Mawaru Penguin Drum – 23

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Oh, Mawaru Penguin Drum – how is it that you can make me so angry and yet totally captivate me a the same time?  Why can’t I quit you, Ikuhara?

If I cared to, I could rattle off a laundry list of major – major – issues I have with this series.  And really, a lot of them are the same ones that have been present since the beginning.  But as flawed as it is, there’s no denying it’s captivating and I guess that’s the purest sign that Ikuhara is a genius.  Really, his mistakes and mediocrities are more interesting than most writer/director’s successes.  He can’t not be fascinating, and he’s managed to get me emotionally involved to a fair degree, so whatever else I may think about MPD I can’t say it isn’t one of the most involving series of the year.

One thing that really does irritate me, though, is the ridiculous number of fake deaths this series serves up.  Honestly, I’m at the point now where I’m desperately hoping someone meaningful dies in the last episode.  Himari has had at least four fake deaths that I can remember, Shouma and Ringo at least two each, Tabuki, Kanba, Masako at least twice…  To be honest, it sucks out of the drama out of the series because no matter what happens, Ikuhara has fallen in love with the reset button and you know it probably won’t stick.  Hell, even Momoka and Sanetoshi – revealed beyond a reasonable doubt now as the two top bosses of their respective camps – are dead, yet not dead.  Enough is enough – kill someone already and make them stay killed.

Again, the character I’ve really come to feel for is Ringo.  For a girl that was so much in love with the notion of fate, she seems to have been little more than a tool in the hands of it.  I’m not ready to say that the diary was a red herring, but it does appear that all the focus on the diary was an intentional ruse on Momoka’s part to distract Sanetoshi’s eyes away from the penguindrum (whose nature, of course, we still don’t know).  With both halves of the diary destroyed (and the Ringo on fire scene from the OP explained) we have to assume the diary itself is going to be irrelevant to the final resolution.  At best, someone (Momoka) will know the spell by heart, and not need the diary to use it to save the world again – but then what’s the penguindrum, and why does she need it?

If we’re to take events at their most obvious (HA!) interpretation, it appears that both Momoka and Sanetoshi were “killed” 16 years ago, with Momoka attempting to use the diary to stop Santeoshi’s plans to destroy the world he’s come – for mysterious reasons – to loathe.  He managed to fight her to a standstill with his “curse” – the disaster was terrible but the world survived, she was split into the two penguin hats and he into the two black bunnies.  What this doesn’t answer is just why her “Penguin of the Crystal” persona chose both the tactics and behavior it did, as they seem very antithetical to who Momoka was as a person.  It also doesn’t tell us why Mario is important and what the role his half of Momoka plays in all this – unless, of course, Mario was simply a distraction all along.  We do know he’s alive, “resting in the next room” after Masako’s latest fake death.

As it always was, it looks as if the series will climax with a showdown between Kanba and Shouma.  Himari – whose human doctor says she will die within the day – is begging Shouma to save Kanba.  Momoka – through the Penguin Hat which is suddenly speaking with Momoka’s little girl voice – tells Shouma that both brothers are needed to save the world.  But it can’t be that simply, not after all Kanba has done – I simply refuse to accept that as a viable ending.  I’ll allow that Kanba’s actions in the hospital room can be taken in a number of ways.  Obviously, he could have killed Shouma and didn’t.  Did he “always want” to hug Shouma – or to shoot him with a Kiga ball (or a bullet)?  Is there any love between them, or has it always been hate and jealousy?  In a sense, it almost doesn’t matter – whatever his feelings towards his step-brother Kanba has treated him abominably, and whatever influence the “Black Bunny” has had over him, Kanba has been a willing participant in perpetuating the atrocities of his parents.  He’s forfeited the right to a clean slate, though I don’t doubt he has some role to play in seeing all this resolved.

Perhaps most difficult of all is the question of Himari.  She’s been pulled back from death by Ikuhara so many times it’s become a sort of self-parody, and she’s being used as a premise to commit terrible crimes and waste many lives.  She’s ready to let go, and I think Shouma is ready to let her go.  Ringo seems to believe it’s her destiny to pull Himari back from death, but somehow I feel it’s Shouma she’s actually going to save.  Though she’s kind and pure of heart and has committed no wrong that I can see – a lamb, indeed – I think the truest ending for this story is if everyone stops trying to hold onto Himari’s life and lets her move on.  One of the themes common in many of the other works MPD alludes to is that death is not necessarily a bad thing, indeed, in the Buddhist view it’s a perfectly natural part of existence.  It’s the unreasoning attachment to the flesh – both that of the soul who doesn’t want to let go, and of the others in their life who refuse to let them go – that creates bad karma and unhappiness.  I’ve come to like Himari very much, but I hope the lesson of the final episode is that of acceptance, and that everyone she leaves behind makes peace with that – as she already seems to have done herself.

Perhaps you noticed, as I did, that there’s an “extra” stop on the subway line in the eyecatch – the one where we’ve taken our last bend.  Whether this 25th stop has meaning for the series itself, or is simply a reflection of the last stop on its real-life counterpart the Marunouchi Line (Ikebukuro, for the record) I don’t know, but I’m still operating under the assumption that next week’s episode is the final one.  If indeed it is, Ikuhara has certainly left himself a gigantic knot to untangle in 22 short minutes.  Ironic, then, that he chose the arrow-straight lines of a subway map to illustrate the navigation of his series, because in reality it’s one of the most convoluted and twisting that you’ll ever see.

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17 comments

  1. J

    My personal feelings are that everyone who might have died…will die in this last episode. After all, Sanetoshi will be gone, and so will Momoka after this.

