Darling in the FranXX – 03

All of the ten parasites of Plantation 13 grew up together as “hatchlings”, and they all gravitated towards 016, Hiro, who gave all of them names, including 015/Ichigo.

They all had high hopes for him leading them, but it didn’t happen. After their catastrophic mock battle, the interaction between Ichigo and Hiro is understandably awkward.

Gorou has always understood and accepted how close Ichigo is to Hiro; they’re both in the -teen numbers, which basically makes them brother and sister. But nothing is more important to Hiro than being useful, which means if he can only pilot with Zero Two, so be it.

Of course, that’s not his call, or Two’s. As the undermining of Ichigo’s authority as leader proceeds apace, led by Mitsuru, who thinks it’s time to cut their losses on the now-pathetic Hiro, Two watches Hiro feverishly train, and falls asleep waiting for him to finish.

She embraces him so he can get through a security wall, and Two shows him the glittering inner city, not because she thinks it’s beautiful or romantic, but because it’s ugly, boring, and depressing. She can’t stand it in there, with no sky and no sea.

She’s thinking about getting away, and wouldn’t mind her Darling coming with her. She laughs it off as a joke, but one must wonder…

The active parasites, meanwhile, are assigned their first sortie against a klaxosaur, but things immediately go wrong. Ikuno cannot connect with Mitsuru (and the hubristic Mitsuru blames her without mercy), and the one klaxosaur turns into a lot more, and Miku gets knocked out, leaving just two FranXXs to deal with the threat. They may have passed trials Hiro could not, but they’re still green-as-hell rookies.

When things turn dire, Zero Two demands to sortie, with her Darling Hiro. The adults adhere to the rules and won’t allow it, as Hiro is not an official parasite. Mitsuru offers an alternative: he’ll be Zero Two’s Stamen. Two asks Hiro if he’s sure he wants her to pilot Strelizia without him; Hiro definitely isn’t happy about it, but insists nevertheless; it’s more important to save the others.

When Ichigo hears Strelizia is sortieing, she loses composure just long enough to allow the Klaxosaurs to break through a barrier and surround them, making the situation a lot worse.

Knowing Hiro might be in there with Zero, kissing, is just too much to bear, and even if she knows she must if she wants to be a parasite and a leader, she can’t control those feelings or how they affect operation of Delphinium.

Strelizia swoops in, and when the other parasites hear Mitsuru’s voice, they’re shocked. Mitsuruimmediately becomes drunk on power, further dragging his partner Ikuno’s name in the mud expressing his amazement at himself and his elation he wasn’t the reason things weren’t working out.

However, when Strelizia returns after Zero Two went “all out”, Mitsuru is barely alive, and Zero Two is unimpressed. As far as she’s concerned, she only has one Darling, and it’s Hiro.

Darling in the FranXX running into problems and having to deal with periods of helplessness or instances of failure, but I do hope Hiro is able to prove himself once again and isn’t useless or a failure. Otherwise, he’s a reverse Gary Stu; an Anti-Inaho.

Some more balance would be nice. It’s confirmed by the adults that no one has fared better than him as Zero Two’s partner. So lets get these two back in a pilot so they can contribute. I’d just like to see a win soon, however small.

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Darling in the FranXX – 02

Last week was pretty much Hiro, his rough break-up with Naomi, meeting Zero Two, and taking care of the crisis. This week things slow down a bit as we’re introduced to the rest of the squad where Hiro once again has a home. That includes the squad leader Ichigo, very well-voiced by Ichinose Kana in her first role (and sounding a bit like another, more famous Kana).

Ichigo clearly harbors feelings for Hiro of which he’s clearly unaware, and so she sees Zero Two as an interloper. Setting aside the fact that she swooped in and snatched Hiro practically the moment Naomi peaced out, Ichigo doesn’t want to see him get hurt, and Zero Two seems like the type who will hurt. She barges into the squad’s chow and pours honey over everything like a weirdo.

Hiro is the eleventh of a squad of ten, but Zero Two isn’t the twelfth; her fate is unknown, leaving Hiro with no official partner or FranXX. Ichigo is the unquestioned elite squad leader, but one can tell the redhead Miku maintains a quiet envy for her stature (as demonstrated in the classic locker room scene with fanservice and plug-suit fitting).

Ichigo and Miku are “pistils”, and their “stamens” are the studious Gorou and wild Zorome. Gorou is very friendly with Hiro (and not threatened by Ichigo’s affection for him) and seems like a nice guy, but Zorome is your classic heel/rival character who will likely keep berating and running Hiro down until Hiro does something (not counting last week).

Rounding out the group are the pistil-stamen pairs of Kokoro/Futoshi (the lovey-doveyest) and Ikuno/Mitsuru. When the pairs enter their colorful, distinctive FranXXs, we see that the actual pistil-stamen interface is a little…suggestive, with the girl on all fours while the guy stands behind and “drives.”

Basically, the girl is an interface between the guy and the FranXX; without total synchonicity between partners, the FranXX won’t work properly. Adding to the suggestiveness is the fact that interfacing is very physically taxing and sometimes painful, so that while operating a FranXX, everyone’s breathing heavily and occasionally making weird noises.

