Episode eight starts with a crack of thunder, as Ringo drags her creepy self up from beneath the floorboards. Framed in jolts of lightning and hideous shadows, Ringo’s attempted consummation is anything but romantic – and of course, that’s the only way it could work. By framing Ringo’s actions as a horror movie, Penguindrum both clearly demonstrates that it doesn’t agree with her actions, and also somewhat stylizes and thus softens the dramatic impact of Ringo actually trying to rape someone.
Rapists don’t generally make for sympathetic heroes. To assault someone in that way is utterly unjustifiable – even murderers can be made sympathetic (or their murdering can at least be softened by framing), but rape is an act of violence that is understandable in almost no conceivable context. Ringo’s actions are certainly parsable in a character sense as “this is a crazy girl who has absolutely no sense of self-worth and is driven entirely by a selfish, self-destructive desire to replace her sister,” but that doesn’t make her someone the audience can actually root for. Ringo’s only saving grace, and the only thing that makes these scenes anything short of hideously uncomfortable, is the fact that the camera refuses to take her 100% seriously.
In fact, for an episode that both opens and closes with an attempted rape, this episode is actually very silly a great deal of the time. The storyboards throughout the first half are at times somewhat flat and mundane (this one’s boarded by one of the show’s general workhorses, and directed by a one-episode pinch hitter), and the scenes are heavy on trivial discussions and silly expression work. The penguins make major appearances, and continue to be utterly divorced from everything else that’s happening both tonally and dramatically. There’s a dorky scene at the Takakura house where Kanba suggests taking the diary by force (likely an intentional echo of Ringo’s actions), and another at school, where Tabuki reveals he’s already moving in with Yuki.
That reveal brings Ringo to a whole new breaking point, or perhaps the opposite of one – a calcifying point, where her faith in fate only hardens in response to adverse stimuli. Trapped in the fading light of Tabuki’s now-empty apartment, she repeats her belief like a mantra while Shoma uselessly tells her that “you can’t change what’s impossible.” But of course, this whole show is about changing what’s impossible – Ringo may be attempting to pursue an impossible romance to regain an unreachable past, but Shoma and Kanba are equally dedicated to maintaining a miracle cure for an unbeatable illness.
Ringo’s emptiness is thrown in sharp relief later on, when she visits the penguin exhibit that has become a symbol of the idyllic, absent family unit. Thinking back on the strap that represented her family bond, her mission is double-underlined by the reveal that “they’re not selling those anymore.” And then her pain gets even more direct, as she witnesses her father outright announcing his dedication to a new family. As before, Ringo is only able to parse this emotional violence through the nostalgic, softening frame of stuffed animals. The new aggressors are represented by the moray eel, which already proved itself a villain in both strap and fantasy form. But though the animal framing might be conceived as a way of processing things she can’t deal with, the return to Ikuhara’s beloved red-and-black style tic once again indicates that this is a violence too extreme for the show to clearly depict.
It’s not just Ringo’s nightmares that end up heightened through fiction; her dreams of victory also must be interpreted through genre, and dissociated from her everyday self. Having watched her potential family slip even further away, Ringo descends into another fantasy revery, this time framing herself as the mysterious gunslinger saving Tabuki from Yuri’s clutches (complete with letterbox framing and production house titling). Sequences like this are fun, but there’s an inherent tragedy in the fact that Ringo cannot see her real, true self as accomplishing any of her important goals. It’s always some fantasy person who wins the day, reflecting how her internalization of Momoka’s importance has left no room for pride in her actual self.
With the distance between her strictly regimented fantasies and disappointing reality only growing, the last act of this episode sees Ringo doubling down on her attempted assault. As the lightning cracks once again overhead and shots contort to frame her actions as an actual murder, Ringo outright drugs Shoma and Tabuki, and literally becomes someone else in order to force herself on him. Waking early from her poison, Shoma drags himself across the bedroom to stop her, shouting that her actions are “only a selfish delusion!” The framing here is very intentional; outside of dramatic single shots, the overarching tone of this sequence mirrors the way Ringo’s bedroom tends to look when she’s asleep. Through the combination of his drugged stupor and overt actions, Shoma has inadvertently stepped inside the underwater world that is synonymous with Ringo’s dreams of the past, and moved to drag the both of them up for air.
Ringo is thwarted by Yuri’s unexpected return, and the episode ends on a series of collisions between Ringo and Shoma, the camera crushing them together in the corner of the frame. As usual, Shoma is the first and only person to learn the truth of Ringo’s feelings; confronting her on her selfishness and black heart, he finally learns the true motive behind Ringo’s behavior. It’s clear that Ringo doesn’t really care about Tabuki’s feelings, or even her own feelings – challenged on her love, she replies that “I love him because Momoka did.” But Ringo’s confession only begets more violence; the diary falls, half of it is stolen, and then Shoma sacrifices himself for Ringo’s sake. The night of consummation ends in thunder and tears.
This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.