Going into its final instalment, Mawaru Penguindrum has an absolutely colossal amount to sort out of its tangled mess of plot threads and concepts - can it really squeeze everything into under twenty-five minutes?
The answer is, ultimately, "kinda". Offset against some ill-explained flashbacks which sees Shouma and Kanda imprisoned in boxes as children, this episode is effectively the final showdown of fate itself - is it time for Himari to pass away, will Kanba's plot to save her at huge cost to the wider population succeed, or can someone else save the day? While Shouma concentrates simply on avoiding the atrocity Kanba is about to unleash, the arrival of Ringo on the scene changes things, as she seeks to transfer Himari's fate on to herself. Sanetoshi is convinced that she isn't in possession of all of the "spell" required to do so - he's obviously not a fan of Double-H, who have in fact provided her with just that.
So, as the episode shifts into full-on visual spectacle mode, the question effectively becomes one of who will accept whose fate - a question to which the answer it, quite simply, love, with the two Takakura "brothers" both effectively taking responsibility for the respective girls they've bonded with the most, accepting and transferring their fate into the process to spare Himari and Ringo from death. Not that this is exactly the end for Shouma and Kanba, mind you - perhaps it's only the beginning for them as all is resolved and well in the world come the end of the series, aside perhaps from Sanetoshi's eyeing another opportunity to engage in his plan.
I suppose the first thing to say about this episode is that it was a visual tour de force - striking and with an oddly fascinating juxtaposition of the beautiful and macabre that's often difficult to pull off but worked almost flawlessly here. That aside, it's at least a little soothing to see this shows finale boiled down into such a simple concept - ignoring the horribly contrived fact that one person's fate suddenly became two for the purposes of plot convention, what was delivered here was essentially a story of love and self-sacrifice saving the day in a concept lifted directly from Night on the Galactic Railroad.
Is it enough to assuage my frequent complaints about this series of late? Yes and no, to be honest. As series finales go this did a passable job and at least drew a line in the sand as to the show's ultimate goal and aims, but where does that leave the rest of the series? There's no doubt that Mawaru Penguindrum had plenty to say, which makes it that much more a shame that so much of it was either drowned in a sea of flashbacks and symbolism or worse, delivered via heavy-handed allusion - this show's world is one where most men are either greedy and/or vain, and the Child Broiler as a socio-political allegory on the treatment of unwanted children felt like the work of a pretentious high school art student in particular. It's this that has ultimately left me disappointed with Mawaru Penguindrum - it had so many wonderful ideas to play with but overcooked the most crucial while ignoring others entirely. So it goes that the show's penguin humour was run into the ground while some prominent elements were ignored or left unexplained and character's personalities were turned on their head to the point where you wondered whether each episode was written by someone who hadn't read the script properly the week before.
Ultimately, Mawaru Penguindrum did plenty of things of which it should be proud - it provided some of the year's better episodes of anime outright when it was on form, visually it was always inventive and simply the fact that it's an original work striking out from a lot of more predictable output should be commended. It's this final point that probably makes me such a harsh critic of the series however - after promising so much, the fact that a large portion of the show teetered on the brink of the incomprehensible does damage to the idea that intelligent anime can reach out to the masses, and in a year when the likes of Madoka Magica, Un-Go and Steins;Gate have turned clever concepts into far, far better and more accessible series, that can only lead to me marking Mawaru Penguindrum as a brave disappointment which fell well short of the lofty goals it set itself.