Friday, November 25, 2011

Mawaru Penguin Drum - 20

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Episode 20 of Mawaru Penguin Drum was cryptic and full of mysteries, and as always raised new questions with every one it answered.  But as a whole, the emotional impact was as powerful as any episode in the series’ entire run.

Maybe it’s my tryptophan and wine-addled mind that’s the cause, but this ep really hit me hard (in a good way).  So you’ll have to bear with me if this Thanksgiving blog post isn’t my usual flawlessly coherent (heh) style, but I’m more inclined to talk about the depth of feeling in the episode than to microscopically analyze it. A number of factors contributed to that effectiveness for me.  The music, a soaring and stirring power-up from the series’ usual BGM. The visuals, with every close-up of Sho and Himari (and Sunny) and every background shot of a grimy condo complex in the snow, were gorgeous.  And finally, seeing Shouma finally step forward from his impotent observer role and take his place at the visceral heart of the show, where he’d always seemed destined to be.

Shouma, from the beginning, has been the character in MPD that felt most like a whole person, despite his relatively minor role in driving events.  He’s unfailingly kind, which has been the source of much of his pain, and far too eager to blame himself for the ills of the world (which he’s still doing).  It now appears that not only was Shouma the only true Takakura child, but that he chose Himari even before she went to the child broiler.  Outside a run-down condo complex, he found an abandoned little girl waiting for the mother that would never return.  Much as Momoka did for Yuri, he became Himari’s only lifeline to the world of the living – and like Orpheus he followed his soulmate into the underworld to return her to the lands above.  It appears on the surface that Shouma and Himari’s tale ends more happily than Orpheus and Eurydice’s, but I’m not so sure.  In any case the sequence of events outside that condo, with Sho, Himari and the abandoned kitten, was the most heartbreaking of the series for me. 

Again, as always, new questions of born from every answer.  Inside that condo what would later be renamed the Kiga Group was meeting secretly, planning the subway attacks.  It appears that Kanba and Masako are indeed siblings, as has been speculated, though I’m not ready to accept that at face value just yet.  This certainly explains many of Masako’s actions, but then how did Kanba end up a Takakura?  Why wasn’t he present in Masako’s flashback to her childhood at her Grandfather’s mansion?  And then of course there’s the matter of the Kiga Group’s motivations themselves.  They speak of cleansing the Earth, creating a world where mankind uses only what it needs.  An eco-terrorist group of sorts?  They’re clearly a doomsday cult as well, as Sho’s father Kenzan speaks of a coming judgment day – both in flashback and in the present.  When Himari disappears and leaves him a note saying she’s going to the child broiler, Sho asks his father about it – and Kenzan speaks of the broiler as a sin against mankind, a terrible thing, and of the many children it was consuming every day – almost as if the actions of the cult were going to prevent that in future.

Not to be forgotten in all this is the mystery of Sanetoshi and The Penguin Queen.  Sanetoshi is seen trying hard to push Himari towards some sort of consummation with her fated one, presumably Sho.  The metaphor of eating the fruit is peppered throughout his speech, so it’s impossible not to think of him as the snake in Eden – not least because Shouma asked Himari if she knew the story of Adam & Eve, and offered to share a Kiga Group apple (which she refused).  It’s also impossible not to wonder why it’s so important to Sanetoshi that Shouma and Himari (presumably) are united, and whether Kenzan and the Kiga Group are indeed working towards the same ends he is.  The implication then is that The Penguin Queen (Momoka?) is pushing in the opposite direction, and perhaps even trying to push Kanba and Himari together expressly to keep her away from Shouma.  It’s worth remembering that way back in episode 9 Sanetoshi made reference to the fact that Momoka refused to play along with his notions of remaking the world more to his liking.

It appears to me that we’re rushing towards a conclusion where Shouma and Kanba are forced to do battle with each other – not over Himari, but over the fate of the world itself.  The reference to “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” last week makes more sense when viewed in that light, it being the story of a conflict between brothers at least in part – a story in which the elder brother perishes.  But what is Ringo’s role – the character who once seemed at the center of everything, but now seems increasingly a supporting player in the events to follow?  It’s fascinating that Shouma and Himari were largely observers and abstracts rather than instigators in the first cour, but now both have emerged as the key players in the second.  We now have a direct link between Shouma and Momoka and between Himari and Yuri, and it runs through the child broiler. There are even hints here that the broiler may in fact be a physical place, and not just a metaphysical state of consciousness – if so, could it be that anyone could go there if their will was strong enough?

