Mawaru Penguin Drum – 15

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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

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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.

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  1. d

    Ooh, that's a good catch about the bunnies. I guess the universe has called the black bunnies into being to set things on the original path.

    I like the idea with regards to what Yuri's father is doing as well. Although eventually he killed her. Was that intentional…?

  2. K

    Well even if Shouma failed as a knight in shining armor he did try & that is still a lot in my book.

    And well if he did get Yuri to change her mind about hurting Ringo that also counts for a lot (and he did the same with Ringo & Tabuki)

    I agree the whole thing with Yuri & her father was the sickest thing this series has done yet (and I am praying we don't get any more details). I think the series could definitely lessen on the shock value.

    However I disagree with you that there is no heart & soul behind the twists and shock value. But I suppose it really comes down to if you feel connected to the characters; and I personally do. I care to find out if they can beat fate or maybe they will even stop letting fate control their lives.

    And little touches like Momoka saving Yuri; Shouma trying to save Ringo; Himari's friends wearing her scarves do show the heart of the series to me.

  3. I'm not knocking Shouma – I still see him as the least tainted and most admirable person in the cast. Far better that he tried and failed – and he didn't even really fail – than do nothing. But it is sort of silly that he just happened to be in the next room.

    Draggle, I don't know for sure if Yuri's father did end up killing her in the alpha timeline (heh) as Momoka implied. But it wouldn't be shocking to see a man whose ideal of beauty is a statue think his daughter would be more beautiful in eternal stasis than as a living being. So sure, I could see his goal having been that she would die at the end of the "project".

  4. K

    But it is sort of silly that he just happened to be in the next room.

    Not at all, he was just drawn to there because that is where Ringo was. At least that is how I see it.

    Although I did find it odd that he was off at a hot spring when his sister was in the hospital (this might have been explained in the episode but I have only seen the RAW so far).

  5. F

    I'm not really buying your and Divine's phalloplasty angle. It just seems a huge stretch.

    The real problem is that whatever he was doing clearly couldn't be shown in an anime that airs on TV, even late night otaku anime.

    However Yuri's arm, leg and face seem perfectly fine now, and I find it odd that whatever he was doing would damage those areas so little that she bears no further scars, so I'm thinking that when Momoka switched world lines, the physical effects on Yuri were removed.

    Also, and this is really getting a bit too into the weeds in terms of "thinking logically about Penguindrum", but…if it really was phalloplasty, it could be at least pretty much be undone. She would probably bear scars, but there's no reason she'd have to spend her entire life with a non-functioning penis attached to her crotch. You know?

  6. A

    Now that the diary as been explained a little I think Momo died not from the subway attack but from the consequence of changing fate somehow.

  7. That would certainly explain the lack of a body.

  8. E

    Purely speculation here, but it would be really interesting if Momoka turned out to be that girl we saw running about in the labyrinth with the "I know right" guy (whom I friggin love btw, hilarious) He did mention that whoever she was, she was able to "see the world as he could", but yet refused to join his side.

    It would make sense that their ideology would be different now that we've seen some of the backstory. Momoka seems to like rescuing those in need, while the "I know right" guy seems to enjoy toying with people's fate sheerly for entertainment purposes … Now knowing this series though, the impression that Momoka is "good" could very well be a complete red herring …

    Nonetheless I'm really interested to see how it unfurls, especially how Shoma's parents are tied into all of this, and what they were trying to achieve via the bombing, if anything.

  9. M

    ^ That girl is Momoka. It hasn't been confirmed but if you compare screenshots you can see she's got the same hair style/color, same clothes, same height.

  10. d

    At last we are past the Rape Arc.
    Beginning with Shun getting drugged and falling face first into his food and ending with Shun not getting drugged yet still falling face first onto an empty drink bottle. And within Tabuki nearly reverse rape. Tabuki was drugged. Ringo was drugged and nearly reverse reverse rape.

  11. d

    @Fencedude: You do realize that operations are not always successful. Is it worth the risk to have problems with the urine track? Scars can be cured with plastic surgery. The question you should be asking is… why did she wait so many years before going after the diary??
    Is Tabuki gay? If it is only a marriage of convenience then it is possible that he married her to appear normal. Could be the same as Yuri, as Momoka is the only person to accept his gay-ness, he might be thinking if I was straight, Momoka is the one for me. [And the scars on his hand, mystery still surrounds him unless he is a diversion]

  12. m

    I see how Super Frog Saves Tokyo links now (thanks GE for posting the story~). In Super Frog the frog sacrifices itself saving a whole bunch of people but only the protagonist knows what it did. Just like how with Momoka's sacrifices only those who were saved will know.

    Regardless of whatever Yuri's dad tried to do to her I am convinced that her body has been 'reset' along with her fate, hence the lack of physical scars in the last scene though mentally she's still deeply scarred..

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