As weird as it is, there is A LOT A LOT to like about Penguindrum. The main trio of characters, Shoma, Kanba, and Himari, are really well-constructed characters with multiple layers of depth. Ringo Ogonome is a screwed up young woman who has great development and a great story.
But I find myself very interested in what the writers did with Ringo’s sister Momoka. Because while she barely appears on screen or in the novels, she is the fulcrum the whole story rests on.
Right? The whole show ultimately revolves around Momoka. She’s the actual protagonist! And she’s barely there!
Instead, Momoka is defined by the actions of the characters around her.
Artists get this kind of stuff. There have a phrase for it – negative space – that describes the empty places that contextualizes the work within or around them.
Momoka is the ultimate expression of negative space.
Well, maybe not the ultimate. Ever seen The Third Man, the great film noir from Carol Reed? There’s a character you only see briefly at the end, Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles), around whom all the action revolves. The whole movie is about Harry … and you barely see him.
Or Sauron, right? Sauron is the driving force behind the whole Lord of the Rings story – and you never see him. He is NEVER on stage. But if he’s not there, there is nothing.
Of course, those are antagonists. I’m not sure what Momoka is, but I know she ain’t the antagonist. So what do we know about her?
We know that Penguindrum is all about Momoka.
Sure. Take a step back and look at it. Penguindrum’s story is basically told at three generational levels:
“The parents” are Ringo’s parents and Shoma’s parents. Ringo’s parents are also Momoka’s parents, by definition. Shoma’s parents were thought to have killed Momoka. That automatically puts Ringo and Shoma into conflict, right? It does in Shoma’s mind, at least. And Momoka’s parents are so devoted to her that they ignore Ringo. There they are, revolving around Momoka.
“The contemporaries” are the people, now adults, who were Momoka’s friends. They are the teacher, Keiju, and the actor, Yuri, who are Shoma’s teacher and Ringo’s rival, respectively. They knew Momoka, they loved Momoka, and they want her back. Their lives are warped around that desire, so there they are, too, revolving around Momoka.
And then there are “the kids,” Ringo and Shoma plus Kanba and Himari. Their lives are all defined in one way or another by Momoka. She was Ringo’s sister … and Ringo’s parents have rejected Ringo to keep the memory of Momoka alive. Shoma’s parents are thought to have killed her, and he has inherited their sins. And Himari, when possessed by the Princess of the Crystal, demands the Penguindrum, which is Momoka’s diary. And since Himari is the proxy battleground between Momoka and the villain Sanetoshi and since Kanba is devoted to keeping Himari alive no matter what, even if it means bringing her to Sanetoshi for treatment, he gets sucked into it, too.
Everything revolves around Momoka.
Everyone that knew her loved her. They didn’t just love her; they loved her obsessively. The lives of Ringo’s parents, and Keiju and Tori are warped by their desire to have her back.
Shoma sees that. His life is warped by the belief that his parents killed her.
Ringo sees that. Her life is warped by the fact that she is pushed aside in favor of Momoka’s memory.
Himari may not be aware of it, but when she puts on the hat she channels Momoka.
What else do we know about Momoka? We also know she was a powerful wizard, if you like. She knows the spell that defeats Sanetoshi.
That’s the weakest link in all of this interconnectedness, I think. Ultimately, we see her casting the spell, and while it is climactic, it fails for two reasons:
First: It (slightly) demystifies her. Look, she’s a school girl/magical girl/wizard, and there she is, casting a spell.
Second: We know that the world of Penguindrum is mystical, but an actual wizard is a step beyond what they’ve created. How did Momoka get that kind of power? It’s just sort of there.
But in spite of that, it’s still all about Momoka, to the point that the plot resolves when her conflict with Sanetoshi, a draw between she and he until that point, is resolved. He is cast out of the world, as are Shoma and Kanba, and the world is healed
It’s like she’s the fulcrum of the playground see-saw, right? Someone plunks their butt on one end of the see-saw and all the characters go flying off the other. It only works because of the fulcrum.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.