Mawaru Penguindrum Ep. 11: Ribbit

“…but then came a knock at the door, and a voice called out, ‘Princess, beautiful princess, open the door for me!'” — “The Frog Prince”

If you’ve been consistently following my Mawaru Penguindrum entries, you know I can’t resist talking about fairy tales. Folklore is just fascinating to me on so many levels. As a result, I’m going to do my usual deal of interpreting the episode through this particular prism. I can understand, however, that some will find the following analysis tiresome and long-winded. In that case, skip right ahead to the “Everything else” section at the bottom of the post where I will mostly talk about the episode’s plot.

“The Frog Prince”
What’s the purpose behind fairy tales? Well, we often read this type of fiction to children, and already, this very act clues us in on these stories’ basic, instinctual allure. How else could they captivate young minds from across generations and cultures? These fairy tales, however, are also parables, and as with almost every story with a moral or lesson, there’s always subtext underlying the intended meaning. Now, we’re starting to come close to why these deceptively simple tales always seem to pique my interest.

Fairy tales undergo numerous interpretations and re-interpretations over the ages. What’s fascinating, therefore, is how a simple twist can change one reads a story. Take “The Frog Prince,” for instance. Did you know that the original Brothers Grimm version of the tale contained no kiss? In fact, the princess, disgusted to find a frog in her bed, violently tossed the frog against the wall. The impact, luckily, broke a witch’s terrible spell and a prince appeared where the frog should’ve landed So the kiss was added in afterward. Why? Because our princess was originally too egotistical, too selfish, etc.

Likewise, Mawaru Penguindrum turns this same fairy tale on its head. There’s an unmistakeable resemblance to The Shining‘s infamous “Here’s Johnny! scene when, this week, Tabuki breaks through a wooden door to get at Ringo. This plus the composition of the scene have turned our innocent fairy tale into a horror movie. Ringo, our virginal princess, is (ironically) trying to fend off the frog prince who so desperately wants to bed her. We can’t forget, however, that Ringo is also the witch (Draggle, again, clued me in on the idea that Ringo could be a witch of some sort). After all, it is she who has turned the fair prince into the frog that he has temporarily become.

But anyway, why is it remotely significant that “The (Contemporary) Frog Prince” is now an urban horror story? After reading or hearing “The (Original) Frog Prince,” most people will sympathize with the frog. Oh, that poor, ol’ frog… he just wanted someone to love him. How could the princess be so shallow? How could she not comply with a frog’s outrageous demands? After all, it’s for her own good! We overlook, however, the fact that the frog has always known what it was trying to do. The frog manipulates the readers to his side. We begin to identify with the idea that we are being rejected for who we are when the princess tosses the animal against the wall. But if we assume the princess’s point-of-view, wouldn’t it be rather frightening to see an animal try its best to sleep with you? Would the princess’s experiences very much resemble what we see near the end of this week’s episode of Penguindrum? More importantly, doesn’t the manipulation of information feel familiar?

It seems as though everyone in the anime but Ringo and Shoma knows more than they let on. For instance, how could Yuri even guess at the fact that Ringo might have fallen in love with Shoma in the past few days? Why is she not even shocked to see that her beloved fiancé is desperately pounding on his bedroom door, calling out to an under-aged high school girl? For a good portion of the anime, we have seen Ringo as the transgressor. She is trying to steal another woman’s man, and she will stop at nothing — even rape — to get what she wants. But it’s clear now that the other players in the story are, like the frog prince, not quite so innocent. To what extent does someone like Yuri realize what’s going on? To what extent can she influence Ringo’s actions and feelings?

Loss and atonement
I want to now focus on another aspect of “The Frog Prince.” Did you know that Joseph Campbell, the father of the monomythic circle, have often used this very fairy tale to illustrate his ideas? By pure accident, i.e. dropping her golden ball into a well, the princess goes on her “adventure,” and by the end of the story, she will have found her true love. In a similar way, chance has forced Ringo to act. In this week’s episode, Ringo reveals what we have all been suspecting for quite some time: her sister’s death is somehow related to the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995. But how does this tragic incident represent chance? Didn’t the Aum Shinrikyo cult meticulously plan out its operation? Well, for whatever reason, Momoka found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. And by this stroke of (un)luck, Ringo’s life has been set on a course to find her true love… even if she hasn’t realized by now that Tabuki isn’t “the one.” There’s an idea here that opportunity comes from tragedy.

