Nopy's Blog

Anime, figures, magazines, and everything related.

Observations in Mawaru Penguindrum – An Explanation of the Method to the Madness

December 24, 2011 By: Nopy Category: Anime

Since the end of Mawaru Penguindrum, I’ve seen a lot of people say things along the lines of, “this anime sucked, there was no real story and no explanation whatsoever.” OK, comments may not have been that extreme, but you get the idea. I actually thought that the story was great, and no great story holds your hand through the end. With that said, it’s understandable that there would be some confusion with regards to Mawaru Penguindrum. To try to dispel some of that confusion, I have outlined some of my observations and conclusions here. It is by no means complete and I can’t guarantee it’s what the writer had intended, but it’s how I viewed the series and why I enjoyed it.

I have structured this post so that observations and explanations of small details are listed first. In the conclusion I explain how I viewed the series, and you can just skip to that part if you aren’t interested in the details.

Warning: Do not read further if you have not completed Mawaru Penguindrum (or Revolutionary Girl Utena). The topics that I cover below will spoil the entire series and assumes that you have seen every episode at least once.

The Thread of Fate

As I mentioned in my review of the series, Mawaru Penguindrum is based heavily on classical Greek plays, but it also includes traditional Japanese beliefs. One of the beliefs that the Greeks held (and was present in their plays) was that the power of fate, or more specifically, The Fates was absolute. The Fates spun threads that determined the length of a person’s life and the paths they would take. The outcomes predicted by the threads are impossible to stop or reverse, as proven by failed attempts by tragic heroes in Greek literature.

In the very first scene of the first episode, Shoma’s dialogue states how he hates “fate” because it sets everyone’s future on a predetermined path, making God rather cruel. He ends by stating that they didn’t have a future, alluding to his and Kanba’s inevitable demise. This is a clear reference to the idea that one’s fate cannot be altered no matter what you do.

Further reference to the inevitability of predetermined fate is made using the Red String of Fate in the ending credits. The Red String of Fate is widely known across East Asian cultures as a thread that connects two people who are destined to be together (usually lovers). Red threads are always shown to be connected to Himari somehow in the ending credits, implying that whoever is at the other end is closely tied to her and they will never be apart. This is why Himari’s dialogue in the final moments of the last episode state that she loves fate.

So with everything set in stone, and at least Shoma’s lack of a future confirmed in the first episode, why even watch the series? To give a simple explanation, consider the story of Oedipus Rex, who was told by the oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Based on the inevitability of fate, everyone already knows that he will do exactly as the oracle foretold, but it’s not the ending that entertains, it’s the path that Oedipus took to get there.

Tragic Heroes

One of the defining elements of Greek plays is the presence of a tragic hero. As the name implies, you need a hero character, but he must have the following traits:

Hamartia – a fatal or tragic flaw (Kanba’s love for Himari)

Hubris – extreme pride or arrogance (Kanba)

Anagnorisis – a sudden realization (Shoma’s realization of their fate)

Peripeteia – a reversal of circumstances (Kanba turns into the antagonist while Shoma leaves his role as bystander)

Nemesis – inescapable fate (Kanba and Shoma do not have a future, as stated in the first episode)

Catharsis – cause an extreme change in emotion towards him from the audience (who didn’t feel sad when the brothers disappeared?)

Interestingly, no single character contains all of these traits (not all are necessary), but Kanba and Shoma combined do cover all the bases. This is probably due to them sharing the apple and tying together their fates.

Tragic Villans

Interestingly, hamartia can also be found in the villan, Sanetoshi. His kindness towards Himari was what caused his downfall. He was the one that sent Himari’s scarves to Double H, causing them to visit Himari’s house and passing along their new album, the last phrase in Momoka’s spell, to Ringo. Honestly, I don’t remember seeing any hints of Sanetoshi’s fate, but I could just have missed them.

Momoka the Witch

One burning question that plagued my mind during the series was who or what was Momoka, and how did she gain such power? The closest explanation I’ve come to is that she is a witch, much like Anthy, the witch in Revolutionary Girl Utena. Both Momoka and Anthy sacrifice themselves in order to protect the one(s) they love, but never complete their goals, leaving them cursed. As to how Momoka came to possess a diary that can transfer fate, I’m still stuck on that one.

Yuri and the Chisel

The episodes about Yuri were easy enough to decipher. As a child, she was repeatedly raped and beaten by her father until Momoka saved her. The pounding of the chisel represented the pounding of another long hard item. I don’t think I need to explain why this kind of trauma would make Yuri go yuri.

Tabuki and the Elevator

I explained this in my review of the series, along with other topics not mentioned here.

Apples

Everyone knows the significance of apples in literature as a symbol of knowledge and power, but also one of sin and punishment. Kanba and Shoma shared an apple, implying that they shared the same sin (and therefore must share the punishment). As for what the sin is, I can only guess that it was the knowledge that their parents were going to carry out a terrorist attack and their choice not to do something to stop them.

Why Penguins?

Based on the last episode, we can assume that both Kanba and Shoma died as children, leaving Himari the only survivor of the Takakura family. From various flashbacks in the series, we can also assume that a family trip to the aquarium was Himari’s last fond memory with her brothers, possibly causing her to associate the two things that made her happy, her brothers and penguins, with each other. Penguins are also cute and look more human than fish.

As many people have pointed out, the penguins are used as a representation of Self as defined in Jungian theory. They revealed the inner emotions of the characters through visual riddles, much like the Double H ads on the train.

