Mawaru Penguindrum’s a lot like going to church, just with the clever touch of that church being overrun with penguin choirboys.
It’s all about the ritualization of this shit. The Survival Strategy scenes all follow a certain ceremonial-like pattern– it’s all preaching to the downtrodden masses and telling those pathetic fuckers they deserve to be pathetic. The flashbacks are all queued with the same subway-themed graphic. Even Ringo’s creepy stalker routine has been hammered into us to such an extent that it’s gone from being repetitive to downright religious in its nature.
And all of this makes Penguindrum fascinating. It also makes it kinda tedious and boring. Y’know, just like church.
So far, Penguindrum’s felt like one of those month-long “series” that churches will sometimes bust out. Every Sunday sermon for a month or so will draw upon the same themes or the same book or whatnot. Sounds like a good idea to explore a point, but in the end these things usually end up repeating the same points over and over again. Only the context changes.
With that said, Ringo’s escapades feel like a sermon series on would-be rape.
We know Ringo wants in Tabuki’s pants and doesn’t care what she has to do to get this done. That point gets hammered in pretty early. Like, in episode two. Everything that’s happened in terms of Ringo’s storyline since that point has only been a difference in context. One week she needs help moving a mattress under Tabuki’s house– because she wants to fuck Tabuki. Amen. Another week she needs help molesting a frog to get its eggs– because she wants to fuck Tabuki. Amen. And with every act of lust we have a fairy tale-like cutscene where we get to see Ringo’s delusions play out like one of those stage plays from Sakura Wars– just like the chorus kicking in after the sermon’s over– all in ceremonial rhythm.
Ringo’s obsessive lust is being played up to ritualistic proportions. Nothing deters her holy quest to fuck Tabuki and sire his lustchild. The only new thing we ever learn over the course of all of this is Ringo’s motivation, and while that’s important in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t exactly much considering how many times we’ve sat through the same Ringo-sermon.
All of this is pretty interesting. It takes some guts to have the crux of this series (Thus far, at least.) be the attempts of some deluded teenage girl to bed a teacher. It’s not unlike the whole Endless Eight ordeal during the second season of Haruhi. We’re seeing the same shit played out over and over again. The only difference being that we’ve had more details changed with each repetition. So I’m liking it on an conceptual level, much like how I liked Endless Eight. Rituals are cool on that conceptual, fetishistic level.
But it’s another thing to actually sit through said ritualistic motions. Ringo’s plight isn’t interesting enough to wade through this sort of repetition. It’s fascinating to see things play out like this, but I don’t give a damn about Ringo’s fucked-up libido. Being one-note is all but necessary for this sort of pattern to work, but at the same time Ringo’s a one-note character. She isn’t relatable. She isn’t all that amusing, outside of her bits with the frog. There’s no textual reason for this repetition to occur, unlike Endless Eight’s timeloop shit. It’s all the repetition without the context for said pattern, and without that context it just isn’t working very well.
What’s funny is that the other ritualistic aspects of the series are making it worth watching. And by that I mean the penguins.
The penguins have the same sort of repetitive shtick going. #2 eats shit and murders roaches. #1 acts tough and peeps on chicks. #3… knits? We haven’t seen enough of her to say much. The catch is that this sort of ritualistic behavior actually works when it comes to comedy.
You tell a bad joke, and it sucks. You tell it again and it sucks even more. But when you tell said joke ten times or twenty times, it suddenly becomes funny because of said repetition. Like Bugs Bunny saying “What’s up, doc?” Say it once or twice and it’s just some throwaway phrase. Say it in every damn cartoon and it becomes an amusing catchphrase. The penguins have that sort of shtick going. #2 spraying a roach one is a cute throwaway gag, but by the time he’s done it in almost every episode, seeing him go full-on genocide in a later episode, killing about twenty of them underneath Tabuki’s house, and you have a scene that’s fucking hilarious. And that scene wouldn’t have been as funny if we didn’t have that prior repetition.
All of the other scenes that work have that same sort of ritual playing out. The Survival Strategy scenes have that magical girl transformation sequence vibe to them, and seeing Himari berate her brothers becomes funnier the more we see it play out.
So this is a make and break point for Penguindrum– damning and elevating it at the same time. And it’s all ending up in a bit of a wash for me. I’ve long since ceased to care about the actual plot of the damn thing because of the agonizingly slow pace, but the background gags and penguins are pretty damn hilarious. It’s a bit like watching a Looney Tunes marathon if someone felt the need to insert a subplot with Lola Bunny trying to rape Bugs Bunny.
Oh, wait, the new Looney Tunes cartoon show is doing exactly that. Damn, have any of y’all seen any of these new Looney Tunes cartoons. Lola’s all crazy obsessive over Bugs. I didn’t care much for the series at first, but I’ve been warming up to it. It ain’t no Adventure Time or Archer, but it has its moments.