All this time, however, we’ve thought of Tabuki as her true love. In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to see Tabuki as the one and only frog prince after viewing this week’s episode. After all, Ringo has, throughout the series, constantly slipped into her own fantasy world where she is a princess and Tabuki is the prince. Moreover, Tabuki even ribbits multiple times throughout the latest episode. How could he not be Ringo’s frog prince of fate? Well, he is and he isn’t. We should bear in mind that Ringo is the one who turns Tabuki into the scary frog prince in the first place. As a result, her story wouldn’t quite align itself up properly with the original fairy tale if Tabuki is really Ringo’s frog prince of fate.

The union of Ringo and Tabuki is thus a union of Momoka and Tabuki. Shoma urges Ringo to abandon her schemes and plans because she’d be erasing the real her. She’d become a shadow of her former self, and in a way, Ringo has always been in her sister’s shadows. We can interpret “The Frog Prince” in a similar way. The frog is really just a shadow that disguises the prince’s true self. Tabuki, then, is just a shadow that obscures Ringo’s true love. She’s so obsessed with becoming her sister that she will lose sight of the person she has true feelings for: Shoma. So Shoma is the other frog prince, the character that actually begins as a “frog,” but upon closer inspection, we see that there’s more to him than he lets on. After all, Shoma appears as somewhat of the typical shy, easily-overpowered shounen hero, but when push comes to shove, he will step up to the plate and (literally) shove Ringo out of harm’s way even if it means risking his own life.

In “The Frog Prince,” we can interpret the golden ball as the princess’s childhood innocence. When she loses it, her life goes into temporary disarray as she tries to resist her amphibian courter. He even desires to share a bed with her at one point, an idea which disgusts the young girl. Essentially, our princess is afraid of sex. Is Ringo afraid of sex? That’s hard to say considering how she has, at one point, come close to raping Tabuki. Although she rejects him this week, is this due to a fear of sex or her unrealized feelings for Shoma? We can, however, see Momoka’s death as the golden ball, i.e. the incident represents Ringo’s loss of innocence. In choosing Shoma over Tabuki, Ringo could then preserve not only her real self, but something more.

In order to get with Tabuki, Ringo thinks that she has to carry out Project M(aturnity). One can easily imagine, however, that Ringo is under no pressure to have sex if she chooses Shoma instead. In a way, she regains whatever fleeting innocence she had lost in Momoka’s death. Could this then be a modern take on the original fairy tale? Is the anime trying to say that young girls should not have to lose their innocence to find the love of their life?

Fairy tales everywhere!
But gosh, I’ve already compared Ringo’s story to “Hansel and Gretel,” and now, I’m comparing it to “The Frog Prince.” How can one girl’s story be represented by two different fairy tales and possibly more as the anime continues? I think this harkens back to my original point at the start of the post: fairy tales can speak to individuals across generations and cultures because of some basic allure within them. These allegorical stories are not complex and specific. Instead, they are simple tales with simple morals and lessons that can apply to anyone’s life, much less Ringo’s. So try to think of Ringo’s life not so much that it resembles multiple fairy tales, but how multiple fairy tales can adapt and fit almost any situation including hers.

Intentional fallacy
Some of you will also say, “There’s no way the anime could have intended your interpretations.” Well, first, an anime can’t intend anything; it’s an inanimate object at best. What most of you really want to say is that the author could not have intended everything I’ve written above. In saying this, you’re probably right. We should keep in mind, however, that an author’s intentions are external to his or her very own work.

An interesting moment occurs near the start of the episode, when Masako tells Kanba that “the canvas lays its subject bare.” Is she, however, referring to Kanba, the subject of her portrait, or rather, herself, the painter of the portrait? Curiously enough, Masako’s very own penguin is also painting a portrait of its lover, #1. In doing so, #1’s armor coincidentally falls off, i.e. “the canvas lays its subject bare.” This would seem to support the idea that Masako’s referring to Kanba, but she continues on to say:

“A live person doesn’t think twice about telling lies. That goes for me and you as you are now. And so, I paint. The Kanba Takakura in my art is my truth.”

The emphasis above is mine. The real Kanba doesn’t reflect Masako’s desires. He is external to her thoughts and feelings. We can’t, however, rely on Masako’s words either. As she says it herself, she can also lie. Her own intentions are external to the painting before her. As a result, what better way to get to the “truth” of the painting than to examine the painting itself? Similarly, what better way to interpret any other work of art than to examine said work of art directly? An author’s intentions are thus nothing more than his or her own interpretations of his or her own work. In saying this, we shouldn’t, of course, disregard an author’s intentions when examining art, but this is true of anyone else.

