Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 2

Penguindrum’s second episode is a much easier twenty minutes than the first. Not only is it more of a fun, propulsive adventure than a tragic drama, it’s also just much less dense, more or less sticking to one straightforward narrative. The brothers must find the Penguindrum, and the Penguindrum is in the possession of Ringo Oginome… probably. And so they head off, tailing Ringo (a girl whose name is literally “apple”) as she goes about her fairly unusual day.


Ringo is the obvious focus on this episode, an addition to the narrative whose significance is clear from the first moments. Mirroring the first episode’s opening, Ringo says that she loves Fate, and feels a certain comfort in its existence. She loves the romance of fated encounters, and wants to believe there is a meaning even in sad things. When she immediately compares herself to a girl at the mirror, we see that she’s insecure, and thus the idea of trusting in fate is an appealing one. Given the existence of fate and the unfair nature of the world, we have two options – believe our sadness is created for a good reason, or believe that the world and God are fundamentally cruel. Ringo chooses to embrace the first.

Ringo enters the lives of the Takakura siblings through the urging of Himari’s magical hat. Tasked with retrieving the Penguindrum from her, the brothers tail her over the course of a full day, as she goes to school, performs some unusual after-school activities, and then sets herself up in the basement of their teacher’s house. Most of this episode is strictly information and energy, frankly – it’s a very fun and silly episode, but doesn’t offer the most to dig into.


Of course, fun and silliness do present their own craft quirks. A lot of this episode’s jokes come down to the behavior of the penguins, which at this point more or less matches the tone of the narrative. Their silly near-uselessness provides a number of good gags, and actually drives the plot forward from time to time. They’re essentially just basic mascot material, but here, it’s all of a tonal piece. It’s only later in the show, when the tone starts to shift, that their presence will become a little awkward.

The rest of the humor is a little more interesting. Ikuhara loves to toy with theatrical framing as an actual element of his world, and so it’s only expected that Kanba’s shoujo roses actually bloom in the real world, and are then copied by the girl recollecting his dashing appearance (though credit should be shared here – this episode’s director would end up directing a quarter of Penguindrum before eventually handling Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, another show that smartly plays with genre and visual convention). And the show is already having plenty of fun with the personality possessing Himari – there’s a great deadpan humor in the hat suddenly joining them at breakfast, and enjoying her meal before announcing the transformation.


More relevant to the ongoing narrative are the ways this episode continues to draw a clear contrast between Kanba and Shoma. When Kanba realizes they’re going to have to invade a girl’s school, he acts without hesitation, leaving Shoma to tail Ringo as he gathers supplies. While Shoma frets over the morality of them sending penguins with cameras into a private academy, Kanba doesn’t even see the issue – they’re not going to get caught, and their motives are good, so what’s the problem?

Kanba is willing to do whatever he needs to in order to get the results he wants, whereas Shoma is more innocent, and cares about both the morality and the appearance of all of his actions. The contrast seems to imply a difference not just of philosophy, but experience – like with Kanba’s “I’ll do anything” and final sacrifice in the first episode, it seems clear that he’s given up things before, and is willing to do it again. We see in small moments like the train ride that this dedication to self-sacrifice is fraying him, but at least for now, the show seems willing to let him get away with his ideals.


But if Shoma demonstrates an unspoiled innocence in his behavior, Ringo’s belief in fate is shown to be something just a little bit darker. The finale to this episode is a creepy, gripping sequence, as the brothers discover that their little schoolgirl friend is actually a stalker herself. Positioning herself beneath their teacher’s house and pulling out a frilly diary, Ringo crosses off a passage that matches the afternoon she engineered, saying “your days of eating dinner alone are almost over.” Ringo’s actions reverse the cause and effect of fate – her fate has already been plotted out, and she makes reality conform to the script. It’s not a true acceptance of the whims of fate at all; it’s ultimately a warped interpretation of our own power to sculpt reality. With each of them twisting the destination of fate to their desires, it seems like Kanba and Ringo might have something in common after all.

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6 thoughts on “Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 2

  1. In your last post, you said that Ikuhara likes to make his work ambiguous. I don’t understand why anyone would like a work like that. If a show is going to present an idea, it should at least present that idea at least moderately clearly so the viewer can understand.

    This is the reason I hated Penguindrum, Bakemonogatari, Serial Experiments Lain, and Mushishi. And one reason I loved Kokoro Connect is how it takes a concept as abstract as the identity of a person and present it in a way that is easy to digest.

    • With art, the idea often isn’t to arrive at a “correct answer” of what it’s supposed to mean – it’s to start a conversation in which the art and the viewer are both participants. We all bring our own experiences to art, which impact what that art means to us, and ambiguity is essentially a way of “stirring the pot” and forcing the audience to invest of themselves in the work.

      • I need a concrete idea to start thinking from, either agreeing or disagreeing, I guess. Maybe that’s why I prefer clearly presented ideas.

        That said, ideas presented too clearly can make me feel forced and annoy me, too (e.g., Gatchaman Crowds).

        • I think that Bobduh’s comment also explains the points where Kokoro Connect fails. Sure, the show’s themes are framed in a way that’s easy to parse out, but this same directness becomes a trap when a character (or the writer) has to deal with nuance.
          There’s merit to sticking with your guns, but in KC’s case it stuck too close. I found its presentation to be reductive, in a negative way.

          • At the end, it didn’t really properly answer its thematic question of “What defines a person?” so I don’t think it’s that direct or reductive. And all the characters are pretty nuanced. Sure, they start out the first episode or two as cardboard stereotypes, but they were deconstructed pretty throughly throughout the series.

            And maybe I just like shows that play out jokes when I expect drama.

          • You could say that in the end, the show settled with reaffirming the identities the cast began with. I.E, MC Taichi is MC Taichi, Iori is Iori, and so on. So I’m not sure how it qualifies as a character deconstruction (if I’m using the term correctly). Under a steadier hand I guess it could make a compelling thematic case. But thematically, it seemed skittish venturing beyond that initial question. I’m not even sure the question KC posed is the proper one–it’s more accurate to say that the show examines fabricated identities and other pretenses.

            As for nuance, I think Iori was probably the only nuanced character, while the rest followed a standard trajectory of development for the archetypes they inhabit (in Taichi’s case, arguably none).

            Maybe I’m just confused.
            Anyway, KC only got less cohesive, from what I remember.

            Speculation is all.

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