With Ringo’s whole fiasco officially pushed aside for the sake of moving the overall plot along, I can’t say I’m all that comfortable with the changes. I grew to love Ringo and her zany bits of insanity, and moving back to focus on Himari almost seems like a step back as far as the overall story progress goes. And indeed it is a flashback to that day that Himari, Shouma, and Kanba all went to the aquarium together, furthermore back to Himari’s unfortunate passing.
This was an odd episode for many reasons, in that it felt completely surreal. While the rest couldn’t be touted as realistic with even a liberal definition of the word, it was at this episode that Mawaru Penguindrum took a complete departure from the norm to examine what makes Himari tick, and any negative feelings that she might have regarding her past. What struck me as stranger than usual were the subtle, though likely unintentional, allusions to the story of Persephone, and indeed the descent of the deceased as a whole into the chthonic realm of Hades.
For those who slept through their Mythology class or didn’t have a mother who read them Greek Gaelic, and Norse myths every night before bed for eight years, Persephone was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus who lived her life as a goddess of the wilderness is wont to do, until Hades decided to kidnap her and take her to his realm. While she could’ve left at any time before being given food of the underworld, she foolishly ate fruit that Hades provided, ensuring that she would remain there for the rest of her existence.
According to the Ancient Greeks, this is why we have the seasons; one half of the year has Persephone frolicking around on the surface (Spring and Summer months), and one half has her brooding contemplatively as a queen of the underworld (Fall and Winter). This duality is somewhat brought forth in Penguindrum under different circumstances. While Persephone would change locations and duties based on the time of year, Himari changes at the whim of the Penguin Hat. It isn’t her intention to take Shouma and Kanba to a flashy alternate dimension where fabulous stock footage is played whenever possible, it’s all the Penguin Hat that makes her do it.
So while it isn’t something that’s entirely connected to the myth, there are some tentative similarities there that would be best to pay attention to. The penguin that leads Himari astray to the library is somewhat similar to Charon, the ferryman who rows the recently deceased to their final resting place. This doesn’t so much have to do with the Persephone myth, since Hades directly took her to the underworld without the assistance of the ferryman, but Penguin #3’s resemblance in function to Charon in this episode is somewhat worth bringing into consideration.
The pocket dimension that Himari’s brought to, filled to the brim with books of an almost apocryphal and foreboding nature, could be symbolic of the afterlife, where the deceased is regaled on their life and asked if they have any regrets. Being read these books about her life could be interpreted as her unwittingly eating the fruit of the underworld, and thus being unable to fully return to her previous life as a chronically ill sibling of two. Whether she’s aware of it or not, she’s trapped between worlds, the proverbial Spring and Summer to the grieving and desperate Kanba and Shouma.
Our pink haired gentleman who croons gently to Himari, a person resembling Utena after a surprisingly eerie sex change operation, is our Hades. The curator, lord and master of the afterlife, Bubblegum Hades is yet another mysterious driving force in the Penguindrum universe. He slowly, subtly puts the moves on Himari before asking her to be his queen, to which she sternly refuses in an out of character fashion. However, the damage is done, and she’s more than aware of it. She’s tasted of the forbidden fruit, and she’s now entirely connected to the world that she was unwittingly brought to.
As for Penguin #3, she shares the same capability for unbelievable consumption as her brethren, soaking up knowledge at the same rate that the other two inhale food. It’s not conducive to anything, I just felt that was worth noting since we haven’t seen much of her during the series’ thus far short run. Unfortunately, I can’t work out any sort of purpose for the penguins so far in the grand scheme of things. They obviously do have one as something other than observers/occasional interveners, but I can’t place my finger on it yet.
The use of repetitious, stark imagery was strong in this episode, to me strongly reminiscent of a fever dream. Despite her lively and lucid state, Himari still seems to be alone in an occupied world, entirely disconnected from the events surrounding her. It’s clear that she’s dead to the world around her, on her way at the ushering of Charon.
When brought through the Penguin Door, the portal to the afterlife, Himari wanders into a realm consisting of an unrealistic number of books of similar style, almost exactly the same as each other. Most tellingly, we have the alternating yellow and pink background at the time that she and Bubblegum Hades are chatting about any past guilt that she might have. This is shown more than enough to have the proper effect, and remains stored in the memory long after the episode is finished.
Our episode finally ends with the knowledge that destiny is running its course, Himari woke up from what did turn out to be a dream that doubled as a flashback sequence, and nobody still has any idea what the hell’s going on, even after this episode came along to provide hours upon hours of pointless speculation for the fans. Even with all that to say, I really liked this. It really says something about a show when you can have episodes dedicated to exposition, not come any closer to unraveling the true riddle in the story, and still feel totally alright with that. And while there were prevalent themes of guilt worth exploring, were I to go for the low hanging fruit, I felt that the Persephone angle was something interesting to work with. And really, isn’t that all a post needs?
Here, take a look at that background again. Soak it up, tell me if you notice anything symbolic, and I’ll check back in eight hours when I start making sense again and don’t grasp at straws that might not exist.