BEM – 02 – It’s a Nice Face

Bela, or “Annabella”, as her high school friends call her, may be a youkai, but she has a human form and dreams of one day becoming a real human. So she “practices” by going to high school, having friends and interacting with them, including teasing a young man who likes making very nice drawings of her.

But when a woman in her late twenties recognizes Bela as Mary, someone she went to high school with, the question arises: where exactly did Bela get her human face? As it happens, she got it from the corpse of Mary Russell, which is now nothing more than a skeleton when Sonia and the police find it. But who killed her?

After a very weird (and animation-wise, pretty lazy) canvassing montage, Sonia is no closer to learning the actual truth, just that different people say the opposite things about Elaine, the blue-haired woman who recognized Bela. The next day, Bela is assaulted by three guys at the mall, but who comes to her rescue but Elaine.

Elaine then proceeds to tell Bela her side of the story, in which Mary was blamed by their mutual friend (and queen bee) Dominic Vali for stealing her jewelry, then punished by being forced to undertake a test of courage in the Outside, and ends up never returning. Elaine says the piece of jewelry Bela wore when they first met, along with the one she gifts to Bela, were made by Mary, who dreamt of becoming a jewelry-maker.

The more Bela thinks on it, the more she wants to tell Elaine the truth, since she seems like a nice person. That turns out not to be the case, as she has both Bela and Dominic meet up at the cemetery where Mary died, just so a hitman she hired can kill them both.

This entire scene feels like it comes out of the blue, but more importantly, it’s just patently silly that the bad guy is some kind of “bowling greaser monster.” Both Bela’s transformation, youkai design, and the ensuing battle that ends with Bela victorious, are pretty mediocre.

The disappointment continues when Bela (who doesn’t bother to change after transforming back into a human) pays Elaine a visit, and Elaine immediately drops the nice lady act and becomes a leering villain, complete with a “covering one eye” move. When she cops to having Mary and Dominic killed, Bela loses her cool and transforms into a kind of Alien Queen-type monster, only lamer.

Bem ends up intervening before Bela kills Elaine, and also calls Sonia to arrest Elaine, the culprit in the case of Mary and Dominic’s murders. Basically, by helping the cops clear homicides and assisting them in other ways, Bem hopes to one day become human. Bela shares that dream, and despite being very aloof about it, so does Belo (he does play video games with kids “his own age,” after all).

Bela comes away glad she learned more about Mary Russell, whose face she took, and hopes to honor her memory by leaving the youkai life behind. But who knows when or if that will happen. In the meantime, while BEM is pretty solid in some areas (the jazzy score for one), it seems odd that a show heavily featuring monsters would do such a bad job visualizing said monsters and their battles.

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BEM – 01 – It’s All Elemental

Across the bridge from a gleaming “Upper City” lies a “Lower City” where crime and corruption are rampant…and a water monster is preying on humans, drowning them in his aqueous body on the spot. That’s where idealistic rookie cop Sonia Summers is headed, partially for the challenge.

When she stops her Range Rover to chase down a purse-snatcher, a mysterious man in a wide-brimmed fedora saves her from getting run over before vanishing into the night. But he can’t stop her car from getting stolen.

Turns out the police are corrupt too, taking kickbacks from organized crime to look the other way. This is something Sonia “the girl scout” is extremely not okay with. Little does she know cops on the take are the least of her problems, as the serial drownings mount.

The man with the fedora (and string tie and skull cane) confronts the monster, who is growing increasingly murder-happy. It mentions that it was once human but has shed that humanity and now couldn’t be happier.

The man, the titular Bem, is also not quite human despite his appearance, and after electricuting the water monster and forcing it to flee, he meets with his two compatriots, Bela and Belo. Belo says Bela values humans too highly, while Bela says Belo values them to low.

Bem seems to be the man in the middle of a group that’s also in the middle of the struggle between monsters and humans. Bem believes (and the other two follow along) that if they save enough humans, they can become full-fledged humans.

The episode culminates in a final battle between Bem, who transforms into his true, beastial youkai form, and the water monster, who keeps resolving into a joker-like form. Sonia is there to witness, and three of her fellow cops are sliced to death in the crossfire. Once Bem defeats the monster, Sonia is so frightened of him, both in youkai and human form, that she empties her sidearm into his chest.

The bullets bounce off and he’s fine, but the message is clear: getting a human, even one as virtuous as Sonia, to trust him and his kind is not going to be easy. And yet still, he won’t stop trying, just as Sonia won’t stop turning down kickbacks. No doubt they’ll cross paths and Bem will try again to reach out (but not with his beast claws).

Bem is a sleek, elegant supernatural noir, supported by some excellent “camera”work and night lighting, a very tight soundtrack by MICHIRU and SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, and character design by Range Murata (joining Cop Craft as the second show this season with his designs).

With a mysterious lady (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya) in a board room in one of those gleaming towers in Upper City apparently after Bem, it looks like monsters roaming the mean streets and befriending Sonia aren’t all he needs to worry about. Definitely worth a watch, even with another cop show in a gritty city airing this season.

P.S.: This is the second remake of the series Youkai Ningen Bem, which first aired in Fall 1968(!) and was remade for the first time in 2006. I’ve never seen either of those, so I’m coming at this with a clean slate.

Dororo – 24 (Fin) – Proof of Existence, Proof of Humanity

In the end, the brothers Hyakkimaru and Tahoumaru only had to endure one last thing: the missteps of their parents. When Hyakkimaru was born, Daigo decided to sacrifice him to the demons. Nui would have Tahoumaru later, but she never stopped loving her firstborn, and that ate at her second in its own way. Even Mutsu and Hyougou couldn’t replace the love of a mother that he always lacked.

