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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She and Her Cat: Everything Flows – 04 (Fin)

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You’re lonely? Get a cat. They live thirteen years, then you get another one. Then another one after that. Then you’re done. —Katherine Olson, Mad Men

The devoutly-Catholic Kathy may only be telling her daughter this in response to learning she and her boyfriend have moved in together with no promise of marriage, but there’s a grim practicality to her advice, and it’s also oddly prescient of the events that close Everything Flows.

To whit: “She”, whom we learn is called Miyu, is lonely after her friend moves out and gets married. Miyu is so lonely and uncommunicative, in fact, her mother fears the worst when she gets a hang-up phone call from her daughter, and races over, which turns out to be a false alarm.

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It would seem a concerned Daru inadvertently dialed Mom’s number, but the effect of the happenstance is profound: Miyu’s mother is relieved. Miyu sees her mother for the first time in a while. They share a laugh. Daru is relieved too: Miyu is going to be alright. He was hanging onto life until he could confirm that. When he has, he passes away, quietly, in her arms.

Then, a psychic explosion destroys Tokyo and initiates World War III. Just kidding! But that’s kinda what it looked like. That would have been quite the genre shift!

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Naturally, there’s a mourning period for Miyu, whose eye-bags and fetal position recalls another famous, devastating film (only without the drugs). She even feels Daru rub up against her back, the way he did countless times in his life. It’s only a phantom rub, but it doesn’t plunge Miyu into further despair. Instead, she sits up, smiles, and moves forward.

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Not wanting to worry Daru any further, she cleans up her place, finds a job, and faces the world with a smile once more. Then Daru apparently reincarnates as a white abandoned cat, which Miyu finds under a bridge and takes in.

But unlike Peggy Olson in her mom’s scenario of a life with three cats to ward off lonliness, Miyu will either need more than three—to combat the formidable longevity of the Japanese—or find a human. Either way, she’ll be fine. The world still moves, and we still travel upon it.

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She and Her Cat: Everything Flows – 03

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Daru had a rough youth, about which he remembers only bits and pieces: he was a stray along with his mom and three siblings, but after a bird attacked, he was suddenly all alone.

And while the girl may have Daru now, Daru is getting old. Looming over this episode is the fact that one day he won’t be around, and the girl really will be alone in her apartment for two, which she’s seriously let go due to being so exhausted after work.

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But more than that, Daru can only offer his particular cat breed of unconditional love and wordless support. But it doesn’t change the fact that the girl was always conflicted about moving out and leaving her mother alone, and now that Tomoka moved out to get married, she feels even more alone and lost.

She has no career, only part-time jobs; no romantic aspirations as she draws closer to the age people marry; and her cat is too old to even jump on the bed to comfort her as she stews in her depression, pleading for help, but with no one who can hear her.

Sure, it could be worse—her sociopathic crown prince brother hasn’t locked her in the palace dungeon—but she’s not doing so hot, and Daru seems like naught but a band-aid on a gaping wound.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 09

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Things move fast this week, but most of the things that occur are basically foregone conclusions. Kikuhiko and Sukeroku both become Shin’uchi, but in his debut, Sukeroku sticks it to the association president by performing his specialty, “Inokori”, in which he must embody multiple sides of one character, Saheiji, depending on who else he’s talking to. It’s a challenging story, but Sukeroku pulls it off and gets the only approval he needs: that of the crowd.

Now a Shin’uchi, Kikuhiko is committed to shedding a woman he feels someone of his stature can no longer be with. It’s not pride so much as obligation to the structures he was raised into, which demand that a man put things above his own personal feelings. His breakup with Miyokichi had been telegraphed for some time, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking when the hammer comes down.

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Miyokichi, as it happens, isn’t the only one who gets dumped: as a result of his insolence in his debut, Sukeroku is taken aside by his master, who informs him Kiku, not he, will be the Eighth Generation Yakumo. Again, the writing was on the wall. As well-intending as Sukeroku is, and no matter how much practical sense it makes, he was never going to be able to successfully convince the old guard of his “change or die” views of rakugo.

For the elders, including his master, change is death; there is no difference. Oral tradition cannot truly survive if it becomes a game of Telephone. Tweaking tradition is a slippery slope, one that the elders would rather fall to their death by clinging to rather than allow it to be propped up with new ideas.

Furthermore, Sukeroku was always hampered by his modest origin; he was always an interloper, a “stray dog” who clawed his way into this world. There’s no way the master would allow such a person to succeed him, no matter how unassailable his talent. There may be TVs now, but castes still matter.

