Somali and the Forest Spirit – 07 – The Witching Hour

As he did with Shizuno and Yabashira, Golem confides in Haitora the truth of his dwindling lifespan, and how like Haitora he won’t be around to see his charge grow up. It’s like he’s getting the weight of the lie off his chest; dropping the facade of pretending everything’s okay with Somali.

Even so, Haitora considers Somali all too lucky to have found Golem, as she gets to live her life with a smile on her face and with peace of mind thanks to her guardian’s care, despite being a human.

Haitora’s words make Golem feel lighter in the chest. Anyone who thinks Somali hasn’t made him more human isn’t paying attention. The next day, Golem and Somali say goodbye to Haitora and Uzoi, but Uzoi promises Somali they’ll meet again once she’s found a cure for Haitora. I for one would have enjoyed them remaining together longer, especially since it makes sense for all four of them should be headed in the same direction.

That’s because Golem and Somali’s new destination is a village filled with witches who bear a solemn duty to amass all of the world’s knowledge. If there was a cure for eating harpy flesh, you’d guess you’d find it there. Alas, it’s just Golem and Somali, who are greeted by a bevy of witches selling all manner of delicious food an drink, in which the food-crazy Somali is all to happy to indulge. The village is gorgeous with its whimsical architecture and glowing light.

The pair are directed to the Witches’ Crest Library, a huge and grand structure containing millions of books of every conceivable topic. Just being led into the libarary and hearing the various voices bounce off the walls has a major impact, a feeling of being truly immersed into this gradually expanding fantasy world. Somali is eager to read a book about food, and I’m surprised she knows how to read!

Among the myriad non-human clans of this world, one would think witches, like harpies, would be able to “sniff out” a human in disguise. But if their magical hosts detect Somali’s true nature, they don’t make an issue of it. Instead, friendly librarian witch Hazel and her bookworm older sister Praline are happy to escort Golem to the location of a biography that makes mention of humans.

Things are derailed a bit when Somali locates the book in question on a shelf and recklessly pulls it off the shelf, dislodging a school of skeletal book-eating fish who are particularly interested in that particular book. Praline summons several little blue penguins to eat the fish, while Hazel produces a cloud of rose petals that squash the remaining beasts out. Their magic, and the accompanying music, adds the whimsical, wondrous atmosphere.

Even Hazel’s spell isn’t enough, however, as the surviving bookfish coalesce into a single giant subspecies. Somali refuses to give up the book, runs off, and inevitably trips over her feet. The book goes flying and the bookfish destroy it before a single page can be written. Worse, Golem must sacrifice the remaining “skin” on his arm and enter into a reflexive Attack Mode to rescue Somali and defeat the fish boss.

Somali is tearfully apologetic for getting Golem hurt, but he’s not concerned as long as she’s okay. Praline also suggests that all is not lost if they can find the previous person to have read the book, who could then share its contents with Golem and Somali. It turns out the last borrower of the book was Isolde Nebsolv, their boss and Head Librarian.


Somali and the Forest Spirit – 06 – Love Never Lies

When Uzoi tells Somali what she’s doing and why, Somali doesn’t take it lying down. She screams so hard she hurts Uzoi’s sensitive ears and runs. While fleeing, Somali falls off a cliff into a pond, and Uzoi jumps in and saves her.

As Somali whimpers, soaked and cold, Uzoi extends one of her harpy wings around her, inverting its previous use as the prelude to an attack. When Golem and Haitora arrive, Somali protects Uzoi from her dad, while Uzoi crumbles into her dad’s arms, lamenting that she just couldn’t do it.

As we gathered last week, Haitora is nothing but glad she couldn’t do it, and we learn why when he delves into his past to explain to Golem why he’s not deserving of Uzoi’s love. For he was once in her position, after he and his wife and daughter were forced to flee their small human settlement when it was raided by “grotesques.”

Trapped in a cave with no food or water for days, a desperate Haitora happens upon an adult harpy—Uzoi’s mother. And because he and his family is starving and there’s no other option, he kills the harpy without a moment’s hesitation, then drags the body back to the cave. “We have to be like them” to survive, he gravely tells the family in his failing voice.

