“…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.
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.
• 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.