ajthefourth: Please disregard a few of the speculations I made on Tabuki’s character last week. Although I still see him as partially representing that equalizing sort of attitude that I described from a few interviews in Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, it goes a bit deeper for Tabuki personally. I was wrong in saying that he has completely shut down emotionally, for there was still one thing that could stir Tabuki’s heart: Momoka.
Let’s travel back to Night on the Galactic Railroad, shall we?
There are many in this series who could step into the role of protagonist Giovanni, this story does revolve around multiple characters’ inability to “move on” from death in one way or another; however, for this exercise, I’ll choose Tabuki to play our lead. Tabuki, like Giovanni in the story, grew up isolated and alone. In Giovanni’s case, it was because he was attempting to provide for his poor family in the absence of his father. In Tabuki’s case, it was because he was pressured by his mother to be a pianist at the exclusion of all other things, including friendship with others. While on the mystical Milky Way train, Giovanni builds his relationship with classmate Campanella (the only classmate who was nice to him) to the point where he says that he wants to travel with Campanella forever. Unfortunately, the ride on the train marks their last moments together since, from the time they boarded, Campanella had already died.
An early version of the story has Giovanni stumbling across a man while he is still reeling from Campanella’s death. It is this man who points out to Giovanni that anyone can be Campanella if you only bother to get to know and befriend people. In a way, Giovanni can travel with Campanella forever by simply reaching out and loving others, answering Kenji Miyazawa’s question of, “What is true happiness?”
Tabuki is Giovanni had Giovanni chosen to ignore this message and instead, focus on the fact that one specific person had died over all others. By emotionally closing himself off to the world following Momoka’s death, he is missing the point of Momoka’s sacrifice. Momoka wouldn’t have wanted for Tabuki to wallow in the pain of her death, but instead live his own life of happiness with others, free from the cage that he had built for himself thanks in large part to the pressure from his mother. He recognizes this briefly when he sees the determination in Kanba’s eyes, leading to the (ill-concieved and ill-blocked) redeeming act of his saving Himari at the last minute.
The brief scene with Ringo and Tabuki in the elevator is also interesting, where he tells Ringo to not end up like himself. In an earlier post I had Ringo briefly play the role of Giovanni. If we continue with this track of thought, Ringo represents the Giovanni for whom the journey resonated with. Ringo has chosen to open herself up, not only to Shouma, but to Himari as well, and has become an infinitely better character for it.
vucubcaquix: There was a moment in this week’s episode where my suspension of disbelief was tested. During the climax of conflict between Tabuki and Kanba over Himari, Himari took it upon herself to bear the punishment for the Takakura family and was ready to commit an altruistic suicide against Kanba’s wishes. Through several quick scene cuts and anguished off-screen cries, we suddenly see Kanba on the floor and Tabuki holding Himari in his arms, passing her off to Kanba as he walked by. The blocking of the scene made no sense. The positioning of the characters was confused, and their actions to end up where they were even more so. It was a strange moment for me, since up until that moment the characters’ movements in physical space never strained credulity for me. If I were to abstract an interpretation from this, I’d say that the movements of the characters in the scene weren’t what were important, noting that Tabuki had ultimate control throughout the entire encounter and only relented the moment he either had an epiphany or was satisfied by the proceedings. The issue I have with that is that in a series that has been criticized at times, this is the first time where I clearly and distinctly witnessed a deus ex machina. It was not a well planned confrontation.
I love Penguindrum best when I’m free to focus on the why of an event or an action, and not the how. I disliked having to give pause and address the inconsistencies that this episode brought up in how Tabuki staged and planned the confrontation, but I am incredibly interested in why he did it. As Emily said, Tabuki has closed off his heart to all save for one person: Momoka. His image of her furthers solidifies what the show has been implying, in that she is a Jesus Christ figure who has sacrificed herself in order to save both individual people, and humanity as a whole. This gives me an interesting view of Tabuki’s motivations as a character.
7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.
8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
I’ve written about him before as a comparison to Sanetoshi’s character, but Tabuki’s actions in this episode also remind me of Simon Peter. Before his three denials of Christ, Peter was one of Christ’s most ardent followers and defenders, so much so that when the Romans came to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus Peter took violent action to defend his teacher. He was immediately reprimanded by Jesus Christ who then went forward to heal the servant who was attacked in his name. Jesus said there that he has accepted the fate that was given to him by his Father and that he would not abide violent acts in his name, for all who live by the sword, shall die by the sword. Tabuki is still distraught by the death of whom he considers his savior, his personal Jesus Christ. He lashes out violently against those he perceives as having wronged Momoka, the children of the perpetrators of the attack that took her life. Momoka would not approve of his actions in any way whatsoever.
Kanba’s selflessness reminded Tabuki of the scenario in which he found himself in the child broiler with Momoka refusing to let go of his hand. The similarities in the actions between Momoka and Kanba awakened Tabuki to the cruelty and absurdity which he was pitting the siblings in. The contrast coming from the difference in how Tabuki and Himari both accepted their deaths also exacerbated the shame he began to feel. Himari’s attempt at suicide arises from an altruistic motivation, a love for her family, where Tabuki’s acceptance of death comes from a sense of self-loathing, the idea that no one will love him. The scene in the child broiler was a turning point in Tabuki’s life, in that it was an abstraction for a moment in time where he was faced with his imminent death and Momoka saved his life. Outside of any unrevealed scenes or moments from his childhood, I took the child broiler scene to be an abstruse representation of the moment when the attacks on the Tokyo subway system took place. Tabuki was originally supposed to be the victim on the Marunouchi line, but Momoka through the power of her diary and her remuneration saved his life instead. It was that moment when he was saved, that Tabuki felt as though he’s lived his life in a kind of superposition, similar to Schrodinger’s poor cat. It was there where he recognized that because of Momoka’s changing of his fate, he was both alive and dead.
