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.

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Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 20

Penguindrum’s twentieth episode (directed by talented key animator and Gainax mainstay Akemi Hayashi, who also gave us this terrific Space Dandy episode) centers on a new location and an old memory, at the forbidding Penguin Force Hideout. The hideout is located in a vast, colorless condominium, a structure that seems to underline our collective anonymity. Rows after rows of identical doors promise homes for everyone and no one, infinite potentially wrong paths. The young Shoma is dwarfed by this place, lost in long stairwells and ensconced behind railing bars. This is truly a frozen world.

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Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 19

It’d be hard for any episode to live up to Shigeyasu Yamauchi’s gorgeous interpretation of Tabuki’s rooftop duel with Kanba. That episode isn’t just great for this show, it’s an all-time great episode within anime at large. In light of that, it’s perhaps a bit less disappointing that Penguindrum’s nineteenth episode doesn’t even really try to compete with its predecessor. This is largely an information-expositing and board-moving episode, shifting us past the focus on Tabuki and into a new and somewhat abrupt arc starring Masako Natsume. This is the point where the cracks in Penguindrum’s overall narrative begin to show, but it still gets its job done.

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Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 17

Penguindrum’s seventeenth episode is titled “The Unforgiven,” a meaning which only becomes clear in its final moments. But unlike many of its recent episodes, this episode isn’t really “about” any one specific thing. So far, we’ve spent the show’s second half establishes the diverse and incompatible motivations of this world’s side characters, from the desperate loyalty of Yuri to the rigid persistence of Masako. There are few secrets left in this place, but that doesn’t mean we’re any closer to arriving at solutions. The still enigmatic Sanetoshi seems to understand this, musing idly on how all humans pursue individual ideals of truth to the point of self-sacrifice or destruction. Penguindrum’s human players have all established their truths, and now “the war is about to break out.”

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Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 16

Mawaru Penguindrun’s sixteenth episode is goofy as hell.

That’s not really unusual for an Ikuhara show. Just like how his dramas juxtapose grounded, universal themes like gender identity and social ostracization with ornate, melodramatic framing, so too does he often mix his serious material and his absurd comedy. Ikuhara does not believe tone must match dramatic intent in the way, say, a director like Hiroshi Nagahama (Mushishi, The Flowers of Evil) might. The real world often splices comedy and tragedy, so why shouldn’t our fabrications do the same? It’s a style that takes some getting used to, but ultimately it’s quite possible to see the comedy as compatible with the drama, or even a way of underlying the fundamental absurdity of the world.

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Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 15

Penguindrum’s fifteenth episode begins with a young Yuri declaring that “I’ll never be free as long as that tower stands.” In the distance rises a giant, improbable skyscraper in the shape of Michelangelo’s David. It’s a testament to her sculptor father’s power and influence – wherever that tower can see, Yuri remains under his watchful eye. A metaphor made real, standing as the cruel arbitrator of Yuri’s life.

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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.

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Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 13

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.

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Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 12

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.

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Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 11

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.

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