Mawaru Penguindrum – 04 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 29 July 2011 – One of this series’ many strengths is its excellent, almost neurotic attention to detail. Every frame is replete with incidental sights, sounds, symbols and conversations, some of which turn up later (or earlier, in awesomely-presented flashbacks). Case in point: Ringo’s friend mentioning Kanba dumping an actress “like she was no big deal” last week. Not only do we meet this actress, but learn that Kanba has been set up for an ambush by her and two other women scorned, which hell hath no fury than.

But Kanba and Himari make only brief appearances on the periphery of this episode. This is primarily a Shoma and Ringo affair. Kanba orders him to tag along with her and sneak a look at her diary – stalking in plain view, as it were. And naturally, Ringo’s day plans include a birdwatching date in the park with Tabuki. Much to her chagrin, Tabuki has invited Yuri, his gorgeous blonde actress friend (lotta actress love interests in this, innit?), and with Shoma by her side, it’s practically a double date.

She and Shoma even swap clothes after a skunk attack – a skunk that was reported on the news on tv in the background earlier in the episode. While I was initially weary of Ringo’s stalking craziness (and her multiple elaborate daydreams that end with her screaming), I really liked her in this episode, and I’m fully behind her quirky, obsessed, but basically sweet character. She’s gonna make happen what’s written in her diary, and she does not give a shit who or what stands in her way. And just when I thought Yuri was too perfect, she reveals her other side, calling Ringo out and warning her she doesn’t have a chance with Tabuki. Mwrow!

Of course, while things that are written in her diary have always ended up happening, they hardly ever do quite in the way she envisions in those daydreams. It was written that she’d kiss Tabuki by a certain time, so she cheats by jumping into the drink to warrant rescue and mouth-to-mouth. But it’s Shoma who rescues and “kisses” her, not Tabuki. It matters not; she believed it was Tabuki, so in her mind, the fate written in the diary was realized.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 24 (Fin)

Shoma confronts his brother, who has Himari’s dead body and is working with Sanetoshi, but Himari convinces him to stop the madness and let go; Kanba disappears. Ringo is confident she knows the words that will transfer fate even without the diary. Doing so means she’ll be swallowed up by flames, but Shoma sacrifices himself in her stead. Life returns to normal, but Himari and Mario are both healthy, Himari is friends with Ringo, and Shoma and Kanba are little kids walking by from the first episode, talking about the penguin drum.

Reset! Well, in this series, a reset made sense; the entirety of what we saw until now had taken place in a world where everyone was cursed from the stalemate between Sanetoshi and Momoka. Despite how fun and filled with love the Takahara siblings’ lives were, such a life was unsustainable. Kanba had to pay a considerable moral cost, and all the care he acquired for Himari would eventually be rendered ineffective, resulting in her death. With the curse lifted, Himari and Mario are no longer constantly near death, and Ringo can be herself. The cost was that family structure, and the new world we see lacks a painted house and a whimsical bedroom. Only the teddy remains, with a note from her no-longer-brothers stashed inside, somehow immune to the fate transfer.

For an episode in which Shoma and Kanba had a lot to say as youngsters, it’s a little disappointing that the producers didn’t secure good, authentic child voices. This has actually been a problem throughout the series, and it was hard to ignore during crucial scenes. But that’s pretty much our only gripe with what is the first series of any length we’ve rated 4 out of 4 for its whole run. No series throughout that run has come close to its attention to detail and unique mix of mystery, romance, sci-fi, metaphysics, and slapstick comedy. It fleshed everyone out and had terrific buildup to a fantastic finale. We’ll miss it.


Rating: 4

Mawaru Penguindrum – 23

Himari only has one night to live, and Shoma doesn’t leave her side. She tells him in a dream to save Kanba, who has fallen victim to a curse that turns his love against the world. He is Sanetoshi’s puppet, and Sanetoshi wants to destroy the current world. Sixteen years ago, he and Momoka met. He killed her, and she killed him, but each only halfway. She ended up within penguin hats, while he ended up in two black rabbits. Sanetoshi uses Kanba to lure Ringo to the aquarium, where he burns her diary. There’s still hope as long as the hats survive, but Shoma can’t do anything without his brother.

