Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 14

Mawaru Penguindrum’s fourteenth episode has sex on the brain. After a cold open revealing the last of Yuri’s performances, we cut to Yuri and her costar in a private moment, where we learn that the hero of Yuri’s play is actually a heroine. Their sexuality is emphasized here to the point of performance, and their words feel like theater as well – Yuri’s partner seems to feel no embarrassment tossing off lines like “you can only share this feeling with another woman.” Happy to play the role of callous seductress, Yuri plainly states that “I’ve grown tired of you,” and abandons her lover. And after we hear a strange hint about Yuri’s “secret,” she drives off, leaving her paramour behind.

Ikuhara’s stories always play with how our assumptions about real life echo our assumptions about drama and narrative. Characters play archetypal roles even while being conscious of them, because they see no other ways to act. Characters that defy these roles are shunned by their peers while framed as a mixture of bold, heroic, and ignorant by the show itself. And just like in Yurikuma Arashi, Yuri here seems to be positioned in one of the most ungenerous and distrusting of roles – the predatory lesbian.

Predatory gay characters are an unfortunate, bigoted staple of mass media. Even when there isn’t a specific character who’s framed as preying on innocent straight characters, there are hints of the assumptions underlying this archetype in all manner of shows. Characters will react with immediate, overacted fear upon learning a character is gay, as if that means they might be attacked by the crazy homosexual at any moment. And social movements working against gay rights have employed the specter of a predatory gay person “attacking the children” for as long as gay rights have been publicly fought for.

This episode certainly doesn’t do much to undermine that trope, but it does offer plenty of other context for Yuri’s character. As she drives off into the night, she bitterly reflects on how this world “is governed by cruel rules.” There are needed and unneeded people in this world, and Yuri believes her ability to separate them was the key to her success. Her words echo the unfortunate fate of Himari, and of all those chosen by the wheel of fate.

It’s frankly a little tough to roll with characterization when it’s laid out this abruptly, particularly since her feelings seem more a reflection of the show’s overall themes than a new, unique identity. Her words are a mix of theatrical overreaching (“you were the only one who told me I was beautiful”) and direct echoes of the show’s other characters (“we promised that our bond would be eternal”). The show may be going somewhere with all of this, but as of this moment, Yuri feels like more of a dramatic prop than a character.

Penguindrum cuts directly from Yuri’s tragic declarations to Ringo, emphasizing the similarities in their worldviews. But for now, Ringo actually seems to be in high spirits, and it’s Shoma that carries the mantle of tragedy. Ringo just wants to be friends, but Shoma seems determined to believe he can never earn her forgiveness. Making a martyr of himself, Shoma angrily states that “everyone abandoned us” – and so reveals that the true link here was between Yuri and himself. Both Shoma and Yuri have been so twisted by betrayal that they cannot imagine people treating them any differently, and thus they push away others before they get the chance to be abandoned. A very human response to the looming tragedy of those who aren’t beloved by fate.

Even Himari doesn’t seem immune to the despair of an unblessed life. Having just completed scarves for her old friends, she finds herself troubled by their glamorous images. When Sanetoshi arrives, she’s tossed her scarves away, claiming that no one would want them. Himari has many things to feel unlucky about, but her feelings here reflect how we often create our own misfortune. We make martyrs of ourselves, and only realize our regret once we’ve taken actions we can’t take back.

The episode continues through a series of setup scenes, as Ringo and Yuri meet and Kanba is once again confronted by the woman from his past. Their talk of family, sacrifice, and chosen ones is all stuff we’ve heard before, with the one new constant being this episode’s ostentatiously sexual framing. There’s no rhyme or reason to these shots – they don’t reflect any meaningful tension in their own scenes, and seem divorced from character perspective. All they ultimately do is set up a tone of erotic fixation for the episode’s final act.

If this episode truly is from Yuri’s perspective, then the opening of the final act here likely passes as dramatic irony. Consoling a distraught Ringo, Yuri claims that “I’ll be your older sister for the day,” a line that casts doubt on what siblings mean even before things get Extremely Weird. More sexually charged shots build tension as the two grow closer, and Yuri reveals her prior relationship with Momoka. It’s clear that we’re dealing with one more person whose life was dictated by Ringo’s sister – and that for Yuri, she won’t be the one transforming into a lost sister tonight.

The final scene doubles down on Yuri’s predatory lesbian persona in the most direct way possible. Drugging Ringo and carrying her to the bedroom, she promises to “give you a body that can’t survive without me.” Ringo’s role has been reversed at last; from the predatory stalker embracing her sister’s destiny, she’s become the victim of a predator, still trapped in that same role. We must be careful in the roles we choose for ourselves. There are certain performances that can never be taken back.

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