Astra Lost in Space – 08 – Four Funerals and a Wedding

Last week much of our gallant student crew was ready to give up on ever leaving Planet Icriss and were starting to make plans for how they’d live out the rest of their lives there. That is, until they found a second wrecked ship almost identical to theirs, with a single occupant in hibernation.

When she wakes up, she identifies herself as Polina Livinskaya, an astronaut who, along with four others, was on a planetary survey mission. There’s no good way to tell her that despite having been rescued, she’s still technically stranded with the rest of them due to the Astra’s reactor being kaput. When she learns this, it’s to much to take and she passes out.

However, when Zack uses the slices of an orange-like alien fruit to illustrate how it wasn’t that unlikely to find another ship in Icriss’ narrow safe zone, it dawns on Aries that, like two fruits sliced into equal pieces, the two Ark-class ships can be separated into three segments each.

They maneuver the Astra to the Ark VI, and replace the former’s ruined reactor section with the latter’s intact one. This process probably happens a bit too easily, but hey, when you’re in space, modularization is key, so I’m just glad it worked out.

With Yunhua, Ulgar, and Charce all but ruled out as potential traitors, Polina seems well-positioned to be the latest chaos-causing wild card, but she spends most of the episode in a daze (understandable, considering how long she’s been out) and distressed that so much time has passed.

As the crew gathers food (including very edible animal-like plants), Zack and Quitterie end up talking about their dreams. Zack admires his father, but learned long ago that his dad doesn’t actually like him very much, which he chalks up to how deep he got into human memory research. Therefore Zack is committed to not following in those particular footsteps, lest it change him too.

Zack tells Quitterie she should do as he and Kanata are doing and simply go for it, but she protests that it’s not so easy when her real dream isn’t to be a doctor, but to be Zack’s wife. Zack expresses puzzlement at that, because he’s been assuming all along that he and Quitterie were going to get married, recalling a promise they made back when they were kids, and affirms that he’s always loved her in his usual stoic Zack Walker style.

I love how matter-of-fact he is about the whole thing, and how Quitterie didn’t really ever need to worry, except about the fact that Zack is a lot like his father, and she’ll have to make sure his research doesn’t take him too far away from the person he loves.

With repairs complete and food and water gathered, the Astra is ready to depart from Icriss. But first, they make a detour to the last reported position of Polina’s four crewmates, just in case. This turns out to be a fool’s errand, as every additional second they’re on Icriss is a risk that they and/or the Astra could get damaged or destroyed by more homicidal plants.

They manage to find the Ark VI’s rover, oddly upturned in an otherwise flat landscape, as well as several suspicious mounds I initially thought were graves. Turns out they are the locations of gigantic bamboo-like shoots that rise out of the ground with tentacles that reach out for the crew.

Everyone retreats but Kanata, who uses his pole-vaulting skills to retrieve the dog tag of Glen, one of Polina’s crewmates. It’s nice she was able to secure at least something tangible to remember them, but it still wasn’t worth risking everything and everyone in my books.

With that, the Astra takes off and pulls away from Icriss, and prepares to jump to the next and final planet on the journey. Before that, Kanata suggests they throw a party to celebrate escaping Icriss and to welcome Polina. Unfortunately a comedy of antigrav-related blunders results in Charce’s freshly-baked cake ends up in Arie’s face.

Things then shift to blood; specifically, that Quitterie and Funi have the same kind, as she learns when she drew everyone’s blood to donate to Polina. Polina assumed (as I did earlier in the show) that they were blood sisters anyway due to their strikingly similar features.

Sure enough, after an exhaustive DNA analysis, Zack discovers something very strange and shocking, which he first reports only to Kanata: not only are Quitterie and Funi related…they are the same person—clones. What the heck was Quitterie’s mother up to with these two, and does this have anything to do with why they were set up to be lost in space together?

