This week’s episode is such a jarring visual experience, but unfortunately, not for all the right reasons. Before we get to Kanba’s bizarre dream-like sequence, allow me to briefly explain what I mean by the previous sentence. Actually, words are pretty much unnecessary:
Since Mawaru Penguindrum depends so heavily upon its visuals, it is definitely disappointing to see the animation quality take such an abrupt drop. The biggest problem with the animation this week is that everything just looks so flat. The characters have lost all sense of three-dimensionality. I know it’s anime, but still. Oh well, there’s no use belaboring the point.
As always, a Mawaru Penguindrum episode toys with its audience’s understanding and this week’s episode is no different. For the first time in a long while, the narrative shifts its attention to the other Takakura sibling and the result is a trippy, little walk down memory lane. With that said, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the show.
Kanba’s other hospital
For the most part, the episode is visually dull until Kanba finds himself on the hospital’s rooftop. There, he finds himself surrounded by rows and rows of white hospital sheets swaying in the wind. The imagery here is arresting for, I think, a couple reasons.
First, the moment serves as a precursor to Kanba’s transition from the real world to the “other hospital.” What is the other hospital? Some manifestation of deeply-held fears buried within Kanba’s psyche? Ooh, we are getting rather Silent Hill-ish up in here. In any case, as Kanba chases after a mysterious assailant who we know to be Masako, it appears as though he is penetrating through multiple layers of “fog.” Might this “fog” represent a barrier between the real world and Kanba’s mind or some entirely different realm? The sound of the sheets swaying in the wind could also be interpreted as white noise. When Kanba finally escapes the “miasma” of white hospital sheets, the anime begins to ratchet up the craziness another notch.
More importantly, however, the white hospital sheets remind me of death. Although hospitals are places for recovery and healing, they are also ironically (but understandably) full of death and sickness. Horror movies and video games have often portrayed hospitals as fearful sites. If anyone has played Silent Hill 2, the game’s protagonist also finds himself in a bizarre other hospital, one where everything appears to be covered in white tarp. For the game’s hero, the white tarp was a constant reminder of his wife’s bedridden last days. As a result, I think the white hospital sheets in the anime might also represent an example of a recurring death motif. Himari said something interesting that I caught on a second viewing of the episode:
Himari (to Kanba): “You turned white as a sheet when the hospital called us.”
Here, she is referring to how Kanba had reacted to potentially grave news regarding his brother’s well-being.
After giving a short chase, Kanba stumbles upon a musical box. When Masako suddenly destroys the musical box, Kanba is knocked to the ground and passes out. Notice how the anime inserts a black screen into the middle of the scene as if to demarcate the events leading up to this point from the events to follow.
When Kanba finally regains consciousness, we see that the hospital environment around him has completely changed. A familiar penguin logo litters the floor while the walls appear as alternating white and black horizontal stripes. It would be reasonable to assume that the black screen from earlier had implied that our hero has crossed over into a different world. At the very least, it appears that Kanba’s mind is elsewhere even if the guy can still physically located in the real world.
Perhaps the most disturbing change in Kanba’s new landscape, however, is how the real world’s natural silence has been replaced by a persistent, dull tone that renders the entire scene quite hellish. This soundtrack, however, is also quickly replaced when the other hospital suddenly begins to play a song at a painfully high volume.
As Kanba navigates the other hospital’s strangely repetitious corridors, an obviously altered voice implores him to remember. He then comes across a series of doors that will automatically open only to have a gurney of some sort slide out of each room. Here, we again have an example of a death motif with the gurneys. We should also note that these gurneys emerge from rooms that are completely enveloped in a blood crimson color. Instead of containing dead bodies, however, these gurneys appear to hold some of Kanba’s memories — memories of the same gifts he had complained about just earlier in the same episode.
With each door, the disembodied voice continues to insist that Kanba remembers. The voice seems to belong to a spurned lover. In any case, the other hospital appears to contain Kanba’s “dead” memories. Perhaps a better way to put this would be to say that these are memories Kanba had, at one point or another, buried deep within his psyche. After all, what do we intend to do with the bodies in a hospital’s mortuary? We intend to bury them.
Do we now have enough information to take a stab at what these strange visuals might represent? If the other hospital contains Kanba’s “dead” memories, might this realm thus symbolize a part of Kanba’s mind? As our hero gradually descends through the other hospital’s floors, it is implied that he gradually regains his memories. Last week, we saw Himari dig deep into her own subconsciousness to recall painful events in her young life. Might Kanba be doing the same? Is he also delving deep into his own psyche?
Even so, why does the other hospital appear in such a stark way? Is this just laziness on the studio’s part, i.e. a way to save money by having Kanba explore a simplistic CGI environment? Maybe. Draggle, on the other hand, thinks the white and black bars resemble what prisoners might wear. As a result, the entire journey represents Kanba’s descent into a dangerous relationship. That’s plausible, I think, but since we are always seeking for different ways to understand the same story, let me nevertheless propose an alternate (though not necessarily conflicting) theory that focuses on the idea of memories.
If you’ve ever played computer games, you’ll often run into glitches where a program is unable to load texture data from its memory. When this happens, the video game environment loses its “identity,” so to speak, as the game’s objects and/or environments are instead covered in dummy textures to make up for the missing textures:
Dummy textures can come in all sorts of flavors. In our case, imagine if the dummy textures consist of both a penguin logo and… white and black horizontal stripes. Of course, this is all speculatory — the look of the other hospital could mean anything depending on the viewer. Still, this all might make sense if we consider the fact that the primary theme of the episode regards memories and the characters’ inability to recall them at will.