They all tuck into the raw harpy meat, and within a few minutes, both his wife and daughter suffer unspeakably agonizing deaths before his eyes. This is the kind of graphic horror I came to expect of Made in Abyss, and it’s just as unsettlingly naturalistic in its depiction here.

As we’ve learned, Uzoi has great hearing, so she hears Haitora’s confession to Golem and learns her whole life with him was based on lies. Even after Somali lazily forgives her friend for trying to kill her and drain her blood, Uzoi (whose name sounds a lot like usoi, Japanese for “lying”) faces existential despair and emptiness in the wake of Haitora’s words.

She’s so depressed, in fact, that when they come across a dragon twister while traversing the desert, and the winds pick her and Somali up, she takes one last pained look at Haitora and lets go, in that moment preferring death to living a terrible lifelong lie any further.

The moment also confirms to Haitora that Uzoi heard him last night. He wants to rush out to save her, but Golem insists they stay put until the storm subsides, using his fancy eye to calculate where the girls are likely to survive grave injury by landing on the soft sand.

When Golem spots the girls later, they’re being attacked by an aggressively territorial canterbird. He quickly formulates a plan wherein he serves as a decoy to allow Haitora to get the girls to safety, but Haitora quickly adopts his own plan, hoping to give what’s left of his wretched life leading the canterbird away. To his surprise, upon being cornered the canterbird is stopped…by Uzoi.

Unwilling to let him die without talking to her, Uzoi would much rather he stay alive with her, proving true Somali’s earlier words that “love doesn’t lie.” Love isn’t always happy, or clean; even Somali is aware of this if she doesn’t know her father is dying. Sometimes those who love each other wound each other, but the scars can’t be ignored, even if they’re deepened by confronting them.

Hayami Saori puts on a clinic performing this scene, which comes as no surprise if you follow her voice work. When you need a character to deliver dramatic dialogue movingly and convincingly, Saori-chan is someone you can always count on. Even so, she never ceases to amaze me with her remarkable vocal talent.

Haitora, realizing he was only trying to take the easy way out, re-commits to living with Uzoi as long as he humanly can. Not out of obligation to atone for his past sins and lying about them, but for a more important reason: he and Uzoi are family, and they love one another, period.

But even if he’d been persuaded to drink Somali’s blood (something he’d never do after what happened with his family) it likely wouldn’t have worked. Harpies are magical creatures, so it’s likely magic is needed to heal him. If you need magic, you’ll need witches, whom we glimpse in the preview.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 05 – Sun of the Harpy

With Somali fully recovered, she and Golem bid farewell to their kind shurigara hosts and continue their journey. Upon arriving in Winecup Village, dramatically nested in the caldera of an extinct volcano, they meet a very similar pair of travelers: the harpy Uzoi and her guardian Haitora.

Like Golem, Haitora is dying, but he’s a human in disguise like Somali. Uzoi is not only aware Haitora is dying, but the purpose of their journey is to seek a cure for his illness. Finally, someone has finally sniffed out Somali: Due to her heightened harpy senses, Uzoi can tell from Somali’s smell she’s no minotaur.

After a brief clash over last serving of sweet corn ice cream, Uzoi enthusiastically offers free passage through the desert on their wagon if Golem and Somali assist with loading their baggage. They take her up on her offer, but later that evening, Uzoi reveals her ulterior motive to Haitora.

This is the first important scene in painting Uzoi as more than a malicious villain. The clock is ticking on the one and seemingly only other person in her life, for whom she clearly harbors deep affection. She’s run out of time and options, and may never come across another human again.

While she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save Haitora, it’s clear throughout their ensuing desert journey that Uzoi is conflicted and not at all happy about what she believes must be done. She and Somali quickly form a sororal bond, that between an older and younger sister.

