Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 21

After the elegiac and atmospheric frozen world of episode twenty, Penguindrum’s twenty-first episode sees the show’s narrative shifting into high gear. The episode opens with Ringo being confronted by a tabloid journalist, who claims he has an important scoop regarding the Takakura family. Ringo pushes this man away, but his fundamental presence implies that the Takakuras’ fragile equilibrium is about to fall apart. Times have been desperate before, but the siblings have always had their home and each other to rely on. Now it seems like even that sanctuary may be crumbling down.

But first, we get a brief and welcome warm scene between Ringo and Himari. Ringo firmly asserts that she’s on Himari’s side no matter what, and the brightness of their conversation is matched by the bright colors of the Takakura home. A flashback to the time after their parents left underlines Penguindrum’s use of color as a dramatic instrument. Himari’s malaise is set in the same desaturated colors that characterized the frozen world, and color itself is framed as an escape from that depression. Himari’s words here reflect the new and equally sad lessons her second parents left her: “each new day could be the day that Kan and Sho left, just like my parents.” Our personal truths are often born in the actions of our parents – if we are loved, we will share love, if we are abandoned, we will see abandonment as the fundamental nature of family. But Kanba and Shoma’s actions denied that truth, with even the injuries to Himari’s bear reflecting “the proof that we’re living together as family.”

The tabloid journalist soon returns, this time harassing Himari at the family home. This time, we learn more than “I know about the fake Takakura family” – building on that reveal, we’re now told the journalist also knows about Kanba’s relationship with the Kiga Group. The journalist serves as a very convenient device here. In addition to simply amping up the tension, he both puts a time limit on the show’s current setup and also neatly catches the rest of Kanba’s family up to speed. The show has run out of time for secrets, and so Himari herself decides to follow Kanba into the night.

Of course, Kanba still believes his motives are pure. Meeting his parents in that dingy diner, he bemoans the insufficiency of his actions. “It’s not working. Himari still isn’t cured. Do I need more money?” Kanba’s struggle is framed less in realistic than mythic terms here. There’s no specific operation Himari needs that he’s saving up for – money is framed not as a tangible resource, but as a insubstantial result of pure struggle. Kanba is “paying for Himari’s treatment” by taking suffering upon himself – just like how Shoma feels responsible for the sins of his parents, Kanba seems to believe that if he suffers enough, fate might be generous and grant Himari a reprieve.

The distance between Kanba’s perception of his struggle and its actual reality are made clear when Himari enters the diner. The same sequence of shots that introduced Kanba to a shoddy but reasonably well-kept diner now introduce Himari to a broken ruin. Kanba truly has been living in the past, and the reality of his situation underlines this episode’s central point. The influence our parents exert on our future actions is made viscerally clear in the way Kanba has been taking orders from ghosts. And behind the counter, Himari spies the awful truth.

More speedy reveals are tossed at us in the following scenes, somewhat returning us to nineteen’s “oh jeez we gotta get through this story” exposition. An interview between Sanetoshi and Himari’s former doctor serves as an excuse to dump more info about Sanetoshi on us, including the reveal that he was also part of that storied arctic expedition. The doctor’s explanation of Sanetoshi as a “talented assistant who unfortunately became the head of a criminal organization and died” is clear but graceless, information minus drama. Unlike Himari’s terrific backstory way back in episode nineSanetoshi’s story feels rushed and emotionally sterile. The current Sanetoshi and Momoka each being born from the same subway incident is a graceful dramatic touch, but turning Sanetoshi from a mythic antagonist into the leader of the Kiga Group in one sentence reflects the narrative messiness of Penguindrum’s final act.

After that, it’s Shoma’s turn to learn the truth about Kanba’s money. Confronting Kanba in a shadowy park, we see a continuation of the philosophical war they’ve been waging ever since the second episode. Kanba doesn’t care where the money comes from, as long as it saves Himari. Shoma refuses to accept happy results born from dishonest means.

Of course, the path this series has taken has significantly complicated Kanba’s position. Breaking into a stranger’s house in order to secure a future for your sister is one thing, but working with the Kiga Group is essentially doubling down on the sins of Kanba’s parents. Shoma is already riddled with guilt over the actions of his parents, and even last episode was claiming he must somehow pay for their sin, and for the sin of making Himari a Takakura at all. If Kanba is furthering the interests of the Kiga Group, Shoma’s repentance is made even more hollow – in fact, it’s as hypocritical as Kanba’s actions. And so, at last, Shoma fights back.

Chalk-sketch backgrounds emphasize the sense of violent tension as Kanba and Shoma clash. Their fight is contrasted against shots of Himari at home, her tokens of a happy family life emphasizing the pain of this dissolution. In spite of all their hopes, their parents’ actions drag them apart even now. Both Kanba and Shoma are ruled by the specter of their parents, but their contradictory reactions to that presence tears them apart. In the end, Kanba outright denounces Shoma as his brother, claiming that “I’ll save Himari. You sit back and watch.” Kanba claims they were never family, but Penguindrum’s sad stories seem to imply that only family could hurt each other this much.

Episode twenty one concludes on one last series of shocking reveals. The tabloid writer offers a grim bookend, mirroring his early appearance with a death at Kanba’s orders. Tabuki and Yuki discover that the Takakura parents truly are gone, and potentially pay for that knowledge with their lives. And then Shoma comes home only to make Himari’s childhood fear come true, declaring that they are “done playing house.” This place that once promised warmth and family is now reduced to the old desaturated hues, leaving Shoma alone with his memories. Both Shoma and Kanba have failed Himari in their own ways, but Himari is strong. She may save this family yet.

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