orchestra
Mawaru Penguin Drum is certainly getting weirder, sicker and more grim with each passing week. What it isn’t getting is any easier to watch – it’s still exhausting.
When I see this show spinning farther and father off into the bizarro world, I wonder – does Ikuhara read his own press clippings and try to live up to them, or is he really this twisted? There’s no question the guy has an unbelievable imagination, creativity up the wazoo. Coming up with all these permutations and disturbing twists must be almost as hard to write as it is to watch. This is the nesting doll of anime – every time something weird is revealed, it’s revealed that something even weirder is hiding inside it.
In that vein we have Yuri, who as we left her appeared to be on the verge of sexually abusing a drugged Ringo in her hotel room, and the lingering possibly that she might be a hermaphrodite. Well, that was the normal part, because what came after was even more twisted. In a deux ex machina of the first order (I know, I know – fate, right?) Shouma just happens to be in the very next room at the onsen ryokan where the assault is about to take place, having accompanied a faceless friend on a hot springs trip he’d won. Shouma proves pretty much useless as a knight in shining armor – he slips on an empty bottle and knocks himself cold on another, much to Yuri’s bemusement. But the interruption does seem to give Yuri second thoughts about what she’s about to do. And just what is she about to do?
That’s when things get really weird. Believe it or not we meet (via flashback) someone who may be sicker than all the others in this show, and that’s Yuri’s father. A famous sculptor who’s obsessed with Michelangelo’s David, he’s even designed a huge tower in the shape of that statue. Having already driven Yuri’s mother away with his pitiless lust for “beauty” he sets to work on little Yuri, whom he calls hideously ugly. What’s inferred them is somewhat reminiscent of the new Pedro Almodovar film “The Skin I Live In”, as the sick bastard sets to make his daughter “beautiful” so he can love her. It’s strongly implied that this includes making her more like Michelangelo’s David, which means taking parts of her body and using them to create a new “part” that she didn’t have before – a phalloplasty. That’s a guess, but it makes the most sense given his obsession with David, the Florentine chisel he needs to finish his work and Yuri’s dialogue to Ringo over the last two eps.
The story has obviously moved solidly into mysticism and pure surrealism at this point. In her misery little Yuri’s only friend is the legendary Momoka (Toyosaki Aki). We finally have an explanation – such as it is – for the diary, and we’re into Steins;Gate territory here. Momoka (most likely any diary holder) can “transfer” fates – shift someone from one fate to another. But they pay a price, and the world changes, though only the diary holder remembers the changes (reading Steiner?). A small transfer like saving a bunny (bunny? Hmm…) and it’s a small price, a cut finger. A big change, like saving a little girl from being killed by her insane father? That’s a bigger price, say spontaneous combustion. And with the tower gone and Yuri saved, Momoka is near death from burns in a hospital bed.
What we still don’t know is why Momoka finally did disappear altogether, and why the Takanashi parents did what they did in the subways. Naturally Masako shows up at the hotel room to steal the other half of the diary – we know what she needs it for. A pretty epic battle ensues, with Masako seemingly victorious but Yuri the real winner, having tricked Masako into stealing a fake. Of course, neither of them has the whole diary to do what they need to do – Masako to save Mario, and Yuri to bring back Momoka. But at least there’s no rape of Ringo, and we’ll never know for sure if Yuri would have gone through with it if Shouma hadn’t interrupted.
I’m sure this episode will go over very well, given it was full of cool action and incredibly bizarre developments, but I continue to struggle with the same issues I have since the beginning of the series. It’s impossible not to marvel at the complexity of the world Ikuhara has put together here and the creativity that’s gone into bringing it to life. For me, though, I still feel as if all of this is being done for the sake of doing it, and not to make a larger point with the story. Ikuhara really does seem to be trying (and usually succeeding) to top himself with every new episode, to test the limits of how far he can push himself and his audience. I sense that he sees this as the valedictory moment of his career, and wants to make it as spectacular as possible. He’s accomplishing that, but I still can’t find the soul at the center of the maze. I wouldn’t miss the rest of this series for the world, and I’m quite sure I won’t see its like again – and that counts for an awful lot. But I can’t honestly say it’s reaching me on any profound emotional level – the whole exercise rings somewhat hollow.