Darling in the FranXX – 18 – All too Brittle a Home in which to Live

Everything Squad 13 does in the remains of Mistilteinn is being monitored, so you knew the first night Kokoro and Mitsuru spent together would probably be their last. We start with what could be the happiest morning of their lives, where the love they shared seems to paint everything around them in a more beautiful light. They are experiencing that which humanity has apparently given up.

Sure enough, Hachi informs Ichigo that the squad will soon be packing up and leaving Mistilteinn, leaving their distinctive, human birdcage for a far more sterile, antiseptic one where all the other, emotionless parasites live. Hiro thinks they should close out their days there with a wedding ceremony for the beaming new couple (and notably not for him and Zero Two).

Everyone is gung-ho about making it a celebration to remember; all but Ikuno, who lies in bed dejected. Ichigo thanks her for getting angry and sticking up for Kokoro and Mitsuru, but Ikuno tells her she didn’t do it for them, but because she agreed with a part of the lead Nine’s assertion about man-woman pairings.

Ever since Ichigo gave her her name (turning the number 6 on its side to make the “no” kana), Ikuno has had eyes only for her, and always cursed the boys who got to stand by her side simply because they were boys. Ichigo recognizes the pain from her own unrequited love for Hiro in Ikuno, but draws her into a comforting hug and tells her she doesn’t mind.

These are simply part in parcel of all the messy things they have to live through that makes them human. Left unsaid is the fact that virtually everyone outside of Mistilteinn no longer feels that way. They’ve shed that vital part of humanity, presumably in order to survive most efficiently.

As the preparations for tomorrow’s ceremony are completed, the squad and Zero Two take a group photo together, mimicking the photo of the previous squad that lived there. As they stand there, their joy and camaraderie frozen for posterity, I thought of two things.

First, how much everyone has grown as characters, from Hiro and Zero to Ichigo, Mitsuru and Kokoro, Ikuno, Goro and even Futoshi. Only Zerome and Miku have remained more or less static in their childlike naivete. And yet I’ve come to love each and every one of these characters, and become fully invested not just in their safety, but in grasping the humanity the rest of their people abandoned and finding genuine happiness.

Second: that there probably won’t be a squad that comes after 13 who will ever see that photo. It just feels like the wheel is breaking, not least of which because Mistilteinn itself is no longer a viable place to live, having been crippled by the Mega-Klaxosaur hand slap.

It’s that slap that Zero Two dreams of after nodding off while drawing her storybook illustrations. The dream also features a gang of partially injured soldiers grabbing her and preparing to drag her away. Hiro wakes her up and asks what’s wrong, but Zero Two doesn’t want to mar another lovely moment with her darling on the eve of such a blessed event with unpleasant portents.

The next day, Zero Two commits to living in the moment, sharing a playful frolick with Hiro through the blooming sakura trees, dressed in the same gray uniform as the other Squad 13 members, thus truly becoming one of them. She’s able to wear one of their unis because Kokoro has changed into her re-purposed curtain gown, looking every bit a bride as she descends the staircase to join her waiting groom.

Ikuno presents them with a bouquet and boutonniere and escorts them to the aisle, while the other assembled squadmates ring bells and toss petals. Futoshi decides to officiate the wedding, giving closure to his one-sided love for Kokoro by being the one to “give her away” to Mitsuru.

Everything is just lovely, until it isn’t. The Nines arrive aboard an APE assault ship with a squad of grunts and place everyone under arrest before Kokoro and Mitsuru can seal their bonds with a kiss. They fight; their squadmates fight; Zero Two attacks the Nines, her former comrades…but it’s all for naught.

Everything they carefully built crumbles like a stale old breadstick and an iffy Italian restaurant…or more appropriately, like the sakura blossoms falling from the tree. Like their lives on Mistilteinn, the wedding was only a passing dream; one everyone could happily live in only until it ended, and it couldn’t end more cruelly.

Hachi, while protesting the Nines’ actions, does nothing to stop them, and does nothing to comfort the rest of Squad 13 as Kokoro and Mitsuru are taken away for “reindoctrination” to remove the “dangerous” ideas they’ve developed.

As the rest of the squad defeatedly packs up to leave their home on the worst note ever, Hachi visits the similarly “defective” Nana in her cell and remembers the first time she was dragged away like Kokoro and Mitsuru, after her FranXX copilot (whom she must have loved) was killed she had an emotional outburst. Hachi, devoid of emotion then, as now, could only silently watch.

Here, he remarks that Nana “in her current state” could nonetheless better provide comfort to Squad 13 than he. It might not seem like much, but the mere fact he believes they need or deserve comfort means Hachi has gained back a slim measure of humanity simply buy observing the very emotional parasites.

Squad 13 and Zero Two sans Kokoro and Mitsuru arrive at the parasite camp  “Bird Nest”, and it’s a real downer of a place, reminding them of Garden and not in a good way (it also feels like they’ve been taken backwards in their development, which may well be Papa’s intention).

Weeks pass with no news until one day they are reunited with Kokoro and Mitsuru. Though they still wear the rings they so tenderly and lovingly presented to one another, their memories have been altered (like Hiro and Zero Two’s years before) to make them not only believe they are new members of the squad, but to make them forget they ever knew each other.