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Sword Art Online: Alicization – 09 – Stay Cool

When it comes to baddies, SAO isn’t exactly subtle. Lord Raios and his toadie Sir Humbert are both extremely hoity-toity noblemen, and it would seem they draw their power from their conceitedness and by comparing themselves to others. They seem acutely aware that Kirito and Eugeo are Good Guys and thus it’s basically in their nature to want to fuck with them at every turn.

After experiencing the power of Humbert’s conceit in a duel that Raios cuts short in a draw, the two noblemen warn Eugeo that “battle is more than swinging a sword,” suggesting they’ll seek other ways to mess with him. Humbert seems to find a way in Frenica, the dorm-mate of Eugeo’s page Tiese. Specifically, he’s sexually abusing her by, likely among other things, ordering her to massage him in nothing but her underwear.

Until now the duo seemed almost pathetically petty in their bullying (Stomping some flowers? Seriously?). But with his casual cruelty toward Frenica—while staying within academy regs—Humbert, and by extention Raios, have crossed the line into Despicable SAO Baddie territory. Rooting for Eugeo in putting a stop to the abuse is almost too easy.

But the fact that regs aren’t being explicitly broken (the page is merely following orders of her mentor, as is the order of things) and the extreme deference Eugeo must show to his social betters make things tricky for Eugeo. Last week he was holding Kirito back, but now it’s he who must be held back by Kirito. The baddies are counting on him making an unforced error and getting into trouble, or worse.

Of course, that’s not going to stop Eugeo from doing everything he can. He asks Raios and Humbert to knock if off the nicest way he can, though I doubt they’ll heed him, which means stronger measures will be needed that still fall within the strict rules of the academy and the world at large.

Then there’s the relationship between Eugeo and his page Tiese, which escalades very rapidly due to the Frenica incident. Tiese is of a lower-level aristocrat family, and once she becomes the head of the family a husband will be chosen from an equal or higher level. Tiese is terribly afraid of ending up with a man like Humbert.

So after making her formal report, she appeals to Eugeo, whom she knows to be kind, gentle, and honorable, to fight and win the Four Empires Tournament, which will allow him to become an aristocrat and thus an acceptable match for her*. It’s a big ask, but Eugeo will need to do a bit of social climbing anyway to have any shot at reuniting with Alice, so he agrees.

But in the meantime, Raios and Humbert won’t leave Eugeo or Frenica alone easily. I’m worried about what kind of trap they might have planned for him. It might be safer or easier for Eugeo to keep his head down and take everything they throw at him in stride. But that’s not who Eugeo is, any more than it’s who Kirito is. If there’s a wrong being done that they can stop, even the laws can’t get in the way of justice and honor.

*Since Tiese doesn’t explicitly ask for Eugeo to marry her, it could be she’s asking, and he’s agreeing, to simply be there for her when she marries someone else, which would also require him to rise to a higher station. Though marrying her makes the most sense to me. LN readers, set me straight!

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 – 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…

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 – 13 – Recalling a Forgotten Fairy Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Darling in the FranXX – 11 – As Partners Swap, Dread Looms

We’ve had Hiro episodes, Ichigo episodes, a Gorou and a Zorome episode, and now, before the halfway-point of DFX arrives, we get an episode centered on three of the “secondary” parasites: chiefly Mitsuru, but also Ikuno, Kokoro, and Futoshi, elevating them beyond the one/two notes they each played: Cool & Distant (Mitsuru) Passive & Doubful (Ikuno), Kind & Gentle (Kokoro), and Always Eating (Futoshi).

Mitsuru is having issues again. His performance scores are dipping. He dreams of when he and Hiro were kids, when he looked up to him. But at some point Hiro “betrayed” him, leaving him to adopt his “no one needs anyone” attitude that is now getting him in trouble, since he actually does need others, and others need him.

Meanwhile, Futoshi x Kokoro are adorably lovey-dovey as usual, but ever since finding the pamphlet on child-rearing, Kokoro has been less enthusiastic by their routine. Still, when Futoshi asks if she’ll promise to be his partner forever, she agrees all too causally for it to not bite her in the ass later.