The child broiler, however you interpret it, was at the heart of why this episode was so gut-wrenching.  I tend to look at it as a combination of  many things – a Buddhist hell, a physical place, and a metaphor for the way modern society desperately wants not to have to look at those “undesirables” who don’t fit with the vision of the world that society wants to see.  Even Japan isn’t immune to this (though it’s less plagued by it than many other nations)  – there are homeless, and mentally ill, and immigrants, all of whom are an unwanted blemish on the image of a united society where the good of all is always of paramount importance.  This world is a cruel place for the helpless, and no one is more helpless than an unwanted and abandoned child.  For every Momoka or Shouma – or Superfrog – who take it upon themselves to do something merely because it’s the right thing to do, there are countless others who prefer to simply look away, or to foul their karma (and that of the world) by responding to injustice with the lust for revenge.  I felt all this very deeply when watching this episode, all of those ideas personified in the little bodies of Shouma and Himari, and that made it one of the best anime episodes of the season.

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12 comments:

  1. It doesn't look to me that Masako and Kanba are siblings. She did say "Onii-sama" but that could be just how Masako wants to call him and not because they're related. And yeah Kanba wasn't present in Masako's flashback before so yeah.
    Though Masako said about their father...
    But that could refer to their leader...
    Ahh, I'm confused :/
    At least that explains how they know each other before.

    And I'm starting to like this show again. I kind of lost interest in the middle part when it was about Yuri and Masako. Though because of that I kinda shied away from the forums so I can't quite remember the subtle hints from past episodes that are mentioned in discussions :/
    Still, I'm liking it again so yeah.
    And the train track at the eyecatch is going on a curve again. Could be that big things will start to happen now. What episode did the eyecatch first curved?

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  2. I haven't watched the episode subbed yet but I don't see how they were planning the 1995 attacks. That was the day Shouma, Ringo, and Kanba were born.

    But I agree with the rest of your post, I really liked this episode too, especially the part of Shouma running for Himari in the snow was just perfect.

    And from the preview I have a feeling we will find out more about Masako & Kanba next week.

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  3. Okay started to watch the episode subbed and what I can gather is the first part (before the opening) was in reference to the 1995 attack but after that when we see the kids is a few years after the attack.

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  4. @Belatkuro:
    I totally did the same thing as you. lost interest somewhere around episode 11 or so, and revisited it after it was getting really good reviews. And I'm glad I did.

    The main train track curving doesnt suggest much. The last curve was, to paraphrase Enzo, an unusally straight forward episode. However, the gray track seems to have importance, (as in characters appearing and disappearing from the plot)

    @Enzo. I was under the impression that Sho was not the leader's son, and instead Kanba and his sister (no doubt about that one, look at their eyes) is the children of the leader (again, look at their eyes). Sho saying "father" maybe refers more to a leader than blood bands? I don't know. Maybe that's totally out of the question if you know enough Japanese

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  5. @Kim

    You're right about the date of course - too much tryptophan and wine, like I said!

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  6. A very emotionally powerful episode but I'm still not quite sure what to make of the most recent developments between Shouma & Himari. Seems like another huge troll to me and it basically makes everything that was shown in the first cour meaningless. My expectations for a proper explanation is extremely low, but there's still a part of me who wished we got some effing answers by now.

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  7. Seishun, I don't disagree that there might've been trolling here and the answers are too slow in coming. I just feel like this episode worked beautifully in a self-contained, visceral way. It broke my heart. So if it was all a troll, I'll be pretty pissed!

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  8. @Seishun

    Please explain how it could possibly be "all a troll". Unless you think Shouma/Himari can only be romantic to justify what was shown.

    Shouma himself said they were family. And while Sanetoshi might be trying to confuse Himari, I think the little girl Shouma saved also wanted a family. After all she was abandoned by her mother.

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  9. It's pretty undeniable at this point that Kanba is Masako's sibling. Did you not see the huge box of the red memory loss balls? I feel like those were used to switch around family connections. And remember how Masako's father was nowhere to be seen in the flashbacks? They were about to discuss it in the cult meeting but they didn't focus on it in the episode.

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  10. I thought all the kids(Masako,Kanba,Sho) were calling Kenzan father? I guess this episoded happend after the attacks to. This and episode 9 are the most sad episodes for me.

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  11. reading this post is making me wanting to watch it again... maybe i'll understand more ;)

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  12. father is a player. Kanba, sho and Masa are all kids from diff women.
    Thank you for choosing me!!! FTW
    Caution: do not go to the Antarctic. You might get overwhelmed by the cuteness of Penguins and try to destroy humans.
    This show is just getting better and better

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