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…

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AICO – 12 (Fin) – A World for Both Aikos

AICO ends by having its cake and eating it too, with only Isazu suffering long-term ill effects from the events of the finale. In the last couple episodes he’d devolved into a raving, maniacal villain, but at least it was presumably out of his Papa-Grizzly desire to protect his cub, Yuzuha. However it’s clear he’s willing to use Yuzuha to manipulate the matter to his whims and gets drunk off the power, ignoring her pleas for her to stop.

Isazu presents a persistent threat to Kanzaki’s attempt to perform extremely sensitive “brain transfer surgery”, the science of which neither the show nor I will bother getting into; suffice it to say Yura is one of the greatest medical and scientific minds in human history, which is frankly…a bit much.

But with the other Divers arriving at Primary Point, and Kurose successfully infiltrating the hospital and disconnecting Yuzuha from her duplicate bodies (ending the threat Isazu presented), Kanzaki/Yura has just enough time to pull it off. When the procedure is complete, The “Real” Tachibana Aiko emerges from the surgical capsule safe and sound, if a little out of it.

However, Yura’s intention wasn’t just to revive Aiko, but save the other Aiko who had spent the last eleven episodes proving that she was just as real. He didn’t want either Aiko to die. Yet once the “fake” Aico has confirmed Aiko is alright, she seems ready to do just that, as her head retreats into the mass of Matter, which starts to turn green, as if decomposing.

But just when everyone is lamenting the loss of a person they’d become quite fond of, the dying matter spits out a strange fetus-like thing, which then spits out a fully alive (and naked) Aiko. Turns out Gummi, whom her father gave her, was meant to serve a far more important role than just that of a pet and companion.  Gummi also contained the sum total of data for Aico’s body, such that once the brain transfer was complete, Gummi was able to surround and regenerate her body.

Aiko invites Aico to join her family (her mom and brother are released and soon up and about), but while she’s grateful for her conterpart’s kindness, she respectfully declines.

Aiko at least insists she meet at least once with her Mom and Ryouta before going off and doing her own thing, and the resulting reunion is every bit as powerful and earned-feeling as when she first arrived at their cocoon, particularly when she starts to tear up immediately after turning her back on them.

From there, everyone returns to their lives, and the Area, now free of malignant Matter, begins to rebuild. As for Aico, she starts on her own path at a new school as a transfer student, but her name probably isn’t Aico.

As for what it is, we never find out, and I enjoyed the ending that cut off her introduction. All that matters is she is a different person. She’s the girl in loafers walking into a classroom in the ED. Most importantly, she’s the one we’ve been watching and following all this time. I wish her well.

AICO – 11 – More Technobabble Leads to the Home Stretch

When Yura/Kanzaki finds Aico, she’s already willing to forgive all the lies he’s told to that point, because she exists in part because of those many lies. She’s also as ready as ever to sacrifice herself to save her mother, brother, and the “real” Aiko, even though that Aiko has already offered to do the same. For his part, Kanzaki is hesitant in the moment to let Aico go through with it, even though, as she says, that’s how the Burst will end.

In that moment of hesitation, Dr. Isazu hooks himself up to some kind of interface we’ve never seen before which allows him to connect to and manipulate the same Matter as his unconscious daughter.

Isazu uses the human-form Matter to restrain Aico and Kanzaki and a rather lengthy argument with the latter ensues, densely packed with a whole mess of technobabble about networks and cell assemblers. Suffice it to say, Isazu wants his daughter back, and is willing to sacrifice both Aikos to do so; Burst be damned.

Isazu gets increasingly frustrated with Kanzaki’s apparently boundless, “god-like” genius, but is unable to kill him, because Kazuki swoops in just in time to free Kanzaki and Aico from their bonds. A torrid chase ensues, and the real Aiko succeeds in suppressing the purple Matter with her Red long enough for the trio to get to shelter…only it’s not the shelter, but some kind of storeroom.

There, Kanzaki gathers materials for a makeshift explosion to blast their way out of their dead end and continue to Primary Point, but Kazuki doesn’t want Aico to go…because he’s fallen in love with her, plus when the matter attacked his arm he saw her memories. Aico tells him she’s flattered by his confession, but if he truly loves her as he says, he’ll let her save her family, which she can only do by reuniting Aiko’s body and brain.

Back outside the area, the JSDF is poised to start their bombardment of the entire facility, but they’re foiled at the last second when Nanbara lifts the blockade on the Area and sends in wave after wave of civilian Divers. The generals must hold their fire, and Nanbara is summarily fired by her superior, though her assistant Hori remains on the job for the time being, likely by design.

Nanbara gave up everything to save the Matter that will keep her country at the forefront of science from being annihilated by that same country’s military.