It’s a heartbreaking gut-punch to end the episode, and yet when Kokoro is on her own and spots the abstract “trees” in one of Bird Nest’s courtyards, she’s reminded of “sakura”, the blooming trees under which she and Mitsuru wed. She may not remember Mitsuru, or the wedding, or anything else, but she remembered the trees.

After watching what Papa and the adults and the Nines did to his squad, his home, and finally his two friends who truly and deeply loved one another, Hiro announces in voiceover that they are “at the end of their rope.” He’s done being ruled by a destiny that will only continue to pulverize the things they build into dust.

I’m eager to see how he’ll try to start fighting back, even if I’m dubious his efforts will net him anything but more cruel tragedy and loss.

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 18 – Dance of Water and Fire

In the aftermath of the Cake Roll Incident, Sakura (and Tomoyo) have to stay quiet as their friends ponder what the heck happened to all the ingredients for their home ec class, while both Sakura and Akiho try not to blush when remembering when they gave their cake to the people they care about.

Sakura also gives Akiho Rika’s gorgeous pop-up Alice book, which Ahiko only accepts as a gift reluctantly, and which indirectly leads to a Sakura daydream in Clock Land right in front of Akiho. But since Akiho remains conscious the whole time, they don’t get the chance to “meet” one another there; she merely stops Sakura from tripping on a step.

That night (and considering the height of the moon, it’s fairly late at night for dinner, if you ask me!) as Akiho places the book on the “Alice” shelf of her family’s library, Yuna D. Kaito sidles up to her once more, reiterating how pleased he is that Akiho has gotten so close to Sakura, and hopes she gets even closer. Gee, I wonder why?

Meanwhile, Sakura, Tomoyo, and Syaoran are at the Tsukimine Shrine, the site of the very first Clow Card Sakura captured (“Fly”), leading her to reminisce on how talkative and pushy Kero-chan was back then. They’re there because she sensed another card and would rather deal with it at night. Tomoyo provides a fire-themed costume, while Syaoran is there for backup.

It turns out Sakura needs it, because Aqua, her initial gambit against the new card—a vicious firebird—proves ineffective. Syaoran has Sakura launch into the air with Flight and standby while he uses…some power he’d rather not tell Sakura about in order to bind the firebird and enable Sakura to secure it.

WIth that, she’s gained a third elemental card after wind and water (ice, which one would have thought would be more effective against fire, must be covered by water). It’s yet another colorful, gorgeously staged and rendered battle in the best traditions of CCS.

After some post-game play-by-play, the trio prepare to return to their respective homes. Sakura took steps to ensure her absence wouldn’t be noticed, but her brother Touya enters her room to find she’s not there (he’s studying late with Yukito and must have sensed something amiss).

Yue emerges from Yukito to tell Touya that Sakura is safe and on her way back soon, then comments on how Touya’s powers are returning. Touya is coy about how he’ll used them, except to say that he will do everything in his power(s) to protect Sakura and his family, and asks Yue to be patient. Personally I’d love to see these to face off against Yuna D. Kaito.

Barring another season (or a wrapping OVA or movie), Clear Card saga ends in just four episodes. Yue isn’t the only one who has to be patient!

Darling in the FranXX – 17 – All the New Rules are Starting to be Scrapped

Things have gotten so blissfully domestic in the scarred remains of Mistilteinn, Zero Two files her horns like one trims their nails, and Miku makes her a tiara of flowers that give her a more regal bearing. There’s a very Garden of Eden/Earthly Delights about their home, especially with Hiro Kokoro already having met their “serpents” in Zero Two and the pregnancy book, respectively.

Both have lent knowledge “Papa” (i.e. God”) did not directly give them, and has fundamentally changed their destinies, with Kokoro gaining the drive to procreate and Hiro growing horns of his own. Once Adam and Eve Know Too Much, anyone who’s read Genesis knows what happens next—expulsion from paradise. Papa’s agents arrive almost on queue to “check on” Squad 13 and see if any “corrections” are needed.

The Nines come dripping with the smug superiority you’d expect of such agents, looking down upon the less-than-ideal living conditions. None of them seem to touch the meager repast their hosts made and caught themselves—and no doubt can’t afford to waste. They look upon Squad 13 with pity, if not outright disgust, and their honeyed words and wry grins are fooling nobody (except Zorome, of course).

Meanwhile, during their latest meeting in the “birdcage” conservatory, Kokoro finally tries to come on to Mitsuru, having read the contents of the pregnancy booklet over and over, seeing the profound difference in their bodies, and thinking how right it feels to bring them together to make a life that will carry on after they’re gone.

Unfortunately, the night before while bumping into a Nine, Kokoro lost her booklet and it fell into Alpha’s hands. That’s when the wry grin vanishes.

Mitsuru rebuffed Kokoro’s advancements, but more out of shock that she was acting on feelings he knew he had for her. It takes a bath with his old buddy Hiro to realize those are feelings of love, and he should do what his heart is telling him to do.

Before he has a chance to, the Nines confront Kokoro in front of the rest Squad 13 (who heard from Zorome that she and Mitsuru are an “item” now), and Alpha presents her baby booklet, full of straight-up taboo ideas that aren’t even supposed to be spoken of. Reproduction has been banned ever since humans “evolved past it.”