A Train Ride

If nothing else, this is one thing I am absolutely sure of. Considering the major similarities between Mawaru Penguindrum and classical Greek plays, it’s not far of a stretch to relate the train rides to travelling down the river Styx (heading to the afterlife). After more thought however, I realized that the constant imagery of travelling on a train referred to something else: Night on the Galactic Railroad. You can read up on the story here. It is considered a classic Japanese novel and is known throughout Japan; there is even an anime loosely based on it called Galaxy Express 999. Throughout the series, Kanba, Shouma, Himari, and Ringo are seen riding an empty train car, heading towards the final stop, which can be assumed to be the afterlife. If you’re wondering why Himari and Ringo are still alive if they were riding a train to the afterlife, keep in mind that in Night on the Galactic Railroad, Giovanni rode the train to the last stop, but was never dropped off in the afterlife, only accompanying his friend to his destination of fate.

Further attempts to tie in the relevance of Night on the Galactic Railroad to Mawaru Penguindrum are made in the final minutes of the last episode. As the ghosts of Kanba and Shoma walk past their old home, Kanba specifically mentions the name “Kenji” and his thoughts on death. Well, Kenji Miyazawa just so happens to be the name of the author of Night on the Galactic Railroad. Coincidence? I think not.

Conclusions

In my view, Mawaru Penguindrum was a merger of a classic Japanese novel with the elements that helped make Greek plays popular even to this day. Much like Night on the Galactic Railroad, Mawaru Penguindrum follows a dream-like setting in Himari’s imagination. When Himari lost her adoptive parents, we can assume that she also lost her brothers at the same time or soon afterwards. What we are seeing in the series then, is the adventure that takes place after death. It is in death that Kanba and Shoma found purpose in life, leading them to find true happiness without altering their fate. The different arcs like Ringo’s arc, Masako’s arc, Tabuki’s arc, and Yuri’s arc can be seen as different stops or adventures along the railroad to the afterlife.

———————-

I know some of you still have a lot of questions, but I don’t have the answers to all of them, and I’m too tired to write about the rest (it’s almost 3am and I have to head out of town today). If there’s enough interest, I may write a second post detailing other aspects of the series.

Disclaimer: These are my personal views on Mawaru Penguindrum and may not necessarily agree with other interpretations of the series.

Be Sociable, Share!

63 Comments to “Observations in Mawaru Penguindrum – An Explanation of the Method to the Madness”


  1. This is the problem with this series, you need books to try to explain what happened. I think its more about tastes, I don’t like this kind of stuff, I prefer simple straightforward series. :P
    feal87 recently posted..Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai – Yozora is lovely! Second Season?!

    1
    • I can’t argue with you there, I know a lot of people don’t like these kinds of series because of all of the references to literature.

      2
    • ana beatriz says:

      that’s what I love the most about the series. you will always keep trying to understand, and the more I search the more I love it! (sorry for my bad english!!)

      3
  2. Everyone knows the significance of apples in literature as a symbol of knowledge and power, but also one of sin and punishment. Kanba and Shoma shared an apple, implying that they shared the same sin (and therefore must share the punishment). As for what the sin is, I can only guess that it was the knowledge that their parents were going to carry out a terrorist attack and their choice not to do something to stop them.

    While I am not saying this is false Ikuhara makes strong reference to Night on the Galactic Railroad where the apples are a reward for those who chose love over everything else. So I can only see the apple as a positive thing in the story.

    One of the main characters is also named Ringo, she in a sense was Shouma’s apple.

    Kanba and Shouma’s ending also seems to be the ending of one of the main characters in Night (a very positive end).

    4
    • You could be right, I’ll have to look into the apples being treated as a reward the next time I rewatch the series. That argument is rather compelling when you mention Ringo and how she’s named after apples.

      5
  3. That was a great read.

    I didn’t really see it as a passage to afterlife and acceptance though. My take on it was that the boxes that Sanetoshi was talking about were the exact literal boxes the brothers were trapped in, and they somehow managed to come out of the box (think The Matrix).

    The whole series was about them accepting the box and the inevitability of life, unlike Sanetoshi who looked out of the box and saw despair and sought for destruction.

    Actually I have no idea what I was talking about… My brains are fried.

    6
    • The boxes are confusing, I’m still at a loss as to whether they were imprisoned in some boxes or if it was to represent their despair and inward views.

      7
    • SnowySnivy says:

      The way I’ve always seen it, the boxes are metaphorical, in a sense, as to how everyone out there is just stuck inside their own little world. Thus why all passerby are essentially bathroom logos; Shouma and Kanba don’t pay attention to them because they aren’t important to them, so they don’t really notice them. All they care about is Himari, and finding her cure. Similarly, all Ringo really cares about is “fulfilling her destiny” as Momoka.
      Also, I noticed in (I believe it was) episode 13, how Sanetoshi says that only Momoka can “see the sights that can see”. They both see everything in the world and acknowledge it, and so they have stepped outside of the box. The only problem is that, while Momoka thinks, stepping outside of the box, that the world is beautiful, Sanetoshi hates it, and despises how people will never take a look at the world around them.
      I can’t really link this to any literature, much less Greek, though. As I’ve said, this is merely my perspective on the matter, and there may have been things that I missed.

      8
  4. I actually thought that the story was great, and no great story holds your hand through the end.

    You don’t have to tell a story the way Mawaru Penguindrum did to tell a good story. Crime and Punishment, Giant Robo, the Greek plays themselves, Princess Tutu, To Kill a Mockingbird — even Evangelion was more comprehensible. There’s no inverse correlation between comprehensibility and quality.

    The Thread of Fate

    In any work of speculative fiction, there’s one important question: “What are the rules?” If a time machine is central to your story, everything will revolve around just how time travel works, which varies because we don’t have time machines. The most important question is usually whether time can be rewritten, as in Back to the Future, or not, as in Bill & Ted.

