Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 5

Nine years ago, a typhoon raged through Japan just as Himari was coming down with a terrible fever. With no one to call for help, the Takakura siblings’ mother panicked over what they might do, before their father declared he’d take Himari to the hospital himself. Rushing out the door, he was pursued by both his sons, though only Kanba manages to follow him. And so Kanba raced out into the street, physically chasing his father at the onset of a pursuit that would last him all his life.


Both Kanba and Ringo spend this episode chasing their parents – their physical parents, the shadow of who their parents used to be, or what the comfort of their parents’ presence once represented. Even in that opening scene, we see the relationship of Shoma and Kanba echoed in the roles their parents play. Shoma stays back, his well-meaning warmth tethered to the light of home. Kanba rushes out, his dedication to family at all costs driving him into the cold rain.

Kanba internalized the strength of his father on that day. Seeing his dad take the blows of the storm and suffer for his children without a word, we see something change in his eyes. In the present day, Kanba holds true to his father’s spirit both by keeping their home alive and solving problems in the way his father would (the rain here creating a direct parallel between Kanba’s young and present selves). As the Takakura siblings’ uncle talks of selling the house and breaking up the family, Kanba demands to know how much money it would take to keep them together. The home is more than a place to him; it represents a childhood ideal of family itself, its bright and childlike features contrasted against the harshness of his uncle’s words. Kanba cannot let go of what their home represents.


Ringo is equally tethered to the past, cherishing small outings with her parents and letting the dreams of her diary literally guide her present. But even the first moments of her lunch date with her father are presented in a strange, almost poisoned hue, as the two of them are represented in the amorous framing of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. Ringo speaks of old dates the family went on together, and asks for a parfait just because it comes with a penguin ornament, another token of their time together. That parfait ends up offering a clear visual representation of what Ringo is holding on to – a forlorn trinket in an empty glass, the festive marker of a substance that has already been drained. Ringo’s feelings are the physical reminders of something long gone, the ornaments of a family that no longer exists.

The visual imagery of this episode consistently emphasizes the disconnect between these two characters’ ideals of family and the world they actually inhabit. Ringo’s painting is revealed to have a darker lining, and Kanba’s mission to save his home is undercut by the rail mascots’ on-the-nose scolding. But it’s not the fact that both of these characters are holding on to these echoes of their childhood that ultimately damns them – it’s the fact that in holding on to the ideal families and parental heroes of the past, they risk missing out on the families right in front of them.


Ringo’s choices are redeemed by fate, as they often are. Ringo consistently tries to live up to the ideals of her diary, but at this point, the narrative is offering little sympathy for her delusion. And yet, in spite of failing once again to seduce her teacher, she happens to run into the Takakura siblings by chance on the way home. Once again, Ringo’s ideals are proven hollow in the form she wants to interpret them, but her life still ends up being defined by actual fated encounters, the encounters we don’t actually plan.

And Kanba’s actions leave him isolated by choice, as he always tends to be. Kanba’s earlier “save your innocence for Himari” has so far been the line that best encapsulates his character; Kanba tasks himself with doing all of the family’s dirty work, and in doing so hopes to preserve his sister and brother as the pristine icons they appear in photograph. But by dedicating himself to this work and not letting his siblings help out, he ultimately isolates himself from them. As Kanba makes harsh bargains to ensure his family can remain in their old home, he misses the home-cooked dinner of his living, breathing siblings, now being shared by Ringo in a gesture that echoes family far more honestly than any of her interactions with her parents.


But Kanba does what he must. This episode’s final sequence is a pure expression of will, as Kanba embodies his father’s spirit of sacrifice in order to protect his sister. The sequence is honestly a little underwhelming in its execution; still shots hold on Kanba’s struggle for a weirdly stilted length of time, and his penguin’s presence substantially undercuts the drama of the moment. But it’s still a fine articulation of just how much Kanba is his father’s son.

Beyond its laser focus on Kanba and Ringo as echoes of their old families, larger plot gears also start to turn in this episode. We finally meet Penguindrum’s Jury-doppelganger from the opening song, who seems tethered to Kanba and wields penguin-shaped amnesia bullets. Her meeting with Asami Kuho is a mixture of the camp and high drama that always define Ikuhara’s works – her weapon and vocal mannerisms are ridiculous, but stark shots still define her as a legitimate figure of menace. And Ringo finally gets to meet the “other Himari,” pushing the plot forward in a way that seems like it could drive us right to the conclusion.


But of course, things won’t be nearly that simple for our young heroes. While Kanba and Ringo both seem to idolize the past, its actual influence seems far more ambiguous, and the ways it guides their lives leads them to ruin more often than not. We cannot help the ways our parents shape our hopes and identities, and we cannot interrogate still photographs of our old, smiling selves. All we can hope to do is remember the past as we remember it is not necessarily the past that was – that we were asked to smile for the camera, smile in spite of whatever else we held in our hearts.

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.

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