For your own good: childhood traumas and bad parenting in Mawaru Penguindrum

The tools used to create that ‘pure’ love
Only blood-related family members can be trusted. Family members never lie. Pure and beautiful love exists only among family. ~ Yuri’s father
Anti-freudian Sanetoshi, go!
Don’t you think families are a sort of fantasy, a curse of sorts? Think about it. Just how many children suffer because they are bound to their family? Parents who treat their children as objects in the name of love, abusing them. They only love themselves, yet kids must love their parents solely because they are family, and love their siblings. ~ Sanetoshi


In Mawaru Penguindrum‘s episode ‘Savior of the World’ Yuri’s past is revealed and it’s not a beautiful one. More than all the other characters’ past, Yuri’s is the most loaded with heavy symbolism and dipped in the blue of sadness, melancholy and despair. The dialogues are shoved into the viewers’ face and provoke them to deconstruct the notion of family as shelter. Sanetoshi chats with Kanba and echoes Alice Miller‘s work and that of other modern psychotherapists. Ikuhara sure has read a lot of psychology. 


Alice Miller was the first who went against Freudian psychoanalysis to what concerns the parent-children relationship. She was at the side of the child. Parents have used for centuries strict, cold, traumatising child-rearing (with escalation in the Nazi era), which she calls ‘poisonous pedagogy‘. In her book For Your Own Good, Miller claims that:

[…] Sigmund Freud had to conceal his surprising discovery of adults’ sexual abuse of their children, a discovery he was led to by the testimony of his patients. He disguised his insight with the aid of a theory that nullified this inadmissible knowledge. Children of his day were not allowed, under the severest of threats, to be aware of what adults were doing to them, and if Freud had persisted in his seduction theory, he not only would have had his introjected parents to fear but would no doubt have been discredited, and probably ostracized, by middle-class society. In order to protect himself, he had to devise a theory that would preserve appearances by attributing all “evil,” guilt, and wrongdoing to the child’s fantasies, in which the parents served only as the objects of projection. We can understand why this theory omitted the fact that it is the parents who not only project their sexual and aggressive fantasies onto the child but also are able to act out these fantasies because they wield the power.

Why did so many psychologists follow him? Well, wasn’t Freud a ‘father’ as well?


Parents are the first significant others that children are encountered with. That means parents are people who provide children with the basic needs, teach them values and rules and thus appear god-like in the eyes of the vulnerable beings human children are. We are the only species on earth with such extended childhood. We are dependent on powerful adults for over a decade.


Among the basic needs of a baby and a child is love and to be more exact unconditional love. The only ones that can give this kind of love are parents. When this doesn’t happen, the child gets traumatised. Child can’t possibly accuse his parents for being hurtful or neglectful, because
1. it isn’t in the cognitive phase to understand that parents aren’t gods,
2. they are taught that parents are always right and they do things for your own good ( see “Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” ),
3. it’s implied that parents deserve respect simply due to the fact they are parents and children don’t deserve respect due to the fact they are children
4. parents are important to it, to the point where the child identifies with the parent
The result is that the child thinks that indeed it is at fault, that it is a bad child and the negligence, humiliation or abuse is accepted as something normal. Guilt gets piled up, since admitting that the parents don’t love it, would destroy psychologically the child completely – the ego would get shattered. Instead the child, then adolescent and then adult activates a variety of protective mechanisms. But these mechanisms aren’t used without a price to be paid- they can be self-destructing and/or agressive towards others.


Parents amputate us psychologically through humiliation and abuse.
The thought of accusing the parents never crosses the mind of children. Yet the pain is obvious in Kanba’s face.
In Yuri’s case we listen to the standard phrases of an abusive father. He denies his child of any love and humiliates her by calling her ugly. Yuri’s father is strategic at breaking Yuri; he goes as far as to badmouth Yuri’s deceased mother and also tries to alienate her from any outside influence that might ruin his plan of ‘modeling’ his daughter according to his wishes. Yuri is totally alone at this. Think of it: she must have suffered enough with the loss of her mother (I have a bad feeling about how actually this was a murder…), but she could remember her sweetly. Then her father comes and spoils this memory and deprives her of any other benign prototype of significant other. When Momoka appears, any joy from being accepted is crushed, too. Yuri as kid would do anything to gain her father’s love so she internalizes this hatred and becomes a ‘good, obedient child’ that her father can love. She turns against any hope of being saved and is agressive and dismissive towards Momoka’s friendly intentions. The hurt ones always return to their wounds.
Yuri stands in her father’s shadow. And most probably so did he in his childhood.
Yuri’s wounds are justified in her mind due to the identification with her father.
My guess is that Yuri’s physical wounds are metaphorical for psychological scars and the wooden tools her father uses are symbols of humiliation and of the process of shaping Yuri to his tastes. The death that Momoka warns Yuri off and is associated with the new chisel, I assume, are pointing to sexual abuse- both her mind and her body would ‘die’. She would pass the point of return. If we follow this trail of thought, then Yuri isn’t intersexual neither underwent surgery, but she developed an aversion for the male body, thus engaging in lesbian sex (in this narrative).