    When Mawaru Penguindrum made it clear that there was such a thing as “fate,” unconfirmed in the real world, it invited the question of what exactly that meant. How do you answer that? Shoma said that he and Kanba had no future, but that says very little, because he could very easily have been wrong. And the question of fate’s mechanics is crucial to the question of what happened and what could have alternatively happened. Who here can be relied upon to know how it works and be forthcoming and truthful? Shoma, a sixteen-year-old kid? The penguin hat, who is anything but forthcoming? Momoka, who died at age ten? Sanetoshi, the villain? There’s no Beatrice to make statements in red here.

    The diary’s powers invite their own questions, much like the things that have bothered me about xxxHolic. Why “pay” in wounds? Who benefits? And who decides what the price is, when value is inherently subjective? After all, in the real world, trade happens when each party values what the other has more than what they themselves have.

    This is why Himari’s dialogue in the final moments of the last episode state that she loves fate.

    Because she’s one of the lucky ones, as opposed to the boys who she once called her brothers and no longer remembers? (And who’s the other end tied to, Ringo?)

    So with everything set in stone, and at least Shoma’s lack of a future confirmed in the first episode

    Again, nothing was confirmed, only asserted. That’s something that irks me about the series — lots of bare assertions, little backing them up.

    He was the one that sent Himari’s scarves to Double H, causing them to visit Himari’s house and passing along their new album, the last phrase in Momoka’s spell, to Ringo.

    Last phrase? Are you talking about the incomplete spell Momoka tried to cast sixteen years before? I don’t think it was ever confirmed that that was still hanging around, but then again, it also wasn’t clear why Ringo believed that one phrase was all that was missing, or why “Himari really liked this phrase” implied “this phrase is in the diary’s spell.”

    Anthy

    I’m trying to avoid Utena spoilers. -_- Thanks for nothing. (As for Momoka, again, nine years old.)

    The pounding of the chisel represented the pounding of another long hard item. I don’t think I need to explain why this kind of trauma would make Yuri go yuri.

    Except that lesbianism doesn’t work that way and Ikuhara should know better than to think it does.

    Kanba and Shoma shared an apple, implying that they shared the same sin (and therefore must share the punishment).

    Again, separation of subtext and text. Two children are together, both starving to death for unclear reasons, and one finds food and decides to share it with his companion. How does sin figure into that?

    As for what the sin is, I can only guess that it was the knowledge that their parents were going to carry out a terrorist attack and their choice not to do something to stop them.

    Which is complete nonsense, as they were born on the day of the attack.

    Based on the last episode, we can assume that both Kanba and Shoma died as children, leaving Himari the only survivor of the Takakura family.

    What, in the last version of reality? Shoma was the only one even born into the Takakura family; it’s not clear why Himari was in the house at the end. (We never did find out who her birth parents were, did we?) Masako described her dream as “I had a twin brother,” not “my twin brother was still alive.” As far as I can tell, they were both removed from history altogether. (Meaning, by definition, that they had never done anything to deserve it anymore.)

    possibly causing her to associate the two things that made her happy, her brothers and penguins, with each other

    Putting aside the aforementioned problems, how do Himari’s mental associations explain anything? She probably wasn’t even born when the penguin hats were created. And at least half the logos shown in the series are penguin-based.

    Night on the Galactic Railroad

    I’m not sure I follow, but the fact remains that “What does the train represent?” is not the same as “What is the train?” The answer to the latter, presumably, is “a mass transportation system, built by humans so they could move around the city easier.” There seems to be another train, though, existing in a space similar to the penguin hat’s domain. Who built that train? And what is it?

    Throughout the series, Kanba, Shouma, Himari, and Ringo are seen riding an empty train car

    And nonempty train cars.

    Mawaru Penguindrum follows a dream-like setting in Himari’s imagination

    “It was all a dream” and “It was all in her imagination” are copouts.

    9
    • I don’t know what else you want from me, I’ve offered my views on the series based on what I learned in my literature classes. They’re by no means meant to be facts.

      As for the Utena spoiler, I apologize for that. I’ve added a warning to the post for future readers.

      10
      • I’m not asking for anything from you. You’re free to respond to my points or not; you weren’t even obligated to make this blog post. And I know these are only hypotheses — I’m just looking for places to poke holes in them, in the spirit of peer review. :) One person proposes an interpretation, another challenges it. All part of the literature game.

        I have developed some theories of my own. For instance, there appears to be a phenomenon that I call a “Lapse.” They last for seconds at most, possibly only a split second, but during that period, things can change, move, and be rearranged in ways that are impossible by normal means. It’s impossible to notice a Lapse when it happens; you can only notice when one has happened. The easiest instance to name is probably in episode 1, while the siblings are talking about the penguins, immediately before the summoning sequence. It takes them a moment to notice that they’ve been more or less teleported.

        On the Doylist level, this is probably Ikuhara having fun with the visual nature of the medium; a Lapse only happens between shots or when the camera’s facing elsewhere. But it appears to be an explicit Watsonian-level power as well. Himari’s penguin hat always uses a Lapse to transfer itself to her head and possess her. In Yuri’s flashback, she and Momoka inexplicably move to a different area in the middle of their conversation about the diary. And I’m pretty sure Sanetoshi’s used Lapses to get out of bad positions — I seem to recall someone trying to strangle him, followed by a close-up shot of his hands, which he suddenly realizes are trying to strangle thin air. (Could just be vanishing and reappearing, but it looks like a Lapse to me.)

        It looks like only a few characters can produce a Lapse: Sanetoshi, the penguin hats (Mario’s is probably the same as Himari’s), Momoka (assuming she caused the one in Yuri’s flashback on purpose), and the black bunnies (who seem to use them to shape-shift). The penguins might have the same power, but it’s just as likely that they follow “ordinary” cartoon physics. The list can be summarized as “Momoka, Sanetoshi, and beings created by or from them.” This makes sense, given that the overarching conflict is Momoka vs. Sanetoshi.

