Mawaru Penguindrum: The Past Becomes Their Present
Kunihiko Ikuhara didn’t leave too many people disappointed with his first anime endeavor since Revolutionary Girl Utena. Mawaru Penguindrum proved to be a very compelling series for a multitude of reasons. It had aspects of comedy, drama, action, drama, and just pure bizarre nature. With these aspects blended together, it garnered a popular following and for good reason. This series had a complex story line at times, but if one were to attempt to put an overarching theme on it, that theme would most likely be the importance of family. While this may sound heart warming as you initially read this, the viewers will tell you that the depiction of family isn’t as cute and wholesome as one might think.
Ikuhara’s Mawaru Penguindrum serves a true experiment when it comes to finding the answer to the age old question, “Must the children suffer for the sins of their parents?” This question holds a lot of weight since much of Penguindrum is steeped in issues that can be drawn back to generations in the past. While this 2011 supernatural anime series has it’s share of cute, funny moments, most of the conflicts from could be traced back the importance of certain aspects of their family histories. Penguindrum goes deep into closets and digs up skeletons from the past that, in large part, shape the actions of the present. The roller coaster of emotion that this show sent the viewers on was indicative of the overall feeling that was experienced by the characters.
Penguindrum is centered around the Takakura family, as brothers Kanba and Shoma try to do everything within their power to keep their ailing little sister Himari alive. Himari seems to be on borrowed time, and actually dies, before being revived by an apparently magical emperor penguin hat. The power of the hat comes from a spirit that resides in it that takes over Himari’s body and instructs Kanba and Shoma to obtain a mysterious object known as the Penguindrum, if they want their little sister to remain alive. The brothers, along with their magical penguins that become part of the deal, become willing to go through anything to find this object in order to save their sweet little sister. Along the way, they encounter others who are in search of the same item for their own personal reasons. Through their encounters with the other characters and hear their stories you begin to realize that in this realm, one is not much more that a reflection of those before them.
The Oginome Family
The first character that Kanba and Shoma encounter on their search for the Penguindrum is Ringo Oginome. She walks around with a diary that the boys believe to be the Penguindrum. Even though she is the keeper of what they believe is the key to their sister’s life, Ringo refuses to ever relinquish the diary, as everything written in it is her “destiny.” Much of her destiny revolves around trying to get the love and attention of Kanba and Shoma’s science teacher Keiju Tabuki, who has another love interest during the time period. So she constantly follows, or stalks, Mr. Tabuki and resorts to drastic and desperate methods to make him her own. While everything written in the diary is seen as her “destiny”, the diary was not written by her.
The diary was written by her older sister, Momoka Oginome, who died as a result of an explosion in a subway on the day Ringo was born. By all accounts of people who knew her, Momoka was an extraordinary girl, as her death left a large void in the lives of those close to her. Included in that group, and rightfully so, are Momoka and Ringo’s parents. As a young child, Ringo walked into a heated argument between her parents about the line between remembering and obsessing over the death of Momoka, and how they were going to take care of Ringo. After this, the parents separate. Ringo, sensing that she’s part of the problem, searches for how she can make things right. When she goes into Momoka’s room, she finds her diary, and decides that she will fulfill everything written in the diary. She takes it upon herself to complete everything, down to the very last day, as her “destiny”. Once fulfulled, she and her father and mother can become one again. For this reason, she holds the much sought after diary near and dear to her, in the hopes of becoming Momoka and recreating the happy family that once existed
The Tokikago Family
Yuri Tokikago is the aforementioned love interest of Ringo’s “destined mate” Keiju Tabuki. In fact, she’s intoduced into the series as Tabuki’s girlfriend and they eventually become engaged later on, much to the chagrin of Ringo. Yuri is a well-renowned, successful theater actor and is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful women around. On the surface, she appears very measured , but underneath it all lies a pain that could be rooted back to another member of her family. Despite her beauty, she never truly feels beautiful, or even loved, because of the impression her father left on her.