Art has no inherent meaning. Art is what we, both as its creator and its audience, put into and take away from it. This does not suggest, however, that art is meaningless, but we should do away with the notion that there is any one true meaning or message at the core of every painting, novel, poem — what have you. What does a painting of Kanba garbed in Elizabethan-era clothing say? Well, whatever it says, the point is not to rely on just the author’s own interpretations.

Everything else
• The way Masako’s estate is full of cameras and CCTVs makes me think that the girl suffers from paranoid delusions. It also strikes me that most of the major female characters in the anime appear somewhat — for a lack of a better word — crazy. Both Masako and Ringo are stalkers. Himari, as far as we can tell, seem to have some sort of dissociative personality disorder. While Kanba is definitely a shady character, Shoma and Tabuki seem rather innocent. The only female character who remains unscathed is Yuri, but we don’t really know much of anything about her.

• All the talk of love as a hunt makes me think that Kanba was, at point, some sort of pick-up artist. He has preyed upon one too many girls and he hurt the wrong girl in Masako. This, however, would assume that Masako’s actions represent some sort of retribution against Kanba’s crimes when she could very well have grander schemes in mind. After all, we don’t know anything of her affiliation with Mario and why the two of them want Momoka’s diary.

• As I’ve mentioned above, everyone seems to know more than they let on. I’ve covered Yuri, but Kanba refers to “that place” when he questions Masako about her memory-erasing slingshot ammo. What does he know and how does he know so much anyway?

• When Masako’s walls came down, I couldn’t help but wonder where those mounted animal heads could go….

• Masako speaks of a curse from sixteen years ago. We can infer that she’s talking about the sarin gas attack that appears to be at the center of everything. But why is it a curse? Why should future generations feel guilty about an incident they can only read and hear about?

• Masako reveals to the audience that she and Mario only have one half of Momoka’s diary. As a result, the person on the motorcycle who stole the other half is yet another competing faction. I have an inkling that our mysterious thief is actually Yuri, but all bets are off.

• Y’know, Ringo’s crazy frog antics may seem outrageous and weird, but, as they say, fact is often stranger than fiction. In eastern European culture, some women would add their menstrual blood to their food to keep their husbands from straying. Well, I certainly hope you weren’t eating anything when you read that last sentence. Also, frog eggs and sweat don’t sound too bad now, do they?

• I’m going to track the consumption of food from now til the end of the show. As always, failing to watch what you eat can lead to trouble, as evidenced by Tabuki’s imbibing of the gamey coffee (why would anyone drink a coffee that smells gamey anyway?).

• I’m not sure what to make of the suggestively-placed plant during Ringo and Tabuki’s almost-love scene.

• It’s rather telling that Ringo will refer to Tabuki as her true love, but when Tabuki says, “I mean, we love each other so much,” the girl is confused: “Love? Do I love you?”

• When Himari says, “Little sister’s orders,” the anime cuts to a shot of the penguin hat. Not only that, when Ringo knocks Shoma’s pot of curry (stuffed cabbages actually sound pretty nice… unlike apples) to the ground, Himari does nothing. Her lack of reaction here is all to similar to how she placidly chews her cud of food back in the fifth episode. As a result, I think there’s no doubt now that Himari’s quite in control of her alter-ego, if not in complete control.

35 thoughts on “Mawaru Penguindrum Ep. 11: Ribbit

  1. Mere

    I am in full support of Ringo and Shoma. I still don’t like her much, honestly, but I think they could be good together.

    Just noticed a little typo, you spelled maternity wrong in your post.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I still don’t like her much

      Yeah, she seems to be a polarizing character from what I can tell. Fin, who watches the anime with me and Nyoron, rather likes the character, but then again, she likes any take charge female. On the other hand, I’m rather ambivalent toward the girl. For example, would Ringo really have raped Tabuki had Shoma not interfered? I’m not sure we can really answer that question. If her actions are truly fait accompli due to her sister’s death, how much blame can we really assign to the girl?

      Reply
  2. ajthefourth

    Ah, I was hoping you would take the fairytale route again. This post is great, especially with your linking Ringo’s loss of innocence (the golden ball) and the idea that she may be able to get some of that back should she choose Shouma, and not only her innocence but her real self (instead of trying to be Momoka). It brings up an interesting question: when Shouma reveals what he is so guilty about, will her feelings be strong enough for her to accept his real self?

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      It brings up an interesting question: when Shouma reveals what he is so guilty about, will her feelings be strong enough for her to accept his real self?

