Mawaru Penguindrum Episode One

Zettai Unmei Penguinshiroku?

Well, let’s start off with a few things:

  1. It was very obvious very early on that Ikuhara is the one helming this thing. Which, yes, we already knew, but his is a style that stands out very obviously, much like how one can always spot a Shinbo show.
  2. At least from this episode, it looks as if that fifteen year wait was worth it.
  3. I will not promise that I am actually blogging this show, because it is clear that this would require a fairly intense level of commitment. This is dense enough that I watched the episode three times, once raw, and twice subbed. I don’t know that I will have the energy or time to do this every week.
  4. Spoilers for the book Night on the Galactic Railroad are in this post. Its a beautiful book that I encourage you to read, although Kenji Miyazawa never truly completed it.

Now, let’s…

Wow. It’s great to have you back, Ikuhara.

As I said before, it is very obvious that Ikuhara is at work here. There are visual flourishes which hearken back to Revolutionary Girl Utena strongly, particularly in the OP (hands reaching for each other, figures moving in empty space, poofed out skirts, the moving grates [this to me is the most obvious; compare it with the elevator scenes leading to the student council hang-out in RGU], black silhouettes in non-blacked out clothing to name a few). There’s the severe juxtaposition of the realistic with the surreal. There’s the attention to detail on facial expressions (admittedly, not to the extent as in RGU, but in close-up shots there is quite a degree of attention to paid to the facial expressions). There’s the deliberate use of well-worn tropes. So Ikuhara.

But I found the Night on the Galactic Railroad references the most intriguing, honestly. I’ll admit I figured from early on that Himari was actually already dead; the apple in the OP with all the train bits (gates, map symbols) had made me go “hmm” but I didn’t connect the dots until the children were discussing Campanella and the apple. Then I went “oh, duhhhhh”.

Of course, I was wrong, but Himari does die, even if she is revived. But her savior is from the “destination of your fate”, which fits in with the train scheme. The repeated display of train maps during the episode made me wonder about whether the underlying notion is that one’s destination does depend upon decisions, but that although one has a choice, that which follows is itself something which is fore-ordained by the choice made. To put it a bit more clearly, consider choose-your-own-adventure books. You can pick from a few different options at certain points, but no matter how many times you pick any specific one, what follows will always be the same. Choose route B, and you will end up with scenario B every time.

I think this is what in CLAMPverse is called ‘hitsuzen’?

In Night on the Galactic Railroad, the final destination is Heaven, for the people aboard the train (excepting Giovanni) are all deceased. Heaven is their fate, because they can have no other any longer. The apples are given to characters on the train who are either children, gave up their lives for the sake of others, or both. Even Giovanni receives an apple, because he is willing to give up his life for the sake of traveling with Campanella forever. Campanella, who is kind to him where his other classmates are cruel. Campanella, who himself dies because he was saving the life of another.

Which, honestly, doesn’t bode terribly well for our brothers, does it? And one of them did say he was willing to give his life for Himari’s, so… But its hardly clear how literally we are meant to take all of this, just how the explanation by the little boy early in the episode will tie in, if at all.

One thing that stood out to me in the episode was Kanba’s assertion that Himari’s death was punishment, paired with Shouma’s shock at this statement. Now, I tend to doubt that Kanba is saying that Himari is being punished; there’s nothing to suggest that he thinks of his sister in any way that would be cause for him to believe her worthy of or subject to punishment. And Shouma’s immediate reaction is to be shocked, not to be angry. Granted, this moment is cut short by Himari’s revival, but its still there nevertheless. I have no idea what it could be, although I’ll admit that re-watching the episode after seeing Kanba kiss his sister in her sleep did make a few of his moments earlier in the episode rather suspect.

So, the incest angle! But what can be said yet, really? There’s very little so far about this; did Kanba feel in such a manner prior to the arrival of the penguins? Or does it only come about somehow as the price paid for bringing Himari back? And, if so, why? Questions which may or may not find an answer at some point.

I keep going back to that apple, in part because I can’t help but connect it, too, with the Fall of Man given my Western, Christian cultural context. What an interesting notion – the reward for the good and the cause of all evil! Will Ikuhara say that all interpretations here are valid, too?

On another note entirely, I love the ED music. Too bad J. A. Seazer couldn’t’ve composed the OST here, too, though.

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15 Responses to Mawaru Penguindrum Episode One

  1. animekritik says:

    I can only guess that the “punishment” has something to do with the loss of these kids’ parents, however it was that that happened.

    I missed all the utenaish stuff in the OP. I tend to doze off during OPs, bad habit. Let’s hope the show is as good as it promises.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      This week I’m gonna hit up the ED for “Utenaish stuff” as you put it.

      The idea of it having to do with the parents’ demise brings to mind the Victorian era penny dreadfuls featuring orphans to which worse and worse things happened. Parents, then sister dying? Feeling that they are responsible for the deaths of the parents? Obviously Ikuhara brings different animals to the table (ha!), but it does bring it to mind nevertheless.

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  3. Ryan A says:

    I’m working on the Miyazawa story, but one thing that I feel I took for certain was Himari’s death. That aspect of everything seems set in stone, although there are implications because of that I suppose; there’s enough philosophy floating around the situation.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I’m glad to hear that you’re reading Night on the Galactic Railroad.

  4. The Destination of Your Fate is…

    The End of The World

    duh.

    Can you hear it?

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Actually, this called to mind to me the decision by the fansubbers to render ‘unmei’ as ‘fate’ as opposed to ‘destiny’, and I think that decision may’ve colored my perceptions and the connections I drew to RGU. I think ‘fate’ is a more pessimistic term; one hears ‘fate’ used often with negative things. ‘Destiny’ comes across in a more positive manner. Roughly, one fulfills one’s destiny or must suffer a fate. Destiny, despite the obvious fact that it is by its very nature something laid out in advance, seems to imply a choice on the part of the actor that fate does not.

  5. Caraniel says:

    Oh dear I’m going to need to read Night on the Galactic Railroad to get all the subtleties of this show aren’t I? Been meaning to for years, guess there’s no time like the present!

    Other than missing what the train & apple motifs where alluding to, I did really enjoy this first episode – definitely feeling that Ikuhara stamp!

    • A Day Without Me says:

      You definitely should get around to reading it. Its a very good read, the type of children’s book which definitely transcends its intended audience.

  6. Joojoobees says:

    There was so much good in this episode that it was sinful. One thing (there are so many that it is difficult to mention them all) is the effective use of mono-chromaticism (e.g. blue in the doctor’s office, yellow in the chapel while Himari is dead).

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