Now we’ll see if her sacrifice, and those of Shinoyama and many others, will be validated, as Kanzaki finally gets Aico to Primary Point, where the Burst and Aico’s existence began. The other Divers are holding their own, led by Sagami and Shiraishi and now convinced that what they’re doing has a crucial and noble purpose.

After many trials, lies, revealed secrets, and yes, one very lame confession, Aico has reached her destination, and it’s where she herself has chosen to come. Now let’s see if she and Kanzaki can end the Burst, save her family, wake Yuzuha up, and maybe, just maybe, save Aiko as well.

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.

Darling in the FranXX – 12 – Time is Running Out and Zero Two Drops the Pretense

Squad 13 returns to Garden, to the place where they were made, even if it isn’t where they came from—a question Kokoro ponders while doubting the adults’ answers. In narration, Hiro says it doesn’t matter where, as long as he can live life to the fullest. But his increasingly distant (and feral) partner Zero Two feels the opposite: where she came from—what she is—means everything.

Hiro the rest of the squad are only tagalongs. The reason they’re at Garden is for Zero Two, or “Iota”, as the leader of the elite “Nines” calls her. He’s surprised she’s been able to integrate so well into a squad of humans, and is rudely explicit about how inhuman she is, gaining the ire of Ichigo. Ultimately the adults’ patience with Zero Two’s sullen bit runs out and they have to tranq her.

The rest of the squad tours the Garden, even though they were forbidden from doing so, and the memories come flowing in. Hiro, for one, vageuly remembers a red girl with white hair and horns. They see children getting parasite injections far earlier than they did.

With the increase in klaxosaur activity, it would seem humanity no longer has time for experiments in disobedience or individuality; they’re basically growing bodies to put into cockpits as fast as they can. Squad 13 is a relic; an indulgence they can no longer afford…even though it could be argued they bear elements of humanity crucial for its long-term survival.

As humanity hopes continuing to refine their children into increasingly efficient parasites will help extend the time they’re on the planet, Zero Two insists her time is quickly running out. Every time she sorties with Hiro she tries to kill as many Klaxosaurs as possible, as viciously as possible, hoping it will help her become human.

Because Hiro believes everything in this show is about him, he assumes Zero Two feels like she can’t truly belong in the squad, or in his heart, unless she becomes completely human, shedding everything that made her part klaxosaur. Since Gorou and Futoshi’s feelings helped him understand his own, he thinks confessing his love for Two will both appease and please her.

Imagine my combination of delight and despair upon witnessing Hiro completely strike out after confessing to the person who always insisted on calling him her “Darling”, not to mention kissing him and staying by his side. Hiro drops the Darling and calls Hiro “fodder.” She only cares about him if she can use him to kill klaxosaurs.

Since partnering with Hiro, we learn Two’s level of “saurification” has been steadily rising, which explains why she’s been acting so feral lately. (Ichigo hears this, because the adults apparently have an open-door policy.)

When she learns what is becoming of Zero Two, which she adds to the knowledge given to her by the leader of the Nines, Ichigo moves to have another conversation with her squadmate, only to find her smashing mirrors to bits for daring to reflect her face. Ichigo freezes in terror and closes her eyes, ready for the worst, but Two just walks past her.

Despite her clear and worsening imbalance, the adults continue to let Zero Two sortie with Hiro, and Two continues to believe she can become human if she kills enough klaxosaurs. Whether someone told her such a theory was true, or she simply decided for herself it was true, the evidence just doesn’t bear out that outcome.

If anything, killing klaxosaurs only seems to increase her bloodlust for combat. When Hiro tries to hold her back, she eventually overloads and starts to choke Hiro, while more and more images of the red girl with horns flash through his head. This totally berserk Two wants to meet her darling from “back then.” I imagine we’re in for some crucial flashbacks at the start of the second half.

ReLIFE – 17 (Fin)

Aw HELL yeah! I didn’t ask for much, just a happy yet satisfying ending that felt earned, and ReLIFE delivered exactly that. Initially framed by Yoake’s final report, things start out in the afterglow of Kaizaki and Hoshiro’s confessions. All their friends are super-excited for them, but they keep it very cool and low-key, which is just like two teenagers who are actually adults.

They’re both simply savoring every day they have left together, because they don’t have a lot of them. It makes you wish they’d gotten together much sooner…but then again, I couldn’t have asked for a better way for them to finally realize their feelings for another, and their love only deepens as the days pass, as evidenced by their late night phone call when simply messaging on LIME won’t cut it.

Graduation Day comes, and Kanzaki manages to graduate by the skin of his teeth (thanks to Oga). There’s goodbyes, notes of goodwill, flowers, smiles…and tears. But there are no tears more bitter than those shed by both Kanzaki and Hoshiro.

He finally gives her a hug, just when she needs one most, and it turns out he needed that hug just as badly. He says it feels like a break-up, even though they’ll see each other at the start of the college term. Hoshiro thanks him for being such a transparent yet kind liar.