Does this episode border on the overly melodramatic at times? Yes, but as far as we’re concerned, the series has earned it, and it always keeps things grounded with the cartoon penguins. It’s taken twenty-three episodes, but nearly all the pieces have fallen into place. We know Sanetoshi is the villain, and he’s recruited Kanba with the promise to save Himari if he helps him destroy the world. Kanba only cares about Himari and nothing else, but could that attitude be the product of the curse brought upon the Takakura siblings sixteen years ago? In any case, Momoka and Sanetoshi had a spat, came to a dead draw, and now that duel is about to continue, with proxies on both sides.

Remarkably, this episode was yet again able to draw out some really strong emotions without resorting to the killing off of anyone; it appears at first as though Kanba shoots Shoma in the gut with a real gun, but it’s only penguinshot. Then a teddybomb explodes right before Ringo, but she’s relatively okay, and only her diary burns. But now it seems that while the loss of the diary is a blow, it doesnt mean the end. It was only a record of spells of fate transferrance, the object itself wasn’t important. Everyone’s still alive for now, but if things are going to stay that way, the brothers are going to have to make up and take out the ghost that haunts them. Can’t wait for the finish.


Rating: 4

Mawaru Penguindrum – 18

Tabuki kidnaps Himari, puts her in a bucket suspended by cables, and blows the cables up one by one as Kanba tries to reason with him. Tabuki wants to punish their father for killing Momoka, who was his savior, that of all mankind, and his only reason for living. When the last cable breaks, Kanba provides a lifeline for Himari, at the cost of his hand, but she is saved, and Tabuki slinks off, warning Ringo, imprisoned in the elevator the whole time, not to turn out like him. She swears she won’t.

It was pretty inevitable we’d get a Tabuki episode this week, and it was suitably dark, befitting someone now so lost, he’s prepared to kill poor innocent Himari as payback for losing Momoka. Like Yuri, Tabuki was abused as a child, first emotionally, as her mother demanded prodigal talent in exchange for love, and then physically, when his hand was slammed in a piano, ruining his future as a pianist. Things get a little symbolic with the “Child Broiler”, but suffice it to say, he’s about to be crushed into oblivion when Momoka saves him, begging him to live for her, who loves him.

Up until the last couple episodes, Tabuki has done a bang-up job concealing both his hatred of the Takakuras and the fact that the one person he chose to live for is gone. For years it stewed in him, culminating in the desperate ultimatum he issues Kanba. For a minute, we really though Himari was history, and the show played it that way, but seeing Kanba’s selfless love for Himari must have reminded him of Momoka, and so he spared her. We’ll tell ya what, now we’d like to meet their father and give him a good punch in the face for what he’s put his poor kids through…only it’s all fate, the good and the bad. Will what the parents do ever be revealed? It would be nice, but at this point unnecessary. This is some sublime drama.


Rating: 4

Mawaru Penguindrum – 14

Now that he knows his parents killed Momoka, Shoma can no longer bear to see or hear Ringo, and warns her to stay away from him. Kanba continues to struggle to find the cash to save Himari, and Masako confronts him directly. Ringo goes to a bathhouse with Yuri, who not only knew Momoka, but believes she was her soulmate. She drugs Ringo and proceeds to have her way with her…

Poor Ringo! First she receives the full brunt of Shoma’s angst, only to be spirited away by Yuri in her Jaaag for reasons heretofore unknown. Ringo acts surprisingly normal here; it’s Yuri who completely goes nuts. And of course it all comes back to Momoka. Yuri was the one who stole half the diary. Not an episode of this series takes place anymore that doesn’t contain some twist or turn that changes everything. It’s why it’s stayed so good and so fresh.

While Ringo is on her wild ride, Himari and Shoma are both very moody. Shoma’s angst comes from knowing what his family’s responsible for, but it’s still unfortunate he pushes Ringo away. As for Himari, her illness, whatever it is, has prevented her from reaching her dream, and she feels worthless compared with her celebrity idol friends. Here’s hoping everyone cheers up a little next week. Look on the bright side, guys: your subway system rules!