All the while, both Uzoi and Haitora shift in their seats, knowing they’re on the cusp of doing something terrible to good people for selfish reasons. Hayami Saori’s kind, soothing, gentle voice is the perfect choice for the conflicted Uzoi. Whenever Haitora tries to dissuade Uzoi from carrying out her plan, he suffers a coughing fit, underscoring the urgency of their plight.

When the four seek shelter in a cave full of flowing crystals and light-bearing torchbugs, Uzoi makes her move, going off with Somali to fetch water, pouncing on her, and spreading her wings to reveal her full harpy form. She feels bad about killing Somali so her blood can save Haitora, but she’s still going to do it.

That is, unless Golem can stop her in time. Haitora finally speaks up to Golem about his human status, and begs him to help him stop the misguided Uzoi. Haitora wants no part of making someone so young suffer and die so he can live a little longer. Like Golem, he’s struggling to prepare Uzoi for a life without him, which to both her and Somali must seem as unthinkable as living without the sun.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 04 – Despair, Deferred

In what seems to be a recurring practice of presenting then defusing potential threats to Somali, the wolfman turns out to be good people. He is Muthrica, one of the force that patrols the vast underground, and whom Kikila calls “shishou.” 

As we’ve seen, the underground is no place for children, but that hasn’t stopped Kikila from making regular trips and getting caught roughly half the time by Muthrica.

Despite his gruff appearance and manner, Muthrica can sense how desperate Somali is to have a wish granted, so he guides her and Kiki to a tree where she’ll be able to harvest a bloom that will survive the trip back to the surface. In the process, a giant “tsuchilizard” confronts her.

Kiki protects her with his body, but when Somali explains her reason for needing the flower—so she can continue being with her dad—the lizard, being a parent of two offspring itself, understands, and trudges off.

They make it all the way back to the restaurant with the flower intact, but as it is after dark, Golem has nothing for Somali but scolding. Somali drops the flower on the ground and runs off to her room in tears.

Later, both Muthrica and Kokilia gently admonish the Golem for being so strict and inflexible, rather than hearing the reason Somali didn’t follow his orders to the letter. It’s good to hear them both saying what I was thinking last week—he just needs to learn to lay off sometimes!

Then, Kikila finds Somali has collapsed from a fever. In as much of a panic as a Golem can be, Golem spends all of his amassed pay on a rare medicine that “works on all clans”, unwilling to betray her true species to the apothecary.

He and Kikila then stay with her as she slowly recovers, and Kokilia gives him some advice as a parent to know when you’ve instilled too much fear, when to take your child in your arms and apologize, and to make sure they know they’re loved and wanted.

When Somali awakes in slightly better shape, Golem, who regrets pushing her so hard to exhaustion then piling emotional distress on top of that, and does indeed apologize. He also does something he may not have done even a few days ago, before he received advice from other parents: he makes a promise to Somali to be with her forever.

As a Golem entering his final days, keeping such a promise may well be impossible. But Golem understands that now is not the time to say that to her. Somali’s emotional health must be looked after in the here and now, and that means postponing hard truths.

In the scenario that Golem does die, hopefully Somali will keep living, growing, and learning about mortality, both her dad’s and her own. What seemed like broken promise at the time may prove not to be, as long as the memory of him remains in her heart.

Or heck, maybe the superstition proves to be true, and Golem’s life is extended. In any case, postponing her despair even a little bit longer is worth everything.

P.S. Yoshimata Ryou’s epic fantasy score is on point, particularly when Somali locates the tree from which she plucks her flower. It called to mind the theme to the Sacred City of Aquios in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time—Not a bad track to be reminded of!

Val x Love – 02 – A Pat on the Head, a Peck on the Cheek

This week it’s the turn of Odin’s fifth daughter, the Student Council President Saotome Itsuya AKA Schwertleite. A raven-haired maiden beloved at school for her peerless looks and elegant ladylike aura, Itsuya has somewhat less ladylike plans for Takuma after witnessing what she deemed was a pretty chaste exchange between him and her sister Natsuki.

