Japan’s train system fascinates many, but I’m not as taken by the vehicles themselves as by the sheer amount of people shoved into each carriage, to the point where one can hardly breathe. Aside from finding it weird that people would willingly submit themselves to such claustrophobic conditions, it’s also a fertile breeding ground for molestation.
This episode of Mawaru Penguindrum jokes about a school girl being groped in the carriage above (by a penguin, no less!), but I’m reminded of the film I Just Didn’t Do It, in which a young salary-man is wrongfully accused of doing the same thing, is arrested and has the law completely stacked against him: his life is basically ruined.
In schools in the UK (at least in my experience,) we sit at tables rather than individual desks with sometimes as many as four or five students per table, but obviously, in Japan, students are sat at their desks, with a palpable amount of distance between each other. There’s a philosophy to be considered for these seating choices, but every time I see images like the above, I can’t help but feel how lonely it all looks, as if Japan is training its children to be introverted. The symmetrical way the desks are placed is also interesting, so very neat and organised, as if to encourage conformity.
So, if there was any remaining doubt as to Kunihiko Ikuhara’s intent with Mawaru Penguindrum, we meet Ringo, a girl with a crush on her teacher. Well, I say crush, but it’s really more of a scary obsession: in the scene above, she’s laying beneath her teacher’s house, listening to him relax after work: her eyes are crazy.
Comparisons to Utena abound, but what’s notably affecting about Mawaru Penguindrum is that it’s basically set in the real world. Utena always had that element of a twisted fairy tale to it, but this is a story more grounded in the Japan of today, and is that much stranger for it.