Mawaru Penguindrum Ep. 5: Determinism

All this talk of fate and destiny obscures the role of causality central to the characters’ lives. There’s a subtle difference between fate and determinism. The former only states what will happen — how we get there is anyone’s guess. The latter is much different; the latter implicates an entire chain of events. Asami Kuho fell down an escalator, but was it fated? Maybe, but someone also pushed her and for a reason. The lives in “Mawaru Penguindrum” are not just fated; the lives are determined.

Two peas in a pod
Kanba and Ringo aren’t very different when viewed through this particular episode. They are both determined to do whatever it takes to achieve their desired goals. Ringo might call it fate, but she’s taking each and every minute step on her way to winning Tabuki-sensei’s heart. Each step naturally leads to the next, cause and effect.

On the other hand, Kanba will make sure Himari never dies. Even if this means walking into the heart of a storm as a child — even if this means having a vehicle drag his body for god knows how long. After all, Himari should be dead. Her recovery is nothing short of a miracle — or is it? Life is full of causes and effects, and Kanba will be the cause that allows Himari’s effect of life. Why? His father once said, “…you can’t protect the people you love if you just wait for it to pass.” You can’t just wait for fate to happen. You have to cause it.

The parental effect
Of course, there remains a deep contrast between Kanba and Ringo: the former hates the word ‘fate,’ but the latter doesn’t — in fact, she embraces it. Kanba is shaped by his father’s words on that stormy night. On the other hand, we’re not sure how Ringo’s father has shaped her. We can guess, however; perhaps she fails to see the determinacy in fate due to her parents’ divorce.

Maybe Ringo, as a young child, was seeing her family fall apart and felt as if there was nothing she could do to prevent the divorce from happening. As a result, she might have seen the divorce as fated, leading her to think that happiness is only possible through destiny. It’s possible, then that Ringo doesn’t consciously believe she has any causal role to play in fulfilling fate. Still, Ringo subconsciously goes about effecting fate anyway because none of us truly believe deep down that we have no control over our lives. After all, her actions do seem to say otherwise.

At least, that’s what I think that’s what these bugs are:

At first, I thought having one of the penguins kill bugs over and over was simply a one-off visual gag. After five episodes, however, isn’t there just a whole lot of bugs in this household? Cockroaches usually symbolize uncleanliness, but on the surface, the Takakura household looks clean. Is something rotten underneath? Himari’s death is always lurking around the corner, after all. I wonder if the cockroaches merely reinforce the idea that there’s something wrong about the brothers striving so hard to keep their sister alive.

“Kanba, your parents aren’t going to come home.”

We finally see the entire sign. Notice not just what is missing from the present sign, but how it is missing:

The parents’ names are not just gone, but removed. We learn in this episode that the parents aren’t exactly dead. They’ve just gone missing and there’s certainly something ominous about this particular fact. I’m not sure I’d trust the uncle either. He seems to be forcing the kids out of their own home, but he’s quick to say that he’ll take care of Himari personally.

Stray Observations

• A shoujo with a giant, memory-erasing slingshot?

Okay…. Why on earth does a slingshot require a laser sight anyway?

• Usually, when people have to preface their opinions with “I’m not trying to be racist, but…,” they’re about to say something racist. So when Kanba tells his uncle that he’s procured some money, but it’s certainly isn’t dirty money! — I don’t believe him.

How did he, of course, raise so much money so quickly? A mysterious man (in black) hands Kanba an envelope on a train at waist height… hmm.

• Shota Kanba had a creepy sounding voice.

• Why do I suspect the uncle will say “No, you still can’t stay in your home.”

I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t trust that guy.

• Himari’s way too oblivious. She’s already clueless about her brothers’ day to day activities, i.e. Survival Strategy. She also hardly reacts when Shouma and Ringo are clearly flustered during the dinner scene:

She’s just sitting there, chewing away at her beef stew like it’s a chunk of cud.

20 thoughts on “Mawaru Penguindrum Ep. 5: Determinism

  1. draggle

    You raise an interesting point about whether it is fate or determinism. Have you ever read the essay God is a Taoist by Raymond Smullyan? You may enjoy it, it’s humorous and an interesting take on free will and determinism by a logician.

    1. E Minor Post author

      An interesting line from the essay that caught my eye:

      “It never occurred to you that a sentient being without free will is no more conceivable than a physical object which exerts no gravitational attraction.”

      That does sort of presuppose that human beings are sentient. Of course, I’m a compatibilist who thinks free will and determinism can exist hand in hand, but there are many who do buy into the idea of hard determinism and they’re quite ready to deny that human beings are sentient at all.

  2. ajthefourth

    I had seen the cockroaches as an on-stage metaphor for Shouma being overwhelmed with his task at hand (to locate the penguindrum in order to save Himari’s life). If the penguins are extensions of their partner’s personalities, or wills, Shouma’s penguin is often seen as comic relief, just as Shouma is. Penguin No.2 also is constantly spraying for bugs with no real results, just like Shouma busies himself with various tasks, but never seems to accomplish anything. In the scene you pointed out, Penguin No.2 is being overwhelmed by cockroaches just as Shouma is being overwhelmed by Ringo, following his desperate and clumsy attempt to get his hands on her diary.

    My blogging partner delved into themes of determinism in Penguindrum’s first episode; however, it’s nice to see these themes continue in Ringo, especially since, as you point out, she performs similar actions to Kanba’s with drastically different intentions. I also really liked what you had to say about the Takakura household sign. Great post!

