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.
Very interesting stuff. Always enjoy reading your more speculative reviews. But you might have missed a crucial bit of dialogue that sped by which sheds light on the whole “Why can’t I get rid of all these fetuses??” After she guts her baby and suddenly sees her body start regenerating and giggling, a line of dialogue spoken from a man, likely the father, is overlayed with an echo as if she’s recalling it.
“You’ll have my child, right?”
If the abusive, monsterous husband wanted her to have his child, perhaps this is the real reason she couldn’t simply abort it: Fear, likely of either disappointing his wishes and/or of what he’d do to her when he found out.
Her next line is: “Shirou please hurry back.”
This means she feels more comfort with an evil abusive fuck than with her own baby. Considering her paranoia (and what she was seeing), this makes sense for her.
Since you spoke at length about the subtext, I’ll just take stock of your perception and see if I can’t get this narrative down since it’s equally as mysterious as the subtext. I think, in terms of the narrative: The mother WAS mentally ill from the start, maybe long before she met Shirou. This could even add to why she stuck with him for so long. She considered Yume a monster for whatever reason, and when she started having feelings about the baby she saw a way to give her paranoia validity. Then comes in what you said about natural babies acting natural and crazy bitches being crazy. Now, if Yume wasn’t pupa’d, her mother would have killed her solely out of deranged paranoia (which swelled from her already likely present mental illness). However, then the baby regenerates, and though the baby isn’t evil, seeing something like that only further inflated her lunacy.
-It’s like someone putting on angel wings, going to a mentally ill person known for Judgement Day paranoia, and pretending to be a messenger from God. It’s only going to make them even crazier.
That said, the killing blow to her mind was seeing her beloved son find NO monster in his sister. This literally slams against the proof of her paranoia she just witnessed and starts making her think “Maybe I AM crazy? What if it’s all in my head?!” and THAT is what truly snaps her. She saw the baby regenerate from death, she saw it eat a bird, but no one else does, and the child never acts freakish with anyone else but her. This fear of madness while already mad makes her take comfort in the beatings she receives from Shirou because it “reminds her she is in reality”. The bruises and pain tell her she’s awake, and to her, that she’s not delusional.
I can’t say for sure that she’s in a mental hospital because of the IV in her arm. From what I understand, if a patient refuses to take their medicine they may use an IV for them, but they would strap them down first to protect them from hurting themselves by ripping it out. Still, because she has no visible wounds I can’t rule it out either since it would make sense with what you’ve said. What I do know is that she “recovered” from there eventually since, according to Utsutsu in an earlier “episode”, she leaves them for another man. Unless this “other man” was actually someone from the mental hospital picking her up to take her away? We can often misremember things from our youths, especially if they tie into someone we didn’t like, and especially if it’s in regards to a mother like her.
I haven’t got much to say about the other points you made. I think we’re both in general agreement about the show anyway.
Who knows? She might’ve disappeared from their lives when they were still too young to really make much sense of it. Then maybe someone told the kid that she had left because of a guy.
But it’s really getting frustrating anyway. Taking away the OP/ED, two minutes is just enough to leave me simultaneously interested and bored at the same time, and I think I’m getting close to my limit with the adaptation.
I don’t blame you, mate. I feel the same way. It’s criminal that a show with such interesting subtext is given this treatment because of it’s taboo subject matter, and being fed it in such short increments like this is getting ridiculous.
I just can’t imagine how much longer this can continue. Are we going to have a billion of these 2min episodes to tell the whole story? Or are they gonna call it quits after 12 or 13, which would amount to barely over a standard anime episode length. Either way, I think I’ll probably just drop the show unless next week’s offering is really mindblowing (yeah right).