        None of this, of course, has anything to do with allegory or symbolism or any of what you’ve focused on. It’s about in-universe mechanics — looking inside the narrative instead of at it. And it’s only looking at one small piece of it. But I think this particular theory has some support, and saying “This is a thing some characters can do” and naming it makes the goings-on a bit clearer to me.

        Feel free to ignore this rambling, or any others in its category, as you wish. :P

        11
        • People usually offer their own interpretations after poking holes in others as a sign of goodwill :)

          I do recall some of the lapses that you mention and they are surprising when they happen. The only characters that appear to be able to use them are the ghosts of Sanetoshi and Momoka, but what purpose do these lapses have? Are they simply there for entertainment, or are they meant to show that Sanetoshi and Momoka posess powers beyond the other characters?

          Your first comment felt more like an attack so I got a bit defensive there. If you have more interpretations, I would like to hear them since I have not been able to piece together the entire series.

          12
          • Well, in my defense, it’s a lot harder to provide a solution than to test one. At least, assuming P≠NP. :) And it’s complicated by our prioritizing completely different aspects.

            I’d say the Lapses serve at least three purposes from a narrative perspective. One, they’re jarring and disconcerting. Two, they’re a demonstration of power, like you said. And three, they provide an easily-animated way to move the penguin hat around and have it possess Himari. (We’ve all noticed how aware Mawaru Penguindrum is of its own status as an anime.) Another thing that I forgot to mention: Traveling to and from places like the Child Broiler may involve Lapses if they don’t have a physical location, though of course we don’t even know if that’s true.

            I’d have to more or less rewatch the entire series from the beginning to really develop a comprehensive theory of who did what when and where and why, and that would take more time than I’m willing to spend right now. I do know that I’d like to avoid “all in their heads” explanations if at all possible. (Though some things you’ve suggested do have support, like Shoma and Kanba — “you who will never amount to anything” — being fated from the beginning to disappear. Again, though, I’m still not certain of just what “fate” is in this series, and that speculation invites the question of why it would be so.)

            13
  5. I never thought of Yuri’s flashback sequences like that. I guess I was tired from finals or something, because I took those scenes only at face value, which was disturbing enough in itself. But considering that there was a possibility of that happening… Oh god…

    I know that not many people will like Penguindrum, but I rather like it; if only because it’s left open-ended enough so that people can talk and speculate about it. Ikuhara has stated that he likes leaving things up to peoples’ interpretations, so I’ll stick to that. I’m not dismissing your theories, but I have a few of my own that don’t exactly match up with yours.

    14
    • I know exactly how you feel. There was one book I read when I was young and one of the scenes described putting a wooden branch into the pink lips of a sleeping woman. Only after I learned about metaphor did I realize what was actually going on.

      15
  6. Sorry for the double post, but here is my theory for Momoka’s and Sanetoshi’s powers.

    I think they’re both meant to represent the physical embodiment of the fight between good and evil; devil vs. angel; or fate vs. free will. Sanetoshi is obviously the evil/devil/fate half. He himself acts like a devil at times, persuading Kanba to do evil deeds in return for “saving” Himari’s life. So I guess you could look at it as Kanba “selling his soul” to the devil. As for the fate part, he represents the coordinator of fate. He makes sure that fated things happen. This is why he extended Himari’s life. She was never going to survive anyway, so he used her as “bait” to get Kanba to do what he was fated to do; that is, become a terrorist. His physical appearance could also be thought of as “devil-like.” He’s extremely good looking, which covers up his actual evil intentions.

    Similarly, Momoka represents the good/angel/free will part of the half. She always uses her powers to save another’s life or make lives better. She never abuses it like Sanetoshi. Her powers to change fate are representative of “free will” because she is, well, changing peoples’ bad fates. She has to take punishment whenever she does this because changing a person’s fate is a big deal. I like to think of “fate” as a web, with many peoples’ fates intertwined. If people are supposedly governed by fate, then changing one person’s fate alone would have an exponential, cascading effect. This is why Momoka gets punished every time she uses her powers. Her physical form is also that of a young girl/child, which signifies innocence.

    I think that in the end, it was Momoka’s help that allowed Kanba and Shouma to save the respective people they cared for. They choose of their own will to sacrifice their lives to let another live. And in doing so, they also repented for whatever “sin” they committed.

    That’s just my interpretation of events, though.

    16
    • What they’re “meant to represent” is one question. What they actually are, within the context of the story, is another.

      17
    • I think your interpretation is right based on what I remember from the series. Sanetoshi and Momoka are portrayed as opposites in the final episodes, this was made clearer when they were standing on opposite tracks.

      One of the questions I’m still struggling with is what the significance is of Momoka stepping away from their “battle”. You could either view it as her claiming victory and leaving, but that begs the question of what Sanetoshi is capable of doing now that Momoka is gone.

      19
      • I interpreted that as sanetoshi was effectively killed by ringo finishing the spell, and thus being stuck in that dimension. while Momoka was able to leave it since she had effectively transferred fate.
        Tantei recently posted..KAW KAW

        20
        • I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I guess Sanetoshi wouldn’t be able to do anything in the new timeline if he’s stuck in the previous one.

          21
  7. I loved your post, I had just taken a class on greek theater and I think you where dead on in a lot of respects. however I have a slightly different interpretation of the final scenes.