Momoka saves Yuri in the end by ‘transfering’ fates and erasing the tower Yuri’s father constructed and the father himself.
Little Yuri understood (uncosciously) that even if her father died, that wouldn’t be enough. The tower was a manifestation of her father’s maliciousness. She clearly states that the tower is her dad.
The following passage comes from Kindesmisshandlung and Kindesrechte (Mistreatment of Children and Children’s Rights) by Gisela Zenz, who Miller quotes. Zenz’s book tells about Steele and Pollock’s psychotherapeutic work in Denver with parents who abuse their children. The descriptions fit Yuri perfectly.


[…] They (the children) hesitated to try anything new, were terribly afraid of doing something wrong, and frequently felt ashamed. Several of them seemed to have developed scarcely any feeling of self. This can be seen as a reflection of the attitude of the parents, who did not regard their child as an autonomous person but entirely in relation to the gratification of their own needs. […]

[…] The children had a conscience–or rather, a system of values that was extremely rigid and punitive. They were highly critical of themselves as well as of others, became indignant or extremely agitated when other children overstepped their iron-clad rules for what was good and bad […]

[…] the parent-child relationship in these cases was characterized to a great degree by seductiveness and other sexual overtones.

Is Yuri completely healed? No. Momoka vanished from her world and in that way Yuri lost the only person who gave her love and hope. Their time together wasn’t long enough for her ‘true’ self – which was suppressed and hidden- to recover and re-emerge. Yuri was left searching for this love, unable to stay in a relationship emotionally satisfactory, as we saw her dumbing her Takarazuka lover and talking about her fake engagement. Masako underlines that the professional path Yuri chose is another indicator of her wounds and unresolved problems.

Being an actress, Yuri seeks reconfirmation that she is beautiful and can be loved.
 Apart from Yuri, almost all of the cast has to face their unresolved issues. Ringo resembles Yuri, but Ringo has both parents and had at least her father on her side. That explains her obsession with her father and her denial to the fact that her dad moved on and started a new family- she felt completely abandoned. Ringo’s trauma comes mainly from her mother’s side and the tragic coincidence of her birth with her sister’s death. Her mother stuck to Momoka’s death to the point of denying Ringo love and existence. Her father disagreed with his spouse and that brought on a divorce. Little Ringo believed that she could repair all the mess, if she erased herself and became Momoka by following her diary. She idealized her parents and childhood and tried to make her parents happy; the ones who in the reality didn’t allow her to experience a happy childhood.
Ringo starts stalking, having illusions and even attempts to rape Tabuki.
Time had stopped for Momoka’s mother when her first daughter died. She couldn’t come in terms with the loss.
Acceptance is the keyword. Ikuhara is again speaking to the audience, delivering psychology lessons.
Is it personality disorder?
Ringo starts finding herself again through the altruistic act of Shouma rescuing her from a car accident and through his awakening words. She becomes aware of her true self, she gets angry at Shouma for awakening her, then accepts her mistake and moves on. She also reconciles with her father’s new marriage and sends him her wishes. What is missing here is the confrontation with her mother :/
(One of the few wise things Shouma said.)
Ringo expresses her anger and sorrow and directs them to poor Shouma who waked her up. “That’s why I hate you. It’s all your fault. You waltzed into my fate and ruined all my hard work! Why did you have to say I’m me?” Ringo says.
The Takakura siblings and especially Shouma were also traumatized from their parents’ terroristic activities, from being left alone, almost orphans, and from how people saw them. From the start of the series both Kanba and Shouma mention that Himari’s illness and death is ‘their punishment’ and that ‘from that moment they wouldn’t amount to anything’. Kanba has become a play-boy and a deliquent who harbors incestuous feelings for his sister. Shouma has become a bitter person, unable to act, obsessed with ideals and feels worthless of love. Shouma is more problematic as presented from the desynchronization with his penguin – he bottles his feelings a lot more than Kanba and he is drown in shame and guilt. Both are very eager to sacrifice their lives for others and perhaps that is connected to their disconnection with their selves. Himari is forcing herself not to burden anyone and to smile at all times, even if her parents’ acts have cost her her friends and her dream of becoming an idol.
“[…] children tend to blame themselves for their parents’ cruelty and to absolve the parents, whom they invariably love, of all responsibility.”
Now, Ringo has faced her past and is able to live with it, but Yuri and the Takakuras still have a long way to go. I wonder how will the series end and if they will awake, experience anger and sorrow about their parents, become able to accept reality and free themselves.
Note 1: The post became very long again… so adding one more tidbit won’t hurt, right? It’s about Takakura parents and their engagement in terroristic activities.