When Sukeroku argues too forcefully, Yakumo expels him, throwing him out of his house. And that’s how our two dumped and dejected people find and comfort each other.

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Speaking of comfort, Kikuhiko isn’t experiencing it just because everything seems to be going his way. In his mind, Sukeroku is still better at rakugo than him, no matter how many elders or syncophants say otherwise. He’s particularly irritated when a dilettante-ish rakugo critic tears down Sukeroku in an apparent effort to curry favor. Kiku ends the interview right there.

Then Master Yakumo’s wife dies, and with mortality on his mind, he informs Kikuhiko that he intends to give him his name. Kiku’s initial reaction is that it’s a mistake; Sukeroku should get the name; he’s more skilled; he doesn’t have any skill compared to that raw talent. But Yakumo reproaches his apprentice.

It’s not Kiku’s place to tell him who he should give his name to, nor to say whether he’s better or worse than Sukeroku. Just like his brother, Kiku spoke out of place, but out of humility and inferiority, not arrogance and outsize obligation to take rakugo upon his shoulders and “save” it, as Sukeroku wants to do. There’s more to being Eighth Generation than being The Best At Rakugo. 

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As Kiku continues to thrive but derive no joy from anything other than doing rakugo, Sukeroku and the scorned Miyokichi quickly shack up together and become an item. Just as Sukeroku and Kikuhiko must embody different people to perform their stories to suit their audiences, so too does Miyo, a skilled and experienced geisha, know how to be exactly the woman a particular man wants. She could be classy and prudish for Kiku, whom she loved, but knows Sukeroku less propriety.

I’m glad Miyo doesn’t waste any more time than she needs to worrying about Kiku; what’s done is done, and she’s moving on with someone who actually wants to be with her. Sukeroku doesn’t know if he’s quite that person yet…but he does like boobies. There’s something sad and close-looped about the two being depressed about the same person—Kikuhiko—but they must make do with each other.

Also, she doesn’t have time to wait around or worry; she has a baby on the way, and wants to raise it in the countryside. Her geisha house is shut down, so she steals the till with the intention of running off with Sukeroku.

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He stops by Kiku’s not for money or a place to stay, but to say goodbye, even as Kiku urges him to make peace with the master so he can give him his name. Sukeroku knows what he has to do to get back in the good graces of their master, and he can’t do it. He tells Kiku about Miyo and the baby and the country, and Kiku is not happy.

What is Kiku going to do without Sukeroku around annoying him and challenging him to be his best? What is he going to do with Yakumo’s name when he’s certain his drunk, uncouth, stray dog of a brother deserves it more? Someone he wants to punch and embrace in the same moment?

These unanswerable questions (which must attempt to be answered anyway, one day at a time) sow the seeds of a bitterness and regret that will stay with Kiku for years, then made worse one day when Sukeroku loses his life in his prime. That bitterness will come to define the man telling this story to Yotarou and Konatsu in the present.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 08

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As we return to Kikuhiko’s tale, he’s just finishing up his tour with Master Yakumo, having steamed up many an audience in Kyoto with his seductively funny rakugo. Talk of making him a shin’uchi is no longer presumptuous; as even his own master was too enthralled both with his performance and the reaction of the crowd to notice the mistakes he made.

Kiku is rapidly progressing on the steam locomotive to greatness, but there are sacrifices that need to be made on the way – both those imposed upon him, and those he imposes on himself.

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Back in Tokyo, Miyokichi sits in the back of another full house as Sukeroku performs and effortlessly drawing huge laughs. But she’s not laughing; she’s there to catch a glimpse of the man she loves who’s currently giving her the cold shoulder.

Her presence didn’t go unnoticed by Sukeroku (she was the only one there who wasn’t “ancient”), and he proposes a commiseration session: she gets to vent to him about a subject he’s very well versed in – Kiku-san – in exchange for buying him a drinkypoo.

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Their ensuing conversation, a thing of beauty, offers many insights into Miyokichi’s character and the nature of her love of Kiku. She doesn’t even like rakugo; she prefers movies. Hearing his voice is the only reason she goes to the theater. She endures the stodgy, old-fashioned practice she wouldn’t otherwise give the time of day…for Kiku. She also endures his constant brush-offs, including this most recent unannounced trip of his.

Miyo can endure this because she’s strong. She had to be. Abandoned by a man when in Manchuria, she had to sell her body to survive, until Master Yakumo brought her home. But because she’s become so tough, neither the good Master nor Sukeroku are her type. She doesn’t go for nice guys, she likes cold guys, and Kiku has certainly been that to her.