    I think I know the answer to why ringo thought that phrase was important
    hemari got the rest of the spell from the hat, aka half of Momoka.
    I think the hat know the words were important but didn’t have the context
    that the diary provided, Ringo who was using the diary for a while would have that context. so when she learned the important words she eventually figured it out.
    I think to a certain extent she was not sure it would work but it did so…
    which would also explain why pink hair didn’t do anything because he thought she was guessing and would never guess the correct words

    I think the reason why she can’t find the album at the end is because it no long exists. because himari at the end seems to be just another fan of double h and not a member of triple h. which would mean they where never together, which would mean they never name the song that.
    I also think she was never with her brother during that timeline, which could throw off the timeline enough so that she never went to that school and meet them.
    in the end she ends up crying because she has a vague recollection of her brothers, and is tied to them by the red string of fate. also the kids at the end are shoma and kanba, which is why all the penguins follow them, because as the shows laws dictate, the penguin follows you around.

    22
    • I wonder if Himari was in contact with the hat before she left Triple H. The only way that Double H could’ve gotten the last phrase of the spell from Momoka is if the hat had given it to Himari as a child. In that case, your argument would make sense.

      I agree that in the end, the album doesn’t exist. Everything after the terrorist attack seems to have been a spiritual adventure, much like Night on the Galactic Railroad. That explains why Himari no longer knows Double H personally and why she doesn’t remember the grown-up versions of her brothers (and why her house isn’t painted like before).

      23
      • I disagree with you on the whole none of it was real part. I think they just forced reality onto a different track. for example I never once remember hearing about an uncle or anyone else in their family that takes care of them, until she is in that future after the train ride where she and ringo where found collapsed on the floor. and now she has an uncle who worries if she is lonely or not. also that photo with them all at the aquarium was taken before the 1995 train attack, is missing her brothers. which means they where alive before the attack in the original timeline and where all a makeshift family already, but in the now present day one they where never together, or they where already dead, which seems to be discounted by them walking past in the next few seconds talking about the apple and the express.

        I still say there is a lot we don’t know about momaka’s past and it is possible she tried on that hat on a day before she meet double H and had the idea planted into her then. since the hat would probably be thinking it non stop.

        24
        • Their uncle was mentioned before. Remember episode 1? Kanba wanted to call him after Himari died.

          25
          • he didn’t seem that interested in him though. I mean he never appears, and he never tells them anything useful, or even worries about them even though he would know she gets sick easily.

            26
        • I actually thought that the picture of Himari with her uncle and aunt was taken after the attack. In the first episode, the picture was of her and her brothers at the aquarium. The one in the last episode was at a zoo.

          27
          • I thought it was the same picture minus sho and kamba I’ll have to double check that. that could strengthen my argument though if the first picture was with the parents and the second one was after the attack with her uncle

            28
  8. It’s nice to read what people have to say and how they interpret this series. Never really, thought of the Greek myths that deeply so thanks for the insights. But I’m still itching with the question of why Penguins. Yes, they might be cute and look like humans but this show didn’t specify why it used penguins to represent the self. So I guess my burning question is basically why penguins of all animals? Why not monkey, as they were shown on the aquarium tank on the last episode… etc.

    Somebody tweeted me on twitter that this show, perhaps, used penguins for merchandising because you said penguins are cute (and unique, I guess).
    SnippetTee recently posted..12th Day of Anime: Finding a Timeless Favourite

    29
    • I honestly don’t know why they chose penguins other than them being in an aquarium. Perhaps it’s just one of those questions that aren’t meant to be answered, like why did they give Kyubey hands coming out of his ears?

      30
  9. This explained so much. I had only a vague sense of what was going on with the ending (or the series, in general) and I was well aware that my understanding was lacking. My biggest question was what their sin was but you mentioned that it was the knowledge of their parents carrying out a terrorist attack. But, correct me if I am wrong because I’m still terribly confused, I seem to remember them being shocked in one flash back when they saw their parents being called suspects on the television. It’s odd because they were in the meetings, too, right? In that episode when Shouma first found Himari, they were listening to the plans so why should they be shocked?
    Also, Kanba and Shouma died, right? So did the past change (their time with Himari) or did the characters just lost their memories and everything else changed to fit what their memories lacked?

    I love how you related it with Greek tragedies. I am unfamiliar with those terms you used and now I am compelled to research them. Your post just made the anime a whole lot more interesting. It provided me the entertainment that I couldn’t get hold of when I was busy being confused with the series.

    31
    • They were indeed in some of the meetings when the adults were planning the attack, but the way that the presentations went, the children might have believed that their parents were doing good things. It might not have occured to them that bombing the metro system would be seen as an evil act.

      My belief is that the events after Kanba and Shouma died (as children) was just like Night on the Galactic Railroad, where the characters travel through an imaginary universe together until the deceased reach the afterlife and the living return to the real world. That could be why Himari has no recollection of what happened.