Rating: 4 

Mawaru Penguindrum – 13

“Dr.” Sanetoshi makes a deal with Kanba (somehow involving his heart) In order to administer a serum that restores her back to life. The episode deals with a host of flashbacks that document that fateful last day the Takakura children ever saw their parents. The police placed them in a hotel room as they searched their home for further evidence of their parents’ crimes, which resulted in deaths, including Momoka’s. Sanetoshi muses about fate, and whether it truly exists.The Tokyo Sky Metro celebrates its tenth annieversary. Ringo sends an email to her father stating she knows of his second family; she believes it was fate to encounter them.

Nothing in this world is pointless. Apparently, nothing in this series is pointless, either. The series continues to squeeze as much as it can out of every scene, every setting, every word…and every sign. Hints trickle down here and there, but like any good mystery, only enough to hold our interest; no more. This much is clear (which wasn’t earlier); the siblings’ parents did awful things. After all, they were “senior members” of something, for chrissake…that can’t be good. Also, the Metropolitan Police doesn’t send a battalion of detectives to your house on a whim.

While we’re piecing together more about the past, we’re wondering more and more how much longer Kanba can keep up whatever he’s doing to pay Sanetoshi to keep Himari alive, possibly tempting fate. Since the day their parents disappeared, the three “haven’t amounted to anything” by society’s standards, but they’ve stayed together as a family. The pain their parents caused to both Ringo, her family, and Tabuki through Momoka’s death is something Ringo always thought could be healed by becoming Momoka. I like how Tabuki seems to set her straight.


Rating: 4

Mawaru Penguindrum 12

Shoma describes to Ringo how his family killed her sister Momoka on the day she was born. It involved some kind of multifaceted operation that somehow resulted in a subway accident that claimed Momoka’s life. With Shoma and Kanba unable to retrieve the penguin drum, Himari weakens, and the headdress loses its power, which would result in her death. Kanba won’t allow that, and gives his own life energy to her, as he had in the past to revive her, but it’s not enough, and Himari flatlines…

It can be tempting to feel like you’re being strung along with Mawaru Penguindrum. It’s constantly shooting out hints, but it keeps so much below the surface sometimes, you start to wonder: how much of this will make sense by the end, and how much will just never be explained? Is the “Destination of Fate” a future setting? What’s with this talk of taboos, followed immediately by Kanba kissing a nude Himari? And what is the librarian doing with those oompaloompas?

The last few episodes were actually quite revealing from a storytelling standpoint. We now know for certain that Kanba made some kind of a deal to save Himari; it wasn’t a miracle. Shoma too seems to know more than he’d let on early in the series. It could well be that phenomena like helper penguins and survival strategies were old hat to the bros before the series even started? This and many, many other questions still abound. Fortunately, Mawaru Penguindrum has plenty of time to address them. So I’ll remain patient and hopes this makes a little more sense eventually.


Rating: 4

Mawaru Penguindrum 11

Kanba confronts Natsume at her manse, where he dismisses her as a crazy stalker. He demands the diary half back, but she refuses, as her little brother Mario is in the same situation as Himari – wearing the penguin headdress and with pink eyes. Shoma is recovered, and Ringo decides to continue Project M by memory, using another frog ritual to make Tabuki fall madly in love with her. It works, but only for one night, and when he advances on her she demurs. Yuri suggests it could be because she’s actually in love with Shoma. During a survival strategy session, Shoma confesses to Ringo that he and Kanba were born on the same day as she was, and are responsible for her death…

Wait…what? What? What was that? By golly, week by week this series keeps churning out pure awesome mania. While I knew Ringo probably wasn’t actually done with Tabuki, I wasn’t expecting her to actually succeeding in seducing him (albeit with a disgusting frog ritual), and I sure as hell didn’t expect her to choke when the time came to lay the guy. Not after all that determination and nudity we’ve seen from her previously. The past couple episodes, her mind has been on Shoma more than Tabuki. That’s huge. But because she’s so messed up in the head vis-a-vis Momoka, she doesn’t even realize that she could be in love with Shoma.

