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.
Penguindrum’s thirteenth episode begins with the Takakura siblings at the hospital, now at the mercy of “Doctor” Sanetoshi. The Penguindrum has been stolen, and the woman who possesses Himari has seemingly run out of power. Only Sanetoshi can save Himari now.
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.
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.
Shoma awakes in Penguindrum’s tenth episode, and seems not much worse for wear. In fact, Ringo seems far more changed by Shoma’s accident than Shoma himself – standing outside in the hallway, she seems legitimately concerned for Shoma for perhaps the first time. Now, with the diary torn in half, Ringo’s own mission seems somehow less important than the health of someone she can actually call a friend. The two have aired all their baggage now, and as Ringo listens outside, she learns Shoma doesn’t even blame her for the accident. For once, it seems like a tragedy might actually bring Penguindrum’s characters closer together.
In Penguindrum’s ninth episode, the action pauses for a moment. In keeping with its title, “Frozen World,” the trials of Ringo and Shoma are briefly set aside, and we return back, back, back to the beginning. Back to the first episode of the show, as we experience that fateful day at the aquarium from Himari’s perspective. Back before that day, to Himari’s own childhood. And back before Himari’s childhood, back to our own world, where the terror and violence of 1995 hang high above the events of Mawaru Penguindrum.
Episode eight starts with a crack of thunder, as Ringo drags her creepy self up from beneath the floorboards. Framed in jolts of lightning and hideous shadows, Ringo’s attempted consummation is anything but romantic – and of course, that’s the only way it could work. By framing Ringo’s actions as a horror movie, Penguindrum both clearly demonstrates that it doesn’t agree with her actions, and also somewhat stylizes and thus softens the dramatic impact of Ringo actually trying to rape someone.
Ikuhara just can’t escape the stage. All of his shows are heightened and ornamented, full of elaborate framing and moments where you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is real, imagined, or somewhere in between. Characters are lit by spotlights and accompanied by gusts of roses, treading through shimmering worlds of elaborate costume and ghastly betrayals. His stars live between the stage and the stands, often directly acknowledging the tenuous nature of their performance. The spotlight is cruel in its ephemeral gaze.
There’s a strange, uncomfortable disconnect at the heart of Ringo’s mission. Of course, you don’t really need to dig very far to find her actions uncomfortable – even within this episode’s first scene, what has up until now “confined” itself to mere obsessive stalking seems to take an even darker turn. Ringo murmurs breathily about “wedding night” and “our first night together” as the camera trawls across her blue-toned room, the undersea framing echoing both Himari’s room and the general visual language of “fate.” Given their current relationship and her past actions, it seems like Ringo is overtly fantasizing about sexually assaulting Tabuki. But Ringo’s feelings are even more tangled than that.
Nine years ago, a typhoon raged through Japan just as Himari was coming down with a terrible fever. With no one to call for help, the Takakura siblings’ mother panicked over what they might do, before their father declared he’d take Himari to the hospital himself. Rushing out the door, he was pursued by both his sons, though only Kanba manages to follow him. And so Kanba raced out into the street, physically chasing his father at the onset of a pursuit that would last him all his life.