      32
  10. I just finished the series, it is so hard for me to figure out. I do not have such an elaborate mind and i know nothing about Greek myths, i never learned any. I like some of your views and some of the replies. Im just going to spew what i think and some questions.
    I was going to say they were in the meetings and i was wondering why they acted so surprised when they found out about the bombings their parents did, but maybe they didnt know as children what they were really up to and its natural to reject the idea of people you love doing bad things…
    The story at the start about the lambs and the tree was just like what was happening to them i think, the parents took the ashes and thought to brought back the dead tree but really they committed a sin (aka the bombings as they were tempted by the black bunnies aka sanetoshi) and then the children got the blame for it (the lambs), but hinami (the smallest lamb)got the biggest punishment and shoma and kanba wanted to save her at all costs as she wasnt even related and shoma felt responsible for making her suffer and kanba loved her.
    So why was kanba and shoma in those steel boxes again? I think it could represent the box sanetoshi was talking about eh? I think as children it felt like they were locked in those boxes ready to die as unchosen forgotten discarded children (TO THE BROILER WITH YOU) and momoka gave one of them an apple of fate to save those children, but like in adam and eve, apples are the also temptation that can curse you(sanetoshi?), but kanba shared it so that their fate was sealed together.
    Maybe then they started on the train to try and prevent their love ones from having bad destiny. So the whole anime was the the journey on the train before they went to the afterlife to try and help people as they love. They didn’t have a future anyway. Shoma saved Ringo and Kanba saved Himari and his real twin sister By saying he loved them. Yuri was saved by her lover keiji?(i forget names) and vise versa. That was what they needed as it said they only wanted to be told they are loved. So those saved got to stay in the world that ended up on the right track but the price was that Kanba and Shoma had to die when they were supposed to, as kids… i dunno though im so confused still because does this mean that kanba and shoma are really gone now? I wanted them to survive ;___; ooh so many things going on right now, its insanity!!! Thanks for hearing me out, im probably all wrong and stuff. Also penguins are cute, lets just say they needed some sort of comic relief for the show. I liked everything they did, ehe so cute.

    33
    • I thought the same thing, that the whole anime took place on the train ride to the afterlife. It’s the only way I can think of of explaining why Himari returns to the world without any trace of her brothers.

      I don’t think that Shoma and Kanba are truly “gone” in the absolute sense. Mawaru Penguindrum was in a way, a spiritual journey, and I’m sure their memory will live on in Himari’s heart. Proof of their existance was also present in the note Himari found in her teddy bear.

      34
  11. > The pounding of the chisel represented the pounding of another long hard item. I don’t think I need to explain why this kind of trauma would make Yuri go yuri.

    I’m not sure this is right. The father is presented as insane and devoted to his art; notice that Yuri has wounds corresponding to where he works on her. And he gets a new chisel (from Italy, IIRC) to work on her – what does *that* correspond to? Did he order a replacement penis from the local Italian doctor or is the chisel really a metaphor for a penis which is really a metaphor for a dildo? And then there’s Momoka’s intimations that Yuri is going to die very soon, which makes perfect sense if the insane artist is going to start chiseling something other than a limb.

    If you look at all the details, I’m pretty sure that it’s not as simple as sexual rape. Yuri turns away from men because her father was man, is all.

    > As the ghosts of Kanba and Shoma walk past their old home, Kanba specifically mentions the name “Kenji” and his thoughts on death. Well, Kenji Miyazawa just so happens to be the name of the author of Night on the Galactic Railroad. Coincidence? I think not.

    Ghosts is a little strong, I think. I take it as Kanba & Shoma being literally reborn – what they sacrifice is their life with Himari and their memories and their relationship. They get punished, the curse is satisfied, and Himari lives on – but they don’t get to live with her; standard enough ending, eg. _End of Evangelion_, _Angel Beats_, _Wolf’s Rain_, or heck, _Utena_. But I could understand if one thought they passed on to another life, given the _Night on the Galactic Railroad_ parallels.

    And actually, you missed something. Besides the visual background of them against the galaxy, you missed that that scene was a *continuation* of a dialogue from the first episode that was also discussing Kenji’s book.

    Here’s the dialogue from ep 1:

    1. Like I said, the apple is the universe itself! A universe in the palm of your hand. It’s what connects this world and the other world.
    2. “The other world”?
    3. The world Campanella and other passengers are heading to!
    4. What does that have anything to do with an apple?
    5. The apple is also a reward for those who have chosen love over everything else!
    6. But everything’s over when you’re dead.
    7. It’s not over! What I’m trying to say is that’s actually where everything begins!
    8. I’m not following you at all.
    9. I’m talking about love! Why don’t you get it?

    Now, jump forward to the end of episode 24, where we start over with line 5 – but not quite the same:

    1. (5) Simply put, the apple is also a reward for those chosen to die for love!
    2. (6) But everything’s over when you’re dead.
    3. (7) It’s not over! What Kenji was trying to say is *that’s* actually where everything begins!

    A break, and the last lines:

    1. Hey, where are we going?
    2. Where do you want to go?
    3. Let’s see. How about…

    35
    • I forgot about the new chisel, I’ll have to rethink my position when I get a chance to rewatch the series. Due to sexual abuse or not, I’m glad we both agree that her father played a role in her turning away from men.

      If they were reborn, wouldn’t they need to be much younger? How were they able to be with Himari up to their teens and still look like 5-6 year olds when Himari’s the same age? It would mean that the child versions of Kanba and Shouma existed at the same time as the teenage versions, or the child versions came into existence when the teenage versions died. I struggled with this part which was why I assumed they were ghosts.

      I admit I totally missed the dialogue you mentioned in the first episode, I don’t recall any mention of Campanella. Thanks for pointing it out, I’ll have to remember to look for that.

      36
      • They don’t need to be much younger; time has been reset and the world shifted to accommodate *all* the changes (notice the marks on the wall have changed, and apparently the parents are still around in the epilogue?) – they never were. (See Momoka’s explanation to Yuri.)

        37
        • I’m afraid I’m not following the last part you mentioned. In the new timeline, Himari is being taken care of by her uncle (the one she was on the phone with), and I didn’t see her parents mentioned anywhere.

          38
  12. Is there some kind of connection between the siblings’ parents’ terrorist actions and the 1995 Sarin Gas attacks on the Tokyo Metro? I mean, the date and the nature seems so uncanny…

    40
    • Even according to the real world, that would have been 16 years ago or so–isn’t that how old Shouma and Kanba are? Would Ikuhara have brought that in to help illustrate a commentary on fate?

      41
      • It’s possible, the time and locations of the attacks are the same, so he might’ve been referencing the Sarin Gas attacks. If he is, I find it interesting that he swapped religious zealots in the real-world attacks with the Kiga Group in the anime attacks, which was implied to be an organization of eco-terrorists.

