Humming to herself, she carefully tucks a worn, pink-covered notebook into her schoolbag. It brushes gently against the penguin cell-phone strap and last night’s homework. Boarding the train with her chattering friends, eating lunch as a group while one of them drones on endlessly about the cute guy she bumped into the other day, and stopping by the grocery store on her way home for necessary dinner ingredients, her thoughts are always occupied with one thing: her grand and creative plan to save her family. Everything she does, it’s all for her family.
Every night, he talks to ghosts. Of course, he knows that they’re not real, that the warm and affectionate light and delicious steam wafting from a bubbling pot on the stove top do not exist, yet he feels them. He wills them into his existence, and swears to carry out their bloody legacy in order to protect his sister. Following the night he accepted that envelope on the train, a last-ditch effort in order to keep the roof over their heads, his hands have become dirtier and dirtier. But no matter, as it’s all for his family, and his sister.
Mawaru Penguindrum‘s Ringo Oginome and Kanba Takakura have similar character narratives. Both use their incredibly strong wills to enact that which is most important to them. In Ringo’s case, she feels that she must become her sister Momoka in order to save her broken family. In Kanba’s case, he must involve himself in his parents’ stained legacy in order to keep his sister alive. In both cases, it’s their misguided attempts at preserving their families that lead them further down their own personal rabbit holes. Additionally, they both work with similar mystical influences, Momoka Oginome and Sanetoshi Watase respectively, to achieve these goals.
For Ringo, saving her family is equated with becoming her deceased sister, Momoka Oginome. The day that Momoka died, Ringo was born. This, coupled with overhearing arguments between her parents and their eventual separation, leads Ringo to believe that she is a reincarnation of Momoka. Once she fully becomes Momoka, her family will be restored. With Momoka’s fate diary in Ringo’s possession, Ringo starts down the path towards becoming her sister by following what is written in the diary, beginning with Momoka’s apparent marriage to childhood friend Keiju Tabuki. Even when the odds are visibly stacked against her, Ringo enacts her own version of Momoka’s written word, and forcibly warps reality to suit her needs.
However, after Ringo is presented with a situation in which she can presumably become her sister Momoka – by having sex with a drugged Tabuki – she is unable to go through with it. Following a conversation with Yuri Tokikago, Ringo attributes this to burgeoning feelings towards Shouma Takakura, who was assigned by Kanba to follow Ringo in order to obtain her fate diary.
Kanba Takakura also bends reality to his will under the guise of protecting his own family and keeping his terminally-ill sister, Himari, alive. The second episode of Mawaru Penguindrum shows Kanba willing to spy on Ringo Oginome with no remorse, and the third furthers this idea with Kanba breaking and entering Ringo’s home. His brother Shouma protests the entire time, and attempts to, at the very least, stop Kanba from going into Ringo’s personal room. A specific turning point occurs in this moment, where Kanba tells Shouma to save his innocence for Himari, implying that he will do the dirty work so Shouma can keep his conscience clean. In the meantime, Kanba assigns Shouma to tail after Ringo in an attempt to acquire her diary. While Shouma and Ringo inevitably become closer, Kanba goes off on his own, further entangling himself in the bloody legacy of terrorism left to him by his parents.
With all the parallels between Ringo and Kanba, it is interesting to follow the change in both characters once Shouma is designated to Ringo. All the while, Ringo continues her pattern of stalking Tabuki and fulfilling the words written in Momoka’s diary, with Shouma as the figurative angel on her shoulder, telling her how wrong and potentially dangerous her actions are. It is Shouma who saves her from drowning in episode four, and Shouma who appears next to her “honeymoon suite” underneath Tabuki’s house in episode seven with probing questions regarding Ringo’s grand mission: Project M. Most importantly, it is Shouma who tells her that he cannot leave her alone, recognizing that Ringo does not actually want to have sex with Tabuki, immediately before taking action to ensure that she does not make that very mistake. Ringo returns to this situation in episode 11, this time without Shouma. Left to her own devices, she is unable to go through with it and pushes Tabuki away.
Meanwhile, Kanba goes without his brother’s presence, becoming all the more mired and stained. Like Ringo, Kanba will do anything to protect his family, but unlike Ringo he crosses moral boundaries effortlessly. Upon re-watching Mawaru Penguindrum, I cannot help but think of what would have happened had Kanba not sent Shouma away.