      I have a feeling his explanation won’t make very much sense, but I’m willing to be surprised. After all, the show has consistently surprised me since it started airing. I just don’t see how it could possibly be the brothers’ fault that Momoka died.

      Reply
      1. hurin

        1: The ambulance that was supposed to pick up Momoka, got sent to pick up the Mother of Kanba and Shoma,

        2: The twins parents were members of Aum Shinrikyo.

        3. Something supernatural like in ‘Superfrog Saves Tokyo’.

        I’m leaning towards number 2, in episode 1 Kanba mentions ‘punishment bestowed upon us’, which could mean the sins of the father.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          2: The twins parents were members of Aum Shinrikyo.

          Of your suggestions, this one seems the most interesting and believable, but man, that would be dark.

          Reply
        2. hurin

          In some ways this anime reminds me of Princess Tutu, Tutu started out as a lighthearted magical girl anime that gradually got more and more dark, but Penguindrum started out dark, and will probably get really, really dark.
          Tutu didn’t ask herself the obvious question, if the prince broke his heart to seal away the monster raven, isn’t restoring it going to cause it to break free once more.

          Ringo hasn’t asked herself two obvious questions about the diary. Like how could it be Momoka’s. If she was the same age as Tabuki, wouldn’t that make her much to young to write a whole book? “Mom, when Momoka was writing in her diary, did you notice anything odd about her? Was she by any chance wearing a penguin hat?”. And if Momoka ended up dead, wouldn’t becoming Momoka cause her own death as well?

          But the biggest hint this will get a lot more dark is in episode 9 when Himari is in the dream library, and the display behind her shows the borrowing and return dates. The borrowing date is a reference to when the penguins arrived, but the return date is Monday 20/3. Problem is 20/3 2012 is not a Monday but 20/2 1995 was.

          Reply
          1. E Minor Post author

            Ringo hasn’t asked herself two obvious questions about the diary. Like how could it be Momoka’s.

            We don’t, however, really know the actual content of Momoka’s diary. We do know that Ringo takes liberties with the diary’s content. For example, she may interpret “romantic night with Tabuki” in all sorts of crazy ways.

            And if Momoka ended up dead, wouldn’t becoming Momoka cause her own death as well?

            This would require death to be an essential part of Momoka’s character, which is an odd idea in itself.

            Problem is 20/3 2012 is not a Monday but 20/2 1995 was

            Why is this dark? What do you think it means?

            Reply
        3. hurin

          Its the pace of time. The Anime started in October, now I think is he beginning of December, and I have a feeling episode 24 will take place on 20/3.

          Not that I’m good at predicting, when I saw episode 9, I thought Penguin-Himari was the worm, but this episode makes it obvious she’s the frog.

          Reply
          1. E Minor Post author

            now I think is he beginning of December

            Somehow, I don’t think the director would pass up covering at least one episode in Christmas-y stuff so we’ll see if you’re right.

            Reply
  3. draggle

    Didn’t realize the original fairy tale had the princess throw the frog against the wall. That… makes much more sense.

    I like how you can interpret the frog / prince story in so many different ways. From the perspective of this episode, Tabuki is the frog, hiding the prince’s true form from Ringo. But in the earlier episodes, in Ringo’s mind, the gender roles are reversed, and Ringo is the frog, waiting for the kiss from the prince to transform her into Momoka.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      All the fairy tales were much more brutal in their original form. I guess kids back then were just more hardcore than they are now. Hell, the original Pinocchio died without turning once into a boy. A.I. is pretty much a retelling of Pinocchio, especially if the movie had ended with the kid being stuck underneath the ocean.

      Reply
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  5. Mira

    In eastern European culture, some women would add their menstrual blood to their food to keep their husbands from straying.

    FFFFF. There goes my Krispy Kreme.

    Why should future generations feel guilty about an incident they can only read and hear about?

    I don’t think it’s simply feeling guilty but as well as suffering from the acts of a generation before them. It seems to be very tied with the modern Japanese psyche, but that’s not a topic I know of very well.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I’m just going by what the anime gives me. Ringo seems to feel guilty she was even born. Out of nowhere, Shoma blames himself and his brothers for Momoka’s death. I can sort of understand the former’s feelings, but not so much the latter’s. There’s going to have to be some strange justification involving birth and the afterlife for all of this.

      Reply
  6. Nishimura

    Its funny that you say all the women in Mawaru PenguinDrum are crazy. However, its not just in Mawaru Penguindrum whose entire female population is crazy. Take a look at all of the troubled people in xxxHolic, most of the women in Dantalian, all of the women in Umineko no Naku Koro Ni (yeah, this ones a horror but all the men are better off then the women), and that’s not even the half of it.

