Curry, Rock & Roll, & Xenophilia are all about Survival Strategy: Mawaru Penguindrum 03


“It smells foreign in here” the man in the train said. Apparently, Japanese style curry is still considered foreign food by the Japanese, as is Omurice (rice omelet), as is any food that can be eaten with as spoon and fork. This is ironic in that Omurice cannot be found in any other culinary culture outside Japan. Dark, racist undertones can be read into this train scene. I read otherwise. The whole episode loves what’s foreign, and by extension, the show and Japanese popular culture itself.

Big words from a non-expert on culture. I don’t mind being wrong so I’ll just have to be corrected by someone who knows better. This isn’t about “pro-Japan ergo anti-foreign vs. gaijinaboo &c.” It is perfectly true that one can love one’s culture, nationality, and race while participating in wholesale consumption of foreign culture.

While there are weaboos out there who happen to be American and yet cheered against the USA Women’s Football Team vs. Japan in the Women’s Football World Cup this year, there are also fans who happen to like anime, and would even consider themselves otaku, without wanting to be Japanese or hate America. I am Filipino and am thoroughly colonially hegemonized by American culture by way of my education, etc. and am also an anime fan with weaboo tendencies, but I love my own culture and happily celebrate it.

What do cultures do when exciting foreign cultural elements show up? We find that the Zentraedi reaction to Minmay/Ranka isn’t far-fetched.

We repurpose it. When anime showed up in the Philippines in the late 70s, we dubbed it in English (as I said, we are American hegemonized – I cannot write in my vernacular anywhere as easily as I write in English). We changed names. In Choudenji Voltes V, the main characters’ names: Kenichi Gou, Ippei Mine, etc. were changed to Steve Armstrong, Mark Gordon, etc. This is NOT really much different from what Carl Macek did with Macross, etc. and turned it into Robotech (Hikaru Ichijou – Rick Hunter).

Similarly, Filipinos have repurposed Roman Catholicism (as brought by the Spanish colonialists) into this weird animistic religion wherein Saints pretty much behave like Shinto deities who have jurisdiction over localities, among other things in our Catholicism remix.

Why? It’s all survival strategy baby.

The foreign element cannot completely eliminate the native cultural structure, despite colonization. The natives, even if they find the foreign element exciting, will not completely replace their incumbent cultures. They will however, change it up, transform it, localize it, adapt it to local tastes, use local ingredients and elements, etc.

This happens with food (curry), this happens with culture (LOL anime), this happens with language: Engrish, Taglish, etc.


The culture is a construct tied up with self-identity, which is very important to psychological survival, must indeed preserve itself. It must survive, so it will change the foreign element. It will make natives who are “purist” about their consumption of foreign cultural units (weaboos, etc.) into social outliers. This should say something as well about why Heroman was the way it was, and Tiger & Bunny is the way it is.

But I think a great way to show how this survival strategy plays out is through music. Rock & Roll is foreign to Japan. It’s the music of the country that bombed their cities to dust. But they like it because it is awesome. So they will rock out. BUT they will Rock over Japan, Engrish and all. SURVIVAL STRATEGY!

If you don’t recognize the song, it’s what you hear in pop form during the Survival Strategy transformation scenes in every episode of Mawaru Penguindrum so far.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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26 Responses to Curry, Rock & Roll, & Xenophilia are all about Survival Strategy: Mawaru Penguindrum 03

  1. animekritik says:

    I don’t think anyone would argue the episode was being dark or racist. I think there is a case to be made that the businessman on the train was. Now, if the businessman was the main character maybe it’d be disturbing, but he isn’t… If you equate curry with foreignness, then the fact that Ringo and the Takakuras all love it would seem to support your notion that the episode embraces this foreignness.

    • I only spoke about reading the scene on the train as such, not the episode as a whole. The episode as a whole being embracing is why I chose to read the train scene as a set-up for this idea of digesting what’s foreign.

  2. Constanza Della Rosa says:

    When a cultural clash occurs, three things can happen:
    a. the weakest one inevitably withers and dies
    b.the stronger culture is modified by the weaker one.
    c. the weaker culture absorbs some elements of the stronger one in order to survive, or fuses some aspects/elements. Which is what happens in most cases, including Japan and the Takakura siblings – allowing the foreigners in and coexist with them in order to survive = Survival Strategy FTW!

    On a side note, the third outcome is generally the most positive one, because it enriches both cultures. In other words, it’s a win-win situation.

    • Sounds right, except to purists on 2 camps:

      1. Ultranationalists who despair at foreign influences corrupting native culture, and
      2. ___aboos who despair at local preferences corrupting the foreign cultural unit.

      • Vendredi says:

        Possibly another “purist” subcategory might be the “returning diaspora”; when people move they bring whatever culture they have at the moment, but the place they leave behind continues to change and incorporate new influences, such that a returning individual might be struck by how immensely the place has changed. The Hong Kong of today is certainly quite different from Hong Kong pre-1997 in a few subtle ways.

