The new OP – Shounen yo Ware ni Kaere (少年よ我に帰れ) by Yakushimaru Etsuko is Fabulous Max!
This week’s installment of Pengudrum features references to both Shoujo Kakumei Utena and Silence of the Lambs! I don’t mean to Buffalo Bill any Buffalo Bill, but there’s alot of Buffalo Bill going on towards the end of the episode.
Brief disclaimer: the interpretations of symbols, imagery and themes as laid out in this post are part of the unproven (unprovable?) hypothesis of the author, much of which comes from inference based on context within the series with reference to others. There is no basis for or claim to these interpretations as absolute or correct to the exclusion of other views. The fun of pseudo-literary analysis (even on a casual level) is that it is all subjective. If you cannot abide an opinion which differs from your own, you may wish to stop reading this.
The majority of this episode is spent in flashback, narrated from the perspective of a young Tokikago Yuri, revealing the fundamental root of her motivations and her obsession with Momoka and the all-important Penguin Drum. We open in YURI’S ROOM. INT. NIGHT. HIGH ANGLE, CLOSE UP on YURI, who lies awake on her back, gazing up at the ceiling. She comes to the realization that as long as “the tower stands,” she will never be free. CUT TO OP SEQUENCE
Dispirited, Shouma reflects he may have been too harsh on Ringo in their last encounter as he relaxes at a hot springs resort. He decides to playback her message on his cellphone. A slurred, incoherent Ringo answers, cryptically informing him he is “too late.” Thanks to the perverted curiosity of his fellow lodger, with whom he came along on a whim, Shouma discovers he is coincidentally staying at the same ryokan Yuri and Ringo have settled into and what’s more, they are right next door to his suite. He rushes over but is inadvertently knocked unconscious, thwarted by his own penguin familiar. Yuri regards his efforts somewhat mockingly as youthful idealism – “the knight in shining armor saving the princess” while somewhat envying the youthful passion to be wanted and the naivete to desire others to see her as she is.
In flashback, Yuri is an innocent, bright-eyed young girl who yearns for love and validation from her father. Her father, however, is an exacting man of the strictest standards who judges the intrinsic worth of the world based on his aesthetic philosophy. For him, only beautiful things can, and should, be loved but in his eyes Yuri is unworthy and thus ugly.
(CUE – “UTENA BELLS” IN THE DISTANCE)
The statement shocks Yuri to the verge of tears. Her father continues his shocking lecture, revealing his disdain for her mother; his belief in beauty as the only thing of value in the world; and his desire to remodel her into a true thing of beauty, as he can only love beautiful things.
At school, Yuri is isolated at art class, causing her to give credence to her father’s words. Momoka, however, takes an immediate liking to Yuri, who cannot comprehend her fascination with someone as obviously “ugly” as herself. By this point, she has already been poisoned by her father’s philosophy, which is evident as she talks at length with Momoka pondside after school. Despite this, Momoka’s gentleness and innocence plant seeds of something hopeful and pure in Yuri’s heart. At home, her father all but reverses whatever good Momoka was able to sow during their conversation, as he warns that nice girls are nice to everyone and thus cannot be trusted.
This causes much strain between the two girls as Momoka still seeks to gain Yuri’s friendship while Yuri rejects any further contact. Momoka continues to reach out to her, even telling her her “secret” of being able to transfer to another fate, something that requires the use of using a special spell from her diary (which we know as the Penguin Drum) and praying to God. In addition, the world’s very scenery changes whenever a fate is changed, and she herself receives physical damage as the price for changing fate. Momoka warns Yuri to let her change her fate to grant her freedom and avoid death, but Yuri cannot accept Momoka’s words as truth. Later, her father prepares to complete Yuri’s transformation and “end” everything that night.
In the present, Himari notices her childhood friends, now Double-H, wearing the scarves she knitted on a television broadcast. She barges in to thank Sanetoshi, who suggests to Kanba the nature of family as being a fantasy and a curse, an inescapable part of one’s life and something that can bring pain and misfortune.
