“Survival strategy!”

 “Like I said, the apple is the universe itself.  A universe in the palm of your hand.  It’s what connects this world and the other world.”

“The other world?”

“The world Campanella and the other passengers are heading to!”

“What does that have anything to do with an apple?”

“The apple is a reward for those who have chosen love over everything else!”

“But everything’s over when you’re dead.”

“It’s not over!  What I’m trying to say is that’s actually where everything begins!”

-Mawaru Penguindrum, Episode 1

ajthefourth: We’ve been calling for an episode focusing on Himari, and this episode delivered that fantastically.  If you remember, in our first post in this series, Night on the Galactic Railroad was discussed.  I’d like to retouch upon a few of those themes now, specifically in regards to Himari and her present state.

In Night on the Galactic Railroad, the train is carrying all of its passengers to their deaths, with the exception of Giovanni, and seemingly his only friend Campanella.  When they first board the train, Giovanni notices that Campanella is all wet, a hint that points to the fact that Campanella is in fact dead, and had drowned right around the time that the mysterious train had appeared.  Throughout the entire train ride, Giovanni is blissfully unaware, until Campanella disappears near the end of the journey, and Campanella, for his part, finds it too hard to admit to Giovanni that he had died.  The train becomes his way of spending time with Giovanni, coming to terms with his own death, and allowing Giovanni to come to terms with Campanella’s death, as well as his own issues.

I had previously thought that it was Kanba who was playing the role of the Touga Kiryuu, having his hand in many more pies than the audience is lead to believe and, although perhaps not being the “final boss” of sorts, having some hand in what was happening through much of this first part of the series while Ringo was distracting the audience’s attention.  He still may; however, what episode nine of Mawaru Penguindrum brings into focus is that Himari, who I had previously thought of as more of a lifeless vessel for something else, knows far more than she lets on.  She is also dead, with her entire dream sequence hinting to what actually happened in the aquarium when she passed out on the ground.  Seemingly, like Campanella, Himari is having a hard time telling the people that she cares about that she’s dead.  This includes Shouma and Kanba, but also the mysterious boy who shares an apple with her in one of the flashbacks, who could be Shouma, Kanba or, more likely, someone else.

“Right, I had someone very precious to me. He is my soulmate.”

The apple is a reward for those who have chosen love over everything else.  As Himari leaves the Hole in the Sky library, Sanetoshi bestows upon her an apple, telling her not to forget it.  This is immediately following his telling her to go to the destination of her fate, which he claims that she already knows.  Is it a literal place, for example the location where she presumably shared the apple with her soulmate?

How much does Himari really know?  When she returns to the supposed “real world” she initiates the survival strategy, which we had previously thought had been initiated by the Princess of the Crystal.  A few episodes later she makes it a point to drink milk, and shut down Himari’s body to prove that the “real” Himari Takakura had already died.  I can’t help but think that, in spite of this, there’s more Himari in the persona of The Princess of the Crystal than we had previously thought.

vucub caquix: What my partner intuited last night about Himari being more in tune with her faculties than she lets on, is supported by the fact that once she donned on the veil of the Bride of Fate, there were visual markers showing that she was indeed the Princess of the Crystal at that time. Note the color of her eyes… However! What leads us to believe that Himari retains a measure of control is that in the scene before she’s sent back to the real world, as Sanetoshi is leaning in to kiss her, gone is all of the sexual bravado and self-assuredness of the Princess, and instead we see the more demure and submissive physical body language of Himari, the sickly younger sister.

Sanetoshi attempting to kiss Himari before she is returned to the world is a bit strange to me. The reason I feel so is that the first person I thought of as Sanetoshi spoke to Himari when she first arrived in the Hole in the Sky library was St. Peter. St. Peter is known as the keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven in Christian tradition, and is also regarded as the first Pope of the Catholic Church.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:19

The semantics in the differing opinions of Peter’s exact role according to Catholics and Protestants are a bit beyond me, but I’m a little more concerned with the modern popular cultural interpretation of Peter as the man who stands before the gates of heaven, taking stock of a person’s life. This is what Sanetoshi was doing to Himari by flipping through the various books of her life.

I think I should take a step back and explain myself a bit.

We know that Himari is dead. There’s a moment in this episode where Himari is at the counter with Shouma about to purchase a somewhat garish rockhopper penguin hat, where she’s called away by a small penguin with a bow on her head. If you rewatch the same scene in the very first episode, this is the exact moment that Kanba returns from his phone call only to see that Shouma has somehow misplaced Himari. A moment later, someone outside pleads for an ambulance for a pallid girl lying on the ground struggling to breathe. These stolen moments are what are recounted in this episode as Himari straddled the boundary between life and death.

As Himari was led away by a figurative white rabbit, everything becomes more surreal. This is when her body gives out. The red elevator she enters descends into an underworld setting that she is familiar with, a library that she has frequented. There is no one else around, only the cutout avatars of people, because as far as she’s concerned this is no longer about anyone else, this is about her. She doesn’t seem to balk at the idea of a familiar library beneath the aquarium, but seems rather resigned to the fact. She even seems to want to check out a specific book with a single-minded determination, almost as if she’ll derive some sort of otherworldly satisfaction from being able to acquire it. The lack of its record doesn’t deter Himari in the slightest, and gives the audience an opportunity to see how determined she can be. What she’s looking for, is a specific memory to relive.