    Why does it seem like women are portrayed as crazy more than men are in anime? I’m not saying men are exempt from this trait, it just seems like there are far more crazy women then there are men.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Well, I’d like to think Hugh is clinically insane to hang out with Dalian, but point taken. I would guess that men, often the heroes in these stories, also doubles down as the problem solver. Women are the ones with problems to solve. Still, this doesn’t mean women have to be crazy. The best stories give character flaws to both sexes instead of having one of them be a Mary Sue character. I guess my favorite example would be Vertigo. At the start of the movie, you think the love interest is nuts, but then it turns out the guy is nuts too. In anime, I think the writing’s just far, far weaker. The problem solvers tend to be Mary Sues. The problem-havers tend to have, on the other hand, their flaws exaggerated for drama.

      Reply
  7. Ailia Kate Kira

    I always find your entries for this series an amusing read.

    For instance, how could Yuri even guess at the fact that Ringo might have fallen in love with Shoma in the past few days? Why is she not even shocked to see that her beloved fiancé is desperately pounding on his bedroom door, calling out to an under-aged high school girl?

    While I am not sure how to answer the first question, the second is answerable. A few episodes back when Ringo and Yuri met for the first time, Yuri knew she’d be in an all-out war with Ringo for Tabuki’s love. In addition to that, both sides were sure that they’d use whatever means necessary to attain such a love. While it isn’t explicitly said that way, it was sort of implied. Maybe I’m just looking into the series underlying messages too much.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I always find your entries for this series an amusing read.

      Amusing in the haha sort of way?

      Yuri

      I think the first time Ringo and Yuri met, Ringo was hauling a pot of curry over to Tabuki’s place?. Maybe I missed something because I certainly didn’t think at that point in time that there was anything particularly malicious about Yuri in this scene. What is it about this particular exchange between the two characters that made you suspect that she knew she was in an all out war with Ringo?

      Reply
  8. Seinime

    Watched this show a bit late because of Ringo + another hardcore analysis, so most of the stuff I was going to ask was already answered. Somewhat refreshing to see Ringo back to normal again, albeit the cliche comedy scenes. And wow, can’t believe the potion actually worked.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Yeah, for a while, I thought the scenes with Tabuki were just another one of Ringo’s delusions. As for Ringo being back to normal, I dunno, I guess I’m not keen on violent people.

      Reply
  9. Warship

    Someone mentioned to me that the entire ‘frog sweat’ sequence could have just been another one of Ringo’s delusions. Provided, the sequence in Yuri’s apartment isn’t in Ringo-vision, but the entire encounter has the impression of forcing Ringo to face the reality of her actions, and Yuri herself is uncharacteristically sisterly– a sudden change from her ‘evil step sister’ persona in earlier episodes, where she appeared openly antagonistic to Ringo. She accepts the situation a little too well.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Someone mentioned to me that the entire ‘frog sweat’ sequence could have just been another one of Ringo’s delusions. Provided, the sequence in Yuri’s apartment isn’t in Ringo-vision

      I think you’d have to go all or nothing. If the sweat isn’t real, then Tabuki’s behavior must not be real either. After all, why would the man suddenly act like a frog out of nowhere?

      where she appeared openly antagonistic to Ringo

      I keep hearing this but I don’t see it. When has Yuri been openly antagonistic to Ringo? She may have been manipulating events, but I have yet to see Yuri openly say or do anything malicious.

      Reply
      1. Warship

        I mean to say that the entire sequence, from after the coffee is given to Tabuki, to Ringo returning home, may have been a slightly upgraded delusion. As for Yuri, I seem to remember her being snide around episode four, but I can’t be arsed to bring up a stream to look for it. I seem to recall distinctly that either Yuri seemed to put on /some/ kind of facade. I’ll concede the point though. Still, I never considered her to be the messenger for Ringo’s confused sexuality and concept of romance.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          Still, I never considered her to be the messenger for Ringo’s confused sexuality and concept of romance.

          Who’s been saying this?

          Reply
          1. E Minor Post author

            I didn’t take that as Yuri being any sort of messenger. Just seems like she knows more than she should and she’s toying with Ringo.

            Reply
  10. Pingback: Notes of Mawaru Penguindrum Episode 11 | Organization Anti Social Geniuses

  11. Pingback: Colloquium: Mawaru Penguindrum Episode 21 | The Untold Story of Altair & Vega

  12. Pingback: Notes of Mawaru Penguindrum Episode 11 | Organization Anti-Social Geniuses

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