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To all Mawaru Penguindrum devotees who are fuming due to this article’s title, hear me before you pull the trigger. I assure that this is not blasphemy.

Nonsense consists both of what has no meaning and what, as such, demonstrates the presence of meaning because it offers significance—a sense which is clearly always distorted. In literature, it is used indiscriminately to signify a stylistic device and is often caused by an excess of meaning rather than a lack of it. This presents an unresolved tension, which refers to as a balance between presence and absence of meaning. I believed that the witty used of nonsense is effective in Mawaru Penguindrum because of the viewers’ drive to search for meaning everywhere in everything, and even where possibly none exists.

Oftentimes, though not essentially humorous, nonsense has a kind of hilarity derived from a different source than a joke; it’s funny because it doesn’t make sense, contrasting to most humour which is comical because it does. Take for instance the used of the penguins. Their actions are full of silliness, but it’s not explained if there’s a reason behind those actions. So it’s like humour without context. Personally, I particularly find Shoma’s penguin hilarious of all. However I couldn’t explain why it’s funny because there’s barely logic behind its amusingness—I was puzzled with its repeated act of spraying and how it tries to put everything in its mouth.

Aside from that, nonsensical plays generate misdirection—this can be a shortage or surplus of meaning—but at the same time it presents an evocative direction or a sufficient signification. In this series, it’s exemplified by the signs on the train. These might looked like some random claptrap however, these subtly prepared us intuitively on what’s going to happen. These dictated some sort of riddles that unconsciously pushed us to think. For instance, the sign from last episode hinted us that there’s something going to happen with Ringo’s lunch. And in episode two, Shoma was accused of harassing by Ringo’s friend. It is important to emphasize though that these supposed visual twaddle will only remain nonsensical in nature until the receiver deciphered its mystery.

In addition, another characteristic of a nonsense world is it operates according to its own unique rules of order and illogicality. For example, it’s perplexing how Ringo couldn’t feel and detect that the penguins were touching and rummaging her, wherein fact there were occasions when she could actually feel and evidently interact with the penguins e.g. Kanba’s penguins split her legs and she happened to step on Shoma’s penguin. Hence, these deliberate incongruities may or may not mean to say anything significant however this is one of the director’s style to draw attention and proclaim that we’re inside his brain whether it does or doesn’t make sense to us—he’s the artist and he made this world according to his own logic.

Speaking of the director—although I’m not familiar with Ikuhara’s works—I’d say that formalism is extensively used in this series, wherein the director has no desire to show reality, but rather wants to show his own vision of the “universe.” Also, formalistic shows are often dream-like which uses exaggerated images. In episode four, Ringo’s daydreams had been rampantly used in a nonsensical way by applying some paradoxical nature of destiny—if Ringo is destined for such events, then why did she need to strictly follow the plan? Is it a misdirected destiny—from Tabuki to Shoma which was possibly ruined by the skunk or the snake or Yuri’s presence—or is it simply Ringo’s fault for misreading her destiny?

Lastly, one fine line that separates fantasy from nonsense is that in fantasy everything follows logic. Magic is used in fantasy world to explain rationally the impossible. On the other hand, in nonsense literature, the notion of magic only adds mystery rather than explaining the logical impossibilities. Take for instance, the mystery of the penguin hat and the penguindrum—which are always being avoided to be explained.


Side Remarks:

  • I’m not going to explore Ringo anymore since she’s evidently a creeper. However, I believed that she didn’t push the lady on the escalator because it’s less mystifying if it’s Ringo.

  • Perhaps Tabuki is indeed the prince of birds.

  • I have a feeling that Yuri and Tabuki are just acting but in a good way—Yuri repeatedly sung that she’s an actress.

  • I believed that the used of snake is of nonsense reference to the apple. The same with episode three’s curry and penguin. Curry’s Paradox and A Proof that Penguin’s Rule the Universe. (These are just purely my speculations.)
  • Two of the most celebrated nonsense works in literature are Edward Lear’s The Book of Nonsense and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
  • Riddles appeared to be nonsense until the answer is found.
  • Only four episodes had been aired when this post was written.
  • My views presented on this article is highly influenced by Gilles Deleuze’s definition of Nonsense