When terrorists take innocent women and children hostage in the service of a grand and idealistic cause, are they really doing anything different from what was once done to them? When they were little children full of vitality, their parents had offered them up as sacrifices to a grand pedagogic purpose, to lofty religious values, with the feeling of performing a great and good deed. Since these young people never were allowed to trust their own feelings, they continue to sup- press them for ideological reasons. These intelligent and often very sensitive people, who had once been sacrificed to a “higher” morality, sacrifice themselves as adults to another–often opposite–ideology, in whose service they allow their inmost selves to be completely dominated, as had been the case in their childhood.

Note 2: Sanetoshi voiced in his speech the ‘Drama of Being a Child‘, yet he made one mistake: Adults/parents don’t love themselves. They were victims of this poisonous pedagogy themselves and since they weren’t offered love, they couldn’t offer love to their children. You can’t give what you don’t have or haven’t received, right? The parents are not able to stop desperately fighting their own guilt feelings and as a result need to discharge them onto the child.

6 thoughts on “For your own good: childhood traumas and bad parenting in Mawaru Penguindrum

  1. Yi, thanks so much for taking a walk in my blog 🙂

    Since that episode lots have happened. Natsume's back story illustrate the points made here for how children grow up to immitate what hurt them, too. I was wrong about Kanba -his 'incest' and his guilt; he followed the path of his stepparents. Of course, Yuri's story is more tragic and the colors help to pinpoint that. It's good that by the end of the anime she has found happiness.


  2. Wonderful post!

    Yuri's childhood is indeed a tragic one, and possibly the most… difficult thing to digest so far in Penguindrum.

    “it is the parents who not only project their sexual and aggressive fantasies onto the child but also are able to act out these fantasies because they wield the power.”
    This describes Yuri and her father's relationship so well. Using his power, Yuri's father destroys Yuri's self-esteem in order to mold her into whatever he wants… And we get a sense that even now, Yuri still has not regained her self-esteem.


  3. Thanks for commenting! 😀 I luuuuuuuv comments! It's quite lonely on this blog.

    What I like about anime is that there is character development and have roots in psychanalysis.

    I think Ikuhara isn't fond of childhood, if we want to speak literally. Quite the opposite. He pursues to bring down the building of idealization of childhood. To make people see childhood isn't really sth to remember with fondness, because that's the period of your life that you were dependent, weak and mistreated.

    When we talk about god-like image how can it be unimposing? God isn't questioned, isn't doubted after all. Children aren't born to respect their parents but are wired to communicate with them in order to survive. The issue of child-caring and if it's natural or not is what was discussed in your Usagi Drop post. If you don't want to use the term 'natural' then I'll talk in terms of taking responsibilities of your actions. I think parents should treat children as equals in terms of feelings. They should say they make mistakes, too, and apologize. They offer only their experience which is very little, their perspective which is very narrow and most probably useless when children grow up nowadays. I'm not supporting in any way a very loose pedagogy, where freedom equates with anarchy. But by being manipulative, the child won't grow healthy either.

    Believe me, it's not only Yuri. Many people choose their job uncosciously to fulfill their suppressed needs. For example many doctors are anal retentive…

    What I don't like about the way Ikuhara presented Yuri's story is the fact that lesbians are presented as abused girls and for most lesbian women that's not the case. It gets across a message that is not quite right. I'd like to see another lesbian in the show that her sexual orientation isn't a matter of past wounds. So things would be more balanced.


  4. Lately, I’ve been so fed up by the childhood backstories, but then I realized who we are, were based on our childhoods so I guess Ikuhara is so fond of childhood. I’m not really a psychology person that’s why what you said about Alice Miller opposing Freud is really interesting. Thanks for the info, I enjoyed reading the psychology aspects.

    I think it’s alright for a child to see his/her parents or acting parents as god-like images since they need them to survive although this shouldn’t be imposed to the child. Aside from that, it’s not really naturally the parents’ responsibility to take care of their children; and children aren’t born to respect their parents. However, in most known cases children with guidance compared to the otherwise obtain much better lifestyle.

    I also feel sorry seeing Yuri’s past. Come to think about it, she chose to become an actress to cover the physical and psychological scars. Also, the yuri behind Yuri isn’t just for fun/fanservice considering her childhood background, she got into girls because 1) Momoka being a girl is the only one who helped her. 2) She didn’t grow up with mother image 3) Yuri’s dad maltreated her. Because of this, I’m starting to believe that everything Ikuhara does have meaning on it.


  5. Oh many thanks for your compliment. I really have wanted to write about it, since it kinda feels familiar, if you get what I mean. Then I don't always have the chance to combine great anime episodes with something intellectual to get a post I really like and others might find uniue and worth-reading.

    No, I haven't watched. I remember the trailer from your profile, I think. I'm gonna download it now to watch it tomorrow with a friend who speaks german 🙂


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