Opinions regarding the finale of Mawaru Penguindrum have been divided right down the middle between those that say it was an incomprehensible mess that proves that Ikuhara hates puppies, freedom, and apple pie more than Hans Gruber, and those that say it was a bizarre, yet fitting end to a fascinating story… even if they don’t know what the hell happened. That and Ikuhara is a god amongst mortal men. Hyperbole aside, I find myself in the latter camp, though no side is really right or wrong.
It may sound pretentious, but with the Penguindrum finale, the viewer is going to get out of it what they think they will. Those that go in with low expectations and the desire to see Ikuhara’s remaining chunk of sanity corrode in front of their eyes will see just that, and those that go in expecting a transcendental experience that can only be produced by a man losing his last shred of sanity will see nothing but. If you, the humble reader, haven’t seen it yet, ask yourself which camp you find yourself a part of. If you’re in the former, you will most likely dislike it, and if you’re in the latter you’ll probably enjoy it despite how bizarre it is.
Now with that said, dear reader who hasn’t finished Penguindrum yet, stop reading here if you don’t want to have anything spoiled for you. There are massive, gigantic, gargantuan spoilers that you’ll probably hate me for if you continue reading. For the rest of you, if you want to see what I got out of that wonderful clusterfuck of a finale, please read on.
Ultimately, Mawaru Penguindrum is a story of fatalism and the desperate folly of trying to escape that fate. There’s an idea present throughout that we’re all living on borrowed time; no matter what we do, no matter what connections we make, we’ll all eventually end up leaving no trace and fade into obscurity. This is the natural order of things, and this is where Momoka and Sanetoshi’s importance comes in.
Momoka is a somewhat gentle figure that encourages subtle changes despite her immense power, contrasting with Sanetoshi, who is all for upsetting the status quo and starting the world again as he sees fit. He advocates extreme measures to bring into being an existence that he feels is more just, ironically using children and their lives as his pawns in his endeavors. Yet, his and Momoka’s ideals diverge at one key point: Whether needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or vice versa. Sanetoshi is perfectly willing and able to destroy the current timeline in order to bring about his idea of a perfect world, whereas Momoka would much rather annihilate herself to change the timeline. Both know there is a price to pay for changing fate, Sanetoshi would just rather sacrifice everyone else than himself. To put it in more succinct terms, Sanetoshi wants to remove the concept of fate altogether while Momoka wants to manipulate it for the good of all.
Ultimately, Ringo volunteers to end her life on the mortal plane for the purpose of keeping Himari alive, an act which ends Sanetoshi’s designs. Even though Shouma takes her place in having his existence literally purged from the world, the idea is still the same.
Supporting the fatalistic argument even more is the aforementioned concept of living on borrowed time. We see the Takakura family all suffering through one hardship or another, yet living when they should have perished. Their existence as a family unit, let alone as individuals, was doomed from the start and they all knew it. Yet, even once they reached the end of their ropes, they embraced the end knowing that they did leave an impression on those that they met, contradicting what Sanetoshi thought of the current world line. The two brothers who gave everything to keep their sister alive paid the ultimate price in the end, something that would ordinarily be a depressing ending despite the bittersweet undertones and that touching letter in the no longer terminally ill Himari’s stuffed bear.
What I saw at the end when looking back over the course of this series was a recurring theme of all things ending, yet leading to new and better beginnings, mainly due to the attachments we make to the people in our lives. Yes, everything will eventually come to an end, but the deeds and memories will still linger in some way. Because that’s what I got from it, I felt it was a poignant ending to a fantastic show.
But there likely isn’t some kind of deep hidden meaning like that behind it all. As far as anyone knows, this may have just been the show’s idea of going out with a bang while giving people plenty to talk about at the end of the day, no extra symbolism intended. Yet even with that knowledge, I’ll stick to what I said. It bears repeating that you’ll get what you want out of this ending, and I came out fully satisfied. I feel that I now understand the importance of the Survival Strategy, despite unraveling a plot thread as straightforward and dull as a string of Christmas lights.
And with that, I’ll miss this show. From week to week it was a rollercoaster, one that I never wanted to get off of despite the multiple whiplash-inducing turns. It definitely isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it managed to subdue an itch for something different that I’ve had for awhile. With that said, readers, what did you think of it? Did you think it good or bad, or what themes did you pull from its convoluted web?