As they continue their swordfight in the castle, Tahoumaru goes on about how the likes of Hyakkimaru doesn’t belong within the walls, and that unlike the post where Mutsu and Hyougou marked their heights over the years, there’s nothing there to prove his existence. This is ironic, as the castle itself is burning and crumbling around them, and all of that physical proof Tahoumaru values so along with it.

But even though Tahoumaru still has his human eyes, Hyakkimaru can still see the void in his brother’s heart; the same sense of lacking something as himself. They are no different, and despite their crazed fighting and bizarre modifications, they are both humans who have simply forgotten themselves, lashing out to fill those voids.

As Nui and Jukai enter the castle to try to stop the fighting, Hyakkimaru ends things on his own, not by killing Tahoumaru, but by sparing him. The demon eyes in his head still burn even after Tahoumaru accepts defeat, but he rips them out and offers them to their rightful owner. Hyakkimaru’s false eyes are ejected and his human eyes restored.

As a mass of demonic crystal surges with anger, the castle starts to come down, but both Nui and Jukai arrive in time to save him from being crushed by burning debris. He plunges his swords into the crystal mass, apparently exorcising the residual evil energy, but that also completes the destruction of the temple literally kept up by the power of those now-forsaken demons.

Jukai, Nui and Tahoumaru do not escape, but perish in the flames, while Dororo finds Hyakkimaru and the two climb up the well Nui used to gain access. Hyakkimaru sees Dororo with his own eyes for the first time and calls him—calls her—pretty, which really throws Dororo off. Biwamaru, who helped get them out of the well, stands with the two as they watch Daigo’s castle and surrounding lands burn in a purifying fire.

Once the flames recede and the smoke clears, Dororo is back in the village of survivors and invalids led by a few able-bodied individuals, including those he suggested start to live life without depending on samurai, using money instead of swords to maintain that life.

When they ask where that money will come from, Dororo says he’s got it covered. Dororo has decided, then, what to do with that fortune: use it to realize a community that runs itself, without fealty to some stern-faced lord.

As for the lord, Daigo is not quite ready to give up his quest to restore his lands to prosperity, no matter how many people, including Hyakkimaru again, he has to sacrifice to the demons in a new pact. That is, until Hyakkimaru takes a sword and instead of plunging it into Daigo’s back, pierces his helmet instead.

The helmet is a powerful symbol of Daigo’s status as something other than a mere human, so its destruction is a symbol of Hyakkimaru’s hope his father will live on as a human, something he too plans on doing. In the end, Daigo laments ever making the pact, as he now realizes he might have achieved prosperity simply by raising Hyakkimaru and letting him succeed him.

Bittersweetly, it’s not Happily Ever After for the duo of Dororo and Hyakkimaru. The two go their separate ways; Dororo to lead a new community in keeping with the legacy of her rebellious parents, and Hyakkimaru to learn how to walk the path of humanity after a lifetime of survival-and-revenge mode. With his new eyes, heart, and purpose in life, he has truly been reborn, and until he finds his way, it’s not safe for Dororo to be beside him.

However, the ending suggests that one day the two are reunited, as the young “boy” Dororo runs across a pier with a hopeful smile, he transforms into Dororo the older and more beautiful woman. At the end of the pier is a slightly older-looking Hyakkimaru, in all his human glory, welcoming her with a warm smile. It’s a shame a passing look is all we get, rather than an after-credits scene of the two conversing—but then again, perhaps their reunion is meant more symbolically, as something to which they both aspire.

In any case, both souls, once having lost and suffered so much, seem to be in a much better place, and have stepped out of the darkness and doubt and embraced their respective selves. While I wish we’d seen more of Dororo-as-a-leader, considering where we started, this was a logical and satisfying enough place to end.

Attack on Titan – 58 – The…Attack Titan

The entire flashback with Grisha being rescued by the Owl, Eren Kruger, is being retold by Eren as Armin writes it down and Mikasa listens in an adjacent cell. Eren is able to provide this information from many years ago thanks to his coordinate status.

Among the things he learns is that once given the powers of a Titan, a subject of Ymir will only live 13 years, something Mikasa dismisses out of hand, as she’s probably committed to making sure her beloved Eren lives to at least 100.

Kruger doesn’t have any comfort or solace to give to Grisha, because he was never given any himself. He’s only been able to survive as an Eldian spy within Marley by actually acting the way a Marleyan would; injecting his countrymen and casting them over the wall one after the other. By the same token, he deems Grisha so suited to save Eldia because he has already set that path into motion by leaving the gates of the ghetto with his sister.

Leave it to Titan to break up all that dourness with a couple moments of levity, such as when Eren seems to pose when he repeats what Eren Kruger called his Titan: the Attack Titan. This is funny on several levels, as Levi waves it off as latent chuunibyou on the teenage Eren’s part, while the older Hange is ignorant about such things. More than that, though, Eren finally gets to say the title line—a title that in English perhaps never should have had that confusing “on” in it…

There’s also the suggestion that for the duration of their imprisonment, Mikasa only ate the bare minimum to stay alive, and thus was literally wasting away without Eren by her side. But their sentences are commuted and they’re free to go, seeing as how they’re heroes of humanity and all.

“Free to go” is relative, however. They’re out of the stockade and back in uniform, but they are ordered to attend an audience with none other than Queen Historia, who feels a connection to Ymir’s letter similar to Eren’s with the books and photo they found in the Basement.