After their first official sortie as parasites, the pairs stand down. Zero Two continues to loiter around, invoking the ire of Ichigo, who isn’t afraid to warn Zero to stay away from Hiro. Though Ichigo might wish she hadn’t, as Zero Two gives her a taste. Out in the yard, Zorome wallops Hiro with a football, and the two get into each others faces, forcing Ichigo and Gorou to be the adults in this messed-up family and restore peace.

The thing is, Hiro can understand why Zorome is so dubious of his ability: Hiro himself doesn’t actually remember what happened after entering that cockpit being kissed by Zero Two. He only remembers the feeling, and he wants to get back to it so he can prove to Zorome, Ichigo, the others, and most importantly himself that he can pilot a FranXX.

Well, Hiro promptly gets his Shot, though perhaps not quite under the circumstances he’d hoped for. The brass (led by the mysterious “Papa”) okays a FranXX mock battle to test Hiro, but Zero Two isn’t allowed to partner with him this time.

Even before that was made clear, Ichigo volunteers to partner with him, hoping she can bring out the pilot in Hiro as much as her pink-haired nemesis. Zorome volunteers to be the opponent, and eager for an opportunity to prove her worth against Ichigo, Miku agrees as well.

The second Ichigo got her wish, I knew things were not going to go well, but things start out just fine, with Hiro and Ichigo reaching 100% sync rate and activating her FranXX Delphinium, without any trouble. And then, not ten seconds into the battle, it shuts down again.

Inside the cockpit, Ichigo is on all fours, sweating and heavily breathing as she and Hiro unleash a flurry of double entendres that, taken out of context, sound like dialogue from Girls, a show renowned for its awkward sex scenes:

Ichigo: What’s wrong?
Hiro: I don’t know. It just stopped.
Ichigo: Was it my fault?
Hiro: I don’t think so.
Ichigo: What did she do differently?
Hiro: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
Ichigo: Calm down. No need to rush.

Whew. Suffice it to say, as much as she may like Hiro and want to stick it to Zero Two, Ichigo and Hiro simply aren’t a good match in a FranXX.

When Hiro remembers that Zero Two kissed him and everything went “BOOM”, and Ichigo climbs onto Hiro and kisses him as well, it felt as much like a last-ditch effort to get things moving again as Ichigo not wanting Zero Two to have something she doesn’t with Hiro, i.e. a kiss.

That her kiss does absolutely nothing for Hiro only makes things worse. I can’t help but sympathize with both of them; things are not going well at all.

When Zorome starts kicking Delphinium while its down (with Miki and their FranXX Argentea), Ichigo remembers they’re in a fight, and decides to bypass a defeated, powerless, inert Hiro and pilot the FranXX by herself, a very risky maneuver that takes a lot out of her.

The mock battle ends with Hiro having hit a new low, with all hope of ever piloting anything again in grave jeopardy, with Ichigo feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and very much taken down a notch, and Zorome emboldened. Last week was Hiro’s bad breakup and fleeting fling with Z2; this week Ichigo attempted to reassert her bond with Hiro and it went horribly, horribly wrong.

The failure she endured in front of her squad is the kind of thing that might have far-reaching impact on her confidence at precisely the wrong time in her development as one of the defenders of humanity.  Here’s hoping things start to look up for both of them, both personally and professionally.

Darling in the FranXX – 01 (First Impressions)

Hiro and Zero Two first cross paths when her enormous transport arrives at Plantation 13. They each look in each others’ general direction, but they’re very far apart, and there’s a lot of loud noise and bright lights. Zero Two yearns for the ocean, but there is none on P13. So when she breaks free of her minders she finds the nearest thing to an ocean: a lake.

Hiro comes upon that lake, where Zero Two is already bathing naked. When she goes underwater too long for comfort, Hiro runs out to save her, but she’s not drowning, she’s fishing. She has no reaction to Hiro seeing her naked, and she notes that his taste makes her “heart race,” but says so very clinically.

Hiro is alone at the moment, and as FranXX needs two people—male and female—to pilot it, he is also powerless. But Zero Two, called the “partner killer”, is also alone, because so many partners can’t handle being paired with her, and because of her horns and her weird behavior.

It’s definitely a unique and “educational” encounter for Hiro, but before he knows it, Zero Two’s minders have showed up to collect her, and right after she offered to make him her next partner, her present partner is among the minders, burly but still in pretty tough shape.

Now Hiro and Zero Two have had two encounters: one from a afar and one much more intimate. After they part, life aboard Plantation 13 proceeds apace, with the welcoming ceremony for all of the “Parasites” (copilots) for FranXX being held in a great hall as adults watch (all Parasites are minors).

Hiro isn’t a part of the ceremony, because he, AKA 016, and his former partner Naomi, AKA 703, failed their FranXX tests. Now deprived of the only purpose they’ve ever known, the two share one last chat before Naomi departs for her new, apparently pointless life. It feels for all the world like a tough breakup, tinged with sci-fi trappings.