The books in the Hole in the Sky library from what I can gather, are the records of the experiences and memories of the special guests who are allowed access. In a setting that’s reminiscent of an afterlife of sorts, the steward of the sum of our life’s experiences and the one who determines our readiness to pass on, is St. Peter. That is what Sanetoshi is doing here. Himari is looking for a specific book, a specific memory to relive that I suspect may help her in passing on. Sanetoshi however, finds every book except for the one she wants, making her relive specific moments in her life.

This is key. This is the gatekeeper’s role he is playing. By showcasing these moments, these memories, he is causing her to remember that she is still burdened with regret. Regret over what happened to her mother, with what happened to her friends. A regret that is eating away at the bottom of her heart, threatening to fester if she does not acknowledge it. When she begins to realize this herself, this is where Sanetoshi steps away from his role as gatekeeper, and assumes a more active one in giving Himari something that enables her return. The veil that she had purchased at the gift shop.

This is where that kiss does not settle with me. I can’t parse it properly. But what I did gather, was that Himari while wearing the veil, refuses Sanetoshi’s advances and instead chooses love. Why I believe she chooses love above all else, is that she’s given an apple as a reward. The universe in the palm of her hand.

The weight of this episode has not been lost on the audience. It’s through that very brief scene that we subconsciously realize that even though she’s dead, this is where everything truly begins.

“Can you help me find ‘Super Frog Saves Tokyo?’”

ajthefourth:  Continuing our focus on the library, we see a number of books as Himari makes her way down the staircase, all variations on the one book that she is looking for: Murakami’s Super Frog Saves TokyoSuper Frog Saves Tokyo deals with a few of the same themes that we see in Night on the Galactic Railroad.  The story involves a solitary bank worker, Katagiri, who has been chosen by a giant frog to save Tokyo from destruction by an earthquake-causing worm.  Throughout their stories, the main characters Giovanni (Night on the Galactic Railroad) and Katagiri (Super Frog Saves Tokyo) perform thankless and tedious tasks that garner little to no recognition (in fact, Giovanni is ridiculed constantly by his classmates).  They also are plunged into situations where they are unable to tell what is “real” and what is not.  At the end of each of their stories, they come to similar conclusions that it’s possible to take pride in what you do and the relationships you have had even without anyone else recognizing you, or in spite of the fact that they may not have been “real.”  Entire pieces of the two stories mentioned, as well as Penguindrum itself, are constantly being woven in and out of reality, painting a picture of uncertainty and uneasiness.

The 1990′s in Japan brought a large amount of uncertainty; economic collapse, a large earthquake in Kobe, and the 1995 attacks on the Tokyo subway, which we’ve already addressed a bit in previous entries.  Following last week’s episode, I had mentioned that this series could possibly be a character study into the after-effects of the Sarin Gas Attacks on its victims.  There are a few additional small references in this episode to support that theory, including one of the variants on Murakami’s story: Super Frog Saves Doctor Yanagibara, which appears to be a nod to Doctor Yanagisawa, a professor at Shinshu University who sent his findings on how to treat sarin poisoning to hospitals in Tokyo, allowing them to provide more efficient treatment.  In addition to this, Murakami is also a critic of the way that he felt the Japanese media handled the attacks; minimizing the victims’ pain and maximizing the sensationalist aspects of the attackers.  There’s an interesting quote by him here, that describes his motivations for another book he wrote on the attacks themselves, Underground.  At this point, I’m unsure as to whether the series will reference the attacks directly; however, even if it does not, these small nods to it support Murakami’s thoughts of painting a larger picture of the after-effects through those affected.

As a last point, I wonder why Himari was searching for this book over all others.  What is it in Super Frog Saves Tokyo that ties in with the one memory or thought that Himari feels as if she needs to finally pass on?  We still don’t know what happened between her and the two members of the idol group Double H to break apart their friendship; however it had to have been something big.  Could it have involved the boy with whom she shared the apple?  The uncertainty of her life specifically is worth paying attention to.

vucub caquix: Okay, Emily, we obviously had WAY too much to say about this episode. There were a bunch of funny little things I noticed, but I wasn’t sure how to address it. The scene where she met the boy where she shared the Fruit of Fate took place in something called the “Child Broiler”. Now, this could be nothing at all, but remember that shichirin that was featured in the allusion to Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss? It was situated right in front of Ringo’s womb. A pretty macabre pun, blink and you’ll miss it.

ajthefourth: We really have, and I could have written an entire post regarding the artwork and art direction of this episode, specifically the scene transitions, lighting, etc, which all reflect a style typically employed by the studio SHAFT.  The overt references to Revolutionary Girl Utena and could easily fill up another post.  Alas, I’ll have to save it for another time, or the finale review. ^ ^  Until next week, then?

vucub caquix: It’s going to be fabulous max.

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