Eventually Mitsuru hits his breaking point, and we learn his troubles may also be a result of the fact he received an “Elixir Injection” when he was little to enhance his parasite abilities. He was the only child to survive such an injection. However, some drugs and bed rest get him out of the woods, and he immediately wants to get back in a FranXX.

Hachi and Nana gather everyone to propose an elective partner shuffle, and those who volunteer shock everyone. First, Ikuno requests a pistil-pistil partnership with Ichigo, to determine if it’s viable in case they lose a stamen in battle. She no doubt also wants to prove to herself that she’s not bogging down Chlorophytum.

Even more surprising is Kokoro, who requests Mitsuru as her stamen. When Futoshi protests and reaches out to her, Kokoro’s look is all you need to know to conclude his clinginess has clearly lost its luster with her. He’s just…too much. Zorome’s idea of why she left mirrors that…and he also says Futoshi could stand to lose some weight.

The results of the initial partner shuffle tests are interesting: Ichigo and Ikuno’s connection times out without any success, confirming Ichigo’s belief a boy is needed…but Ikuno isn’t so sure Ichigo’s attitude and unwillingness to embrace a pistil as her stamen didn’t affect the test. Mitsuru and Kokoro fare much better, reaching the minimum acceptable parasite level and keeping it stable in Genista.

Futoshi acts the way you’d expect someone like him to act after getting dumped by his dream girl: like a whiny little bitch. Mitsurudoesn’t like the hassle Kokoro’s “betrayal” caused, but Hiro, at least, can appreciate Futoshi’s feelings, which he describes as a tightness in the heart that’s now started to hurt.

Mitsuruand Kokoro bump into each other in the conservatory once more, with Kokoro wondering why humans stopped having children, and Mitsuru offering his usual “we don’t need others to live.” Before Kokoro can challenge Mitsuru’s attitude, an alert sounds: a Gutenberg-class Klaxosaur is approaching.

Zero Two charges in but her assault only demonstrates that this is a modular Klaxosaur, and any pieces cut off will turn into smaller Klaxosaurs, with the remaining mass closing any gaps. Hiro tugs on the reins and defers to Ichigo for a plan, but it’s Kokoro who suggests close-range projectile fire.

She and Mitsuru take Genista in, but when Hiro offers encouragement, Mitsuru shuts down. Just when Genista is about to get stomped on, Futoshi and Ikuno fly to their aid in Chlorophytum.

Still, Mitsuru doesn’t see the point in continuing. He’ll never measure up, after all. He placed his hopes in Hiro, getting him to promise to pilot a FranXX with him, only for Hiro to later completely forget that promise. In turn, Mitsuru doesn’t see himself as anyone to be relied on; he’ll only let everyone down.

Kokoro hears him, but to dwell on something like that for so long isn’t any way to live. People hurt each other all the time, but that doesn’t cause them to stop interacting with each other. Kokoro admits she’s not the kind, gentle girl everyone sees her as; after all, she betrayed Futoshi and broke a promise in the blink of an eye.

“These things happen”, she states, and complaining, blaming, and searing hatred can only go so far until they consume someone. With that, she attempts a solo connect with the FranXX, almost going into fatal Rampage Mode before Mitsuru pulls her out of her seat. In that moment, Kokoro needed someone, and Mitsuru was the only person who could save her.

Reckless as it was, it snapes Mitsuru out of it. The two reach maximum parasite level and blast a hole in the Klaxosaur big enough for Strelizia to access and pierce the core. The partner shuffle would seem to have been a success.

When Mitsuru emerges from Genista with Kokoro, he stands and takes Futoshi’s punch without complaint, promising he’ll take care of Kokoro from now on. Futoshi is enraged and distraught…but he’ll live.

As all that carrying-on as a result of partner-shuffling takes place, Zero Two, who continues to be mum on what’s troubling her, hugs Hiro from behind, assuring him they’ll always be together “until the day we die”, adding a touch more fuel to my theory that Zero Two might buy it before Hiro does.