        42
  13. penguinqueen says:

    your theory was really good but when kanba and shoma died as kids that stuck with so i went anatazling that and searching for reasons why that could be true but i just cant belive that cause if thats true then it just doesnt make sense about how everything happened

    43
    • With the strong references to Night on the Galactic Railroad, I do believe that they died as kids, but their souls lived on in a sense. One of the things that makes Mawaru Penguindrum great is that there are so many possibilities and explanations.

      44
      • I just think that they appeared as children because they went against fate when they were children, I mean: Kamba was the one supposed to survive and get out of the box, it was his fate, and Shouma’s was to die. But Kamba saved him by sharing his apple. In that moment, they went against fate, it was in that moment when their destinys were changed, and that’s why they appeared as children in the end, because they went back when they changed their fate. I don’t think it’s because they died as children and Himari is dreaming all the series, but it’s my humble opinion.

        45
  14. penguinqueen says:

    oh and also momoka is not a witch she has that power because she is true entity of the Princess of the Crystal and her sprit was split into 2 which became the two penguin hats one that himari has and the other that mario has

    46
    • When I use the term “witch”, I’m referring to how it was used in Revolutionary Girl Utena, and not the traditional understanding of the term. Momoka had taken it upon herself to suffer through Sanetoshi’s curse in order to save people.

      47
  15. Junk~Sama says:

    about yuri part, i read this on myanimelist

    “During her childhood, she was often told she was ugly by her father and had modifications performed on her.”
    i think her father replaced her body parts with artificial ones in order to look better.

    anyways i have a question for you, if shoma and kanba were dead from the beginning, does that mean the whole story was imagination?

    i do totally appreciate your explanation and it helped me alot, thank you ^_^ plz reply asap

    48
    • Whether or not it was “imagination” is up for debate and what makes the story so compelling. As with ‘Night on the Galactic Railroad’, the writer leaves it up to the audience to determine whether the story actually happened or if everything was a dream. It’s one of those things that can never be answered unless the writer actually says it was imaginary or not.

      49
  16. I really loved this series and after watching this I would say that I don’t think that shoma and kanba were reborn but they re-created a new world where they were no longer involved with sister. But the reason she started to cry and that not existed is because I think that parallel universes inter loop. (They talked abut how one memory from one universe passes from another in Steins;Gate). And so she still has memories of the brothers, as well she thinks she has the newest album (which doesn’t exit in this world) and the only reason for her t think that is cause she has some memories of the other universe.

    PS: sorry for any bad grammar or spelling mistakes, my English isn’t the best.

    And your theories were superb and really helped with loving this series even more

    50
    • Having parallel universes would help explain some of the things that are happening in the series. It makes you wonder what happened to Himari in Shoma and Kanba’s world though, is she still alive?

      51
      • I also think it was an alternate universe that they’ve created. It’s like how Momoka made Yuri’s father’s statue disappear – that must have affected more than just Yuri. It’s as though she made another “timeline” or “universe”, and I’m guessing that’s along the lines of what the anime’s interpretation of “fate” is – each universe is bound by a certain fate. And I’m guessing that the original world was gone, replaced by the new one that Shoma and Kanba sacrificed for. That was probably what Momoka meant in the last episode when she hinted that the train will not be arriving anymore for Sanetoshi (he no longer exists in this new world as the old one no longer exists and Sanetoshi is caught in some in-between world – probably oblivion). So Himari no longer exists in the old world either, because the old world doesn’t exist.

        52
  17. Sorry if this is random but I randomly came upon this site and gave this a read. I haven’t watched penguin drum in a long time but I thought the apple was symbolized in a more biblical sense. Eve and adam both ate the fruit of knowlege sealing thier fate and the fate of their children. It can be seen in a sense the fact that Adam and Eve decided to share their sinful fate bye eating the apple. Also the Sin of adam and eve passed too even their children much like Kanba and Shomas parents.

    53
  18. As for your question in how Momoka the Witch recieve the book of fate if you look at episode six there is a easter egg of the actual Death Note book.
    Nole Smith recently posted..Sword Art Online Review

    55
  19. Thank you for posting this! I just finished the series and without having read this post, I’ve decided it’s one of my favorite animes, for a variety of reasons: art direction, animation, voice acting, music–the sheer magic of it grooves with me perfectly. And now, having read this post, I feel like I have a much stronger grasp of the content, which even furthers my love for this series! I’m considering buying Night on the Galactic Railroad now, just so I can better appreciate this anime more. Thanks again for your insight!

    56
  20. WigglyPiggly says:

    Hey, I really liked your interpretations, it helped me out so much when I originally finished the series in 2011. While I don’t agree with all your ideas (such as Yuri and the chisel), I’ve actually used some points to base some of my own interpretations (I have it all typed up on my tumblr page, tell me if you want to see it)! Whenever I find someone in the Penguindrum tag on tumblr who recently finished the series, I like sending them here so that they can get some sort of explanation.

    Also, I decided to watch the movie Night on the Galactic Railroad because of this post and, wow, it really does take a lot from it. Even the character name Campanella always made me think of Kanba (the names are even pronounced rather similarly). Added to that, the fact that they have the colour red as a theme in the movie and Giovanni is blue themed, like Shoma. There’s also the girl from the Titanic, which reminds me of Himari a little. Of course, there are certain differences between the characters (Shoma dies while Giovanni is not dead), but they both had the desire to die by Scorpion Fire for the happiness of others!