While the words of the letter seem to be not much more than the “love letter” they appear to be, it’s clear Ymir sent it in its form in order to deliver far more and different information to Tory; she’s just not sure what to do with it, or even whom to tell. She’s just glad to see Eren, Mikasa and Armin, and embarrassed when they all bow before her.

At the hearing, Hange delivers the report full of revelations provided by Eren and recorded by Armin, all about the reality that their kingdom within the walls being but a tiny sliver of the real world, and that the vast majority of that world is dedicated to their destruction.

As he listens to the testimony with everyone else, the new memories provided by Grisha continue to swirl in his head. He notes that the Titan into which Dina Fritz transformed was the same Titan who ate his mother and Hannes. When he met that Titan later and touched it, a similar surge of information suddenly flowed into him.

Now he knows why, and he almost blurts it out, but thankfully Hange can sense why he ends up holding his tongue, and chalks it up to his chuuni phase to the assembled bigwigs. What Eren now knows is that it’s possible for him to gain the vaunted powers of the Founding Titan—the main mission Kruger gave Grisha when he sent him to the walls—by touching Historia while she is a Titan.

He’s loath to bring this up because he doesn’t want to see Historia suffer any more than she already has. But what if, like Grisha and Kruger and so many other subjects of Ymir before them, he’ll have to sacrifice something important in order to gain that which will restore Eldia.

Or perhaps not; perhaps Eren is supposed to break that cycle. After all, another part of Kruger’s mission to Grisha was for him to fall in love with someone in the walls, raise a family, and love them. Now there are people Eren loves, and perhaps there are lines he won’t cross, even for the sake of saving the world.

Attack on Titan – 57 – Prisons

We return to Grisha’s accounting of the day he learned he was a prisoner, and always was. A prisoner of the oppressive Marleyans who confine all the Eldians to internment camps. A prisoner of history, for the Marleyans punish the Eldians for the crimes of their ancestors.

He’s a prisoner in his powerless child’s body, unable to save his little sister Fay from a terrible fate—being attacked and eaten by guard dogs—just for the crime of leaving the camp without permission. And he’s a prisoner to his father, who is a full-on collaborator who is happy to condemn his ancestors if it means being able to live out his humble life.

We also learn that the lands where the three walls that were the entire setting for Titan up to this point are only a tiny sliver of the world; in fact, everywhere Eren & Co. have ever known occupy a relatively small island called Paradis—the last refuge of King Fritz and the Eldians.

When Grisha learns the truth about Fay (confirming his suspicions), he joins an underground movement of “restorationists” bent on restoring once great Eldians—and of course, exacting revenge on Marley for their brutal oppression. They are aided by a member of Marleyan security, known only as the “Owl.”

That informant sends them the last surviving descendant of the Eldian royal family: Dina Fritz, and she and Grisha soon fall in love, get married and have a son, Zeke. But their attempts to indoctrinate him and make him the instrument of Eldian salvation fail miserably, as he turns in his own parents to save himself and his grandparents.

Grisha doesn’t blame his son—after all, he ended up building a prison for Zeke just as his father had tried to build for him: the prison of adopting the beliefs (and grudges) of one’s predecessors. But after thorough torturing, he, the other members of his cell, and Dina, are all sent to the island of Paradis, to be injected with serum to transform them into wandering Titans. Dina is transformed first.

Eren suddenly wakes up in a stockade in the present—he realizes he’s been connected with his father’s memories, such that it feels more like he’s been re-living Grisha’s experiences rather than simply having a normal dream. He and Mikasa are behind bars for their insubordination of Levi, but Armin, whom they defied Levi to save, is there with them.

Back in Grisha’s recounting, he finds himself at the boundary of the Titan penal colony, having just seen his friend and his wife transformed into mindless giant monsters, and the same officers he and Fay encountered the day she was killed are present with him. The mustachioed officer tells him he doesn’t feel remorse for the terrible things he does to Eldians because it was their ancestors who started the fight. Besides, life is more “interesting” if every day is lived like it’s your last.

As it happens, it is the last day for Mr. Mustache, as his colleague, Kruger, who was there back when Fay died and is here now, pushes him and not Grisha into the pit to be eaten by a Titan. Turns out Kruger is the Owl, and he cuts himself to transform into a lucid Titan, in order to demonstrate to Grisha what a Titan can do.

This was another trippy journey that vastly expanded the show’s universe and revealed more crucial answers about What This Is All About: a seemingly endless, vicious cycle of retribution between two races of men, neither of which can ever forgive the previous generations of the other; one ultimate prison, containing everyone in the world. So, when will Eren & Co. try to squeeze through the bars?

Attack on Titan – 56 – The MacGuffin Unveiled

After a very creepy dream, Armin wakes up atop the wall, beside an injured Sasha, remembering virtually nothing after Bertholdt transformed. Eren fills him in on everything that’s transpired since then. He learns he was chosen to live on over Erwin, not just because Eren and Mikasa insisted to the point of insubordination, but because Erwin gave Levi the final call, and he made it.

Furthermore, only nine members of the Scout Regiment remain: Hange, Levi, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Connie, Jean, and Floch…and that’s it. It’s a very end-of-The Last Jedi situation, with one important difference: they’ve dealt a serious blow to the Titans by freeing Wall Maria. Now there’s nothing between Eren, the others, and the mythical Basement. An an anime watcher only, I’ve been waiting for this for six years.

With such a long and drawn out buildup, a disappointment seemed nigh inevitable. And boy, do they ever lay the final buildup on thick, splicing scenes in the present day with scenes of Eren and Mikasa on the day the Titans came. But it works very well, thanks to the gorgeous scenery, haunting soundtrack, and all of the brooding closeups of the pair as they draw closer to the place where it all began.