Violet Evergarden – 07

Much to the envy of superfan Erica, Violet is sent to pastoral Roswell (in Genetrix, not New Mexico) to assist the famous playwright Oscar Webster with his newest work.

As is so often the case with great talents, he also has his problems: he lives all alone, his house is a mess, and he day-drinks too much (Violet helpfully points out it’s “not good for him”…I think he’s aware Vi). When Oscar first sees the blonde Violet, he narrates in his head how she isn’t the blonde he wished he could see again, whose name he can’t utter.

Violet deems Oscar a “handful”, but if anyone can handle him, it’s her. In the day before she begins taking dictation, she cleans the place and even tries her hand a cooking Carbonara. Her difficulty with cracking eggs and the resulting single mass of pasta she presents to Oscar engendered belly laughs from your author.

But again, before going to bed Violet must keep the booze away from Oscar, hiding all of his various bottles that she might get a good day’s work out of him. His status as a handful thus established, we move on to the why, which makes for the show’s most emotionally devastating and sorrowful stories yet—aside from Violet’s own tale of woe.

The why of Oscar’s solitude and drunkenness is revealed quite by chance. Oscar and Violet reach a rapport as he dictates his play—his first for children—and even Violet can empathize with its protagonist, Violet finds a frilly parasol that evokes in Oscar memories of a girl with a gap in her teeth.

With heavy implication that girl passed away, Oscar knocks the parasol out of Vi’s hand in anger and orders her to leave. Violet manages to calm him, correctly guessing there’s something deep in his heart he’s trying to hide. The truth is, Oscar hasn’t been able to write for some time, but thought the best way to do so would be to complete the tale he once told his late beloved daughter, Olivia.

Oscar’s wife, Olivia’s daughter, passed away all too early of an illness, leaving him to raise her. While he was sure she missed her mother, she never let on, as if being strong for both of them.

Then, quite tragically, she took ill as well, and rather than keep her in the hospital to pass, Oscar took her to their vacation home he still occupies, so she could die with a smile on her face. She does so as they sit by the lake; a lake Olivia promised to walk across, using her parasol to keep her aloft.

Oscar’s story is well and powerfully told (it’s akin to the opening scene in Up), and accompanied by composer Evan Call’s familiar ‘tragic’ theme; a theme that never fails to make me suddenly realize how gosh-darn dusty it is in the room in which I’m watching the show. I was glad this was the halfway point so I could grab a few kleenex.

That night, Oscar decides to finish the play after all, giving it the happy ending he and Olivia couldn’t have, in which the protagonist Olive will return home and reunite with her father. They complete it outside on the terrace, and Oscar asks Violet to go stand by the lake with the parasol to help him better visualize the ending.

While this scene is beautifully, breathtakingly staged—it’s one of the best-looking scenes of the series—it failed for me where the pre-intermission montage of Olivia fully succeeded: in not going too far. Call’s score gets a bit too bombastic, and when combined with the Bullet Time of Violet’s “walking on water”, the scene strays uncomfortably close to maudlin.

Still, the idea of Oscar dealing with his grief through finishing the play inspired by his daughter, and having Violet be the muse he needed to draw out the pages, still rang clear and true. The execution simply needed more moderation.

The episode closes with two instances of someone saying something to Violet that sets her off: first, when she and Oscar part, he thanks her for helping Olivia “keep the promise she made.” Violet lies sleeplessly in her berth, thinking of all the lives she took in the past, and all the promises they couldn’t keep because of her.

Claudia once told her she was “on fire”, and she took him literally; now she finally understands that she is on fire, and has not been able to forgive herself.

The second instance occurs when she returns to Leiden to encounter Lady Evergarden at the pier. The Lady can tell how much Violet has grown since their first tense interaction, and believes “now the late Gilbert’s soul can rest in peace.”