    But of course, the one remaining wild card is that darned Penguindrum. What is it? We must know! 😀

  2. So who does that kill off, if true? Tabuki, Yuki, Himari, Masako, Mario – anyone else? Pretty much Shouma, Kanba and Ringo would be the only ones left.

  3. J

    @Guardian Enzo

    I'm trying to remember if both Tabuki and Yuri have proven to have died…as far as I can remember, the ones who have died in the series (but come back to life) are Himari, Masako, and Mario…

  4. T

    I've got a lot of things to say about this episode and this show, but I figured you might be most interested about what Ikuhara would have to say. The final part of my Utena box set arrived the other day, and it came with some director's notes on the episodes, some of which seem as true of MPD as they do of Utena:

    "Everyone needs to hear someone say, 'Nobody else will do. It has to be you," sometime in their lives, even if it only happens once. Just once is enough. As long as you can feel sure those words were sincere, you can live through anything, no matter how painful."

    And:

    "…when he reaches the pinnacle, he learns the world's governing laws.
    He faces the ultimate choice: will he stay nobly, beautifully powerless? Or will he accept ugliness into himself and gain absolute power?

    He desired both.

    Or rather, perhaps he couldn't choose either.

    His mind in anguish, he divided himself in two. His 'noble heart,' and the 'adult with absolute power.'

    And so.

    With one last wish that the day would come when someone would awaken him, the 'noble heart' that had lost its body, in other words the prince, fell into a deep sleep."

    And finally:

    "In the process of becoming an adult, there comes a moment for each of us when we're rejected by the 'world.' The person we were so in love with dumps us. The school we wanted to go to so badly doesn't let us in. The career we were trying for doesn't pan out.

    Everyone has a moment like that.

    And that's okay.

    There's no such thing as something which mustn't be lost. Everyone has the freedom to love someone or something.

    We are free. We mustn't forget that."

  5. L

    I have no problem with the fakeout deaths because this whole series was about perventing fate from taking its course it was always outside sources of their will of the characters themselves that prevented the other characters from meeting their fate (which is death) In the process of avoiding such a faith they (characters like kanba, yuri and even tabuki (both who have been redeemed YXT))lose their own sense of humanity against an unfair world and try to rebuild it in their ideal form. Kanba at heart has the best intentions for his loved ones but the path he has chosen is inexcusable. He has always been the character who willingiy acts first on impluse believing in his own sense of justice and has built over time.
    Shouma is the emotional side and always takes people feelings into consideration but it is because of his nativety that he has also hurt alot of people as well. Himari for example in terms of her feelings towards him and for not paying attention to these dark feelings that were building up in kanba. There is also the way he rejected ringo feelings for him.
    next week its going to be interesting to see how these brothers finally feel for each other and how they will settle their differences.
    About the 25th stop here is hoping there is a movie >_<

  6. S

    I'm glad Ikuhara hasn't forgotten about the penguindrum :)

  7. w

    I think that the multiple deaths in this show really come down to that reference to Schrodinger's Cat early in the series. Sanetoshi and Momoka are probably the clearest examples–both are stuck somewhere in between, with varying levels of control over reality–but Himari probably qualifies too, as do a number of the other characters. Sanetoshi even goes as far as to say that the people of Tokyo are trapped in their own personal boxes–are they all Schrodinger's cats, unable to truly live or die?

    Either that, or Ikuhara was just trolling everybody with all those resurrections. I think it's a combination of the two extremes, myself. The cat is neither alive nor dead.

  8. K

    Himari is my favorite character in this show, I don't want to see her end up dead.

  9. A

    Himari will die in the end, and I will be crying all day…geez, what can I say? I really like her

    About Kanba…I don't really know what will happen to him

  10. I like Himari-chan too, but for this ending to have any poetry to it I really think she needs to go.

  11. A

    Im just glad Ikuhara is doing this show cuz there are alot of idea's in MPD but we still have a episode to go(maybe). To me Ringo has done most of the growing up in this show and turned out to be likeable.

  12. d

    A genius?? that is too much praise. Since when did using a bad plot something good?

  13. d

    @Enzo: by the way your comment on the train station is wrong. Watch last week episode and see where it stopped. The words 'Mawaru Penguindrum" is at the second last stop. Read not what is below MP but what is on the left. It has always been this way. On the left.

  14. Sorry, I'm sticking with genius. As flawed as this is, I'm not sure there's another director who could have done anything like it. It's no masterpiece, but I'm comfortable calling Ikuhara a genius of the medium.

  15. M

    Yeah, I'd go with genius as well. In any other show, the constant deaths and resurrections would frustrate me to no end. Here – I don't know – I have no problem with it. And that's only one example. Enzo said it best: "Really, his mistakes and mediocrities are more interesting than most writer/director’s successes. He can’t not be fascinating"

    As far as I'm concerned, he's a mad genius, and based on what I've seen of Utena so far, it's the same thing there.

    Penguindrum really is one of the most fascinating and bizarre anime of 2011.

  16. A

    Bout Ikuhara – it may not have been perfect, but many of the graeta works of art, music, literature, etc are not perfect….but boy do they capture, keep your interest, and raise emotions, good or bad.

    A completely horrible show would've been already forgotten about, not argued, discussed and dissected with such, i don't know, passion? interest? intrigue? The haters, for many other shows would've dropped it, not stayed for the ride.

    For example, I've got to respect anyone who can take a character like Ringo's and turn her from what she was at the beginning of the show to what she is now near the end of the show -and not in a contrived way. That's an example of amazing character development, imo.

    Not since Madoka and Neon Genesis Evangelion have I seen a show like this, and though both have flaws in them like this show does, In my opinion, they're all amazing.

    I can't WAIT for the final episode tomorrow!!

  17. @Anonymous
    Well said – I pretty much agree with all of that.

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