After moving a boulder blocking the trap door, they access the hidden stair, but to Eren’s shock, his key doesn’t fit in the lock of the door they find. Levi simply smashes the door, and they walk into a seemingly innocuous chemist’s laboratory and office.

Even behind a locked door and hidden stair, Grisha took great pains to hide the secret of the basement from any possible incursion from the Interior Police. It’s not until Mikasa knocks a wooden cup on the ground that she spots another keyhole in the desk – one in which the key does fit.

Inside the unlocked drawer are three preserved books, the first of which contains a strange and very detailed and lifelike portrait. Grisha’s handwriting on the back describes it as a “photograph,” and reveals an entire society outside the walls that “lives elegantly.” Needless to say nobody in that room had ever seen a photo before, and there’s something very unnerving about that.

There’s an odd flash-forward showing Eren, Levi, Mikasa and Hange returning to further within the walls, where news has come Wall Maria has been taken back and the streets are full of celebration. Hange is holding the books they found in her arm. We don’t see their faces, but no doubt what they say in those books has changed them forever.

Post-credits, Grisha’s story begins when he runs out of the house with his little sister Kay in tow. His mother makes sure they’re wearing their armbands, and along with the whole bleak look of the place, high walls, loudspeakers, guards, and zeppelin, there’s a Nazi Germany ghetto vibe to the whole place, suggesting that life wasn’t so “elegant” for Grisha and his family.

Thousands of words could be written attempting to complete the picture this sequence only begins to paint. For instance, are the walls behind which Eren lived most of his life merely an upgraded version of the ghetto from which his dad hailed? What made the people in the ghetto different, besides clearly lacking the money of the zeppelin-riders?

Still, I’ll have to be patient at least one more week (since the French Open is wrapped up the next episode shouldn’t air late); no need for wild conjecture when the series seems committed to finally delivering the answers that had been delayed so long some feared they’d never come. But now here they are, and from what we’ve seen, they’re strange and disturbing…Classic Titan.

Darling in the FranXX – 24 (Fin) – A Word They Were Never Taught

Despite the hope from their Squadmates that they’ll one day return victorious, there is every indication that Zero Two and Hiro’s insane odyssey through space is a one-way trip, at least in their current forms/lives. As they near the VIRM homeworld and fight off wave after wave of their warships, Hiro becomes a little more Zero-y, and Zero Two becomes a little more Hiro-y.

Back on Earth the gang returns to Mistilteinn, where they find things are growing again, and set to work rebuilding their food supply in order to survive without magma energy they relied on for so long. With Zero Two and Hiro’s lessons, as well as their own experiences, everyone ends up changing and growing up. Kokoro has the baby. The rejected parasites are brought out of hibernation, including Naomi.

Goro sets off on a journey of exploration on Earth seeking supplies and other lost children, making sure to kiss Ichigo before he leaves. After two years, the constant onslaught of VIRM has exhausted Hiro, allowing the enemy to “caress his consciousness” and knock him out, leaving Zero Two vulnerable.

They’re both saved not just by their own love, but by the fruits of those whom they inspired: Ai, the daughter of Kokoro and Mitsuru, named for the Japanese word for love, a word humanity had all but forgotten and which the children were never taught.

When the gang realizes the stone statute of Zero Two is a conduit through which both Zero and Hiro can hear them, they join hands and pray as loudly as they can for as long as they can, until their prayers get through to the two out in space. Hiro wakes up, green-eyed and blue-horned, rejects the pooh-poohing of the VIRM, and becomes even more one with Zero than they were before.

Apus is destroyed, but a new entity emerges; a total merging of Zero Two and Hiro, and they rend the VIRM homeworld asunder in a light that manages to reach Earth. The Klaxosaur fleets return to the earth and become one with it, and the green returns with it. Zero Two’s statue, no longer necessary, crumbles, leaving a small tree sprout.

While still hoping their friends will one day return, Squad 13 doesn’t assign them any time table, and instead begin writing their own stories. They help rebuild human civilization, without magma energy, while building families. Ikuno manages to slow their rapid aging, even though it’s too late for her. Ichigo and Goro have a kid. Futoshi finds another to love and has several kids. Zorome and Miku…continue to bicker with one another.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that.

Then, centuries pass, Zero Two’s cherry tree grows larger and ancient, and a huge futuristic city rises around it, only no longer hidden within a plantation dome, and no longer populated by emotionless humans. It’s in this city built by love, the thing never taught its founders, where a boy and a girl one day meet who look an awful lot like our starring pair. Circle of life, baby.

And that’s a FranXX wrap. These last few episodes sure got BIG, as in expansive in both time, scale, and theme, culminating in a resolution for all of Squad 13 and an ending a franchise like Evangelion may never give us; instead of the story stopping before it ends, the book is closed on Hiro, Zero Two, and the others, and a new story begins, built upon what they started.

The VIRM may one day return, but mankind is in a much better position to oppose them, thanks to Hiro, Zero Two, and Squad 13 not living to fight, but fighting to live…and love.

Darling in the FranXX – 23 – New Battles to Fight

As Hiro and most of Squad 13 and the surviving Nines head into space aboard a gigantic Klaxosaur mothership, part of a massive fleet on autopilot to Mars orbit, Michiru stays behind.

Kokoro believes that because she can no longer pilot a FranXX, she has no more purpose, other than perhaps staying by Zero Two’s side as she continues to get remotely cut by the VIRM attacking Strelizia. Since she feels herself so useless, she neither expects or wants anyone burdening themselves for her sake, but Mitsuru won’t hear of it.