This is the first time Violet has been told the Major is dead, and when Claudia confirms it and gives her the details (they never found his body, only his dog tag), she immediately reverts to believing he’s alive and well.

The odds aren’t good, however. That hardly matters to Violet, who, like Oscar with Olivia, tied all her hopes to Gilbert. Coming to terms with the fact she may never see him again will not be easy, especially when the circumstances of his disappearance aren’t so clear cut.

For now, Violet simply runs, not knowing what to do. It’s appropriate then, that this episode has no title.

3-gatsu no Lion – 35

Thanks to the efforts of Kobuku, the bullying in Hina’s class has stopped. The ringleader Takagi and her five co-conspirators were exposed for all to see and made to apologize to the class for their actions. And yet Kobuku remains unconvinced that Takagi in particular shows any remorse for what she’s done.

In an interrogation-style scene, he tries to get past Takagi’s limp excuses (it’s society’s fault) and tries to get to the root of her trouble. Takagi is frustrated with always being told to study and work hard by people who won’t take responsibility if all that studying and working amounts to nothing.

But more importantly, as all those people were dishing out those platitudes, they never made any real effort to ask Takagi how she feels and what she wants. But now she has Koboku’s undivided attention; she no longer has any excuses.

Hollow apology or not, Hina is happy the darkness in her class has been expelled, even if she’s still terribly hurt by the effects of Takagi and her henchmen, especially where poor Sakura Chiho is concerned, which is why Hina is so overjoyed when she finally receives a letter from her.

In it, Chiho tells Hina that after initially being a bit lonely, she’s made friends and found peace at the remote farm surrounded by mountains and forests and full of animals and kind people. Tears well up in Hina’s eyes as she reads; tears of both enduring heartbreak of what went down in their class, and relief that Chiho is okay, and wants Hina to visit some time.

Rei, perhaps feeling like Hinata is slowly stealing his show (he’s not wrong!), shows up at the Kawamoto residence to find Hina lying supine and fast asleep in the sun. She has an etheral, almost angelic aura about her that makes him feel extra self-conscious about entering the room. So he waits in the genkan, only to be woken up by Hina.

She tells him, simply, that “it’s over”, and eagerly describes the day when her classmates cried and apologized to her, then invited her over to make cookies. These were the same classmates who, with the threat of retribution from Takagi and her ilk removed, finally felt safe enough to tell the teacher what happened and to talk with and hang out with Hina again.

When Hina opens her mouth wide to show Rei the burn caused by a fresh baked cookie, Rei decides to make this about himself: Woe is he, who wasn’t able to do anything to help Hina in her time of need. Oh wait, he didn’t do nothing in that time; he did a lot!

Hina sets him straight by listing everything he’s done for her, then doles out punishment in the form of several love bites. Then she starts to dance and twirl under his arm as they walk briskly beside the river, happy as you please. Which begs the question: Is Hina merely the best girl in the galaxy, or the entire universe? I’m gonna go with the latter.

3-gatsu no Lion – 34

Despite all of the good vibes sent Hina’s way by her sisters, her grandpa, and of courses, Rei, the bullying is still going on, and it has cast a pall of black, miasma-like mist over the entire classroom and school. Takagi Megumi won’t stop stirring the shit, and Hina won’t stop bravely confronting it head-on. Both can probably keep the battle going indefinitely, but their teacher has had enough.

This isn’t the first time her class has been thrown into shadow and chaos by one shit-stirrer and one defiant victim, and the stress that comes from her helplessness to ever resolve such situations, combined with the dread that comes with the certainty it will happen again, proves too much for the poor woman, who unleashes a desperate rant before passing out.

Now that Takagi has not only sent a victim off, but the supposed authority figure as well, one would think she’s “winning” this particular war. But whether she actually really wants this to go on or not, she seems almost as powerless to stop this as her victims. That makes whatever victory that might come feel not only hollow, but Pyrrhic.