And that’s the last they see of each other in their respective ReLifes—with a tearful embrace, assuring each other they’ll never forget each other, even if they know they can’t keep that promise.

Yoake congratulates Kanzaki for a marvelously successful ReLife, telling him he can look forward to very promising job placement in exchange for his cooperation with the experiment, and should hold his head high. Meanwhile, Onoya has her exit interview with Hoshiro, who never really warmed up to her newer support.

Describing her ReLife, Hoshiro describes how her heart is “ripped open” by getting close to people only to lose them, but admits she does feel like she changed “a little.” After taking her pill and falling asleep, Onoya accidentally discovers a marker Hoshiro used to write “I was in love with Kaizaki Arata”, and breaks down at Hoshiro’s failure to hide it better, as once Onoya sees it, she has to get rid of it along with all other evidence. It’s her job, after all.

Fast-forward to a bit of time after Kanzaki regains his 28-year-old appearance and starts interviewing for the jobs ReLife provided. Ultimately, however, he wants nothing more than to help others as he was helped, so he requests a job with ReLife, and is accepted. Now he is the one visiting shut-ins and other wretches, offering a way for them to find themselves again.

At a ReLife company dinner, Kanzaki arrives a bit late, but a space was saved for him. Turns out the seat he takes belongs to Hoshiro, but it’s no big deal or anything, as someone from another part of the restaurant is calling for her. As she turns to walk away, Kanzaki notices the strap on her bag…

At the end of the dinner (well, the first round, but the only round recommended for newbies), it starts to rain, but Kanzaki doesn’t have an umbrella. Just then, Hoshiro appears once more and opens the very same green umbrella the two shared just after confessing. She offers to share it, but Kanzaki politely declines, and she starts to head off on her own…but turns and says she heard the higher-ups calling him a test subject.

She then mentions her own stint as a subject, how it lasted two years, and how her supporter pushed for her to get a job at ReLife, and she took a position in the pharma section. Kanzaki asks if she’d tell him about her ReLife, and she compares it to…fireworks, like the ones she saw at the festival with her friends.

They both latch onto the spectacular yet fleeting nature of fireworks, and eventually both remember flashes of that night when Hoshiro told Kanzaki he was like fireworks. I tellya, I got an absolute thrill out of watching them gradually put the pieces together in their heads.

You could say the fireworks…sparked their memories, heh-heh. Once he recalls Hoshiro in her red yukata looking up at the sky, Kanzaki calls her by her name. Hoshiro needs just a little bit more, but she eventually remembers writing the note on her hand as she cried after taking the pill. And that’s it: in spite of the lab’s efforts, they found and remembered each other…and it didn’t even take that long!

Now, while the ReLife procedures were concluded with all due diligence, I’d like to think both Yoake and Onoya played roles in facilitating a reunion. Yoake accepting Kanzaki’s request to work for ReLife; Onoya predding Hoshiro to work there as well…even telling Kanzaki that Hoshiro’s seat was his in the restaurant.

But while the supports made the conditions more favorable for a happy ending, at the end of the day they were just that, support. It took Kanzaki and Hoshiro being friendly, open, and honest with each other, and especially Hoshiro bringing up how she heard he test subject, like her, at that crucial moment.

If she hadn’t they might have gone their separate ways, perhaps forever. But I’m immeasurably chuffed she did, and the resulting re-connection was nothing short of mesmerizing. Time for some #Adulting!

ReLIFE returned quite out of the blue to rip my heart out with the prospect of tearing apart two lovely people who had only just found each other…only to painstakingly reconstruct that heart, and fill it back up with love until it almost burst all over again, only in a good way!

Of course, you’re mileage may vary, depending on whether you read the entire web manga (I did not) and your particular emotional investment. Clearly, my investment was significant, and one and a half years of time away didn’t dull it in the slightest. This was a big win.

ReLIFE – 16

Well THAT escalated quickly! Christmas is approaching, and after Kaizaki recommends an almost too-pure-for-the-world Oga to just take Kariu anywhere and they’ll have fun, he suddenly finds Hoshiro not only avoiding him, but bolting away like a scared chipmunk whenever he makes eye contact.

Kariu and Tamarai kinda already know what’s up; both Kariu and Oga previously pegged Kaizaki and Hoshiro as being in love, so they convene in the locker room to get it from the horse’s mouth. Yet all Hoshiro can say about her feelings is “I don’t know.” Kariu, suddenly the mature one to provide the advice, tells her “I don’t know” isn’t going to cut it…not when she’s just “one step away.”

Later, Tamarai simply advises Hoshiro to ask Kaizaki on a date, just as Oga advised Kaizaki to ask Hoshiro. But just when Kaizaki thinks their distance couldn’t be any greater, Hoshiro sneaks up behind him and asks him if he’s free on the 25th and to expect further details by LIME.

