Home > Episode Reviews, Mawaru Penguindrum > Mawaru Penguindrum Episodes 4 and 5 – Ruled by Fate

Mawaru Penguindrum Episodes 4 and 5 – Ruled by Fate

If you’re going to make fate a key element of your show, you’re going to have to take a side eventually. Either the events of the show have been fated to happen, or they’re somehow the result of a character’s choice.

It’s sad that such dualism is forced on us, but television is rarely the right place to properly meditate on the nature of causality, and anime almost never is. So we’re left with two responses to fate: it exists, or it doesn’t.

There’s ways to play with this, of course, to subvert the audience’s expectations, or slightly tweak the nature of things, but ultimately it all comes down to this Manichean split. So which side does Mawaru Penguindrum come down on?

I still love the colorful design of the Takakura's house

Just like American treatments of the question tend to side with free will (excepting a cleverly twisty fate), anime usually assumes the existence of fate. Our actions have been by some unknown force and we have some destiny to which we are called and inexorably move towards.

Ringo has a diary that seems to tell what will happen in her future. Her fate, written down for her, is pointing to a glorious future with the man she obsessively stalks, Mr. Tabuki.

The problem is, nothing ever seems to play out as planned. Sure, the events described in her diary happen as written, but never in the manner she expects.

The penguin-like beings that only the Takakura kids can see are doing crazy stuff in almost every scene

Sure, he praised the curry she made in episode 3, but the only reason he ate it at all was because she snuck into his house and replaced it with the curry his girlfriend had been cooking for him. And the only way she knows that he praised it was because his girlfriend made it very clear she knew what Ringo had done, and agreed to keep it a secret, because there’s no way a 16-year old could ever win against her feminine charms.

Yuri Tokikago, said girlfriend, is another tear in the fabric of Ringo’s hopes and dreams. She’s unapproachably perfect in the way most young adult women seem to teenager girls: beautiful, self-assured, famous, and seemingly way out of Tabuki’s league.

Ringo imagines her romance with Tabuki as a paper-cutout baroque musical. It plays out in her head almost as badly as it does in real life

And because of her, Ringo’s chances of actually winning Tabuki’s heart have gone from slim to nil, and she knows it. She knows it even as the events written down in her diary play out in real life.

She brings him a Mont Blanc, but he’s already eating one with Yuri. She goes out bird watching with him, in hopes of getting her promised first kiss, but Shouma and Yuri are also there, and her first “kiss” is really just Shouma giving her mouth-to-mouth after she tries to drown herself in the river trying to get him to notice her (I hate it when anime pretend like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is equivalent to some intimate act, incidentally).

Ringo gets sprayed by a skunk on her way to meet Tabuki in the park, so she forces Shouma to swap clothes with her. It takes a little more than that to get the smell of skunk spray off you...

In fact, Shouma seems to fill in for Tabuki’s role an awful lot in these events, making me wonder if perhaps Ringo’s destiny lies with him, rather than Tabuki. They spend even more time together as the series progresses.

There’s more going on than Ringo. Episode 5, for example, seems like a break from Ringo’s imaginary relationship problems, with her discovering the truth behind Himari’s penguin hat, in addition to Kanba’s ex-girlfriends banding together against him, as well as a flashback that provides the first glimpse we have of the Takakuras’ parents, even if the focus is still squarely on the kids.

Yuri invades Ringo's puppet theatre daydreams with songs that can only be described as a crimes against music. And a catchphrase that similarly offends the English language

There’s a lot going on, but the show occasionally feels like it’s dragging its heels. Sure, it gives Ikuhara a chance to show off (the paper cutout musical scenes in episode 4 are a nice touch), and the animators fodder for all kinds of penguin-related background gags, but without much variety, it feels repetitive. While Ringo repeatedly getting her hopes dashed is surely going to pay off down the line, and the show is building tension for that, without much else going on, it’s just the same thing over and over again.

We haven’t gotten a single hint as to what might going on with the being inhabiting Himari’s body and, while there might be vague, conspiratorial murmurs from Ringo about ‘Project M’, there’s still very little hint as to what the overarching plot of the show is going to be. I’m sure whatever shadowy group is stamping its penguin logo onto everything has something to do with it, but anything else is pure speculation.

Kanba's jilted exes show up to let him know they're banding against him. It's like some kind of reverse Scott Pilgrim thing

In short, Mawaru Penguindrum is going through the same problems a lot of shows have getting started. It presumably has some idea of where it’s going, but doesn’t want to tip its hand too early, so it’s just going off and puttering around. Maybe when it’s done I’ll look back and everything will make sense, but right now, it just seems like stalling for time.

It makes me hope this show will last longer than one season, even though I normally don’t cover shows that long. If the show has already aired over a third of its episodes, then that means that the story is already a third over. And it sure doesn’t feel that way to me.

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