Himari (to Shoma): “Don’t you remember what happened yesterday?”
So if the mind resembles a computer, might it not load some dummy memory in place of a real memory it could not fetch? And if Kanba is wandering through a portion of his mind full of things he would like to forget, might his mind not resemble something akin to the other hospital? And as Kanba nears his destination, the white and black horizontal stripes gradually fill up with the penguin logo. What might this imply?
A new Ringo?
Perusal of a few anime blogs seem to suggest that a good portion of the show’s audience have lost their patience with Ringo. Well, I can’t really blame them; after all, she did almost rape someone. I wonder, then, how people will react to a softer, kinder Ringo found in this week’s episode. It appears that Shoma’s act of bravery has touched something in the deranged girl’s heart. After all, Ringo is even more willing than Kanba to depart with her half of Momoka’s diary in order to save Shoma’s life. Kanba, on the other hand, has other designs in mind, i.e. Himari’s well-being. Well, it’s either this or Kanba’s supremely confident in his ability to save his brother.
Still, what might explain Ringo’s change in behavior? Is it simply gratitude toward Shoma for saving her life? Oddly enough, Shoma came away from the accident with only bruises. In this case, one might assume Ringo could’ve survived as well had Shoma not intervened. Even so, gratitude appears to be the simplest and most plausible answer, but as always, we need not limit ourselves to the first explanation we come across.
In Ringo’s mind, her father is the one who implored her mother to stop obsessing over the deceased Momoka. Instead, they should focus on Ringo. Of course, reality often fails to reflect our deeply-held perceptions. Of either parent, it would appears as though Ringo’s father is the one who has moved on from his memories of both daughters. After all, during their last father-daughter outing, he seemed too distracted for his doting daughter even though he doesn’t often get to see her. As a result, Ringo’s father does not strike me as a parent who would pour all of his love into Ringo as her feverish dreams might suggest.
In any case, we now know why Ringo has been so desperate to win Tabuki’s love: the misguided girl is just trying to repair her broken family. To be even more specific, she’s just trying to regain her father’s love and affection. But if another person, e.g. Shoma, shows genuine care for Ringo, might this not distract the girl enough that she is no longer hellbent on fulfilling her original, twisted goals? We can only see how the rest of the story will play out. Still, I’m disappointed by the fact that Ringo is yet another female character with “daddy issues.”
Love and Momoka’s diary
We would run ourselves ragged trying to speculate what Mario’s introduction to the anime has in store for the rest of the story. As a result, I’m not going to trouble myself with a character we know hardly anything about. Instead, I’m more interested in the fact that no matter who desires Momoka’s diary, he or she appears to have love in their grander schemes of things. We’ve speculated last week how the diary might lead Himari to her one true love. As we’ve known since the start of the anime, her brothers desire the diary for their beloved sister’s sake although Kanba seems to have more incestuous intentions.
Likewise, Ringo thinks the diary holds the key to Tabuki and thus her father’s love. Finally, seeing Masako embrace and kiss Kanba passionately at the end of this week’s episode, this does narrow her range of intentions down quite a bit. What might her Project M represent and how might it differ from Ringo’s? Assuming that Masako is the one who gave Kanba all of those gifts he encounters in the other hospital, that cake sure does resemble one of a wedding variety. After all, it’s got a couple sitting on top and everything….
• If we assume that the penguins represent facets of their owners’ personalities, what does it mean when #1 is desperately trying to look up a nurse’s skirt while Kanba is giving Himari an impassioned speech?
• Even the real world hospital appears strange. For example, it seems to have a bizarre-looking ceiling. This is not exactly the most comfortable sight for any patient opening his or her eyes for the first time in a long while.
• People have identified the song during Kanba’s sequence as Dvorak’s “From the New World.” I personally thought it was Ticheli’s “Shenandoah.” Listening to all three songs side by side, I’m sure the former is the right answer, but you can’t blame me for my mistake. After all, “From the New World” and “Shenandoah” both seem to draw from the same 19th century American pastiche.
• Masako repeatedly talks to herself, and she often refers to “crushing” someone or something. Of course, she hardly crushes anyone at the end of the episode. Is this just one of her character’s idiosyncrasies or is there something we’re missing here?
• When Kanba finally discovers where his brother is held, Masako alludes to herself as Ariadne and Kanba’s sweater as Ariadne’s red thread. For those unfamiliar with Greek mythology, Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of yarn to help him escape a labyrinth. She also fell in love with the hero only for him to ditch her after he had escaped. In a way, Masako helps Kanba navigate the labyrinth of his own mind to not only save his brother but to also recall previously forgotten memories.
Following this analogy to its natural conclusion, it would appear as though Kanba had also ditched Masako in the past. In the end, Ariadne became Dionysius’s consort. I wonder if there is such a character in Mawaru Penguindrum? Mario, perhaps?
• Himari can also be seen knitting a scarf out of reddish yarn in the first half of the episode. As others have suggested, the red yarn might also allude to the red string of fate, which would just fit this anime’s overarching themes all too well.
• Someone should remind me to explain at some point why the penguins’ voicelessness is psychologically significant.
• On a lighter note, how do penguins leave behind lipstick marks?
• I prefer the original ED. Of course, doesn’t rock beat all?