That night, Kaizaki is a nervous wreck, but finally gets those details, along with another silly Hoshiro cat sticker. Hoshiro makes it clear it’s a date and she’s looking forward to it. After getting the all-green from Yoake, Kaizaki isn’t about to turn her down, even if he believes it will “ruin her Christmas” when she inevitably forgets all about him.

The date starts out a bit stiff, but both parties seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they mill around the mall doing date stuff. In an adorable little detail, Hoshino, completely unaware that “Christmas” dates typically happen on Christmas Eve, set the date for Christmas day, but that ends up working out just fine, as it’s a lot less crowded.

The montage of their date is a somewhat creepy montage of photos taken by Yoake and Onoya, who are keeping a respectful distance but still watching and listening to their charges like hawks…while trying to get in some Christmas chilling of their own.

When Onoya acknowledges with a somber look that both of the lovebirds will forget all about their wonderful date, Yoake, always trying to find the silver lining, says that won’t mean it never happened…which, fine, but dude, that’s not the same of having a date and remembering it! The latter is much better, and these two deserve much better!

Yoake, having at least a sliver of heart, sends a quick message to Kaizaki informing him it’s actually Hoshiro’s birthday. When she gets him a present for Christmas, he gets her one for both Christmas and her birthday, bringing a warm and appreciative smile to her face.

When the two go up in a Ferris Wheel, Hoshiro asks Kaizaki what his birthday is. He tells her it already passed in August, and both get very troubled and pained when they say they’ll just have to celebrate it next year, knowing full well (at least at this point) that next year won’t happen for them, and saying they’ll never forget today. It’s hard to watch, I tellsya!

But even if nothing romantic happens on the Ferris Wheel, things turn around on a bridge. Kaizaki impulsively reaches out and takes Hoshiro’s arm as if to hug her, but she draws back. Apologizing, she tells him how much he’s “on her mind”, and the more he’s on her mind, the less she understands what to do.

It’s all the opening Kaizaki needs. He tells her she’s on his mind to, and that he loves her. That in turn allows Hoshiro to take the one final step Kariu was talking about: she tells him her feelings for him are the same.

With that, it suddenly starts raining. Ever prepared, Hoshino breaks out her umbrella and holds it out for Kaizaki. He takes hold just above her hand, but she puts her hand over his before they walk away together into the dark sacred night.

I honestly have no idea where things will go from here, and I can’t rule out the possibility Yoake will have his way and their memory of one another will vanish, which would be an appalling tragedy. That’s why I wouldn’t have minded if this was the final episode.

After sixteen episodes of these two, things are exactly where I want them. Will I regret watching one more episode? Am I a fool for hoping some kind of happy ending is still possible? One, perhaps, in which they meet and hit it off as strangers? Hey, I’ll take a relationship respawn over a system failure any day.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 11

It’s the year’s end, and the members of the expedition get to communicate with family and/or friends via a satellite feed. This is how Mari’s mom and sister get to laugh at her ski goggle tan, but it’s also how three high school track club members reopen a wound for Hinata; a wound she decided to forget about and move on from in…the furthest place in the universe.

But just the sight of those three girls boils Hinata’s blood to the extent she must run outside and wreck some shit while yelling for them to “piss off!” Shirase witnesses this display, and it only reinforces the concern she felt the minute Hinata covered up the camera lens.

Hinata—and, unwittingly, Mari—conspire to keep Shirase from ever being able to broach the topic with Hinata, almost intuitively senses what Shirase wants to talk about, and wants nothing to do with it. Shirase gets so worked up about what Hinata might be hiding, she crosses a line and opens Hinata’s email.

I was as curious as Shirase to learn why Hinata was acting this way, and truly wanted both her, Mari and Yuzu to find some way to make things better for Hinata. I may have even done what Shirase did…but it doesn’t make it right.

Hinata comes to realize she’s partly to blame for Shirase’s breach of privacy by being so inaccessible. So she tells Shirase and the others her sob story of being too good at running, showing up the upperclassmen, and getting ostracized. Not only does she leave the club, but she quits school due to the fallout.

Now the girls know why she was so put off by seeing her friends on camera: she doesn’t see them as friends. Later, when the girls get to do some expeditionary work in an alien landscape that looks kind of like chocolate cake with white frosting, Hinata reiterates that she doesn’t care about the noise from the past, and came to Antarcitca precisely to get away…not just from petty high school drama, but everything.

Shirase ponders all that Hinata said, and puts herself in Hinata’s shoes. Taking Hinata aside to get some of that pure, crisp Antarctica water (my mouth hadn’t watered over water since Last Exile; good job, show!), Shirase tells her that she wouldn’t be okay with it, or be able to smile with it hanging over her.