What’s interesting is how Alpha handles what could be a life-jeopardizing situation for Kokoro like a hall monitor finding contraband. He is merely an instrument of Papa speaking only with Papa’s voice. But his dispassionate tone becomes cruel when Kokoro makes her case for why humans are no different in other animals, and how there should be more to life than piloting FranXX into battle.

He calls her and her perfectly reasonable ideas utterly “disgusting”, and for that, Ikuno slaps him and has to be held back from doing more, not merely lashing out on Kokoro’s behalf, but due to her own unrequited love for Ichigo.

Hachi and Nana separate Kokoro from the others and reveals that they’ve been watching Squad 13 all along, as part of Dr. FranXX’s “final test” for them. When Nana insists that even talking about reproduction is banned, let alone doing ti, Kokoro rightfully asks why they have the organs to do so, and emotions that seem to compel them to do so.

These questions from Kokoro spark a sharp visceral reaction in Nana, leading both Hachi and Alpha to suspect that she’s “relapsed to puberty”, which is ominously referred to as “not being good” for the person to which it happens. Alpha even blithely suggests they replace her with a “new Nana,” as the current one has been rendered “useless.” Harsh shit.

Based on Dr. FranXX’s reaction to Squad 13’s developments (and absent further information) it seems his primary goal was to see how easing 13’s emotional and sexual suppression would improve their performance as weapons against the Klaxosaurs. After all, he never expected his experiments would lead 13 to develop “humanity’s original reproductive instincts.”

And yet, here we are. When two members of APE arrive at Klaxosaur Central (presumably in the Gran Crevasse), they meet the humanoid “Princess of the Klaxosaurs” and formally ask her to surrender to Humanity and end the now century-long war.

When she refuses, one of the APE members attacks her, and she slaughters him, his partner, and their three guards with ease. When she removes the mask of one of the corpses to find nothing there, she derides them as “human wannabes.”

That got the gears going in my head: what if, perhaps a century ago or more, aliens invaded earth and imposed the system they have now? What if the “humans” we’ve seen in the various plantations are the anamoly, and the Klaxosaurs are actually closer to what humans used to be?

We can’t say how far in the future this story takes place, so the fact Nana, Hachi, and the parasites we’ve watched could have tricked us into thinking they’re “real humans” with their familiar looks and ways of living. The Princess’ words throw everything into doubt…though one thing we learn from Zero Two is that she can’t reproduce like humans.

Earlier in the series I doubt anyone would have guessed that the first Squad 13 couple to jump into bed together would be Kokoro and Mitsuru, but here we are. I enjoyed the contrast between the candlelit chasteness of Zero Two and Hiro’s romance, and the more physical, primal, hot-and-heavy Kokoro+Mitsuru variety that finally crests with the two having sex.

It is an act of simple human biology, and yearning to decide one’s future with one’s own heart an act of simple human psychology. But in their artificial world, these are also acts of rebellion, as well as capital crimes for which there may well be dire consequences. After all, Dr. FranXX, Hachi, Nana, the Nines, and APE are all watching. The Garden of Eden may feel secluded, but nothing that goes on there is really private.

APE, however, have more pressing matters. The Princess has violently rebuffed their condescending “olive branch”, and so they vow the Klaxosaurs will “feel the pain of having their earth scorched by their own creation.” ‘Their?’ Scratch that about aliens: perhaps Klaxosaurs are highly-evolved humans who created the APE and their ilk; now they’re at war with them, with Zero Two, Hero, and Squad 13 stuck in the middle.

While we’re on the subject of creations coming to bite their creators in the ass, I’ll close with that iconic quote from Jurassic Park:

Ian: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.

Ellie: Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.

Hey, at least Dinosaurs never destroyed God…right?

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 17 – Cake Roll Rampage

Another night, another dream about clocks, the cloaked figure, and a giant dragon. Sakura knows that she knows the cloaked figure, but can’t quite put a name to it. She wakes from her unsettling dream just before her alarm goes off, momentarily scaring Kero-chan by being so out of it.

That early alarm is so she can meet her elementary school friend Rika at the park so Rika can give her some books to read to children at the hospital, because of course Sakura does nice shit that!

It’s a big day in home ec class, because they get to make cake rolls. Akiho doesn’t have Momo on her bag because Kaito is at home mending her scarf, and we finally see Momo move and speak…and eat chocolates while lounging on an adorably tiny chaise lounge.

Whatever Kaito is up to, Momo is also in on it, and rather eager to get on with things. “The collection of cards” is part of their plan, and as it’s proceeding steadily, The Time To Do…Something will soon arrive.

That collection of cards continues when everyone’s cake rolls suddenly come to life and eventually combine into a giant monster. Tomoyo shields Sakura while she releases her staff and puts everyone else to sleep before getting chased out of the school by the MegaRoll. Sakura takes to the sky, only for the roll to take flight itself.

Sakura manages to restrain the MegaRoll with her “Spiral” Card, and secures the new “Appear” Card. Syaoran shows up to help her back down, but their lovely reunion is marred by Tomoyo and Kero’s cameras.

