We should use the last few lines of the “episode” to put everything into context: “When I’m in pain, I know I’m not dreaming. I don’t need nice friends or gentle lovers. So, Shirou-san, please… won’t you hit me again?” Then the bespectacled man, presumably Shirou, puts a hand to his chin and looks off to the side as if he’s thinking to himself, “Golly, that does sound like a swell idea. Maybe I should beat my wife.” It’s almost comical. It feels… unreal. Is it? Well, let me put this way… who on earth would ever want to be abused? Why would you not want nice friends? Why would you not want a gentle lover? And we’re not talking about consensual BDSM play here. We’re talking about actual domestic abuse. In any case, I’ll tell you who: a person suffering from a mental illness. To put it bluntly, the mother is C-R-A-Z-Y. And thus, why would you ever believe anything a crazy person tells you?
“When I’m in pain,” the mother says, “I know I’m not dreaming.” It’s why you often hear people advise you to pinch yourself in order to see if you’re in a dream or not. But it’s not like this is a scientific method to “dream-shattering” or anything. It’s just a saying. And what I read from her words is that she wants to run away. She cannot handle it — whatever ‘it’ is supposed to be — and as a result, she’s trying to hide in a world of pain. Now remember, there’s a fine line between pleasure and pain. And either way, the end result is that the nervous system floods itself with endorphins. When you feel pleasure, it’s endorphins kicking in. When you feel pain, it’s still endorphins. It’s just that this time it’s working to dull your senses instead. So in the end, it makes no difference what the mother says. She just basically wants to drug herself. She wants to enter a dreamworld despite what she tells us. And of course, we shouldn’t take her words at face value precisely because she’s crazy.
But what does it mean to have a crazy mother? Now before we continue on, I want to re-iterate that I’m primarily concerned with the show’s subtext. Subtext should be distinguished from the text, a.k.a. the events of the narrative as they literally appear before us. What do I mean by this? The text of the story, as I’m sure you ready know by now, is that Yume turns into a monster with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. But what’s the subtext of the story? There’s a compelling case to be made that Yume is a girl undergoing her sexual awakening, but then this sexual awakening is being demonized for various reasons that I’ve discussed in previous posts on the anime. Now by asserting the latter, I am not saying that the text is untrue. I’m merely saying that the text is a vehicle with which storytellers may use to convey a deeper, more controversial message.
So what’s the subtext of pupa‘s fifth episode? What’s the oh-so-controversial message that it can’t tell us directly — that it has to hide it behind a horror story? Right from the very beginning, the mother immediately sees her daughter as nothing more than a monster. She thinks she needs to get an abortion for Utsutsu’s sake. Somehow, however, the fetus is preventing her from doing so. All we see is a cheap electrifying effect followed by a guess — literally just a guess — from the mother herself: “Was that the monster’s way of saying it won’t let me?” I mean, she doesn’t really know for sure, because the truth would be outlandish: an evil fetus is somehow preventing itself from aborted. But if that’s so ridiculous, then why didn’t she just get an abortion? Shrug, maybe she just felt too guilty to go through with it. She’s crazy, after all.
When Yume is finally born, she keeps glancing at her mother. But the mother somehow thinks these glances have a sinister intent: “…the way she would look at me sometimes… I can’t take this. It feels like she’s watching my every move.” Y’know, babies tend to look to their mothers. Why? That’s just nature; we naturally cling to our caregivers. Nothing particularly monstrous about that. The mother then tells that Yume already has all her teeth ever since she’s been born. Well, this is actually a thing called natal teeth. They are rare, but y’know, not particularly monstrous. One case in every two to three thousand births does not spell monster to me. It just sounds like a crazy mother spinning any tale she can to rationalize her hatred of her own daughter. Now, I’ve never heard of a baby being born with a full set of teeth, but again, can we really trust the mother? Can we really take her words at face value? She even says, “It was as though [Yume] was declaring herself to be a monster,” but all I see is a yawning baby.
What supposedly happens next is that the mother tries to kill her “monster child” with a box cutter. But unfortunately for her, the murder attempt fails somehow; Yume is still alive. Yume’s even giggling to her mother. The next thing we see is the mother in a hospital bed. Or is it a bed at a psychiatric ward? Would it make a difference? Clearly, the mother tried to abuse Yume, and maybe she’s just trying to tell herself that she was really just trying to rid the world of a dangerous monster. And even then, it’s not as if Yume gave off a sinister laugh. Rather, the child giggled like any baby would when it’s around its mother. You could even say Yume has unconditional love for her mother, but she was still rejected.
Finally, the mother snaps for good when even Utsutsu starts to question her cruelty. He prevents her fantasies from becoming a reality. After all, she wants to hate this child; she thinks she would be doing Utsutsu a favor if she could murder Yume. Child Utsutsu, however, is an innocent voice that cuts through all her fabrications and lies: “Mom, why are you being so mean to Yume?” But you might ask, “What about the scene where we see baby Yume tear into a dead bird with her teeth? Doesn’t that make her monstrous?” Again, we’re talking about the subtext of the story. The text itself may very well be real; it may actually be the case that Yume is a monster baby that likes to catch and eat small animals. But let’s look beyond the text. What is the story trying to tell us? And in order to do that, it is necessary to juxtapose the more horrific elements of the narrative with the mundane. One minute, you’re tell me that a young child hunts and eats small animals. Then another minute, you’re telling me that she looks at you “weirdly.” One example seems comically monstrous and the other example is ridiculously mundane to the point that this juxtaposition can only tell you one thing: the mother is an unreliable narrator.
We often readily accept that a father can and will be abusive. But sometimes, a mother can be just as bad. A mother too can abuse her children. What’s even worse is that a mother can reject her own female children for whatever reasons, thereby placing her one and only son onto a pedestal as if he’s the golden child that can do no wrong. This is a story about a young mother’s cruel rejection of her own daughter. She’s using every trick in the book to paint Yume as a monster. She even abuses her own daughter, which is probably why she ended up in some hospital bed. But can a story just come out and say, “Yeah, this is about domestic abuse from both the father and the mother?” Likewise, can a story come out and say that it’s directly about the demonization of a young girl’s blossoming sexuality? Well, that’s why we have subtext.