A VIRM fleet intercepts Hiro and his Klaxosaur fleet, attempting to block them from reaching Strelizia, who they’re surrounding. But thanks to Nine Alpha being compatible as Hiro’s pistil, and some teamwork on the part of Squad 13 and the other Nines, Hiro is able to blast through the walls of enemy ships and reach Strelizia, which is believed inert due to not having a Stamen.

Alpha gets Hiro to the access hatch, but self-destructs soon after to take out a particularly large, nasty VIRM. The other Nines sacrifice themselves in similar fashion, going out doing what they were always created and designed to do: to fight in battles like this.

Humans like Squad 13 have other battles to fight, whether it’s the fight in which Kokoro and Mitsuru have to start over after losing their memories, protecting one another and awaiting the new life they created, or Hiro keeping his promise to Zero Two.

When he makes contact with her in Strelizia’s cockpit, Zero Two tells him she left Earth so that Hiro could remain a human, and help rebuild civilization with his Squad 13 family. But that’s not what Hiro wants. He wants to be with Zero Two, like they promised they would be, even if he becomes a “monster” like her.

He believes even Zero Two wanted this despite her actions, because she left the last page of her story blank. By returning to her side Hiro is filling that blank page with a new ending, one in which the lovers never part.

Their reunion triggers a major transformation in Strelizia Apath (or Apus, as it’s spelled in the subs this week), its mask shattering to reveal an enormous Zero Two, replacing or transporting her human body on earth into the cockpit with Hiro.

Now fully awake and in her true form, Strelizia unleashes a new and devastating arsenal of weaponry that annihilates the VIRM fleet in moments, likely ending Squad 13’s last military battle and freeing them to begin the next battle: surviving and rebuilding.

However, Hiro and Zero Two won’t be joining them, at least, not for a while. Devices emerge from the Martian moons of Phobos and Deimos, and their combined beams open a warp gate to systems heretofore long out of mankind’s reach (though at this point the couple can probably no longer be called 100% human, what with the horns and all).

The VIRM’s fleet at Mars is destroyed, but their main fleet is still out there, and their mission to enslave humanity and the Klaxosaurs remains in force. Rather than wait for them to threaten the solar system again, Hiro and Zero Two will take the battle to them.

That means saying goodbye to Futoshi, Ikuno, Zorome, Miku, Goro, and Ichigo, as well as Kokoro and Michiru. It would be nice if they could all fight their individual battles in the same place, but it’s not to be, so they’ll all have to just wait and see if Hiro and Zero Two will ever return to them.

 

Darling in the FranXX – 22 – Nothing Remains Stagnant

The aftermath of the huge battle between the Klaxosaurs and VIRM is even more bleak than that following the destruction of Plantation 13. Squad 13 are just trying to scrape by with their year of rations remaining, hoping to grow crops to one day restock their food supply.

The goal to survive, not fight, hasn’t changed, but nearly everything else has. Everyone is worn out and hungry. A pregnant Kokoro can barely keep down the tiny ration food she’s eating. Zero Two is in a vegetative state, and worryingly, cuts are starting to appear on her arms out of nowhere.

Zero Two kept her promise and went to where Hiro was, but despite sitting right beside him, Zero Two is currently too far away for him to keep his.

The Klaxosaurs don’t offer any help; they’re busy fighting the VIRM, and the dead bodies of both entities falling to the ground, narrowly missing their meager crops. Adults like “New Nana” don’t help, absent explicit orders from “Papa” (who let’s face it, is never “coming home”.)

Finally, Kokoro collapses and upon examination learns she is pregnant. All Nana says that means is that she can’t pilot a FranXX as long as she remains with child. She gives her the option to abort the fetus or not, but carrying the child to term isn’t mentioned.

It seems clear at this point that Mitsuru remembers something of his role in Kokoro’s current situation; how else to explain how helpless he feels in wanting to help her. He reaches out to Hiro, but Hiro has is own problems, and feels just as helpless over his inability to help the one he loves.

The episode continues to pile on, as Squad 13 wakes up to find their crops are not long for this world, apparently due to nutrient deficiency in the soil as a result of magma energy mining. The world itself seems to be rejecting their existence.

Two Adults who look to contribute a crucial role in helping the children survive and create a future are Hachi and Nana. After what he heard from and saw with Dr. Franxx, Hachi isn’t your typical adult human automaton, and follows the late doctor’s posthumous e-mail, retrieving Nana and discovering that all of the rejected parasites are in cryo-sleep.

Franxx’ last orders for Hachi and Nana were to become the surviving children’s new adults, and to take care of them until they can take care of themselves.

While chasing a “sleepwalking” Zero Two, Hiro witnesses wounds spontaneously appearing. He finally discovers the reason after reading her last illustrated page of her storybook, in which the prince is “left alone” when the princess has to go far away. Zero Two’s mind is still one with Strelizia Apath, which is out in space fighting against the VIRM. Its wounds become her body’s wounds.

At around the same time, Goro and Hachi learn that Mistleteinn still has soil with enough nutrients to grow viable crops, allowing them to survive after their rations run out.

Hiro and Goro’s opposing positions on how to proceed clash when Hiro announces to the others that he’s going to space (specifically, Mars orbit) to where Strelizia is fighting. Keeping his promise to Zero Two is the only reason he’s alive.

Goro is pissed by Hiro’s selfishness, but also the timing of his announcement, just when he’s found a glimmer of hope for the rest of them. But there’s no convincing either of them that the other is right. Hiro will go to space, and the others can’t stop him.

Meanwhile, Nana, who had been convinced she no longer served a purpose, finds a new one in comforting a crying injured parasite.