Akiho manages to salvage her decorated cake rolls to give to Kaito, and is very happy when he says they’re both adorable and delicious. But things take a darker turn when Kaito puts Akiho to sleep once more and whips out that damned pocket watch of his ominously going tick-tick-tick-tick. 

I’m fine with Akiho having a little thing for Kaito, but definitely not okay with keeping her in the dark about both the cards and the cloaked figure shared dreams.

It’s clear Akiho isn’t hiding anything from Sakura, but is a tool of Kaito and Momo. Hopefully at some point she can regain her agency and put the meddlers in their place; perhaps with help from Sakura & Co.

Darling in the FranXX – 16 – How The Mood Has Changed

The Gran Crevasse is now under human control, but at the cost of about 40% of their parasites. Plantation 13 has been devastated, and Mistilteinn is without reliable sources of clean water, food, and electricity. Squad 13 has been ordered to stand by, and they’ve stood by for a month with nary a word from Nana or Hachi and only weekly deliveries of rations.

Despite all that, the group has never been closer. The squad went through the wringer and came out with bonds stronger than ever. The decision to collectively forgive and embrace Zero Two has also led to her pitching in and working diligently to do her part to help everyone out in the tougher times where their every domestic need is no longer taken care of.

The lack of sorties means Goro is a bit restless, while when Michiru asks Kokoro to cut his hair (during which time he works through his angst rather nicely), Kokoro gives him a kiss, and is wordlessly rebuffed.

There are also signs that the parasites might not be long for this world. Ikuno suffers from headaches and fever, and while bathing, Zero Two discovers white hairs among Miku’s red locks. Still, Hiro is having fun, and would love to live the way they’re living forever; sentiments Zero Two shares.

The two also spearhead a different kind of operation: one that will ensure the squad’s survival even if the food rations end. The squad catches their own fish, prepare them, and eat them on their own, a huge step towards independence for the once-coddled parasites.

While they’re engaging in this operation, Ichigo comments about how the mood of the squad has changed, how she likes the change, and how she admits she initially misjudged Zero Two as being fundamentally “different” from the rest of them; and now believes that not to be true.

In another case of the parasites perhaps not being quite as well as they could be, Zorome calls Futoshi out on his recent habit of not eating, or throwing up what he does eat. Zorome tears up while pleading with his comrade to eat if he wants to survive.

The squad may sometimes butt up against each other in these lean and trying times when they’re not sure when their next meal or drink will come, but Hiro maintains that this is all a good thing for them. He feels like this is “where they truly belong”, because there should be, and is, more to their lives than piloting FranXX and fighting Klaxosaurs.

Later that night, while drawing beautiful illustrations drawn from her memory of the picture book she had—her first “pretty thing”, Zero Two admits to having learned that being human is about more than looking human, and that Hiro’s humanity was the kind she truly wanted.

Their bliss is short-lived, as expected; Zero Two senses…something off in the distance—someone who looks for all the world like some kind of humanoid Klaxosaur pilot, like her, no doubt come to sour what had been such a pleasant and tranquil mood.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 16 – Meiling Out

From the word go, the airborne Sakura was one busy Cardcaptor this week, pushing Siege to its limit by covering the entire Daidouji estate, stopping the burrowing Card in its tracks, then securing it before it destroyed the mansion. Flight is so happy to work with Sakura, her wings carried her so quickly Kero-chan couldn’t keep up with his head camera.

After finishing tea with Daidouji’s mom, Sakura and Meiling go one way, while Akiho goes another, with the latter encountering Yuna D. waiting for her. When he lets slip something about Sakura’s father that he shouldn’t know, he whips out his pocket watch, stops time, then rewinds it to before he slipped up.

This leaves Akiho confused but totally oblivious to what just transpired. I shudder to think how many times he’s used this magic to get Akiho to collect information, then make her forget, to say nothing of the “dreams” in which she and Sakura appear. None of this is the conduct becoming someone you can trust!

While pondering the possibilities of a future Kaito/Sakura confrontation, Sakura and Meiling end up the targets of some kind of Card in the form of a martial arts-wielding killbot in Chinese dress, who comes at the girls with extreme prejudice.

Here, we get to see Meiling’s own martial arts in practice, as well as Sakura’s natural athleticism and agility. The two are able to defeat their attacker by coordinating their counterattacks to be mirror images of each other, crystallizing the bot and giving Sakura enough time to secure the second card of the week, “Struggle.” I for one am glad this card is now  on Sakura’s side!

After the battle and later that night, Sakura is overly worried about Meiling. While appreciative that Sakura cares about her so dearly, she reminds her what she said before the killbot attacked about “good people making her sad”, because some of those good people are looking out for others so much they don’t care about themselves.

Meiling things this applies to both Sakura and Syaoran, and thinks both of them need to take a step back and think of their own happiness—at least occasionally—and not in a “seeing other people happy makes me happy” kind of way. But one thing Sakura is certainly happy about is that she finally got to fight side-by-side with Meiling. And they kicked some killbot-card ass!