Miyo doesn’t want the moon; she just wants to be able to stand beside the man she loves and support him as a woman. But she suspects, and Sukeroku can’t convince her otherwise, that Kiku intends to break up with her. When she takes her leave on that somber note, Sukeroku, ever the nice guy, can’t help but draw her into a hug.

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It’s while she’s struggling to get out of that hug that Kiku appears, suddenly back as quietly as he left. His exchange with Miyo is brief and probably the coldest yet, but there’s a reason for it; Kiku indeed intends to break up with her, and doesn’t want to be cruel by being kind beforehand.

Kiku can admit to Sukeroku that he loves Miyo, but the Master has told him he needs to find a “proper woman” to settle down with a family. Disobeying would mean expulsion from Yurakutei, and in this case, with his rakugo future so bright and his identity and place in that world so clear…Miyokichi is second fiddle to all that.

In fact, Kiku would rather simply be alone than be with anyone, a sentiment that quickly evolves into an agreement for Sukeroku to move out of his apartment. Kiku relays to Sukeroku all of the flaws their master mentioned that are making it hard to promote him, but Sukeroku is in this business because he loves rakugo, and he has bigger plans than the Yurakutei orthodoxy could ever accommodate.

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His position is legitimized by the simple fact they’re in a packed jazz hall filled with Japanese in Western clothes, listening to American music. The times they are a changin’. He acknowledges that a part of rakugo must always endure, but that’s Kiku’s duty. Sukeroku intends to be the part of rakugo that evolves by changing to suit whatever the people want, which is never fixed.

Kiku is a traditionalist; Sukeroku the innovator. But they are alike in two important ways: they both love rakugo and they both respect each other’s place in that world. At the same time, Sukeroku didn’t want to end up like his previous “master”, the one from which he took the name Sukeroku, who ended up dying penniless.

That night, Master Yakumo celebrates with Matsuda his hard-won success in getting both Kikuhiko and Sukeroku promoted to shin’uchi, he takes the Yurakutei family record from the alter to let the past generations share in the celebration, even as he laments he wasn’t quite able to achieve what his forebears did.

Unaware of his promotion, Sukeroku roams the streets, gently kicked out of Kiku’s place, backlit by the bright lights and the winds of change. Kikuhiko, also unaware, but now alone in his apartment like he wanted, pauses his practicing to inspect the old fan Sukeroku gave him. They’ve started on very different paths for the same love of rakugo. It was an amicable parting, but that doesn’t make it any less sad!

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Oreimo 2 – 11

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Kyousuke and Kirino’s mom is suspicious of their sudden closeness. Their father isn’t worried, but he does want Kyousuke to ace his mock exam, and so arranges him to move into his own place to study in peace. The first night, Kanako stops by with food she made, as she wants to set things right with her parents. Early the next morning Ayase stops by with a housewarming gift, a kitchen knife. Kuroneko also pays him a visit, and she and Ayase immediately clash. Kuroneko assures Ayase that whatever her relationship to Kyousuke, his soul is hers and hers alone, and would love him even if he slept with Kirino. After Ayase leaves, Kyousuke tells Kuroneko he needs time to settle things with Kirino before dating anyone; Kuroneko concurs.

It’s perfectly reasonable to see Kyousuke putting his happiness on hold for his little sister’s sake, because that’s what he’s always done, but that oversimplifies matters. The truth is, he himself would never be happy if his happiness comes at the cost of Kirino’s. So he figures he has to find some way of “settling things” with her before deciding to date Kuroneko again. Kuroneko is also very reasonable and patient in this instance, partly because she’s in this for the long haul (her feelings for Kyousuke haven’t changed), and partially because she considers herself Kirino’s very best friend.

Preceding this week’s very welcome appearance by Kuroneko (in her new uniform, bearing an impeccable lunch) is a somewhat awkward family meeting in which Kyousuke and Kirino’s mom comes right out and voices her…concern over her kids’ behavior towards one another (Maybe she’s seen Yosuga no Sora?). Kanako’s drop-in was kinda random; fleshing out her story is all well and good, but we’re hardly invested in her this late in the series. As for Ayase, it was good to see her mendacity and facades butt up against Kuroneko’s brutal, divine honesty (the two even come to arms in an excellent fantasy battle scene). She even calls Kuroneko a pervert, but Kuroneko doesn’t care. “What of it, bitch? I’m in love!

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Rating:7 (Very Good)