ajthefourth: Due to their earlier characterization, we had initially thought that the Takakura brothers’ marked differences and slow drifting apart throughout the series had been pointing to the fact that the brothers would eventually be pitted against each other due to their differing opinions. This seemed especially apparent when the siblings reverted back to their original characterizations in Episode 10, where Shouma woke up in the hospital following his accident. Kanba immediately returned to bossing him around, Shouma immediately returned to being a subservient doormat, and Himari smiled throughout their arguments, quietly keeping them in line (although, her actions seemed far more weighty after events in Episode Nine).
As it would turn out, this was hardly a nod to how the brothers would find themselves on opposing sides of an argument, but instead, another piece of characterization that lends itself to the puzzle that is the Takakura Family; not only has Kanba been covering for Himari, but he has also been covering for Shouma as well there were even visual allusions to it in Episode 17, where Kanba’s penguin is being doused in ink, the implication being that he is dirtying himself for the family so that Himari will be saved, and Shouma will remain “pure.” Last episode we also saw Shouma complaining about how he always gets the “lame” duties, like watching at the door of Himari’s hospital room, while Kanba teases him. This week, Kanba teases him still, telling him that he’s late when he eventually arrives at the scene.
I believe this is Shouma’s true turning point. Even when he was saving Ringo from being hit by a car, he was still held back by a sense of guilt. Every action that Shouma has taken in the series has been hampered by his own self-loathing and crippling fear (often represented by his penguin getting in the way). Now that he’s finally seen how much his brother has been through to preserve their family, I’m interested to see what Shouma does next. Seemingly, he still has a strong sense of morality, so I doubt that he will dirty his hands as readily as Kanba has. Nonetheless, I’m excited to see where Shouma goes from here. It’s no secret that he has been one of my favorite characters (along with Ringo) and I’d love to see him step up to the plate wholeheartedly.
As an aside, did anyone else find it interesting when Tabuki pointed out that it was Kanba’s father who is spearheading the remnants of the terrorist organization? In Episode 16 we saw Masako remark that her father was also part of the same organization when Sanetoshi was attempting to make her join them. We also see Kanba and Masako together as children, with Shouma nowhere in sight. Thinking back to the possibility of it being only one boy born to Kenzan Takakura as the catalyst for initiating the survival strategy, the fact that Masako’s father had been missing since the incident, and that the two may recognize the same man as their “father” I can’t help but wonder if the series is trying to tell us that they’re related. It’s a shot in the dark, but it would be an interesting development, especially in regards to what it would mean for Masako’s feelings towards Kanba and Kanba’s feelings towards Himari.
vucubcaquix: The final scene of this episode struck me hard. Shouma once again rages against the whims of fate that continue to punish his family, proclaiming that they never asked for anything special. A sliver of happiness in an unfeeling and uncaring world are all that any of them ever desired, and the machinations of the world see fit to see what they beseech and to deny them fully and truly. From his point of view, they will never find happiness because fate itself opposes them, and he despairs. Kanba may have been the existentialist that ascribes his own meaning to life contrary to fate, but Shouma was the nihilist who believed life was just meaningless. What was wonderful about this scene and this episode, was that in where we see Shouma making an effort to save his family there was no hesitation or sense of self-loathing on his part. He acted purely out of his love and desire to protect his friends and family. This purely protagonistic action with no hesitation on his part is representative a burgeoning existential mindset that is supplanting his formerly nihilistic one. Just as Kanba said, Shouma now wishes to live for his family above all, they are his meaning, his purpose, and he will willingly suffer for them.
Ringo coming up to him and crying onto his back is the single most romantic scene of the year. She again says that everything in the world happens for a reason, that there is meaning in the suffering that everyone goes through if it’s fated. Shouma and Ringo, through their wholly differing worldviews in Existentialism and Determinism, resemble star crossed lovers who should be thwarted by their own philosophies. But the warmth through which Penguindrum has treated Ringo’s growth as a character, coming a long way from the pathetic girl who loved fate and tried to enact it in a misguided manner, to the lovely young woman who finds enough comfort in it to forgive those who’ve transgressed against her, indicates to me that this burgeoning relationship is one that is wholly sincere and beautiful. The philosophically minded have for centuries tried to find a way to reconcile the idea of free will with the Determinists, but this show elegantly alludes to that idea in a very moving scene.
ajthefourth: Lastly, a quick thought about the painting featured in the opening of this episode: “Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and her Son” by Claude Monet. The painting is of Camille Monet, Claude Monet’s wife, and their son, Jean. Camille and Claude had an apparently tumultuous relationship. She was a model of his and became his mistress. Monet’s parents threatened to cut him off if he married her, and when they did marry Monet’s father did not attend, disapproving of both Camille and his son’s choice to be a painter. They were said to have been deeply in love with each other, but also had several marital issues, often brought on by a lack of money, or pressure on Monet to paint. He even was said to have attempted suicide around the same time that their first son was born, due to their dire financial straights. Further strain was put on their marriage by Monet’s apparent affair with family friend Alice Hoschedé, and Camille’s deteriorating health.
As to what this means for Tabuki, it’s probably yet another reflection on how his upbringing was less than ideal, and his parents’ relationship with each other was probably similarly tumultuous.