Her father was a very dominating figure that long after his disappearance, left his impression on Yuri’s psyche from a young age that has stuck with her and affected her self-image. Mr. Tokikago tells her that he can only love beautiful things, that of which Yuri was not. On the list of things he could not love was her mother, who is noticeably absent, implying that her father had gotten rid of her. He tells Yuri that she is ugly, but assures her that he will “fix” that. He also tells her that he is the only one that she could trust, because people who are nice only want something from her. This affects her initial view of Ringo’s older sister Momoka Oginome’s kind gestures. Momoka reveals to her the secret of her diary, which Yuri meet with doubt until she sees that Momoka had used it to get rid of the giant tower she lived his, Mr. Tokikago included, even at a detriment to herself. Yuri’s first experience with love is with Momoka, whom she confided in and cherished until Momoka died the subway explosion. Her love for Momoka drives her to also seek to obtain the diary in Ringo’s possession because she knows it’s true power and intends use it to bring back the love she once had.
The Natsume Family
Masako Natsume first appears in the series as a bit of a mystery. She appears to be following Kanba around and take out every woman that he seems to become even remotely involved with. She does so with a laser sighted slingshot with red balls that can erase one’s memories when it with them directly on the forehead. She keeps them away so that Kanba can be her’s and her’s alone, even though he resists and continually refuses her aggressive advances. She also has a magical penguin named Esmeralda, similar to the ones that follow Kanba, Shoma and Himari, except her’s is black. When Masako is harassing Kanba, Esmeralda is harassing Kanba’s penguin. She’s seen as a very strong willed woman, and that can be drawn back to her tough upbringing as a member of the Natsume family. While she is after Kanba, she’s also after the elusive Penguindrum that is believed to be Ringo Oginome’s diary for her own reasons.
Like the Takakura brothers, she has a younger sibling that she hopes to preserve with the help of the Penguindrum. Much of her life has been dedicated to protecting her little brother from her domineering, extremely macho grandfather who is determined to make Mario a strong Natsume man much like himself, and never be “crushed”. Her father is not in the picture, because of her grandfather excommunicating him from the Natsume clan for not being strong enough. While she makes it her life’s goal to “crush” her grandfather, he eventually dies, due to ingesting improperly skinned poisonous fish scales to prove his strength. When Mario becomes sick, she takes it upon herself to save him, who is also being kept alive by a spirit in a magical emperor penguin hat. She, like Kanba and Shoma, is willing to go through hell or high water to save her little brother.
The Takakura Family
The main family of the series is first seen as a trio. While they all appear happy together, Kanba and Shoma Takakura are quickly faced with their little sister Himari’s mortality. When they try to show Himari a good time in her remaining days, she faints and her time appears up. That is, until they put the hat that Shoma bought for her earlier on her so she could rest with some thing she loved. That turned out to be the magical hat that kept Himari alive, but at a price. The brothers had to initiate the “Survival Strategy” in order to keep their kind, gentle sister alive, and they were willing to pay any price to do so. While Shoma did most of the work in following Ringo Oginome in attempt to get the diary that is believed to be the Penguindrum, which is needed for Himari’s life, Kanba does what he can to keep a roof over their head and keep his sister properly medicated in the absence of the Takakura parents. As it would turn out, that absence would speak volumes for the future of the family.
The parents weren’t absent by accident. As it turns out, the actions of a group involving Mr. and Mrs. Takakura weren’t just felt by Kanba, Shoma, and Himari. They were felt by every last family and character in this series. They were involved in the planning of a series of fatal explosions, one of which would cost the life of Momoka Oginome, whose loss affected so many. Because of this, the parents fled and the children were left alone to take care of themselves. This puts the big brothers in tough spot, considering that they had to maintain their living situation, maintain their precious little sister’s health and go on with the stigma of the Takakura name, which was forever associated by villainy and pain. It wasn’t before long that not only their reputation, but their physical well-being was put in danger due to the ill feelings that the parents had brought upon them. Ultimately, the debt built up by the parents was paid by Kanba and Shoma, as it was forever their fate to atone for the Takakura name.
Mawaru Penguindrum was a very compelling series that largely spoke of an inescapable past. Just about every character of any significance can attribute their situation in the main time period of the show to the actions of a previous generation. Whether they were able to overcome their own personal burden of the past was a mystery that seemed to be left up to fate. Destiny was spoken of heavily in the series, and the attempts to preserve and/or thwart it became the main struggle, as there was no clear good or evil.
Must the children suffer for the sins of their parents? In Mawaru Penguindrum, the answer was yes.
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