Kempf Fund Lecture:
When a Crisis Strikes: Untimely Ethics of Mawaru Penguindrum
Tomiko Yoda, Harvard University
Seemingly unending series of disasters courses through today’s global newsfeed—financial systems teetering on the brink, the acceleration of climate change and acts of “terror” that blur the boundaries between militarized conflict zone and civilian life. Japanese made-for-television animation series, Mawaru Penguindrum (known as Pindora by fans) taps into this “feel” of the present in which crisis appears to be the new normal. The series is packed with allusions to the historical conjuncture of Japan in 1995—especially the Great Hanshin earthquake, the sarin gas attack of Tokyo subway by Aum Shinrikyō, and the post-bubble ambience, laden with uncertainty and unease. Moreover, Pindora’s production and reception were deeply affected by the real-time events unfolding during its original television broadcast—from July to December 2011, shortly after the Great East Japan Earthquake. On the face of it, Pindora has all the trappings of anime eye candy—appealing teenage characters involved in romantic and erotic intrigues, cute squishy penguins making funny sounds, and catchy BGM performed in idol-pop style. At the same time, the series sets up a world striated by multiple forms of perils, threatening to recur. They range from spectacular catastrophe perpetrated by a mysterious militant group to the muffled anguish of neglected children, and threats distributed by the urban milieu that are barely perceptible by the virtue of their pervasiveness. This talk examines how Pindora explores the ethics of acting upon and living through crisis-events in manners surprisingly out of keeping with the moral “common sense” of post-3.11 Japan.