After saying goodbye to Zero Two, Hiro prepares to launch, using the Klaxosaur ship left to them by the princess, along with the choice to “fight or accept your ruin.” Well, turns out nobody wants to accept their ruin, because every Squad 13 and Nine member who is able decides to join Hiro on his interplanetary odyssey, committed to making sure it isn’t a one-way trip.

They’ll go to Mars, help/save Strelizia, come back, and build their future—because while nothing is ever stagnant, they deserve a little stability after how hard they’ve worked, fought, and suffered.

Darling in the FranXX – 21 – Fight to Live

Things are looking pretty grim with the VIRM’s purple nerve networks overwhelming the blue of the Klaxo princess as Hiro continues to suffocate. However, just his presence in Strelizia Apath’s cockpit seems to have delayed the VIRM self-destruct booby trap the princess triggered.

But he only delayed it; Hiro’s friends and allies have just 72 minutes to do something before Apath blows and takes Earth with it. Just as that countdown begins, Zero Two arrives at the control room where Franxx and Hachi are observing events…and she promptly passes out.

When she comes to, she learns from Franxx that she is a clone of the princess, the last surviving member of a Klaxo Sapiens species that fought a millions-of-years-long war with the invading VIRM. That war changed the  once-cosmopolitan Klaxos into sterile war machines, just as humans have become something similar.

Franxx created Zero Two from DNA from the princess so that humanity had someone on their side who could operate Star Entity. He created the human Nines so that she had backup. Reuniting her and Hiro was simply a “scientist’s whim.” For her part, Zero Two doesn’t care about clones or fakes or the VIRM; she just wants to fulfill her promise.

To do so, she has to get back to Hiro in Strelizia Apath. Since the path to the Grand Cradle is sealed and can only be accessed by the princess, Franxx comes along. Right on time, Squad 13 arrives to escort them, bringing a much-needed smile to Zero Two’s face. Time is running out, but it looks like they’re going to make it.

Kokoro, Michiru, Miku and Ikuno stay behind to fend off the VIRM that followed them, so that escort shrinks to one: Delphinium. When they arrive at the door, another VIRM attacks and Ichiro and Goro keep it away from Zero Two and Franxx by grabbing it and jumping off a ledge to an uncertain fate.

Franxx reveals Zero One DNA in his left arm, which the tentacles of the door snatch (with little regard to Franxx’s human parts), and a Klaxosaur snake arrives and opens wide for Zero Two to ride to the Cradle, leaving Franxx behind. One by one, people are sacrificing their lives to give Zero Two the smallest of small chances of stopping the end of the world.

Before leaving Franxx, rather than curse him for what he did to her, as he fully expects her to do, she thanks him for creating her and allowing her to meet her Darling. Love, in Zero Two’s case, trumps hate.

When she arrives, things are bad; both the princess and Hiro are unresponsive. But Zero Two won’t accept it. She kisses Hiro in hopes of taking away the burden of the VIRM infection. Zero One watches in spectral form and is moved (as much as an ancient sentient weapon can be “moved”) to lend to Zero Two what remains of her powers.

In mid-kiss, Zero Two and Hiro share a moment in an idyllic setting, in a wintry place that looks similar to the forest to which they escaped years ago. They kiss in this place too, and in the real world Strelizia Apath “hatches” from the shell around the cradle, and launches a massive beam that obliterates the VIRM fleet in space. In the ensuing chaos, Franxx is crushed, but got to see his life’s work realized, and the world saved because of it.

The VIRM snatch Hringhorni from Strelizia and retreat, vowing to return with a full army (it’s somewhat frightening that what we saw was just a “small detachment” and not at all representative of their full force). But for now, at least, the world is safe.

Time for a big party with good food, good friends, and good conversation, right? Except that the fleet-destroying attack seems to have taken everything Zero Two had. She’s slumped in the cockpit, unresponsive, and her red horns have crumbled.

Could this be the end for Zero Two; one last sacrifice to keep the world alive? And is there any kind of world in which Hiro wants to even live that doesn’t have her in it? I’d predicted often that Zero Two would eventually bite the dust early in the show, a la Kamina, but the fact we’ve (presumably) lost her with just three episodes left somehow hurts all the more.

Darling in the FranXX – 20 – I’m Gonna Come Get You

Between the belated Dr. Frank backstory episode and the week off that followed, we’ve had to wait an awfully long time to get back to the central story of Hiro, Zero Two, Ichigo, and the others. Thankfully, it was worth the wait. This week starts in the Birds Nest, Squad 13 still shaken by the forced memory loss of Kokoro and Michiru.

Hiro and Zero have agreed to implant Strelizia into Star Entity, the weapon at the bottom of Gran Crevasse, in order to have a decisive edge against the Klaxosaur scourge. The couple only agrees reluctantly, telling APE that it will be the last time they call them “Papa” and let them steer their destiny.

Meanwhile, Kokoro is also she’s throwing up all the time, which is a pretty good sign that she’s preggers. That child may well prove to be the most important ray of hope for humanity, yet neither parent knows it exists, or remembers conceiving it.

Zero has also become one of the 13th again, defending her comrades against barbs from the Nines and really steaming Alpha’s beans. Once all the FranXX are mobilized the battle against a massive Klaxosaur force commences. In the middle of battle, Michiru calls Kokoro “Kokoro”, and gets a jolt of pain that spreads to her head and immobilizes Genista.

While Hiro and Zero descend to the bottom of Gran Crevasse, they commit themselves to the shared goal of being together forever. When this is all over, Zero hopes to travel the world like the princess in the story; it doesn’t matter where, as long as her Darling is with her. And should they ever be parted by outside forces, they’ll come and get one another, sealing the promise with a kiss.