In her head, she’s not that interested in Takuma at all. He’s just a means to an end: if he can awaken her powers and she can save the world, she’ll get a pat on the head from Odin. It’s a simple, childish wish that she keeps entirely to herself, until a frosti shows up ahead of schedule and she suddenly has to level up with Takuma in a hurry.

The thing is, her full-speed-ahead approach doesn’t work on the nervous, petrified Takuma, and once she starts to undress and moves in on him, she suddenly loses her nerve as well, as she can no longer reconcile her mature outward manner with her inner innocence.

Seeing her freeze up in fear causes Takuma to remember what his mom did to calm him down—a good old head pat—so he gives one to Itsuya and it manages to do the trick. The extent of their hanky-panky is that head-pat and a kiss on the cheek just like Natsuki’s, but it’s enough.

With Natsuki just barely holding on against the monster (even getting all bondaged-up and getting her outfit torn), Itsuya swoops in with her chain of white crosses, enveloping the frosti so Natsuki can finish it off with a giant sword. Mission complete, and now two of Odin’s daughters have leveled up. Seven to go.

We also learn that Itsuya’s treasurer in the StuCo is actually Garm, named for Garmr, a helldog/wolf whose howling heralds the coming of Ragnarök. He’s listed as a “watchdog” and sports a level three times higher than Natsuki’s. If he starts something, head pats and cheek pecks may not be enough to beat him.

Val x Love – 01 (First Impressions) – Love is the Source

This is the story of Akutsu Takuma, who is huge and scary-looking and thus is always likened to an akuma or demon and ostracized. In reality, Takuma is just as scared of people as they are of him, and prefers to live and study alone.

And yet, after a discussion among class boys about the school’s three most beautiful girls, Takuma comes home to find not just those three beautiful girls (in the middle of undressing no less) but five other women of various ages, all of whom have the same last name Saotome which isn’t his. He doesn’t like this situation, but it’s been this way for some time.

Val x Love makes an interesting choice to ease us into its supernatural elements by first presenting everything mundanely, and offering only hints as to what the Saotome sisters really are, why they alone don’t fear him, and why Takuma has allowed them to take over the house he inherited from his departed parents.

What is prevalent throughout the episode are references to a spate of recent “suspicious attacks” that many attribute to akuma; but until one actually appears, one could imagine people were only being superstitious (if you didn’t watch the OP, that is). In reality the attacks are being caused by summoned demons, one of which Takuma encounters when he’s out shopping with the second-youngest sister Natsuki, on the orders of the second-oldest, Ichika.

The other sisters gather on the roof to watch the result. Turns out the nine of them are Valkyries of Valhalla, brought to Midgard by Odin to save humanity. Because “love is the source of a maiden’s power”, the more they are loved, the stronger they are. Natsuki was chosen by the others to level up first, and after Takuma is wounded saving her from falling debris (not the first time that’s happened), she disrobes, has him massage her breasts, and kisses him.

In a massive flash of heavenly flame, the giant akuma is utterly eliminated, and for a few moments we see Natsuki in her Valkyrie form as Siegrune, The Blade, before passing out in Takuma’s arms. This makes Takuma Einherjar (named after those who died in battle and go to Valhalla), here the lover of the nine Valkyries appointed by Odin to raise their levels.

If that all sounds like a lot of poppycock, I’m here to tell you…it’s not the worst? I was expecting more comedy from a show that had it among its genres, but it mostly arose from the fact such a large brute as Akuma is so intimidated by everyone, and yet has what in his case is a case of very-unlucky lechery. The akuma designs are marginally striking, while the action was brief but convincing. High marks also go to Technoboys Pulcraft Green-Fund, who composed all of the music.

For those who see the Valkyrie angle as just another excuse for a lame harem, consider that Takuma’s strong reluctance to have in one feels more genuine than most harem MCs. His introverted personality and public perception that constantly feed his self-loathing make him a sympathetic lead. As he is the source of love that powers the Valkyries, they too could fuel a transformation in him from someone who only hopes to become a quiet, respectable person to something far greater.

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?

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.