It’s likely at some point Hiro would have boarded one of those yellow spherical vehicles as well, but before he can, Plantation 13 is attacked by a “klaxosaur”, a ferocious biomechanical beasie that wrecks the entire elaborate platform Hiro is standing on.

Eventually a FranXX appears in the form of a four-legged beast, far outsized by the klaxosaur but every bit as vicious in its counterattack. This is where Trigger’s patented wreckage-strewn chaotic action scenes begins, which continues all the way to the episode’s end.

When the klaxosaur fires its main weapon, the FranXX crashes right beside where Hiro is watching. A bleeding Zero Two emerges, bleeding but still in the game, but her partner is out for the count. She’s fully ready to go out there and pilot the FranXX alone to fend off the ‘saur, unafraid of death, but Hiro won’t let her go alone, and he isn’t, like doing anything else, so he tearfully declares he’s coming with her.

Zero Two is pleased, and the tears and look in Hiro’s eyes again makes her heart race. She pulls Hiro into the cockpit and plants a big ol’ smooth on him, activating the FranXX (named Strelizia) and revealing its true humanoid form and Gurren Lagann-esque face. We see no more of the two parasites, but merely watch Strelizia make quick work of the wounded klaxosaur.

When the newly-minted parasites, those who passed all the tests, approach Strelizia after the battle, and Zero Two emerges carrying a passed-out but otherwise-okay Hiro, they’re shocked. Hiro, more than anything else, is revealed that someone came along to make his life meaningful again, while Zero Two seems happy to have found a true “Darling” for her FranXX.

This was a strong start to a show that may not have a whole lot of original big ideas, but excelled in design, details, execution, and that good old Trigger style. Hiro may be a generic guy, but Zero Two’s got a neat design and Tomatsu Haruka’s husky voice is well-paired. I like what I see so far.

Fate / Apocrypha – 02

While still not quite exciting enough to fully recommend, the second episode of Fate/Apoc is nevertheless an improvement, as things move from the explanation of the mechanics of this new Grail War to all of its various players. There are many little scenes in which a master and servant introduce themselves.

That interaction ranges from Gordes yelling at his Black Saber, Siegfried, to Celenike licking her new “toy”, Black Rider AKA Astolfo, 12th Paladin of Charlemagne. The servants are represented not just from historical heroes, but a fictional monster like Frankenstein’s, or Jack the Ripper.

Kairi meets and gets to know Red Saber AKA Mordred, “son” of Arthur. Kairi gets off to the wrong start when he calls her a woman, but as long as she’s able to pull an Excalibur-like sword out of the stone and become King, she’s willing to work with the guy. Aside from Caules testing Black Berserker (Frankenstein)’s power, Red Saber and Kairi’s raid of the Yggdmillennia stronghold of Trifas is the only sustained action we get.

It’s a quick fight, only meant to test both sides of the conflict, and Red Saber and Kairi find a nice rhythm. I also liked Saber’s ability to add and shed armor according to the situation (she seems prefer wearing as little as possible)

We’ve got two Sabers, two Archers, two Assassins, two Berserkers…you get the idea. But there’s also a “watchdog” in Kotomine Shirou, who is planning to kill the fifteenth servant to make an appearance in this war: Ruler, who bookends this episode and is established as being Jeanne d’Arc (the second one I’m watching after Baha Soul) and being on her way to Trifas.

We’ve yet to met her master, but as he and she are listed as the two main characters (and displayed as such in the promo art) this is still very much another piece-introducing and arranging episode. Other than the deliberate pace, the animation still sticks out as lacking compared to ufotable works, but at the same time the characters seem to have a lot more “punch” to them, particularly the more fiery Red Saber.

Fate / Apocrypha – 01 (First Impressions)

Full disclosure to new readers: I have never played any of the Fate games, and my only exposure to the franchise’s anime was Unlimited Blade Works seasons 1 and 2. UBW was quite entertaining, but didn’t really leave me chomping at the bit for a spinoff that doubles the number of participants in the Holy Grail War.

Apocrypha is the spinoff we got, whether I asked for one or not, and it offers a decent soundtrack but bland masters (at least so far) who spend much of the episode sitting around in rooms talking after four minutes of heated battle. And even those four minutes, while exciting, only serve to emphasize this is not a ufotable anime, as is much less smooth and sophisticated in both character design and animation.

That’s…somewhat problematic right off the bat, as I’m already getting more than my fair share of fun knights-and-magic battle from MAPPA’s Baha Soul (empty calories and all) as well as Re:Creators (when it deigns to include action in its episodes, that is). Unbacked by the ufotable pedigree, this looks more to someone like me (who has only seen ufotable Fate) like, well, a poor imitation.

Take out all the familiar terminology like Holy Grail War, Servants, Masters, etc., and we’re left with a simply okay-looking magical fantasy drama that hopes to capitalize on the cache of the Fate brand. That may prove to be enough for passionate (or at least completionist) followers of the franchise, but I’m just not that enamored with the alternate King Arthur milieu to overlook this spinoff’s technical shortcomings.

Bottom line: this premiere told me a lot, but didn’t show me enough to warrant an enthusiastic dive into its 25-episode span. However, I may still tune in to see if a second episode can capture my interest.