As for Curry Day…it was an exceptionally busy one. Not only were Ringo, Kanba, and Shoma born on the same day, Momoka died. Also Natsume and Mario are somehow involved. How the boys killed her, I haven’t the foggiest idea. How would they remember something that happened the day they were born anyway? Whatever they know has to have been second-hand info from their parents, right? Where are their parents, anyway? And why didn’t IMAGINE girl demand the penguin drum this time? Why why why. Lots of why. Probably more what next week. With a little how mixed in.


Rating: 4

Mawaru Penguindrum 10

Shoma survives the car accident and wakes up in the hospital, where Kanba and Himari are with him. Ringo apologizes profusely. The redhead then kidnaps him. The ransom is the half of the diary Ringo still possesses, which she’s willing to give up to save Shoma. After Kanba fails at subterfuge he’s sent on a psycadelic wild goose chase, where the redhead teases him. Ringo gives her the rest of the diary, abandoning Project M and her duty to become her sister Momoka. Also, Shoma hopefully learns now NOT TO EAT ANYTHING GIVEN TO HIM.

Right now, this series can do no wrong. I can’t believe we’re only ten episodes in, it’s so jam-packed with stuff. Some of it can lead to near-critical levels of Whimsy, But I’ve not yet tired of its rich imaginative-ness (IMAGINE!). Because this isn’t just about eye candy. The candy is just that, icing on the cake that is a really good, rich, clever mystery. Hints to its answers are hidden in plain sight. There’s terrific action, but it doesn’t overpower the proceedings. And then there’s the characters. The redhead is still an enigma (what is the ‘it’ that ‘must be crushed soon’? Kanba?) but she showed some playfulness for the first time, suggesting we may learn more about her soon.

Kanba and Himari have a cute talk about gifts from girls (in which gifts are described that Redhead later provides). And then there’s Ringo. The shock of seeing her slave boy hit by a car seems to be enough to snap her out of her derangement. She didn’t mention her unrequited love once. Nor did she mention fate or destiny. Instead, she did something very redeeming: she gave it all up for Shoma’s sake, after he saved her life. Just when you though she’d gone off the deep end, she’s human again, and a nice one at that.


Rating: 4

Mawaru Penguindrum 8

Ringo’s measures grow more and more drastic as she attempts to fulfill her destiny as written in Momoka’s diary, attempting to rape Tabuki in his sleep twice. The second time, she has drugged him with cake and is stopped by Shoma, just as Yuri arrives. They escape, and Shoma learns Ringo’s true motivations. The diary takes a fall, and is snatched up by a passing motorcycle – likely the woman with the black penguin. Shoma is hit by a car after saving Ringo’s life.

Ringo just happens to see her father at the zoo gift shop his other family – definitely a potential blow to one’s mental balance – and she didn’t have much to begin with. She tells Shoma (and us) that she has to carry Tabuki’s baby at all costs – not for her, but as duty for her family. That’s why she’s going so far to bed him. All this attempted rape and duty to get pregnant juxtaposed with such silly romantic (and western) daydreams present quite the stark contrast.

The line between Ringo and Momoka is definitely beginning to blur, and her obsession has progressed from creepy to downright life-threatening (and totally morally wrong). She is responsible for Shoma getting hit by a car. I doubt this will snap her out of her percieved duty and it surely won’t convince her to enter a more normal, reciprocal relationship with Shoma (if he lives), but in any case, she’s lost half her diary – meaning she doesn’t know what her next step will be.


Rating: 4

Mawaru Penguindrum 7

Plans are being accelerated left and right. Yuri the Orca aims to marru Tabuki, who is firmly under her spell cast upon him by really tacky singing (so to speak). So Ringo takes more and more drastic measures (dragging a hapless Shoma along for the ride) to ensure that what is written in the diary will become reality. There are lots of bathroom signage extras this week; I personally think they work as a money-saving device: they enable the core cast to have a very impressive wardrobe (i.e. not just school uniforms).

