Mawaru Penguindrum Ep. 6: Of girls and fairytales

Why didn’t I see it before? That’s why there’s no Hansel! This week, we learn the origins of Ringo’s diary and also why she’s so hellbent on winning Tabuki-sensei’s heart. But first….

Hansel and Gretel
(For those already familiar with the Germanic fairytale, you can just skip this brief summary.)

An abusive mother convinces her husband to leave Hansel and Gretel out in the woods. With a famine going around, the mother thought this decision made perfect sense. Hansel and Gretel wandered the woods, eventually coming across “a cottage built of gingerbread and cakes with window panes of clear sugar.” Hansel and Gretel descended upon the candied house voraciously, catching the attention of an evil witch. This evil witch liked to lure unsuspecting children into her home where she could eat them. To make a long story short, Gretel killed the witch by pushing her into an oven. She then returned home with her bother. All of a sudden, the father is now delighted to see Hansel and Gretel. As for the mother? She has mysteriously died from a disease.

How is Gretel of “Hansel and Gretel” remotely significant to Mawaru Penguindrum and, in particular, Ringo? I know I’m summarizing more than usual in this post, but bear with me. It turns out that Ringo used to have an older sister, Momoka, who has passed away long before the events of the anime. Unfortunately, Ringo’s mother can’t stop dwelling over the dead sister. As a result, she’s depriving Ringo of the love and attention she deserves. More importantly, the mother’s inability to cope with Momoka’s death has driven Ringo’s father away. Ringo now believes that if she can become her sister, she can repair her broken family. The parallels between Ringo and Gretel are starting to materialize.

Both heroines suffer from a broken family due to an inadequate mother. Both heroines desire a return to familial bliss, especially the embrace of the father. I suggest, then, that Ringo’s story very much resembles the Germanic fairytale:

“[‘Hansel and Gretel’] is a story about illicit desire. … Consider Gretel who wished her mother was dead. That is unreasonable, it can’t even be thought of… so you go into the forest and you meet a true anti-mother, the witch — she deserves to die. When you kill her — her double, the mother — is already conveniently dead. And so on her return, Gretel is at peace with her father…. In short, the story allows a symbolic compensation for having had the thought to kill one’s mother.” — E. S. Rabkin

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Ringo is, by any means, trying to kill her mother. Her story is a little different. Ringo doesn’t want to take her mother’s place; she only wants to take her sister’s place. Socially, this would still seem a little weird and taboo, so Ringo’s not going to literally take her sister’s place. Ringo will simply accomplish this feat symbolically.

To carry out her plans, Ringo cannibalizes Momoka’s thoughts and memories by re-living her sister’s life. She accomplishes this with the aid of her sister’s old diary, which painstakingly details Momoka’s relationship with Tabuki-sensei. And what should Ringo discover when she wanders out into the “forest” to fulfill fate’s decree? She meets Yuri, the symbolic anti-sister who is also after Tabuki-sensei’s affections. “Slaying” Yuri and winning Tabuki-sensei’s heart is a parallel to Gretel’s slaying of the witch, the symbolic anti-mother. Like Gretel, Ringo only hopes to reunite with her father.

Burgeoning sexuality
According to Rabkin, “fairy tales collectively represent a world in which females exist in only three states: asexual girlhood, sexual adulthood, and post-menopausal old age.” If Ringo’s story resembles a fairytale, it is also a coming-of-age tale of an asexual girl crossing over into sexual adulthood. When she develops a fever in this very episode, and indiscriminately “attacks” Shouma on the couch, she might very well be literally sick with a cold. I will suggest, however, that she has also been consumed by sexual feverishness.

After all, Ringo makes constant references throughout the episode to feeling Tabuki-sensei’s breath up close. She repeatedly mentions the fact that she will experience her “first night” with Tabuki-sensei and it will be something special: “Tonight, our souls will touch for the very first time.” Hell, Ringo even brings a toothbrush to her “sleepover.” If that’s not suggestive enough, I don’t know what is!

