Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 23

Penguindrum’s twenty-third episode opens with one of Sanetoshi’s memories, underlining the fact that we’re truly in the endgame now. From a vague figure defined by cryptic mysteries, Sanetoshi has reached the point of addressing the audience directly, literally speaking to the screen as he describes his philosophy. “This world is made of countless boxes. People bend and stuff their bodies into their own boxes, and stay there for the rest of their lives. In those boxes, you lose your sense of self. That’s why I’m getting out. I’m one of the chosen.” Speaking of anonymous fates and chosen people, Sanetoshi seems to be twisting the philosophy other characters used to save their friends from the child broiler. Sanetoshi’s explosive terrorism is just another response to the world’s own fundamental violence.

Momoka is having none of this. Revealing herself at last, she says “I’m going to banish you. The spell to transfer fates is written in this book. If I cast it, I can save everyone.” With just under two episodes left, the time for metaphorical games is apparently over. Sanetoshi and Momoka’s clash ends in the show’s fairy tale conceit being made explicit – Momoka is split into the two penguin hats, while Sanetoshi is divided into the two black rabbits. Ikuhara’s signature red-black contrast emphasizes the violence of the moment, the moment both of them died. Turned into ghosts, the two have circled and sparred ever since, each preaching their own path to a better world.

From there, we return to the frozen world, with Himari now cradled in a desaturated hospital bed. The colors here form a direct throughline to Himari’s first meeting with Shoma, as the doctor tells Shoma that it’s time to make his goodbyes. There’s a brief and beautiful sequence of Ringo trying to console her friend, but ultimately, Shoma is powerless. As Sanetoshi says, the Takakuras are “cursed by a ghost,” with Sanetoshi and Momoka’s feud paralleling the pain that carries through grudges and generations. And now Kanba is willing to be directly lead by his tormentor’s guidance, as long as it will save Himari.

The contradictory power of love and family are contrasted again across the next two scenes, as both Kanba and Shoma spend a charged moment with family. On Kanba’s side, Sanetoshi leads him to Masako’s bedroom, where we witness her final breaths. Both within and without the story, this is a cheap and tawdry moment. On an in-narrative level, it reflects how Sanetoshi’s blessing is essentially just a threat in disguise – he is holding Himari’s life hostage for the sake of far greater destruction. On an overarching textual level, it underlines Masako’s ultimately awkward place in this narrative; in the end, her last role is simply being used to underline Sanetoshi’s power, and walk back her own final choice. I’m sorry, Masako.

While Kanba makes a deal with the devil, Shoma simply waits beside his sister, holding her hand. The steady beep of her heart monitor and sterile white of the walls say everything; Himari does not belong in this place. And so, in her own way, Himari takes both of them away. She reminds Shoma of the time the three siblings went to the beach, and Himari found herself lost on the sand. After hours of searching, Himari ultimately cried tears of joy when her two brothers found her. “That’s when I realized I had become a child who would be found.” Himari learned from her brothers not to expect love to be transactional – to see love as something infinite and impossibly powerful, something that could save her no matter what.

“This time, find Kan-chan. He’s just like I was back then. Lost.” Their conversation drifts into the present as the two find themselves standing in a starlit sea. It’s a gorgeous visual setpiece, reminiscent of Adolescence of Utena’s grand waltz. It also directly contrasts against Kanba’s own intimate moments with Momoka, where their “survival strategy” seemed to rely on the same transactional love Sanetoshi now espouses. Here, love is unconditional – Kanba might think he is alone, but his support is boundless. And then Kanba himself arrives, and breaks the revery.

Kanba is essentially just Sanetoshi’s parrot at this point, a physical instrument of his spiritual will. After stealing Himari away, he then tricks Ringo into meeting him, after Ringo regains the other diary half in another “oh hey, this character still exists” mini-sequence. Invasive closeups and off-kilter angles present the aquarium as once again a place of mystery and tension, one of those mystical bridges between this show’s various worlds. The aquamarine of the penguin exhibit casts Ringo’s march in an otherworldly pallor, like she’s walking in the shadow of the northern lights. As a steady ticking builds to a great explosion, Ringo learns she has been betrayed.

Blown backwards by one of Kanba’s toys, Ringo falls and the diary catches alight. As the diary burns, Ringo holds it close to herself, willing the fire away. The story of the heavenly scorpion is thus made manifest – just as the scorpion burned itself for the sake of others, so does Ringo burn to save her friend Himari. But though Sanetoshi calls this her crucible, she seems destined to fail. Sanetoshi sees even the spell itself as a kind of curse, but Sanetoshi sees everything as a curse – everything must be bought and sold with him, everything must be paid back in full. Spurred on by Momoka, Shoma chases Kanba onto the train of destiny, seeking a better destination for all of them. Figures are pushed haphazardly along Sanetoshi’s map, each hoping for a better future, as a singer chants “freedom is too much of a burden” from above. Sanetoshi is wrong and Sanetoshi is right – his philosophy is poison, but there must be a better world than this.

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