Before hopping on the plane back to Hong Kong, Meiling also warns Syaoran over the phone that whatever he knows or has planned that neither she nor Sakura (with whom she’s now on first-name terms) knows about, if he gets hurt, she knows who’ll be saddest, and if he makes Sakura sad, he’ll regret it. Bottom line: Don’t mess with Meiling.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 15 – A Phone Call, Daidouji Videos, and a Quake

After yet another ominous scene with Akiho, her (still motionless) rabbit, and Yuna D. Kaito reminding us that there’s Something Up With Those Three, we return to Sakura’s house where she’s braiding Meiling’s hair.

Talk turns to how Sakura’s dad has always cut her hair, Yukito cuts her brother’s and her brother cuts her father’s…but when Syaoran comes up, Sakura can’t mask her worry.

Meiling’s solution is to simply call him, and then hands the phone off so the two lovebirds can talk. Syaoran says he’s fine (or at least he says he is), so Sakura is able to continue her day without worrying about him.

That day consists of Sakura, Meiling, and Akiho meeting up to visit Tomoyo’s mansion, and are welcomed at the door by her mother,  who finished a bunch of phone calls early and cancelled her schedule just to be able to greet her beloved, adorable Sakura. Far from feeling hurt about this, Tomoyo is on the same page as her mom: Sakura IS adorable!

Tomoyo then drops a big surprise on Sakura: she’s invited them to try out her new super-deluxe home theater, where she proceeds to play the Nadeshiko festival play in which Sakura and Syaoran starred—another nice callback to older iterations of the series.

The chemistry between Sakura and Syaoran is apparent not just in their on-stage performance (which was interrupted by an earthquake) but behind-the-scenes footage of them learning their dance steps.

Sakura is mortified beyond belief by all this footage—she doesn’t like to be on display, despite her occupation—but Tomoyo is merciless, and Akiho and Meiling also get a kick out of all of the heartwarming film…as did I!

Sakura tries to get revenge by mentioning Tomoyo singing, and Tomoyo has no choice but to play it for Akiho, but their viewing party is suddenly interrupted…by another earthquake. Sakura hides behind a chair to release her staff, then puts Akiho, Tomoyo’s mom, and the house staff to sleep with Snooze lest too many learn her identity. With that, she uses Flight to sprout wings and survey shaky ground from a safe height.

Considering Akiho described exactly what happened last week as being a chapter from her white clock book, with Sakura in the role of “Alice”, it’s a good bet the next chapter involves an earthquake. We’ll have to wait until next week to learn how Alice manages to resolve the situation, as the episode ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

Darling in the FranXX – 15 – Two Jian Become One, and a Much Bigger World Reveals Itself

When the Battle of Gran Crevasse begins, Hiro has no pistil, partner, or FranXX…a bird with one wing and one eye, unable to fight without his one and only partner. A Jian.

While his friends head out into by far the biggest and most dangerous battle they’ve ever fought, one that will surely determine the future of mankind—a battle from which they may not return—Hiro is merely a spectator in Plantation 13’s CIC, with Hachi, Nana, and Dr. FranXX.

Thankfully, he won’t remain one.

Oh, look: the Nines swap the “gender roles” in the cockpit. It figures that they do things quite a bit differently. Zero Two is of their ilk, but also pretty much her own animal; when we check in on her she’s already devoured all of her disposable Stamens, and is operating Strelizia alone in Beast Mode.

While she and the Nines aren’t having any trouble destroying scores of Klaxosaurs, their foe’s numbers are being replenished as quickly as they can dispatch them, meaning no progress is being made, even when Squad 13 joins the fray with their own unique brand of combat.

Plantation 26 is obliterated, and when a mountain-sized “Super Lehmann-class” Klaxosaur emerges from beneath the ground, Plantation 13 is also pierced and thousands of smaller Klaxosaurs infiltrate the city within.

Hachi and Nana’s foreboding was more than justified: this episode of DFX raises the scale of the threat and stakes to dizzyingly huge, TTGL-esque levels. In doing so, the show reaches a high watermark; everything has been building up to this, and the execution is equal parts breathless and flawless.

At one point, Hiro has seen enough. He’s tired of standing by, and curses himself for having suddenly stopped asking questions and challenging the limited world he’s been spoon-fed his entire life.

Thanks to Zero Two, he managed to find the memories the adults tried to steal from him, and now that he remembers the inquisitive brat he once was, he intends to get back to discovering the true boundaries of the world with immediate effect.

To that end, he pilots a wimpy training mech into the warzone—and nearly gets himself killed. Ichigo, who has tried at all costs to keep him and Zero Two apart, both for his safety and due to her wanting him to come love him as he loves her…but that’s simply not going to happen.

So Ichigo concedes defeat. Goro gives up his spot so Hiro can pilot Delphinium to Strelizia’s location. You can’t help but feel for Ichigo: she can finally pilot a FranXX with the one she loves, only so he can get to the one he loves. But even Ichigo has to admit they can’t save the day without Strelizia at full chat. For that, it needs two pilots working as one.

Ichigo delivers Hiro to Zero Two, but not before she gives Strelizia a couple of frustration slaps to help dull the sting a small bit. Once inside, Hiro finds Zero Two unresponsive, but grabs hold of her over-sized horns and enters her thoughts.