Hinata makes the good point that she’s not her; different people get to deal with things in different ways. But she also admits she may still simply be too scared to face those track girls, whether it’s to forgive them, to tell them to eat shit…or both. She thanks Shirase for having her back, but tells her she doesn’t need all the words Shirase wants to say…the warmth of her hands is enough.

When those three girls show back up in the satellite feed, Shirase shows she isn’t done. With Hinata’s emotional well-being at stake, Shirase completely shaks off her usual camera shyness, interrupts the planned schedule of the broadcast, and confronts the track girls directly, telling them to leave Hinata the hell alone.

Shirase goes OFF with an epic tirade that only further expanded my love for both Shirase and Hanazawa Kana. Hinata is doing fine without your lame asses, she basically says. She is taking steps forward, with her real friends:

“Unlike Hinata, I’m a real jerk, so I’ll say it straight: You can’t live your lives in this halfway state forever! You hurt someone and made them suffer! Now you get to live with that! That’s what you get for hurting someone…for hurting my friend! You think you can come crawling back now? PISS OFF!”

Masterful shit right there…that not only brings Hinata, but the other girls and Shirase herself to tears, while Toudou Gin has a glint of pride in her eye, surely seeing the passion of her dearly departed friend burn in her daughter. When they ring in the new year, it may be with a block of wood and an steel drum, but it’s no less triumphant. Time to turn the f’in page. A new year and new experiences await.

Darling in the FranXX – 09

Poor Goro. The girl he’s coming to understand that he has feelings for has only ever had eyes for Hiro, whom Goro also likes and values as a person. Yet Goro is better at reading Ichigo’s often wildly shifting moods, and since becoming partners his affection for her has only increased.

Meanwhile, he must stand back and watch Ichigo stand back and watch Hiro get along so well with Zero Two. Ichigo and Goro are the “losers” in this love triangle, as neither has the attention of the person they want. But only Goro has a constant reminder of that staring him in the face: the hair clip Ichigo wears is identical to one he was going to give her; Hiro simply gave her one first.

Since he’s very new to all these feelings, now that he knows them he knows how long they’ve lasted, but he can’t resent or hate Hiro, even though Hiro is oblivious to Ichigo’s feelings. But the time for being silent about his feelings is over. Whether it’s uncomfortable for Hiro or not, Goro tells Hiro that he loves Ichigo just as Ichigo loves Hiro.

While it’s been established since they were youngins at the parasite “orphanage” that Goro and Ichigo are stronger as a duo, Goro’s one flaw as a Stamen is that he’ll always put Ichigo first and himself second, rather than treat the two of them as having equal value. In this regard, he loves Ichigo more than he loves himself, so when a Klaxosaur swallows up Delphinium, Goro hits the ejection button…for Ichigo alone.

The parasites are ordered back to base to regroup, and Nana and Hachi make it clear that the priority moving forward is protecting the Plantation from the Klax, even if it means leaving Goro to die. He did, after all, dig his own grave by ejecting his Pistil; he cannot pilot Delph without her.

When Ichigo wakes up from ejection blackout, she’s furious with everyone; from her squad mates for turning tail to Goro for being so stupid and selfish. She wants to know why he did this, but it’s blindingly obvious to Miku. She gives Ichigo a piece of her mind, saying how Goro has always looked out for her and tempered the volatility in her persona that has always threatened to compromise her leadership (Zorome sheepishly slinks away during their exchange).

The parasites have their orders, which do not prioritize saving Goro, but Ichigo is allowed to contact Goro, who is slowly running out of power and air, stuck in a relatively harmless part of the Klaxosaur but unable to move Delphinium. Ichigo’s exchange is more of a scolding, for Goro never leaning on her a little and taking everything on himself.

When Zero Two mentions a way for a parasite to enter the area of the Klax where Goro is trapped, Goro’s punishment for his “selfishlessness” is for the very person he aimed to save—Ichigo—to go right back in there to save him. It’s a quick and thrilling sequence as Argentea gives a boost to Strelitzia—carrying Ichigo in her palm—and then tosses her down the gullet of the Klaxosaur.

As she passes through the hazardous layers of fuel, Goro reminices on how he first met, befriended, and fell for Ichigo—when she decided to stand and fight bullies beside him. They’ve always worked better together…ejecting her went against that.

While he regrets never having the opportunity to tell Ichigo how he really feels, he takes solace in the fact that he’ll at least take the Klax out with him by self-destructing Delphinium.

He comes oh-so-close to turning the dial when Ichigo bursts in to the rescue, flashing the same peace sign she did when they first teamed up years ago.

She takes her position, Delphinium wakes up, and they blast out of the Klax, leaving the remaining fuel behind to detonate and destroy the Klaxosaur in an epic explosion.