With Dr. Franxx and Hachi along for the ride, Strelizia reaches the bottom, but when Strel reaches the portal to Star Entity, it won’t open, and the Klaxosaur Princess (whom Franxx calls Zero One) bursts through the walls of the Crevasse, intent on stopping the humans from stealing her “child.” The Princess forces open Strel’s cockpit, yanks Zero Two out, and restrains Hiro.

After giving him a very rough and not very romantic kiss, the Princess takes control of Strelizia, not needing the stamen-pistil interface (I like how she just floats around with arms crossed like a boss). Hiro is helpless to resist, but a wounded and bleeding Zero Two starts a slow and arduous journey back to her darling, to fulfill her promise.

As the princess links up with Star Entity, to form “Strelizia Apath”, Dr. Franxx tells Hachi about how Klaxosaurs split into two distinct forms: the magma energy that courses through the depths of the earth, and a form that consumed that energy and took physical form. He also reveals that Klaxosaurs are biological weapons built and piloted (in male-female pairs) by “klaxo sapiens”, a species of which the princess is the last surviving member.

If that sounds like how FranXX are piloted by parasites, it’s because the FranXX are themselves Klaxosaurs that genetically-modified humans can use. This confirms that most if not all of the Klax Squad 13 has fought and destroyed had pilots just like them.

There’s one more big reveal: APE is led by members of an alien race known as the VIRN, whose objective was to retrieve both Star Entity and Hringhorni (a spear made of Klax cores) for use in space as “soldiers”, i.e. tools. Now that the princess is threatening that, they decide to destroy both assets and the rest of Earth with them.

With that, a massive space fleet appears just past Earth orbit. The Princess activates Apath’s main weapon, obliterating much of the fleet in a dazzling show of lights an kick-ass space battle sound effects. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot to take in all of a sudden, but there was always something alien about APE, so it’s not like all of this is coming out of nowhere.

We even get to see a VIRN’s true form, a four-pointed star-cross with eyes. Maybe not the coolest or scariest design (and more than a little similar to Eva-explosions), but definitely weird and alien.

Turns out they booby-trapped Strelizia Apath, rigging it to explode if the Princess ever piloted it. As she is restrained by glowing VIRN-purple bonds, they start to infect Hiro as well, but he still can’t move, and even if he could…what could he do?

I have no idea how Hiro and Zero Two are getting out of this one, but they’re both alive for now, Zero is still coming for her Darling, and there’s four whole episodes left; plenty of time to craft a satisfying final denouement.

Darling in the FranXX – 19 – Talented Yet Terrifying

Frikkin’ scientists, amirite? It’s said Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, but the moment they tasted the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Eden pretty much ceased to exist anyway. Eden is an impossibility in a world where humanity is aware that there is far more to the world than the limited, tedious paradise they inhabit.

Knowledge is simultaneously what makes humans humans and what constantly threatens to destroy them. It is humanity that developed world-ending nuclear weapons; it is also humanity that maintains the delicate balance that has kept those weapons from being used for over seven decades and counting.

This week on DFX we learn a lot more about Dr. FranXX, formerly Werner Frank, eccentric maverick scientific genius. We also learn that APE began as a collection of elite scientists, and they recruited him to work on something that has always fascinated humans: how to make immortality a reality.

It’s all too poetic that humanity developed the ability that could massacre most of the human population in one day, while we still have a long way to go before we’re all immortal. And yet, I can’t help but think the same thing that staves off nuclear war is the thing that keeps us from advancing too far in achieving immortality.

That thing is fear. If there is ever a global nuclear war, it could end humanity. If there is ever a breakthrough that makes humans immortal, it will also end humanity; just in a different way.

But that’s the real world. Here in DFX humanity advances far beyond the “safe zone” of maintaining humanity as we know it, thanks to brilliant minds like Frank and his colleague Karina Milsa.

Their efforts are admirable, but to quote the incomparable Dr. Ian Malcolm, they were so preoccupied with whether they could achieve immortality, they never stopped to ask whether they should.

The Magma Energy mining system developed by APE ends up gradually  desertifying much of the Earth’s surface. But Magma Energy also grants humans—now essentially immortal—to build grand structures like Plantations in which to live. It’s just evolution, right?

Only Magma Energy has another side effect: the emergence of the inscrutable, ruthless Klaxosaurs. It’s as if the world was trying to correct humanity’s technological overreach, and restore its mortality.

Still, Frank and Milsa’s massive scientific intellects are re-purposed to developing anti-Klaxosaur weapons: a robot that would come to be called the FranXX. At first it had a single pilot. One of the test pilots was Milsa, who loved Frank and married him, but was lost in a prototype accident when the robot went berserk.

Upon losing the only person in his life Frank had a close connection to, he lost another part of his humanity, and so stopped caring about the future of mankind and simply focused on how much further he could progress it; how much better he could make weapons with which to defeat their new enemy.

FranXX became piloted by male-female pairs, restoring a measure of the reproductive drive lost by the proliferation of immortality treatments. Mankind put themselves back into a state of godliness and thus rebuilt Eden and locked themselves in for an eternal stay.

Only the pilots, parasites of FranXX were involved in fighting the Klaxosaurs outside of Eden (or, in the case of Mistilteinn, just beyond its borders). Meanwhile adults lived their endless tedious lives in the Eden they built, and forgot all about Klaxosaurs in the first place.

APE eventually located the Klaxosaur “leader,” and sends Frank to investigate. Of his team, only he is spared by the “Princess”, whom he regards as the most beautiful being he’s ever seen. But she can smell the blood of her Klaxosaur brethren on his hands, and exacts punishment in the form of tearing off his arm.