At the ryokan, Yuri has abandoned her plan of seducing Ringo, confirming to herself that only the real Momoka can give her peace. Masako has infiltrated Yuri’s suite in disguise as a maid, clearing away the uneaten meal. She subtly references her public identity as a famous actress before revealing her intent to retrieve the other half of the diary from her by force. Despite Masako’s attacks at point blank range, Yuri is able to skillfully deflect her shots with ease. In an attempt to gain the advantage, she kills the lights and attacks Yuri in the dark armed with night-vision goggles. Distracting her with the spotlight, Masako seizes the other half of the diary hidden under Yuri’s towel and dives into the sea, beating a hasty retreat. Afterwards, Shouma awakens to find Ringo sleeping peacefully, undisturbed. Yuri reveals to Shouma the actual other half of the diary was securely stored in the safe the whole time.
Back in flashback, Yuri is shocked to find her father gone and the Tower (and fate) from which she had no hope of escaping has changed. She rushes to find Momoka just as she is being taken to hospital by ambulance. Momoka explains she really loves Yuri and sacrificed her well-being to save her. In the present, the adult Yuri vows to use the diary’s spells to bring Momoka back.
This episode is truly one of the most metaphor-rich and symbolism-laden episodes of Pengudrum yet. The entire focus of this week’s installment is the formative experience of Yuri’s childhood, from the trauma of her father’s twisted philosophy on the true nature of beauty to her defining meetings with Momoka. In a mere 24-odd minutes of screentime, [Director] Ikuhara presents a beautifully-rendered portrait of an irrevocably fractured girl – as mentioned previously, one of Ikuhara’s pet themes is the loss of innocence through life-altering incidents beyond the relevant character’s control (and more often than not, against their wishes).
Yuri’s father plays a major role; as does the ominous, looming Tower, a crucial symbol of the utmost significance. Manifested as Michelangelo’s David, the Tower represents an impossibly-, utterly-perfect ideal of physical beauty of the human form. It is a striking image so closely-linked with Yuri’s (unnamed) father it may even be taken to symbolize the man himself and his cruel influence over Yuri. It may be somewhat vulgar to explicitly observe, but the Tower is also a rather large…. phallic symbol, a thing of male dominance and supremacy, but more accurately in this case, oppression.
Her father is, ironically, an artist, more precisely a sculptor – one who strips away inessentials to liberate glorious forms buried under cold, hard marble. His hand is guided by the insatiable thirst for exquisite wonder that can only be seen with the inner eye and then roughly conveyed to the world via his chosen medium.
Yet Yuri’s father is actually a grotesque parody of the sculptor as he is known to the outside world. His prized chisel, the instrument of transformation, is intended to help the artist reveal truth; create beauty and give life to inspiring things. In short, it is a means, an agent, of transformation; but instead he takes up his instrument to use on his daughter as a thing of pain and torment, hiding base, contemptible lies; destroying her innocence and her heretofore unspoiled world outlook and fragile self-worth, giving rise to shame and self-loathing. No doubt he has left his mark on her physical form (to say nothing of her scarred psychological state, as demonstrated last episode); one can only speculate as to what he has been doing to her with a very different chisel, trying to “make” Yuri into something he considers beautiful. Perhaps this is her “body’s secret” and the thing of which she is most ashamed. All this is bad enough, but worse than his perversion of his role as an artist is his betrayal of the little girl who so desperately needed her father’s paternal care and love. The betrayal of her trust is another major theme and driving factor defining Yuri’s past.
Considering her painful childhood, it’s much easier now to view Yuri in a much more sympathetic light. How she will change her future remains to be seen, but of course it will involve some kind of sacrifice. Can Momoka really be revived? How would that affect Ringo and Tabuki? The implications of such a thing are mind-boggling to contemplate, but I think I’ll refrain from speculation on that matter and just wait for the next episode.