  3. bluemist says:

    Take an 80’s rock song and moe~fy it because it’s the trend of the 2000s. That’s survival strategy right there.

  4. I certainly didn’t see this subject popping up as I watched the episode, but you’ve always been a lot better at picking up the subtle things.

    American culture is nothing but borrowed and stolen material. To say something is culturally foreign is almost incomprehensible unless you’re talking about a person directly. It makes me laugh sometimes to hear people in this country argue and complain about the loss, or potential loss, of its culture. Even the things that people try to keep separate in order to maintain their purity eventually meld or are modified in this environment. That’s why sometimes I have trouble understanding some of the behavior demonstrated by someone like the businessman in this episode.

    Then again, my mixed heritage and my completely unrelated love of Eastern, especially Japanese, culture makes me a somewhat less than fair judge of this. Without cultural acceptance and a love of foreigners I don’t exist.

    • As is the Philippines… or perhaps any former colony. We wouldn’t be Filipinos if Spain didn’t decide to call the Archipelago that, in honor of King Philip II. The different tribes and ethnicities don’t really care much for uniting, and perhaps this persists to this day. Perhaps, your natives feel the same about being called Americans. Purity among us is illusory as there is no base culture to keep pure… unlike say, Japan and China.

      • Mo says:

        “purity” is illusory everywhere, ESPECIALLY in Japan and China. Any appearance of homogeneity these two countries have has been carefully manicured by the politicians. (I’m not sure about China) but I know in Japan it started in earnest during the Meiji Era. And despite such efforts (I will give language as the example, though I’m sure someone else can cite other more interesting ones) people in Japan still hold their local dialects/languages dear. Have you ever heard someone speak the Kansai dialect vs Okinawan? Or to use China as an example, Hokkien vs Mandarin ? If you want to use religion, Buddhism came to Japan from China by way of Korea, and China got Buddhism from India, and the list goes on and on…

  5. drmchsr0 says:

    To be honest, I don’t really what you are trying to say here. Not as an indictment against your ideas, but rather, I was too busy being distracted by the penguins and wacky stalker antics to catch that. (Also the overblown and outrageous transformation scene which should have been the opening)

    Unless you are talking about the syncretization of foreign elements into Japanese culture, which could be what you are talking about.

  6. Kuro says:

    I really like how you relate localization as SURVIVAL STRATEGY! for cultures. I’ve never thought of it that way. Great post as always!

  7. SURVIVAL STRATEGY! Like remembering love, but out of necessity!

    BTW that video has embedding disabled.

  8. Leap250 says:

    As far as Filipino culture goes (yes, I am a Filipino as well) you could say that our culture, the one we have now, is rather a mix of the cultures of those that colonized us, combined with what culture we have preserved. So in a way, maybe it is “survival strategy” at work.

    As for what is being hinted in the episode, a little subtle so I didn’t catch it until I watched the episode a second time.

    • Oh yes, the rabbit hole runs deep.

      You’d do well to read Vicente Rafael’s scholarship on Filipinizing Christianity. It’s brilliant work. He’d have insights on how we negotiate whenever we receive punishment, (specifically penance) because our very language constructs our concepts: “humingi ng tawad” (sa Diyos). E di tumawad nga.

      • Leap250 says:

        I’ll be sure to check that out. My Kas 1 classes had recently discussed the pre-hispanic era of the Philippines

        If I may ask, have you heard of the “kronikas”, the pre-colonial accounts of the friars? Biases of the Spaniards aside, these were depictions of how the culture used to be.

      • animekritik says:

        I read one of Rafael’s book for a translation course. Very very interesting.

  9. A Day Without Me says:

    I’m reminded of orientalism in the context of British colonialism of South Asia. The locals themselves reacted to orientalism by seizing on some of what it identified as “Hindu” or “Indian” and incorporating it into their own cultures. An excellent example is the practice of sati, which was NOT a “Hindu” practice at all, nor was it widespread within the subcontinent; instead, it was confined to the ksatriya caste of one province. However, the Brits ID’d it as “Hindu”, so when they banned the practice, other groups within India began to propagate it, claiming that it was unfair for the Brits to ban an “Indian” practice.

    And, yes “Hindu”, since that itself was a term created by the British, and it essentially the same as if we were to label Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as a singular faith.


    • Everyone wants to take what’s complex and make it simpler and digestible. Over here in the post-colonial world, among the general public it is common to find people who think all white people are American, and if you’re not white, there’s no way you’re an American LOL. The only difference is; and this is why we end up criticizing the West more, is that the West is the dominant culture. They are the colonizers.

      We have a vocabulary of things related to the “West” that are analogous to your example of “Hindu.”

      ‘Kano (short for Amerikano)
      Puti (white)

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