Everything else
• While all this brouhaha is going on, Kanba finds himself in the sights of the mega-slingshot lady, Masako.

The results? Some pretty wild scenes:

What is Masako after? Why is she targeting Kanba’s ex-girlfriends? Will her story resemble a fairy tale too? I guess when one mystery is revealed (Ringo and her diary), another one begins. Oh well, at least Masako appears to own a killer-looking penguin.

• With every passing week, however, the distance between the two brothers seems to be growing. I wonder, at what point, their stories will converge again.

• As for Himari, she’s barely in this episode. The inclusion of “Survival Strategy” almost feels like an afterthought: “Oh, Himari hasn’t had a line all episode? Let’s squeeze her in near the end of the episode….”

• Every time a story references Schrödinger’s cat, I always get the urge to yell, “Collapse the waveform!” The point of quantum physics is that all possibilities exist until an independent observer enters the picture.

So, y’know, when anyone whines about how their world is so mysterious and uncertain, they get no sympathy from me. You have the power to determine your fate — just open the box and look!

• There are few activities out there that could make me retch like the thought of downing an entire bottle of mayonnaise:

This is Shouma’s penguin so I guess his personality sorta does resemble mayonnaise: utterly cloying.

26 thoughts on “Mawaru Penguindrum Ep. 6: Of girls and fairytales

  1. Mira

    It’s good to see that this is following the first novel like I’d expect it to. That way I don’t feel the need to catch up yet. Too many shows this season. *sigh*

    This is Shouma’s penguin so I guess his personality sorta does resemble mayonnaise: utterly cloying.
    You don’t like him much, do you?

    I really wonder what Masako’s penguin is from because I doubt they’re from the same place. In the newest Newtype, the corporations with penguin logos are Pingroup and Kiga but none of them feature Masako’s penguin. I do think she may be sent by the rival corporation though.

    1. E Minor Post author

      It’s good to see that this is following the first novel like I’d expect it to.

      I didn’t know this was based on a novel.

      1. Caitlyn

        It’s not. It’s an anime original written by Ikuhara himself. I have no idea what that guy is talking about.

        1. Mira

          I don’t think a lot of people have heard of the novel that Ikuhara is working on with someone else. Please refer to my comment below.

      2. Mira

        There’s going to be three novels based on Penguindrum, the first novel has been out while the series has been ongoing and it covers up until episode 9-10 of the anime. Ikuhara is working with someone on these novels and the second and third are said to come out a little later.

        Good Haro is translating the chapters over at her blog (She was doing No.6 too but that’s another story) here:

        Lots of spoilers. The last update has been up until chapter 6, but the rest of the more spoilerific ones have been up on /a/ and goes way beyond what’s covered in the anime so far.

          1. Mira

            Ikuhara was all like: Sure you can buy the novels and spoil yourself but your imagination won’t able to come up with the images in the anime or something like that…the cover is pretty nice.


            I heard the two novels won’t follow the anime as strictly as the first and there will be a number of differences. The first novel hasn’t deviated from the anime much except that it’s written in Shouma’s POV a lot. I mean, there’s been Project M and Ringo’s diary being Momoka’s and all.

  2. Caitlyn

    Whenever a story references Schrödinger’s cat, I get the urge to yell, “Schrödinger conceived the thought experiment not as a useful tool to explain the idea of a quantum superposition to a layman, but to explain why he believed that quantum physics was absurd and could not possibly work. It was a criticism of the Copenhagen interpretation! Quantum phenomena do not occur on a macro scale!”

    What I’m trying to say is, Penguindrum better not try to get into quantum mechanics or it’s probably just going to make me frustrated, like QB’s ridiculous understanding of thermodynamics in Madoka.