Delphinium lies inoperative and powerless, but the Klaxosaur is gone, and Ichigo and Goro are alive. While swimming to his rescue Ichigo lost the hair clip Hiro gave her, but Goro has always carried the clip he meant to give her, and finally gets to here.

Goro takes the opportunity to confess his love, but asks for nothing else in return. Ichigo’s flustered reaction is priceless, as is her thanking Goro for being her partner and willingness to let their hug last a little longer.

She could learn a thing or two from this moment, as Goro was able to say something he needed to say to the person he needed to say it to, and will no longer worry about living with regret for not doing so, or saying “I should’ve done that back then.”

Ichigo also has something to say to Ichigo, who thanks to Goro at least has a cursory knowledge of what that might be, even if he remains frustratingly dense about it. I’ll be pulling for Ichigo, as always. And please, Trigger: don’t kill her off immediately after she confesses. That would be lame.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 10

Now that they’ve arrived at Antarctica, the expedition weighs anchor and starts to bring supplies ashore using a very badass helicopter. The high school girls take a trip (which Yuzu likes not at all) and get to see the ship from the sky (it’s a thrilling bit of CGI) before being deposited at Syowa Station.

Kanae gives the girls—and by extension us—a tour of the facilities, including seperate bedrooms for all four of them, a luxury after having to share a berth at sea. While spartan, the habitations are also quite cozy and homey, far nicer than what I was expecting.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the cool Antarctic “night” (light-wise it stays dusk at its darkest) and the warm, inviting, lived-in interiors; the perfect place to kick back after a hard day’s work.

As unloading, cleaning, and other duties mount, Yuzu learns she’s been offered a role on a popular Japanese TV drama (there’s cell service at the station), but is worried it would mean, as it’s always meant throughout her career, the end of her time with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

True to that career, she even comes up with a “friendship contract” for them to sign, causing Mari to cry and hug Yuzu with a distinct “you poor thing” vibe.

There were times when Yuzu seemed almost painfully naive about what friends and friendship are, but then I remembered that these three girls are her first, so naturally she wouldn’t be sure when the threshold of friendship had passed. Of course, no one really knows when that happens; friendships may not be as solid and structured as marriages or parenthood, but that’s what sets them apart as something special.

Mari takes the time to impart some wisdom to Yuzu regarding what she considers friendship (since it can be different for everyone) using Megumi as an example. Mari has been sending her pics, and whether Megu responds right away or as often or not, she always knows when Megumi has seen the message by the notification on the phone. That, in turn, helps Mari imagine what Megumi might be doing or thinking about in that moment.

With that, the other three arrive and unveil what they had been planning for Yuzu all along: a surprise birthday party. Her real birthday passed when they were all horribly seasick, so the Christmas party made her sad.

So the girls prepped some poppers and cake so that she could celebrate her very first birthday with friends. It’s almost too much to handle, as Yuzu starts bawling and can’t even speak clearly because of all the tears and snot.

But the next day, when Mari and Yuzu are off doing different tasks, Yuzu sends Mari a text not apologizing, but thanking her. Just a simple little check-in that lets both Mari and Yuzu know that they’re thinking of one another. Finally, Yuzu seems to get what friendship is, and that one should never overthink it.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 09

Ice is broken on two different fronts this week. Crew member Zaizen Toshio is in love with Team Captain Toudou, and needs all the help he can get, so he seeks intel from Shirase, who has known her for ten years.

While that’s a long time, Shirase claims she and Toudou didn’t ever speak that much on the occasions Shirase’s mom wasn’t around. Speaking with Kanae, Gin backs that up; there’s a distance between them.

The girls’ social media views are tanking, so they decide to use Toshio’s crush as an angle to interview the captain on her love life in order to lure followers back. But you have to think they’re also trying to get Gin and Shirase talking.

Since they haven’t talked, Gin has to assume that Shirase hates her and has never forgiven her for not coming back with her mom. As the girls (sans Shirase) ambush Gin about her love life (with Kanae’s help), they don’t come up with much, but we also get little flashbacks to mundane yet meaningful little moments between Gin and Shirase.

When Shirase’s mom says such encounters were very much planned, it confirms that she always intended for Gin to be on good terms with Shirase if anything ever happened to her, which it did. Even back then, the two eventually break the ice over their mutual love of penguins and jumping rope (at which Shirase is presently very adept).

It’s another simultaneous penguin spotting that draws the two together on the deck, and Gin simply comes out and asks Shirase what’s up. Shirase says all the mature things—she doesn’t hate Gin; her mom often stated the dangers of her job; Gin is not to blame—but when Gin asks if that’s how she really feels, Shirase breaks down.

The truth is, Shirase doesn’t know how she really feels, which is why she didn’t want to discuss it. She spent a long time after her mother’s death waiting for her to come home, until she decided the only way forward was to go where she went, “to the place further than the universe,” to grasp what the hell it was her mom was prepared to die—and did die—to brave.