    I really like this series. In fact, the more I look at it and try to figure it out the more I like it. It might even be my favourite! Thank you so much for helping me when I was lost at the end and for continuing to enlighten me. That’s also for all those who left comments too! Seriously, these are all such great ideas. :3

    58
    • I think everyone has their own interpretation of the series so there isn’t really one “right” interpretation, but I’m glad that mine helped with some of yours and I appreciate you sending people here.

      59
  21. I know there’s no “right” interpretation, but this is definitely made it more intriguing for me and has inspired me to watch it over again. A lot of great ideas and things i hadn’t thought about, so i’d like to thank you for that.

    60
  22. Fabulous Max says:

    Hello. First of all, thank you for writing up this exegesis (even if tentative and partial) of this really complex series. It cannot be overstated how much I admire the time and effort put into explaining the buried meanings of this series and others. However, I would ask you to perhaps defend your insistence on the series’ similarity to Greek tragedies. In my view, Kanba is not guilty of hubris and I’m not sure I would call fate their nemesis. Moreover, the series has very few parallels to the form of the tragedy. However there is a clear attempt to bring in the imagery of the Greek Fates, incorporate a chorus and indeed have a moment of great catharsis at the end. My goal is not to invalidate what you’ve said, but rather point out what I perceived as weaknesses in the parallels drawn. Ikuhara likes to draw from a multiplicity of sources to build his complex and interweaving narratives, so I would not be surprised if there were influences of Greek tragedies (Oedipus Rex notably) but I would not use the Greek tragedy as a framework for exegesis in this case.

    Moreover, I would argue that many of the symbols in this series (much like in Utena) are multivalent. The train, the apples, the diary, the trinity and the threads all shift in meaning depending on who is interacting with them and what the context is. The way Ikuhara manipulates the images we have of the apple in the last few episodes is a great example of what I mean. In the Christian tradition, the apple (or the knowledge it was purported to impart) in the garden of Eden was considered taboo and thus was forbidden from being consumed. Direct reference is made to the story of Adam and Eve’s temptation when Shoma presents the apple to Himari. But a complete reversal happens! Shoma (Adam) is the one who presents it to Himari (Eve) and she rejects it. Much like how she runs way from the knowledge Masako attempts to shoot into her. However, Himari and Shoma still share the fruit of fate, but I would argue that it isn’t just some apple, some divinely gifted knowledge of good and bad (knowledge of objects), but perhaps a transcendental knowledge (in the Kantian sense) which frames the way in which they view the “self” and the “other” afterwards. In another scene, Kanba, in an act which would be a flagrant defiance of the authority of the Fates, splits the fruit of fate given to him, in an act of great agency. In doing so, I believe Kanba problematizes the image of fate as this consistent whole and absolute thing by which we must abide in our individual boxes.

    This is getting long and I thank those who have read this far, but I have one last aspect to comment on: the boxes and what they suggest about Sanetoshi and Momoka. What is the “box” Sanetoshi refers to? Already Sanetoshi is a hard character to understand, a bit like Dios/Akio in Utena. If I make this comparison it’s only because they’re both sort of Satan/God figures and Sanetoshi even more so due to his apparent (fake?) powers over life and death. Sanetoshi actually gives us the answer to what the boxes are to him: the self. Each box is the self which no one manages to transcend. If we assume him to be some sort of God-like being (representing a sort of ghost already), his exhortation of people’s selfishness and his destructive tendencies fits rather well with the image of the Judeo-Christian God. And it matches even more when we consider his cult-like Kiga group and its deliberately-constructed similarity to Aum Shinrikyo (at least in the way it reproduces the sarin gas attacks). One could argue, as Nopy has quite well, that Sanetoshi fails because he gave the scarves to Double-H (his only real mundane action brings him down). But I would advance that by sharing their fate and reaching out of their cage/box/self to love someone “other” (as opposed to the “self”), the brothers at least contribute to defeating Sanetoshi who claimed that no one does. With this in mind, we are better placed to understand Momoka, who is shown as constantly reaching out to “others”, people who are sort of outcast, to love them, even going so far as to sacrifice herself for them. As Tabuki says, she was supposed to be the saviour of mankind, making her a kind of Messianic figure who supports human agency in the face of unmovable structure (fate), in opposition to an unforgiving God or Satan (Sanetoshi).

    This doesn’t even begin to unveil the layers of this series, but I hope it elucidates some elements people may not have grasped as fully. (Also, notice the number 95 everywhere in the train… the sarin gas attacks happened in 1995. Coincidence? Also also, notice the insertion of the story of the death-by-fugu of famous actor Bandō Mitsugorō VIII into the background of the Natsume clan).

    61
  23. I just wanted to say thanks for creating this post in addition to all of the information you provided in your review. I just recently watched this series so I didn’t really stop in-between episodes in order to do research on some of the content presented or symbolism. Now that I’m done I’m enjoying learning about what inspired a lot of the different elements of the series.

    Objectively I can understand how this series rubs a lot of people the wrong way but I personally love works of fiction that leave themselves open for interpretation. It has been a lot of fun just reading through the comments here and other places and seeing what different people got out of the series.

    62
  24. Chocolate Fairy says:

    I know this post is old, but I still want to say thanks to the author for this great work and to all the people who commented here. Every one created a piece of a puzzle to me.
    In the end I don’t think that it really matters if everything was a show on the galactic railroad train or if fate itself simply got resetted. What Utena also implied was that only the love for someone can change fate and free the other one and yourself out of the box. A whole new life is the reward.

    63

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Trying to grasp Mawaru Penguindrum | 毎日アニメ夢 26 12 11
  2. Mawaru Penguindrum Review « deluscar 03 01 12
  3. Observations in The Garden of Words – An Explanation of Shoes, Rain, and Love | Nopy's Blog 04 06 13

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Affiliates

  • Blog Directory
  • free web stats