This is some Scorched Earth-kinda shit going own, so who better to deal with averting apocalypse than Ikari Gendo himself? Just kidding; a 3GL-Eva crossover would be too weird (though not altogether unwelcome!) But the ruined teacher’s temporary replacement Mr. Kokobu is voiced by the same guy, doing a more causal performance more indicative of Zaraki Kenpachi.

Kokobu comes in not only knowing pretty much exactly what’s going on, but on whom to pin the blame. He laments that a class so close to high school entrance exams must be disrupted by a faculty shake-up, but also says, basically, “you little shits have no one to blame for not making a peep when one of their classmates had to change schools because of the bullying.”

And of course, he’s right. Takagi and Hina aren’t as powerful as a classroom united against bullying and conflict. But Takagi has spent so much time and effort neutralizing them with threats of retribution that they’ve kept quiet all this time. But it’s not like I expect the class to en masse decide to take a stand.

The overarching problem is that no one is in a situation they can control or pull themselves out of alone. It will take a unity of will and intent, and Kokobu likely hopes the unpleasantness of the situation to date will start bringing this mess to an end.

The last thing Hina wanted to do was bring her sister Akari into this, but that’s what has to happen, and Akari doesn’t shrink before the task at hand, nor does she hesitate to spoil Hina with some of her favorite foods (some kind of french toast drink and a beef croquette) on the eve of their parent-teacher conference.

Akari even fends off Grandpa, who has an important sweets order to take care of, so seriously does she take her promise to her dying mother that she’d take care of Hina and Momo. That she made this promise in her uniform, showing she’s still a child herself, makes it the dream much more heartbreaking.

It’s a dream that keeps Akari up late, so even if she had a particular game plan against the eventuality of encountering Takagi’s formidable mom in the hall (and she does not), she wouldn’t be at 100% to execute that plan.

Any thoughts of Takagi losing her hold on the class anytime soon are dashed when two of the classmates lure Mr. Kokobu away with a lie about a broken window, leaving the two students and their guardians alone together. Takagi’s mom immediately sets to work telling Akari to sort Hina out, and Akari falls all too easily into a trap where the mom asks her for proof of her daughter’s malfeasance, for which there is only Hina’s word.

Unaccustomed to such aggressive confrontation, overwhelmed by the promise she made to her mom, and fatigued from last night’s lack of sleep, Akari quickly falters, but before Mrs. Takagi can finish her, Kokobu returns, and it is Hina who takes Akari’s hand and sends her of to calm her down, not the other way around.

In this horribly shitty situation, Hina maintains her composure and is able to stand and endure the black mist. In the nurse’s office, she vows, like a shounen hero, that she’ll survive and graduate, she wins, so she’s not going to spend a second of her life worrying about the words and actions of c-words like Takagi again. Even if that’s better said than done, Akari is heartened.

Meanwhile, Kokobu calmly listens to Takagi’s Mom’s grievances, but cannot accept them without proof Hina is lying (which she obviously isn’t). The burden of proof both Takagi and her Mom were touting works both ways, and without the opportunity to pawn all the shit her daughter stirred up on to someone else, neither are ever going to be happy about the situation any more than Hina and Akari.

That means we have something of a stalemate.  Hopefully the escalation has been halted, the miasma somewhat cleared, and that with Kokobu’s guidance, the possibility of productive peace talks isn’t as remote as it once was.

3GL always seems to know when I’m hankering for a Kawamoto-heavy episode, and this one pretty one delivered everything I could have hoped for, with phenomenal performances by Kayano Ai and Hanazawa Kana and  a sweet guest appearance by the always authoritative Fumihiko Tachiki— (not to mention some nice work from Yuuki Aoi as Takagi).

The episode leans on the 3GL habit of using stark contrasts in light, dark, water, and color as the mood of the episode changes. We also get a new OP sung by Unison Square Garden and a sensational new ED featuring “I Am Standing” by Ruann. Forget March, it’s January that comes in like a lion with this, probably the best episode yet of 3GL’s second season.