Whatever else you may say about Mawaru Penguin Drum, you could never say it was boring. But when it’s firing on all cylinders as it was this week, it moves beyond the realms of merely fascinating to become truly special.
There was an awful lot of interesting stuff happening in this episode, which continues the trend towards a more linear plot structure and answering questions as well as raising them. That’s a positive trend, as is the gradual warming of the emotional palette of the show. I care about these characters now more than I ever have, and that was always the anchor weighing the show down in my eyes. There’s nothing like showing a person’s pain to humanize them, and Ikuhara has been a veritable virtuoso of that these last few eps. In most cases he’s tended to show characters at their worst early in their arc, and pull them back later. A noticeable exception to that trend is Tabuki, however.
Ah, Tabuki. Pretty much everyone else has had their turn for a flashback showing us why they’re such fucked-up bastards, so why not our humble bird-loving sensei? And his story is a good one, eerily similar to his sham wife’s. A mother who valued talent above all else, who placed huge expectations on her son that he was unable to live up to. She didn’t do anything quite so literally damaging as rebuilding her child physically the way Yuri’s father did – she just slowly destroyed him psychologically. Many threads of yarn were finally tied together here – the scars on Tabuki’s fingers, his love of birds, his ultimate connection to Momoka, Kanba’s source of money and his connections to the men in dark suits. And the child boiler, too, which I see more than ever as a hugely important symbol in this existential nightmare of series.
For all their differences, we see something tying all of these troubled souls together, and that’s that they’re all being punished for the sins of their parents. Shoma, Kanba and Himari’s parents were involved in an organization that perpetrated a terrible terrorist act. Masako’s father abandoned her to the clutches of a ruthless grandfather. Yuri and Tabuki’s parents destroyed their psyche’s which their sick demands, and Ringo’s parents split up – her father losing interest, and her mother forever holding her up to the example of her big sister. “The sins of the father shall be visited on the son” (Exodus 20:5) and in this case, the daughter. And we see the poignant image of the child boiler – the place where unneeded and unwanted children go to be crushed into a uniform sameness, released from themselves and from their pain.
Tabuki was rescued from the boiler by Momoka, the other thread that runs through everyone in the series, though her exact nature still isn’t known. Tabuki refers to her not just as his most precious person but as the “savior of humankind” – we know she was the savior of he and Yuri, at the very least, and that she’s the subject of Sanetoshi’s obsession. Tabuki’s sad descent into hatred and madness was brutal to see, and though he finally did retain enough of himself to save Himari it’s clear that he sees his race as run, urging Ringo not to grow up to be like him and spurning Yuri’s attempt to reach out to him. Yuri and Masako appear to have fought to a draw, each retaining their half of the diary, and Shouma has arrived late in the action as usual. As so often, he’s a bystander and not a participant.
It was clear from the finale of the episode that Shouma is at the end of his rope, overcome by his feelings of helplessness at seeing his brother continually playing the role of action hero as he’s able to do nothing. Ringo embraces him and expresses her forgiveness, and it’s obvious by now that she’s completely in love with him, but Shouma sees himself as totally unworthy of her love. Or anyone else’s love, for that matter – his self-loathing appears to be total, and he expresses it in the preview voiceover in terms that appear almost envious of the abuse Kanba has taken in defending Himari’s life. Himari may be approaching the record for fake deaths by now, but though she seems to have accepted her fate Kanba hasn’t, and she lives on. It’s Shouma I worry for now, as the preview raises some very troubling flags for him, flags that have been subtly lurking for quite a long time. At some point his role is going to change to that of participant, and he seems determined to bear the brunt of his family’s guilt in whatever way he can. He appears to believe that he’s good for nothing else.
A final note – apparently the director and colorist of Casshern Sins, Yamauchi Shigeyasu and Tsujita Kunio, worked on this episode (Tsujita has worked on several). Their influence can most clearly be seen in the beautifully composed reflections of Tabuki’s childhood, played out with a background of musical notation.