There, he finds the little red girl and comforts her. There, Hiro learns how long Zero Two fought to keep her memories; how she fought the world without him. We learn she got the term “darling” from him, referring to the picture book she ate in order to never forget.

Her horns shatter, and the human Zero Two returns. She tells Hiro to stay away, but he won’t. She may have called him fodder, and he may have called her a monster, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because there’s a world out there to explore, far beyond what the adults might like or allow…and he’s ready to fight by her side for that world once again.

Hiro kisses Zero Two, Strelizia returns to its humanoid form, only red and souped-up, and the two confess to each other emphatically over open comms for all of Squad 13 to hear. Ichigo is “happy” for them.

Oh, and the New Strelizia borne from their mutual confessed love not only tears through the Super Lehmann, but opens a hole to the blue sky, literally piercing the old boundaries of the world that simply aren’t adequate anymore.

But just when the immediate threat is eliminated, a newer, stranger, and most importantly even bigger threat emerges in the form of a gargantuan Klaxosaur(?) arm and hand that rise up and smashes the majority of Plantation 13 to dust.

The two Jian have finally joined to become one, and their world has never looked bigger…but now the question arises: how much longer do they have to explore it?

P.S. Miku and Zorome discover a Klaxosaur core containing a golden mass with a vaguely human form that might be a pilot, covered in some kind of protective coating. Something to keep an eye on…

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 14 – Forest of Illusion

CCS:CC is a show replete with beautiful pastels and idyllic scenes of Sakura’s lovely, happy life, but from its first moments this is an episode that throws a number of strange and even unsettling images into the mix, starting with Sakura waking up to find Meiling and Kero-chan right in her face, trying to compete to see who has the more intense face (it causes the first of ten Sakura “hoeees!” in the ep).

Sakura with her new ‘do and Meiling meet up with their friends at a shrine market, but Syaoran is running late because he’s doing some rather intense magical training, no doubt to be able to support Sakura when the going gets tough.

It’s a fun and pleasant day as usual, until Sakura and only Sakura starts seeing animal ears and tails on all of her friends. They even start “talking” like the animals they represent, until the very environment around them starts to blur and twist and Sakura finds herself in a great grassy valley with a planet in the purple sky.

This is one of the trippiest cards since the Escher-esque labyrinth, and Sakura doesn’t have a clue where she is and how to change her increasingly animal friends back. She can’t even catch up to them, as they scatter and run when she approaches, eventually settling down at the base of a massive baobab tree.

Sakura is scared, and things suddenly get scarier. A storm swoops in, and a lightning bolt splits the tree in pieces, causing it to burst into flames. As it begins to fall on her animalized friends, time suddenly stops, and Syaoran literally tears through the fabric of the environment to join Sakura.

The time magic he used has gassed him, and the magic won’t last long but he still manages to calm a panicking Sakura down with a big hug, urging her to control her breathing and think about the situation. Sakura realizes she wanted to go to the zoo, so the card turned her friends into animals. When she became scared, it made things scarier.

Once sufficiently calm, Sakura is able to break out of the illusion and secure the “Mirage” card that caused all of the trouble. Everyone ends up back at the shrine, none the worse for wear save Syaoran, who is still exhausted from his use of powerful magic.

Meiling acknowledges her cousin Syaoran doing his best for Sakura’s sake (and the fact he calls her “Sakura”), while expressing her aggravation that she has no magic with which to help out. Still, neither Meiling nor any of Sakura or Syaoran’s friends need magic to support them; their friendship is something worth becoming stronger to protect.

I imagine Sakura will have to grow stronger still in order to face whatever nefariousness Yuna D. Kaito is up to.

Darling in the FranXX – 14 – Ichigo Wins the Latest Round but It’s a Pyrrhic Victory

It seemed like they had all the time in the world to talk in the cockpit after waking up from their mutual, past-recalling, truth-revealing dream. But they don’t, because Hiro passes out from his exertion, and Ichigo storms in and separates the two immediately. After all, she knows nothing of the extent of their past together.

From Ichigo’s perspective, Zero Two is a monster who was willing to either turn Hiro into one or kill him trying and move on to the next stamen. From circumstantial evidence alone, it certainly doesn’t look good for Zero Two. Add in Ichigo’s competition with her for Hiro’s love—on which she clearly hasn’t given up—and it’s a perfect storm of bad luck for the formerly red girl.

We know who Hiro wants to see the moment he comes to, but he doesn’t get to see that person. She’s kept away, while everyone else is there, relieved and supportive of his recovery (the adults paint a bleaker picture of his health, but not near open doors this time).

In the midst of this love triangle drama, I’m glad Hiro still had time to speak with Mitsuru alone, and start to offer apology for breaking his promise before Mitsuru tells him it’s “no big deal” and “in the past”, even if we know full well how much the perceived betrayal affected him.

At the briefing for what will be the largest and more dangerous sortie ever attempted, involving not just Squad 13 and the Nines but a host of other FranXX squads, Ichigo formally requests Zero Two be ejected from the Squad. Nana tells Ichigo Zero Two was scheduled to sortie with the Nines for the mission anyway.