    1. E Minor Post author

      Hm, I don’t think our interpretations of the cockroaches are far apart. Shouma’s job is to keep Himari alive so his penguin literally fights off the creeping death one by one. When Ringo overpowers Shouma, however, the swarming roaches might’ve foreshadowed the truck chasing sequence. After all, Shouma was powerless to stop death that time.

  3. inushinde

    The cockroaches certainly become more and more bothersome the longer that Himari’s life is unrealistically sustained. While Ringo and Kanba are similar, in that they’re both fighting for their loved ones with a narrow line of sight, Kanba is fighting to protect rather than obtain. Both of them have the same goal, but Ringo’s not exactly being healthy with it, even if it is for an understandable reason.

    1. E Minor Post author

      Eh, it all depends on your point of view. Himari should be dead, but Kanba is fighting to keep her alive. In a way, it’s a little possessive.

    1. E Minor Post author

      Oh he certainly does. Although he seems like the cooler of the two brothers, I think we’re supposed to identify more with Shouma in the long run. After all, he most resembles your typical male protagonist.

  4. ayame

    I think that the spraying of the insects by no#2 shows the infatuation with morality and purity Shouma has. Think of it: insects are dirty things that are to be wiped out. And yet it’s the exact same penguin that ravages food here and there- he’s greedy and not so pure as he wants to think and show. He’s another Miki. So my interpretation is that his penguin covered by cockroaches means that his guilty thoughts have overtaken him, his morality has collapsed in the straight on ‘duel’ with Ringo.

    Kanba’s penguin is also the deliquent with the plaster on his cheek, doing dirty things under girls’ skirts…He is the more active of the 3penguins as well. As for Himari’s, No #3 is a coquette. At least until now.

    As for the sign, I found your remark very good. Now look closer… the name at the bottom under the sticker has different strokes than the name that appears in the same place without the plaster on it… Why? Could it be just a mistake? I don’t think…and I have a bad feeling about this. I get the feeling we are fooled at a point.

    1. E Minor Post author

      So my interpretation is that his penguin covered by cockroaches means that his guilty thoughts have overtaken him, his morality has collapsed in the straight on ‘duel’ with Ringo.

      Hm, how did his morality collapse? Was it somehow immoral of him to ask for the diary? I agree that the penguins reflect their respective owners, though.

      the name at the bottom under the sticker has different strokes than the name that appears in the same place without the plaster on it

      Yeah, one of the anime’s many mysteries. The completed sign is from a flashback, but at the same time, however, there are many unreal qualities about the “real” world too. Who really knows what we can possibly depend on.

      1. ayame

        I think that his morality collapsed because being moral and asking straight out about the diairy didn’t work. He already has taken a peak at a diary he shouldn’t have, he has stalked a person and broke in a house, and perhaps he is thinking now that he should have followed his brother’s tactics: steal it without getting in polite procedures.

        1. E Minor Post author

          I dunno, I guess I don’t find this particularly immoral especially if he’s operating under the assumption that he’ll be saving not just one life but two (stop Ringo from being a stalker).

    1. E Minor Post author

      Eh, I’m not sure about this; there isn’t any time traveling that we know of in the anime.

  5. Pingback: Mawaru Penguindrum Episode Five | GAR GAR Stegosaurus

  6. catchercatch

    Bah, you mean you DON’T use laser sights for your memory-erasing (or, perhaps destiny-changing) slingshots?

    Anyways, about the cockroaches. I took the interpretation differently, instead paying more attention to the fact that the #2 Penguin was the one that was covered in them. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Penguins are the vessels of their respective owners’ souls (at least, most concretely for Kanba), and that lends a large part in my interpretation.

    Like you mentioned, the bugs have become gradually more and more conspicuous in the show ever since episode 1. It has culminated in this huge number. In my other interpretation about the dynamic between the two brothers, I’ve noted that Kanba is the more active and “allowed” of the two, whereas Shoma is the passive and “prevented”. What I mean by “allowed” and “prevented” is of subject in action to fate. Shoma is, for various reasons, unable to do whatever the more proactive Kanba does (for example, chasing after the hat, chasing after Himari). Speaking on the grand scale, he’s the most “unable” character of the show, bar the possibility of Boushi-sama. I think this realization comes back to the cockroaches in the fact that #2 drops the can of RAID after being overwhelmed; Shoma can shrug (spray) aside the single “dirty” jobs (for example, the morally questionable espionage missions of Kanba), but when the responsibility of “much” of paramount importance falls on him, he falls short.

    Either way, I love what you have to say about the show. It’s great to see how well the dynamics between the characters are nurtured, as well as the setup of several plot threads.

    1. E Minor Post author

      Yeah, I see what you’re saying. I think multiple interpretations can be gleaned from one symbol, and it definitely seems like Shouma’s a bit of a handicap. Then again, he’s his brother’s moral compass. Even if he doesn’t ever convince his brother to do otherwise, at least he provides an opposing voice. Still, I’m not sure if anyone — even Kanba — could’ve gotten that diary away from Ringo that night. What was Kanba going to do? Hit a girl?

      1. catchercatch

        Oh, I don’t believe that Kanba would have taken the diary from Ringo. Of course, I don’t think he would go for the direct approach, like Shoma did, that red haired devil.

  7. Ryan A

    Shota Kanba’s voice is totally creepy, agreed. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of the uncle caring for Himari, it had a very strange vibe too it, so maybe there’s more hierarchy to the Penguindrum than we know. How many people are aware of it or after it? After this episode, it’s debatable imo.

    1. E Minor Post author

      Well, this is going to be 24 episodes long right? So I’m sure we’ll see plenty of competing factions for this “penguindrum.”


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