  3. qwerty

    Great post! The Hansel and Gretel comparison was interesting.
    Reading the fairytale summary I first thought you were referring to (possessed) Himari as the evil witch who lives in the candy-colored house. Last episode, Ringo almost killed Himari by stealing her hat, which made me curious whether you meant she was the ‘anti-mother’ that’s meant to be oven-stuffed. In a way, Himari is connected to Ringo’s family problems; her desire to obtain the penguindrum (Ringo’s diary) ultimately steals away Ringo’s ‘fate’ – preventing her from becoming Momoka. But maybe it was simpy an act of defense, and besides, Ringo was unaware. Either way, there seems to be an overlap of fairytales (Hansel & Gretel and Sleeping Beauty). What’s next, slingshot woman?

    1. E Minor Post author

      We don’t really know that the diary’s the penguindrum though, do we? It just seems weird to me that the titular artifact that everyone’s so desperate to get their hands on would be some dead girl’s diary. Not only that, we still got nearly 20 episodes left to go.

  4. draggle

    Whenever Schrödinger’s cat comes up in anime it reminds me of the scene in Noein where someone dies but it remains “uncertain” because Haruka doesn’t open the door to the room and only hears that he died, but doesn’t “observe” it. This is not how observation works. It shouldn’t have bothered me much, but I was in the middle of taking a quantum physics class at the time…

    Very interesting analogy to the Hansel and Gretel story. I don’t think that Ringo’s story will have the fairy tale ending though. :)

    1. E Minor Post author

      Oh, I wouldn’t bet it either. After all, they’ve already changed the mother to a sister. I do wonder if sibling rivalry in Japan is any more notable than in other cultures.

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  6. Rah

    One of the points about the Schrödinger Cat could be that, although Momoka’s death is told about, it’s never shown on the episode. So, even if the characters feel she’s dead, until they “open the box” it’s uncertain.

    But, bleh, this isn’t a very interesting explanation. I’m hoping all those supposed metaphors will be well used. It’s kinda hard to guess by now, as we’ll only see the entire scene when the anime ends.

  7. scineram

    I thought the same thing at first about Ringo executing what Momoka had written, but we were way off. Momoka and Tabuki were about 5 or 6 when she died. She could not have possibly written the diary. In fact this explains the Death Note reference I think. When the young Ringo says “Write down the world’s fate here. When the future written here becomes true, everything precious to me will become eternal”, she says what was said or written to her as manual how to use the diary to repair her family by the person who gave it to her. Maybe the mastermind behind all this, who always talks to Masako on the phone (the purple haired dude in the opening?). That is my theory.

    1. E Minor Post author

      Momoka and Tabuki used to date. I highly doubt they were dating at the tender age of five or six. But even if you’re right, there’s no reason to think she couldn’t have written the diary at a young age. I was told that the writing style in the diary is rather juvenile and would fit someone young anyhow.

  8. scineram

    When did it state specifically they dated?

    “We’ll pour our love for Momoka into Ringo. Isn’t that what we agreed on five years ago?” Said dad on March 3, 1999. Tabuki, from the same grade as Momoka, finished high school in 2006.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I still don’t understand why you think Momoka couldn’t have written the diary just because she was five or six.

  9. catchercatch

    You make a wonderful comparison between Hansel & Gretel and Penguindrum. Nothing more for me to say on that front.

    “With every passing week, however, the distance between the two brothers seems to be growing. I wonder, at what point, their stories will converge again.”
    I agree; it’s particularly noticeable in this episode. They’ve been getting less and less interaction (screen time) with one another as the story has been progressing. Even with their sister, their prime displayed mode of interaction seems to be with Boushi-sama rather than Himari. Himari herself is in stark contrast with Boushi-sama – weakly characterized and more of just a vehicle for the hat. I’m left wondering: is this intentional on the part of Ikuhara? And if so, for what reason is it being done?

    1. E Minor Post author

      Hm. Maybe it just goes to great lengths what the brothers may have to do to keep their sister alive? “Something has to give” might be the underlying idea. You can keep your “sister,” but she has no agency and plus, it’ll drive a wedge between the close brothers. Is it worth it?

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