And so it’s all happening how Zero Two feared: no matter how many klaxosaurs she killed, even now, when she knows Hiro was her darling all along, she can’t talk to him or even see him. Everyone is blocking her way, having already formed their conclusions about who and what she is.

It’s patently unfair, in my view, and despite how much I personally like Ichigo as a character, I take no pleasure in watching her and the other squad members work together to block Zero Two and guard Hiro from any contact, because none of them have the whole picture. Heck, Hiro doesn’t even have the whole picture, which is why he wants to talk with Zero Two so badly. He wants to know if she knew he and only he could pilot FranXX with her…perhaps due to the fact he drank some of her blood.

Still, it’s a credit to Hiro’s genuine “goodness” that he doesn’t rage and fume when he’s unable to get his way. And when Ichigo cuts herself with a knife, he’s just as caring and nurturing as he’s always been. But Ichigo’s luck is almost as bad as Zero Two’s, as even her attempt at an apple bunny recalls the image of Zero Two’s red horns for Hiro, and he’s right back to thinking about how much he wants to see her.

Zero Two is done holding back. If the squad won’t let her see her Darling, she’ll use force to see him. At the same time she starts to fight them, Hiro asks Ichigo to leave the knife behind before she leaves, a dead giveaway he intended to use it to “escape” his friends’ supervision by climbing out the hospital window.

The thing is, calmer heads prevail when Goro and Kokoro insist Ichigo stand down lest things get out of control. Goro doesn’t think Zero Two would be so desperate if she didn’t have something very important to discuss with Hiro.

Ichigo isn’t convinced that won’t just be more manipulative lies, but she relents, and the whole squad escorts Zero Two to Hiro’s room…but he’s already gone, discovering how feral Zero Two has become from the state of her dorm room.

Zero Two, already on her last nerve, thinks Ichigo and the squad tricked her, and proceeds to beat them all up. Such is her horrible luck and timing that Hiro walks back in just as she’s choking Ichigo nearly to death with one hand, and Hiro condemns her for being, in that moment, a real monster.

But it goes further than that. Zero Two knows what she did, and knew, one day, she’d be punished for it. By setting Hiro up as her one and only Darling, she put him on the path to becoming a monster like her (Nana and Hachi even discuss his imminent “saurification”).

So she accepts her punishment and is sent away, just as the Beast was separated from her human Prince. Such a simple thing as existing in a room and talking things out was never allowed to happen; other people and her own actions kept conspiring to get in the way.

So Zero Two leaves the Squad 13 dorm without speaking a word, her horns longer than ever, wearing an imperious white coat, and flanked by minders. She meets up with the other Nines, who present her with a procession of disposable stamens ready to give their lives so that she can pilot Strelizia and keep killing klaxosaurs.

Only now her original reason for wanting to fight, along with her sole reason for wanting to be human, are gone. Now, she seems poised to embrace the Beast within, seemingly convinced she was never meant to have a Darling in the first place.

Hiro can’t fight back tears as Zero Two departs, and when he tries to run after her, Ichigo grabs him and won’t let go. She’s decided she’s not going to let Zero Two influence or change him any more than she has. She thinks there’s still time to get back her Hiro. She takes hold of his face, gets on her tiptoes, kisses him, and confesses her love for him.

But once again, bad luck strikes: Zero Two’s transport soars overhead immediately after she says the words, and it looks for all the world like Hiro was a lot more focused on that than her confession.

Ichigo may have Hiro in her arms, and he may have just been told how much she loves and cherishes him, but she won’t escape punishment either: Punishment for the ruthlessness with which she sent her rival away; for refusing to give her a chance; for not allowing two people who loved each other to talk things through.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 13 – Meiling It In

After cheerleading practice, Sakura gets a surprising phone call from Meiling announcing that she has arrived in Japan. Since this is my first foray into CCS such an arrival means less to me than those who’ve watched the franchise in its entirety, but despite not knowing much about her or her past exploits with the other characters, she’s still a welcome and refreshing (re-)addition to Sakura’s circle of friends.

Rather than stay with her cousin Syaoran, Meiling decides to stay at Sakura’s permission for which she receives from Sakura’s dad over the phone, using such polite and formal language she shocks her old friend.

While Sakura’s brother stays at Yukito’s, avoiding answering questions about whether his powers are returning, Meiling and Sakura make delectable homemade gyoza, while Meiling and Kero square off multiple times, requiring Sakura to play peacemaker.

After helping Sakura dry her hair (resulting in a slightly different, more refined look), Meiling gets Sakura (a “natural airhead”) to open up about Syaoran. Sakura knows that Syaoran is hiding something, but also trusts him enough to believe if it were something he should and could tell her, he would, or will when he’s ready. I hope her trust isn’t misplaced.

As for Akiho, she continues to read from the tome of stories, one of which depicts a girl who grew cat ears and a tail—which is precisely what Sakura sees Meiling growing at various moments before they go to bed. She and Meiling chalk it up to Sakura simply being half-asleep and seeing things, but it’s clear the ears and tail are not only real, but something being instigated by Akiho, seemingly at the behest of her watch-wearing butler.

Darling in the FranXX – 13 – Recalling a Forgotten Fairy Tale

When Zero Two goes on a rampage and takes Hiro with her, the consciousnesses and memories of the two are merged, and Hiro begins to  remember forgotten events involving a younger, redder Zero Two, as if she was the key to unlocking his repressed memories.