This ordeal does not discourage Frank in the least. Considering how far he’d come to come face-to-face with such a fascinating being, it stands to reason he’d keep pushing to perfect mankind’s defenses, not for it’s own sake, but like climbing a mountain, because it (being discovery) is simply there.

Frank seeks no earthly rewards or accolades; only more knowledge, and the self-recognition that he progressed the technology as far as he “humanly” could.

This brings us to the present, where Frank is now known as Dr. Franxx, and he’s grizzled and partially mechanized. APE, still his bosses, wiped Kokoro and Mitsuru’s memories without his knowledge or consent, thus in his mind impeding the path he himself set to achieve the results they seek. Frank/Franxx never had any problem achieving results. The problem lay in the means with which he used to achieve them.

Regardless, results are results, and they’ve given him enough clout to allow Squad 13 to have a candid audience with APE in order to state their wishes: for Kokoro and Mitsuru’s memories to be restored. No can do, APE cites; they cannot restore what is no longer there; the memories were removed, not merely blocked.

Upon learning this, Hiro gets upset, and tells APE they can no longer consider people who did such things to them their “Papa”, i.e. their authority to which to be subservient.

When the APE members don’t even bother answering Zorome’s naive question about how many Klaxosaurs they’ll have to kill to become adults (because the answer is “you will never be adults”) “Papa” lost their last advocate in Squad 13.

They may need Franxx’s know-how and connections to have any success at opposing APE, but that doesn’t mean Hiro will ever forgive him for what he did to both him, Zero Two, and whoever else he used as mere tools or variables in his grand experiments.

We also learn how Zero Two came to be: when the Klaxosaur Princess attacked him, he managed to come away not just with his life, but a clump of her hair…hair containing her DNA…which he used to clone her, thus, presumably, creating Zero Two.

So will he help Zero Two, Hiro, and Squad 13? Have they rekindled his belief that humanity isn’t really human unless they can love, struggle, and die? I hope so; the kids need all the help they can get.

Violet Evergarden – 05

Violet must be making a name for herself with her unique yet compelling ghostwriting style, because her latest request comes from the royal family of Drossel, whose princess Charlotte is arranged to marry a prince of Flugel, a former enemy.

Violet must ghostwrite love letters to Prince Damian, on Charlotte’s behalf, which will be public and meant to “sell” the match to the two nations’ subjects. One could scarcely live two lives as differently as the coddled Charlotte and the tortured Violet, who are both around fourteen.

Still, Violet assures her client that she will accomplish her mission without fail. Her first love letter is well-written and has the desired effect among both the royal families, resulting in a favorable and just as well-written reply (no doubt from another Auto Memories Doll).

As such, the reply only frustrates Princess Charlotte (Nakajima Megumi), who is quick to emotion and tears, and knows the prince she only met once would never have written such a letter. Four years ago, she fled her “birthday” party, which was nothing but an endless parade of suitors.

The only one to go looking for her, and tell her it was okay to cry, was Prince Damian. When Violet hears of this, the genesis of true love between two people acting genuinely to one another without airs, she institutes a bold plan: let Charlotte write letters, by hand, from the heart, which Violet will refine as necessary.

A stirring correspondence between her and the prince ensues, captivating the public even more with their brutal honesty, modesty, and emotion. Violet assists, but the words are purely Charlotte’s, and once she gets into a rhythm, she has no trouble speaking her mind and voicing her concerns.

The replies she receives are similarly, refreshingly self-deprecating, suggesting the two are more alike than different, each finding the mantle of royalty—and even maturity—an ill fit.

Finally, the time comes for the prince and princess to reunite in the same moonlit garden where they met for the first and only other time. Damian, fully convinced by the letters that Charlotte will be a splendid match, offers his hand in marriage.

Through the power of the letters and the memory they shared (or perhaps the memory Violet told Cattleya to bring up on Damian’s behalf) the royal couple’s love became real, making their marriage not merely one of political expediency, but a strong and lasting bond that reflects the potential for the two nations to embrace each other in equal measure.

Charlotte, like every other “guest” character in VE so far, is quickly and wonderfully depicted, starting out as your prototypical spoiled princess but gradually revealing much more humanity, ironically thanks to the still very doll-like Violet. Her close bond to her maid Alberta was particularly poignant.

While Violet had to force a smile upon meeting Charlotte, her face bears a real one, without trying, on the beautiful day of Charlotte’s wedding, which neither she nor Damian’s doll Cattleya attend, as they must return to Leiden to tackle their next missions.

That smile is huge, because it means that through Violet’s interactions and education dealing with people whose emotions she must suss out in written form, is gradually rubbing off on her. She is learning how to be a person with feelings and desires of her own.

So it’s particularly troubling for someone from her past (Gilbert’s brother Dietfried, if I’m not mistaken) to appear, condemn her for the bloodshed she committed when she was nothing but a vicious weapon, and make her relive one of her many past slaughters.

It occurs to me that Violet Evergarden’s stoic, doll-like, emotionless demeanor was not something hastily achieved; it was the result of an entire life of fourteen years bereft of mercy, kindness, and love…until Gilbert. Now he’s gone, and someone who remembers what she once was and what she did, and threatens to tear down all her progress.

Yet this is also her first real test: Violet must not simply take Dietfried’s scorn and abuse lying down. Whatever she did, she had to do, because she was never given any other choice at that point in her life. Now that conditions have allowed her to claim a life all her own, it’s up to her to defend that life from those who’d drag her back into the shadows.