It’s another marvelous, moving monologue from Hanazawa Kana, rudely interrupted by the icebreaker slamming into a sheet of “fast ice”, which was expected by the crew. We watch as the ship repeatedly backs up and rams the ice until it breaks up, which is what icebreakers do.

The procedure underscores just how uninviting Antarctica is—it won’t let you even get close without a fight—while also serving as a handy metaphor for hard the crew of the Penguin Manju, and Japan itself, has had and has to work to get to where they want to be.

As the ship crunches a path in the ice, Gin regails Shirase about how the rest of the world basically gave postwar Japan the most challenging slice of Antarctica and said “if you want to try, go right ahead.” They did go ahead, and they did try, and were successful, just as the crew of the Penguin Manju does, and just as the four girls do when they touch down on ice for a brief spell.

Shirase tears up upon standing there, and goes into a rant encapsulated by the phrase “in your face!” referring to everyone who mocked her for saying she was going to Antarctica. Not only do the other girls join her in a hearty “in your face”; Gin and the entire crew do so as well. No doubt Shirase’s mom would be proud of them both.

Darling in the FranXX – 06

Dawn rises on the day of a battle that will decide whether everyone gets to see another sunrise. A massive horned cubic klaxosaur trundles over the horizon with a retinue of foot soldiers, throwing some serious Ramiel vibes—bizarre, mysterious, merciless. Ichigo tries to wash away her troubles with a refreshing bath; Gorou continues to worry about Hiro.

Gorou tries to get Ichigo to talk to Hiro, and Ichigo uses the opportunity to try to confess her feelings, but Zero Two appears, and says what she isn’t feeling instead—that she thinks of Hiro as a sibling—and is devastated when he says he feels the same. Ichinose Kana is killing it so far, even if it’s extremely hard to forget she’s not Hanazawa Kana.

With things needed to be said left unsaid, Zero Hour approaches, and the two Squads and Strelitzia take their positions. The effects of Ichigo’s unrequited love on her performance and Hiro’s ability to survive his third sortie with Two aren’t the only concerns: Squad 13 wants to prove to 26 they’re not just a bunch of in-the-way misfits.

The sheer scale of the boss before them, and the dramatic staging and lighting really lend this battle a sense of occasion and urgency; it’s all or nothing; either these ten comparatively tiny FranXX stop the enemy, or both Plantations will be destroyed.

The only mark against these stakes (which often applied to the populace in Eva as well) is that we never really see any of the people the parasites are protecting, aside from their two adult handlers and Dr. FranXX himself. That’s a small mark, and it’s easily forgiven in light of the pandemonium that ensues.

The contrast between the coordination and discipline of the five identical gray Squad 26 FranXX (also female in form) and those of Squad 13 (or lack thereof) is more stark than Arya, as Ichigo can barely keep her squad hanging in there when some lesser Klax get get through the front lines.

Zero Two observes this contrast, and the dire state of the 13th, and thinks she and Hiro should join the battle sooner rather than later before there isn’t a 13th left. Hiro asks Two why she fights the Klax; she opines it may be because “she’s a monster.”

Two asks him the same, and he says its because his only purpose in life is to protect Papa and the adults. They sortie, against orders, and mop up the Klax harassing the 13th with ease…but Hiro immediately starts to have trouble staying in sync, and the blue veins on his chest start to spread to his entire body and face.

Ichigo lays down the law, ordering Strelitzia to fall back, as she’ll be providing the coup-de-grace. That’s after the 26th, even with their perfectly coordinated tactics, utterly fail to destroy the giant “Gutenberg-class” Klaxosaur. Instead, it shapeshifts from a cube to a humanoid form.

Their leader 090 is almost crushed, but is saved in the nick of time by Argentea, and Zorome and Miku instantly earn his respect. The 13th gets their shit together and Ichigo orders everyone to create an opening for Strelitzia. Hiro uses everything he has left to help Two deliver the killing blow, and with an Eva-esque cross flare, they cause an explosion within the boss.

…But everything Hiro had wasn’t enough. The Gutenberg shifts again into a massive battering ram, and in another nod to Shinji’s first mission in Eva 01, that ram begins repeatedly smashing into Strelitzia. Hiro loses consciousness and Strelitzia shuts down.

Things look bad from Delphinium’s POV; indeed, when Ichigo fears she’s lost Hiro (without telling him what she actually has to say, to boot), Delph shuts down too, and Gorou can’t console Ichigo.

Hiro enters a dream-state, where he assumes he’s dead. Naomi chastises him for giving up. He says he didn’t give up, he just gave all he had. Unlike with Naomi, he still thinks Zero Two can carry on fighting without him. He’s content to go out being as useful as he could be, without regrets.