The appearance of Zero Two in Hiro’s early life is a revelation to someone who has always asked questions and sought answers but received none, and named other children like Ichigo and Mitsuru so they could be people and not mere numbers.

Hiro is indeed quite “special”, and Dr. Franxx always wanted him that way, to see how someone like him would fare as a parasite. But that comes at the cost of Hiro discovering the existence of the little girl with horns.

Dr. Franxx is not painted in the best light here, as if there was ever a good light to in which paint him to begin with. Whatever he seeks to learn from the girl he calls a “specimen”, all that matters to Hiro is that this very different and amazing little girl is being hurt by the adults, and he’s not okay with that.

When the adults stonewall him, he searches for a way to get to her, casting aside all fear of punishment from the adults precisely because they’ve always told him he’s so special. As far as he knows, he’s supposed to rescue the red girl.

He does, and for a brief, beautiful few hours, but not much more, the two are blissful in their freedom and gratitude for one another. Hiro gives the girl a name—Zero Two—literally licks her wounds, and reads from her beloved picture book, the story in which just happens to mirror theirs precisely: a beast princess and a human prince falling in love, then losing each other in tragic storybook fashion.

Unfortunately, that’s how the story of young Hiro and Zero Two ends, with the adults tracking them down, capturing and separating them, and forcibly removing their memories.

But back in the present, the sad ending of that story has been usurped by the writing of new chapter, in which Hiro remembers Zero Two was the girl with the picture book. Not a monster, just a girl who just happened to have red skin and horns, and who, like him, needs friendship, family, and love.

At the same time, Zero Two remembers that Hiro isn’t just fodder to help her become more human. He’s her Darling from “back then” after all—her one and only Darling. Perhaps the two have turned the next corner in their always twisted, often tragic, yet occasionally joyous lives. One can hope.

Violet Evergarden – 13 (Fin) – “I Love You” Means Never Having to Take Orders Again

Violet Evergarden protects Dietfried from bullets at the cost of one metal arm, then prevents the bridge from blowing up at the cost of another (with a crucial assist and catch from Benedict). In doing so, she averts the escalation of an isolated anti-peace flare-up and preserves peace for the continent.

In light of all this, Dietfried rightly starts to seriously rethink how he’s always thought about Violet—the tool he gave his brother which then outlived his brother—and how his blaming of her was only a means of distracting him from the fact he blamed himself more.

With peace secured, Violet secures new arms and returns to ghostwriting work immediately, but as the first Leiden Air Show since the war began looms, she faces her most difficult assignment yet: writing a letter not for anyone else, but by herself, containing her feelings; the whims of her heart.

Cattleya encourages her to write something before the deadline, but Violet gets writer’s block. She recalls that night in the Major’s tent when he told her she neither needs nor should want nothing but his orders; that she should feel free to live free, because she’s not a toll, she’s human, with emotions just like his.

Gilbert proves it rather cruelly by making her as upset as he is, but at the time Violet still knows nothing of what she’s feeling, and realizing that, he decides to table the discussion until after the battle…a “later” that never comes due to his death at Intens.

As if the universe were conspiring to lend Violet inspiration to write a letter to Gilbert, Dietfried arrives at the doll office to introduce her to his mother, who wished to meet and speak with her. The mother’s memory is somewhat hazy, but watching Violet’s reactions to her words (and her description of Violet’s “Gilbert-Eye” pendant) snaps her into lucidity.

Gilbert’s mother tells Violet things only she can say: that it wasn’t your fault; that it’s not your cross to bear; that her other son hasn’t given up on him any more than the two of them. But rather than wait for her son to come through the front door, she takes comfort in knowing he’ll live forever in her heart. Remembering him the rest of her life may hurt, but hey…love hurts.

For all the damage Gilbert felt he did by allowing her to act as a weapon for so long from such a young age, the very fact he saw her as a human and not a tool is what ultimately put Violet in the position she’s in now: with the means to grab the life she’s always been owed, and live in happiness yearning for neither orders nor death.

Vi shocks Dietfried one more time before departing by telling him she’s done with orders. Thus he sees, for the first time, not only a real human, but someone kindred to him in the pain of his loss.

Upon returning from the Bougainvillea House, Violet writes the letter that will join tens of thousands of others and be rained down upon the city by the airplanes, like her weapons of war reborn as weapons of peace and the transmission of peoples’ feelings.

We, as the audience, are the ones who “catch” and read that letter, in which she states that while she didn’t understand anything about how he felt when he tried to tell her, by ghostwriting she’s gradually developed the tools to sense how people feel, and thus how he felt.

Finally, she speaks of how she feels. She continues to believe he’s alive, whether that’s somewhere out in the world or in her heart and those of his mother and brother, and that she finally understands what the words “I love you” mean “a little better.”

So She’ll continue her work living, writing, transmitting the contents of others’ hearts through paper and ink, and in doing so continue to learn about her own emotions. Since a “new project” has already been greenlit, we’ll be witnesses to the continuation of her journey, and that of her colleagues at the Auto Memoir Doll Service.