Last week showed that Ringo truly has more screws loose than tight, and this week only reinforces that. Not only are there more period daydreams, she tries to get a seasonal frog to lay eggs on Shoma’s back for a love potion (Penguin #2 gobbles them all up, perhaps by design?) She’s also not above fully exploiting Shoma’s love for his sister by ordering him to do increasingly strange things. But after everything these two have been through, it’s really fun to watch them interact, despite the fact Shoma is totally submissive to her. His resistance is limited to complaining.

When the occult fails her (in a gross egg-laying scene), the diary tells her the M in plan M is for “maternity”. Combine this with Kanba and Penguinhead’s suggestion they simply get the two in bed together, and Ringo decides to break into Tabuki’s house and somehow get pregnant with his child. That is a survival strategy, after all. However, we don’t actually see who’s under the covers when Ringo enters the bedroom…

Meanwhile, the shifty redhead continues tailing Kanba, who gets more rent cash from the trenchcoated stranger on the train. Also, this is the second straight episode where they don’t even bother showing HImari in her non-possessed form. The survival strategy song-and-dance happens rather randomly. I would hope at some point they shorten it. It’s starting to remind me of Star Driver’s Tauburn summoning…we don’t really need to see it in its entirety every week.


Rating: 4

Mawaru Penguindrum 6

Whatever screw is loose in Ringo, it’s getting looser by the week. Kanba’s woman troubles are far more serious than he had predicted. Shoma is no closer to ‘obtaining the Penguin Drum’, drawing the ire of the hat. The animated displays on the Metro warned about falling for a trap. Yes, it’s a typical Mawaru Penguindrum; jumping all over the place and yet totally cohesive and monstrously entertaining.

Somebody has it in for Kanba in a way that makes his other exes’ scornedness seem trifling. This woman, with orange hair and blue eyes, is eliminating the memories of Kanba’s exes. Holed up in her ginormous mansion full of marble busts, she vows to methodically destroy Kanba. She claims to control fate. Who is she? One possibility is Momoka, Ringo’s older sister (though that’s just a wild guess).

She supposedly died years ago, and was Tabuki’s first, possibly only true love. Ringo inherited Momoka’s diary, and believes its her destiny to become her sister – which means being with Tabuki. Her obsession is starting to have physical consequences – she has a high fever, and is prone to uncontrollable actions that – ahem – scare Shoma and make her mother get the wrong idea.

This is all deliciously excellent buildup. I’m itching for more answers, but in the meantime the show does a superb job keeping you constantly interested in what’s going on, not just longing for what’s to come. “Plan M” is something both Ringo and the mysterious “ex-girlfriend memory assassin” mention as well – it probably doesn’t mean “marriage”, but could mean “Momoka”, another reason I suspect she’s Ringo’s sister.


Rating: 4

Mawaru Penguindrum 5

Back from vacation, RABUJOI’s going to need to play some catch-up. Please forgive our dereliction!

Well, with Ringo visiting the Takakura’s so often, it was only a matter of time until she was exposed to the survival strategy. The ball starts rolling when, desperate for answers, Shoma asks Ringo point-blank to study her “fate diary.” He lets on that he knows more than he should about it, triggering a faceoff with Ringo that is interrupted by Himari, under the control of the headdress.

I love how Ringo essentially fills in for Kanba, shaking up what had become rather repetitive sequence by painting outside the lines and going after Himari. But she isn’t aware the hat is keeping her alive – not until she tears it off and throws it out into the street. There, it gets caught on the tailgate of a frieght truck, and boom: you have your splendidly over-the-top pursuit that proves this series can be every bit as adept at quick action as Blood-C, so far Summer’s runaway combat king.

There’s a lot more going on though. Kanba isn’t around for the survival strategy because he’s off making sure he and his siblings can keep living in their house. He gets a bundle of cash from an unseen stranger – perhaps the same guy who threw his ex-girlfriend down the steps. The anti-Kanba plotting, meanwhile proceeds apace, coming to a head with Asami Kuho about to get a facefull of red nerf ball.

Both the cash envelope and balls bear that omnipresent penguin insignia, seen in so many places, it’s hard to know what is or isn’t related more directly to the survival strategy than previously believed. Also, are the siblings’ parents dead, or just missing? I’m enjoying all the questions that have yet to be answered, and with 24 episodes, this series has plenty of time to so.


Rating: 4