But that’s not quite right; and he’s not quite being truthful. Zero Two gave him a place to belong and a purpose again; he can’t simply lie down and die while she’s still in the cockpit suffering, slowly reverting to her baser Klaxosaur side.

Zero Two is on the verge of completely Losing It when Hiro hugs her from behind and tells her she should never have to fight—or be—alone again. The blue growth disappears. What is that stuff? I’d like to think it represents the lingering fear and doubt he carried; the belief that he was expendable to Zero Two when the opposite was the case.

With that gone, he gets his second wind, and he and Zero Two finish off the Gutenberg in grand, madcap fashion, with a nice assist from his fellow parasites in the 13th. His doubts and fears are gone now, because he’s found another reason to pilot a FranXX: to be Two’s wings.

And it’s wings we see spreading over the airborne Gutenberg before crushing it and releasing a titanic cloud of blue blood. Mission Accomplished. Casualties: Surprisingly, Zero.

As we watch him and Zero emerge from the cockpit to come together and celebrate with the other parasites from both squads, Hiro recounts the tale of the “Jian”, a bird with one wing, necessitating a male and female pair to lean on one another to achieve flight. That’s the case with Hiro and Zero Two, so he resolves to keep leaning on her that they might fly as high and far as they want.

Halfway into its first half, FranXX delivers a rousing powerhouse resolution to the “Can Hiro Cut It” arc. Now that we know he can, and that he won’t be dying from creepy blue growths anytime soon, we can move on to other matters, like if or when Ichigo will ever tell Hiro how she feels (if she still feels that way after the battle; I’m guessing yeah) and the identity of those new parasites we got a glimpse of in the ep’s final moments.

Whatever comes next, a solid foundation has been laid.

Koe no Katachi – (Film Review)

Koe no Katachi isn’t just the redemption story of a guy who bullied a deaf girl in elementary school, got caught, became ostracized, and came a hair’s length from offing himself. It’s more than just the tale of a deaf girl trying to do the best she can to fit into a world in which everyone else can hear. It isn’t just the story of a little sister being so worried about her big sister that she neglects her own life.

It’s all of those things, and far more. It’s really a story about all of us, because we all have flaws. We can’t always fix those flaws, either due to lack of understanding or guidance. All of us have at some point or another hurt others, or been selfish, just as others have hurt us or been selfish themselves. These are not unique qualities to have, they are the things that make us human.

Can people truly love themselves, or anyone else, completely unconditionally? Rarely. There are always conditions and compromises, and transactions. Words fly and are heard or not heard, but actions are felt, and ultimately they define us. Not one action or two, but all of the actions in one’s life, good or bad. And the sequence of those actions are crucial.

Ishida Shouya WAS a colossal dick in elementary school. He DID bully Nishimiya Shouko mercilessly until she had to transfer out. When confronted with his crimes, he DID lash out at his friends, who then turned on him one by one. But he’s trying to make things right; he’s trying to make amends. And he’s lucky; Shouko is as kind and forgiving in the present as she was in the past; almost to a fault.

And yet meeting Shouko again, seeing that she harbored no ill will, and even seemed interested in being friends with him aftrer all that happened, changes everything for Shouya. One by one, he makes friends again, through acts of kindness, forgiveness, and selflessness. Yet he learns that friendship isn’t a right attained by fulfilling qualifications or conditions, but about the simple gesture of reaching out and grasping someone else’s hand.

Of course, friendships can and almost always do get a lot more complicated. Back in elementary school, Shouya likely did what he did not just for personal amusement, but for approval and acceptance. When those things suddenly didn’t work, and in fact had the opposite effect, he was suddenly un-moored, and left with nothing but his own regret for all of the pain he caused.

But as long as there are other people in the world who will even consider sharing the same space or breathing the same air, recognizing pain and sharing it is the best way to go. We are social creatures. We may hurt each other sometimes, but we need each other to survive; to help each other live.

Whew…that’s probably enough pretentious babbling like I’m some kind of expert in psychology or sociology for one sitting! It’s just that Koe no Kotachi, as I said, is far more than the sum of its parts, and even those parts are phenomenal in their construction and presentation, be it its fully-realized and complex characters, KyoAni’s seemingly more obsessive-than-usual attention to human and environmental detail, marvelous dialogue, voice acting, music, etc.

Koe no Kotachi is BIG, and it’s often messy, much like life. There are moments of despair and disgust, but also moments of grace and astonishing beauty. Scenes filled with hate and loathing mixed with scenes of love, understanding, and camaraderie.

It’s immensely though-provoking and impeccably performed. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (probably more than you’ll laugh) but mostly it will tear your heart to pieces and then meticulously reconstruct it, bigger and better than ever. Mostly it’s just really really good. I highly recommend it!