The contradictory pull of fate guides all actions in Penguindrum’s fatalistic eleventh episode. The theme is established quickly here, as Kanba heads to the estate of the red-haired woman in pursuit of the diary. Caught in the middle of painting Kanba’s portrait, his tormentor talks of how “the canvas doesn’t lie,” and that the Kanba she paints is more honest and true than the untrustworthy Kanba of the real world. Kanba’s current nature is capricious and mercenary, but by capturing him in painting, this woman can maintain the love she once felt for him like a perversion of Dorian Grey. While Momoka’s perfection is assured because of her absence, Kanba’s current presence undercuts his meaning for this woman, and thus she creates her own version. An object of adoration’s “true form” is the form which is most meaningful to us.
Of course, the painting itself is likely just another of this woman’s theatrical flourishes. Speaking of fate and memory and surrounded by aggressive imagery echoing the subway signs, she comes across as a clear agent of destiny in the same manner as Ringo. Kanba gestures towards more narrative conspiracies by asking whether she got her memory-balls from “that place,” but their power as a symbol is immediately clear. To characters like this woman and Ringo, single events in the past dominate their current identities – Ringo’s quest to emulate her sister, and this woman’s preoccupation with what Kanba shrugs off as some foolish words of youth. To someone like that, the power to erase memories is power over life itself – if you’re already living in the past, erasing your motivation is like a kind of death. Your past-seeded fate is more important than your current existence.
That apocalyptic framing makes it hard not to sympathize with Ringo in the next scene, when she beats up Shoma after he chastises her for “giving away the diary so easily.” Ringo and Shoma have the most genuinely human rapport of any characters in this show, meaning their argument here feels natural from start to finish. Shoma has never really respected Ringo’s mission, so he doesn’t appreciate just what a serious step it was for her to sacrifice her diary – and Ringo has never taken Himari’s condition seriously, so she doesn’t charitably interpret Shoma’s frustration. It’s a strong character-based argument that’s only partially undercut by Shoma’s stupid penguin farting in the background.
Speaking of which, we’ve basically arrived at the point where the penguins will never again be dramatically useful, and will instead work to sabotage the tone of everything else going on from here on out. An argument could be made that it’s useful to undercut the theatrical pretensions of the show at large, and that the penguins thus demonstrate the very narrow frame of each of these characters’ perspectives, but I frankly don’t buy that for a second. From their goofy mirroring of the main characters to their own small narratives, the penguins are now a cabal of stooges working to dismantle everything Penguindrum hopes to construct. They suck, they were a bad narrative call, the show will just have to work around them.
Putting the penguins aside, separating from Shoma ends up working out somewhat in Ringo’s “favor,” as her second go-round with the magic frogs actually results in a working love potion. Once again, the heightened nature of Ringo’s fantasies is basically all that separates this sequence from its inescapable underlying nature: date rape facilitated by a spiked drink. Ringo is the least trustworthy narrator, and with Shoma absent, it’s difficult to tell if any of this is truly real. Sure, Ringo could drug Tabuki – but why would that make him speak in the language of her delusion? Tabuki doesn’t just speak the words she wants to hear, he speaks the words she believes are real – that all this suffering has happened for a reason, that all the world’s a stage, and that Ringo herself is fated to find love at the end of Momoka’s road.
But this time, Ringo stops. Though Tabuki’s saying exactly what she’d dreamed, and though her world has once again adopted the framing of a dramatic seduction, there is still some of her in this picture. There are still the feelings of Ringo herself, a girl who has little knowledge of Tabuki beyond “the man she’s meant to love,” and who’s in far over her head. As we learn Shoma really does care about Ringo, we also learn that Ringo can’t really bring herself to love Tabuki.
And so the framing changes. From the deep blues and soft eyes of the seduction, the scene shifts to horror. An unnatural green echoes both the color of the frog and the general mad-science atmosphere of Ringo’s seduction, while dutch angles and wild shadows make a monster of Tabuki. And just before Tabuki can finish acting out his favorite scene from The Shining, Yuri returns home, and actually talks Ringo down.
The last act of episode eleven echoes Ringo’s last failure, as her misadventures with Tabuki are resolved by embracing her found family. Like before, Shoma and Himari arrive with food – but this time, Ringo can’t blame the whims of fate for her failures. She made her own choices this time, and unable to simply accept she is not Momoka, she blames Shoma for taking away her certainty. Her anger is technically justified here, but the fact that Shoma diverted her from Momoka’s fate actually points towards the true value of these found families. Ringo’s fate was disrupted by allowing more important people to enter her life, thus shifting her feelings and priorities from those of fate-bound certainty. The more we cling to the past, the more we are able to believe in fated destinies – but by embracing the present, we find new experiences and values, allowing ourselves far more potential happy endings.
In the end, we finally get a direct reference to the ‘95 subway bombing, as Ringo reveals her sister was a victim of the incident. Everything started sixteen years ago, from the death of Momoka to the births of Ringo and the brothers to whatever incident is guiding Kanba’s stalker’s hand. Everything comes down to their intertwined pasts, be it coincidence or something far stronger. Fate may not truly guide our actions, but it casts a cruel shadow just the same.
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