Penguindrum’s twelfth episode begins with a familiar refrain, as we hear Shoma’s bitter speech on fate revisited in Kanba’s voice. But this time, it’s tied to the hospital, and the mysterious man known only as Sanetoshi. A clear set of new symbols mark the occasion – two black rabbits with piercing red eyes, and an apple with a bullet sticker. Sanetoshi places a picture frame on the doctor’s desk, and we see it’s of some expedition to the arctic, marked with the familiar penguin logo. One man in particular is familiar to us – sharing a unique set of angular, unfriendly eyes, he’s almost certainly Kanba’s father.
We learn a great deal about Kanba’s father this week, following Shoma’s shocking declaration that “it’s our fault your sister died.” It’s not really true “their” fault – Shoma’s simply saying that because he knows his parents were key actors in the subway bombing. But by framing it as his own responsibility, Shoma reflects several of the key truths of Penguindrum. First, that the family unit is a living being all its own, which can be healthy or sickly or fading away. Second, that we often reflect the sins of our parents, be it through our guilt or our convictions. And third, that even when an act of violence is truly senseless, we want to assign sense to it. We want to believe there is meaning in the world.
That search for meaning underlines this episode’s second half, where Shoma recounts a tragic fairy tale framed around Mary and her Little Lambs. Like Ringo with her stuffed animals, Shoma can only parse the horrors of childhood as a softened fiction, his intimate pain transformed into a distant narrative. Telling a story of terrorism and childhood neglect, his framing grants a strange and otherworldly beauty to his suffering.
The story itself frames the actions of this universe’s Aum Shinrikyo as a response to the death of an apple tree. The apple is clearly a charged object in this narrative, highlighted from the opening song onwards, and here, its tree is described as the “first tree in the world,” the source of happiness. The tree embodies rightness, and life after the tree takes place in a broken age – but by framing the tree as entirely separate from the three lambs, this story seems to imply that the tree was never really necessary in the first place. Shoma’s parents desired a return to a better time, but that better time may never have actually existed.
The ending of this fairy tale is viciously painful, as “the Goddess” decides to punish the youngest lamb for the sins of Mary. Here we see the most clear articulation of Shoma’s search for meaning; he may decry fate as cruel, but even crueler is the idea that nothing matters, and that we suffer terrible fates for no reason at all. Himari’s pain is so great and senseless that he can only conceive of it as a punishment for the sins of his parents, passed down to their gentlest child.
The apple isn’t only relevant to Shoma’s part in this story. Parallel to Shoma’s fairy tale, we see Kanba once again perform some kind of ritual with Himari’s possessor, returning to her chamber only to see it fallen into disrepair. The bare nature of this fallen space is almost as evocative as Shoma’s fairy tale, the spokes of Himari’s staircase now looking like the decaying ribs of some great animal. Himari’s possessor tells Kanba that their time is up, and that the life he granted her has run out – and so he demands she take more, ripping open his shirt to reveal his heart as one more version of that shining apple. Himari’s possessor offers one more framing of that apple-heart – the “Scorpion’s Fire,” emblem of personal sacrifice for the sake of the world at large. But in a show where Ringo “sacrifices herself” to appease her parents’ grief, and the Takakura parents “sacrificed” themselves to kill innocents, the integrity of a sacrifice is an open question.
The Takakura siblings dominate this episode, but there are certainly other powerful moments throughout. The evocation of the day of the bombing is powerfully stark, moving from the desaturated colors of the Takukura father’s ploy onwards. Tabuki’s stop at the train station is particularly evocative, using isolated closeups to center us in his headspace, and contrasting those against a long mid-distance shot that emphasizes the out-of-body moment through his fleeing shadow. The world doesn’t feel real at a moment like that – you sense individual variables like a shouting man or the blades of a helicopter, but the world at large feels a foggy dream.
The last key variables here are the black bunnies, introduced for the first time alongside Kanba’s speech. It’s clear they’re tied to Sanetoshi, and likely figures of menace in some way – Himari’s possessor specifically mentions how the loss of the Penguindrum has brought them into the world, and they’re also framed as basically Satan during the lamb story, convincing Mary to steal the Goddess’s flame. Whether portrayed as actual rabbits or ribboned children, their place at Sanetoshi’s side marks them as more interlopers from the Destination of Fate. Whether they will help save Himari or ensure her death is unclear; and even then, their actions may one day fall into fairy tale themselves, spun this way and that to make an artificial sense of our mad and senseless world.
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