Endings Without Context 4: Mawaru Penguindrum

The episode opens with a lot of suffering, and it hardly lets up.

This fourth take on watching only the last episode of a series brings me back to another show I had not watched during my summer off last year. AJtheFourth at Altair & Vega remembered that I had not seen any of Mawaru Penguindrum, though that may be due to the fact that I did an entire post devoted to being 24 episodes behind on it. That said, there are many fans of this series while there is also the fact that the director of this series also created Utena.

Before I drag this introduction into why I chose this too long, they key thing she said about my watching it is that it may ruin any enjoyment I get from watching it the future. I didn’t really think something so acclaimed by people I trust could be ruined by just the final episode. Then again, maybe I would need a larger social circle to recommend shows to begin with? So how did I see it?

Surely this is up there as literally the hottest love confession ever.

The episode jumps all over the place from a pair of children locked up in cells without food on the verge of death to a train where older versions of them try to save their sister Himari. As the episode progresses, this resurrection of Himari plays out through the use of symbols and flashbacks to ultimately show Shouma and Kanba sacrificing themselves for their sister.

The two things that really stood out in this episode for me were the symbols and the flashbacks. As far as the symbols are concerned, they are so prominent in every shot that it is entirely possible to write for hours just on this episode and still leave plenty more on the table. From having not watched any of this series going in, I constantly felt bombarded with symbols on top of symbols on top of more symbols. They surely intertwine together to form a fantastic side story. Without context however, it was far, far too much for me to understand what was happening.

The part of the episode that made sense in the traditional narrative sense.

As far as flashbacks, it seemed like these were split into 2 types. The first were the conversations between Shouma and Kanba as children suffering in cages, then having to deal with fate when one finds an apple. This just felt like yet more symbolism. The other was the plot-relevant flashback which was present to establish how Ringo knew the lyric that set in motion the fate exchange at the end of the story. For the purpose of this post, I probably could have done with more of the latter.

I hardly knew her, yet I felt some of the same emotion.

The epilogue was surprisingly moving from my perspective as well. I hardly knew any of these characters, yet I felt emotionally involved in how their circumstances had changed from the grand sacrifice. That was even the case for characters who had not featured in the episode until the epilogue. That was very much better than your typical “life goes on” type of epilogue.

Now I’m on to my attempt to guess the plot based on this last episode. I think just from watching this it was really a story about orphaned or otherwise unloved children who had to rely on each other for emotional support. As far as a plot, it probably revolves around the penguindrum that is that shared apple between the younger versions of the brothers. As for the rest, I’m pretty clueless, but I think I would be interested in actually going through this series and watching it from the start. So for once, this last episode wasn’t a disaster that put me off entirely.

This was slightly off-putting, but it raised the stakes in the unintentional comedy game.

Now onto the grades:

Character Development: A Absolutely no character development here. I had the feeling that to truly understand these characters beyond a basic level you had to watch the episodes prior to this one.

Plot Comprehension: C- I could barely understand a thing, but the Ringo flashback just about pushes it up to C range.

Unintentional Comedy: C The only laughs came from one of the penguins smashing eggs on its face and the blood from the glass. Actually, there was a lot more humor to that, like walking into shards of glass simply for the hell of it. Souma exploding blood was also humorous in a dark way. Maybe there’s more there than I thought.

Deus Ex Machina: Yes Not in the traditional sense of course, but the whole sacrificing 2 lives to save one does qualify by my standards. There’s far worse usage than this.

Sequel Potential: Non-existant No one could hope to write a sequel off of this ending without completely taking characters out of the context of this episode. It would be more like an alternative ending than this definitive ending.

 

7 thoughts on “Endings Without Context 4: Mawaru Penguindrum”

  1. Penguindrum was a very good choice for this blog series. Penguindrum practically defines a genre that uses symbols and bizarre twists as structure. The closest anime to it (that I can think of) is Utena, and even that seems traditional by comparison. Truly Penguindrum is closer to Un Chien Andalou (1929, by Bunuel and Dali).

    1. I guess it does seem rather odd that something as surrealist as Penguindrum can even be made now. It just seems as though it wouldn’t tick enough boxes to satisfy any production committee to make this. I guess they believed in the director enough to bring this to life. As far as really putting it in a genre, it’s really hard to say. Utena is probably about right, but it doesn’t seem like enough to start with just one man’s works in creating a genre if you know what I am saying. I am going to give that French silent film a watch though.

      1. Definitely. It is shorter than a typical anime episode, and manages to be much MUCH weirder. My favorite scene is the one with the pianos 😄

      2. And I thought that Ararararagi from Bake/Nisemonogatari was well known for his effort toward perversion. That guy just took it to a whole new level.

  2. I gotta say, I’m shocked that it made that much sense. Interestingly, the seeming dues ex machina actually isn’t. The story actually builds to that ending and explains it in a way that makes it seem almost inevitable.

    As an aside, I was reading Scamp’s Summer preview and he mentions Occult Academy in it. It made me think that might be another good show for this series.

    1. That’s the thing with watching just the final act of a story, every resolution has the potential to look contrived without the knowledge of how it reached that point. I’ll have to add Occult Academy to the list to watch, I have probably 2 others I have to do before then.

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