Vinland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – Hard Times in a Hard Land

Fresh off the heels of Attack on Titan’s third season, Wit Studio brings us something just as harsh and bleak and serious, but with its roots in real history; specifically, Vikings. We’re immediately thrust into a melee aboard a longship in the middle of a huge naval battle, as the stoic warrior Thors is rudely awakened from a pleasant daydream of greener pastures and his wife Helga by an attacking foe.

Thors easily defeats his opponent, then carves through dozens more in a very businesslike fasion before anyone lays a finger on him—or in this case, an arrow to his shoulder. Still, he pulls a warrior into the freezing sea with him to even the odds, kills him, and eventually comes ashore, none the worse for wear. The battle is an impressive display of mixed 2D and 3D animation, particularly the sudden storm of hail.

Fifteen years later, in the harsh colds of Iceland, Thors lives with his wife Helga, his daughter Ylva, and his young son Thorfinn, who longs to go on adventures like another village member, the gregarious Leif Erikson (who discovered North America, which he called Vinland, half a millennium before Columbus).

Donning a headpiece and smoking a pipe from the natives he met, Erikson evokes both awe and skepticism from the kids, but Thorfinn is mostly among the former. He doesn’t like Iceland, and would rather be anywhere. I can’t blame him; while an achingly gorgeous land, surviving there is a constant battle, and the spirit of a warrior like his dad Thors is paramount in such an exercise.

As Thors talks with Leif long into the night about the worsening winters in Greenland and Iceland, and how his family’s battles are only going to get tougher, Thorfinn dreams of captaining a grand longship on a westward journey.

Unfortunately they run into the legendary Jormungand, who proceeds to squeeze Thorfinn until he awakes. Turns out Jormungand was Ylva, sharing his warm bed (a “hot” commodity in such a cold land). Vinland Saga wastes no time showing that while life is hard, this family has endured by sticking together.

Ylva, it seems, would still prefer if they bought a slave, since her mother has grown weaker, something to which her dad seems morally opposed. But when she falls off the roof they’re clearing of snow (a scary moment), she lands on something strange, and after some digging, she finds a runaway slave.

Meanwhile, Thorfinn, probably not doing his fair share of chores considering he’s just hanging around Leif, wants to start adventuring at once, not waiting until he grows into a man. Leif warns him of the dangers of the sea, particularly so far north, and how he was once the only survivor out of a crew of seven whose ship was crushed by ice floes.

When Thorfinn asks why they all live in such a hard place, Leif doesn’t sugarcoat it: their forbears once lived in Norway, but when a king rose there and demanded the people choose fealty or exile, they left. Thorfinn is angered and doesn’t believe Leif, seeing this fleeing of his ancestors as cowardly.

The slave gains consciousness after Thors warms him by the fire gives him a kind of primitive CPR, and is awake long enough to tell him he doesn’t want to go back to Halfdan’s household. We soon learn why when Halfdan suddenly shows up at the village, causing a standoff. Still, the chain-obsessed Halfdan is looking for a slave, not a fight, so even when one of his own men tries to attack a villager, he flays the skin from his face himself. Talk about lawful evil…

Upon entering Thors’ house, he demands they return the slave to him. Thors offers to buy the slave instead, for more than Halfdan paid for him—over four times more, when the negotiations conclude. The whole time, Ylva can’t believe her dad is making such a deal, which isn’t a good one in any century.

Sure enough, the slave dies soon after the deal is struck, leaving Thors’ family short eight goats. But I know why Thors did it. The slave had already suffered enough, and Thors wasn’t going to be the one to return him to his earthly torments. Better to die peacefully, which is what he did. It was a bad deal, but it was the right thing to do.

That night, as the family watches the Northern Lights from a dramatic promontory (it really is a shockingly gorgeous land), presumably after burying the slave, Thorfinn asks his dad if Leif was telling the truth about their people running away. Thors quietly confirms that “that’s what they say.” To which Thorfinn asks, if one wanted to run away from here, where would they go?

The answer, it seems, will likely drive Thorfinn from this sleepy, cold, and often cruel village, no doubt after whoever is smirking in a longship attacks his village…at least that seems to be the likeliest sequence of events. Not being well-versed in Norse history (and never having read the manga), his journey will be new to me.

While a mostly quiet and understated beginning, Vinland Saga built a strong foundation for the coming twenty-three episodes (the following two of which I will review soon) by showing us Thorfinn’s roots, and why his wanderlust is so strong. I can assure you if Leif Erickson regailed us with tales of his travels every night, I’d probably want to head out too.

Advertisements

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 18 – The Last Dominoes Left to Fall

With Hikari and Iroha in good shape, Hikari’s folks reconciled, and Ayado and Itou officially a couple, that leaves just one final pair of people left in the lurch: Ishino Arisa and Takanashi Mitsuya. Both are the purportedly “cool” people of their circle of friends (at least compared to the others), and yet here they are, standing around while the others pair off.

Takanashi can’t help but watch Ayado and Itou wistfully from afar. Ishino tries to hypnotize him, but when he rejects her in a roundabout then very direct fashion, she goes for sterner measures: slamming Takanashi against the wall; something the guy would normally do (though it’s not at all out of character for Ishino).

To Takanashi’s surprise, she gets serious; this push-and-pull of her expressing her interest in him and his constant shooting her down, combined with the two always seeming to end up in each other’s orbits…it’s wearing on her. She wants to know if and how she can ever get him to like her.

Takanashi deflects, and is then bailed out when two of Ayado’s classmates start mocking her new relationship, prompting Ishino to step in to scold them. When Ishino and one of the girls gets into it, Takanashi then has to break them up, despite just telling Ishino that her “meddling” is one of the reasons he doesn’t like her.

When Ayado and Itou thank the two from the bottom of their hearts (Itou was about to step to the girls when Ishino arrived; who knows how that would have gone), I’d like to think it shows Takanashi why Ishino “meddles”: it’s not random, it’s to help her friends, who appreciate her for doing it.

Later, when Ishino asks him what should he expect from a “girl with nothing better to do, who boys will never like,” he claims to have said no such thing, but he wants to cheer her up, so he takes her out for ramen again. Again, Ishino orders extra rice, which despite being something not usually done when on a date, she does because she feels comfortable with Takanashi, and their friendship is more than just physical attraction.

If that weren’t the case, Takanashi wouldn’t suggest what he does, which is to go on a real date. This plants the seed of my belief Takanashi hasn’t been super-honest with himself regarding Ishino. Then again, he’s a low-energy guy not particularly passionate about anything (not since middle school anyway) who seems to have a lot of time on his hands. Maybe he’s just being nice out of guilt for always rejecting Ishino yet still staying in proximity? I prefer the less cynical theory.

While on their date to the aquarium (during which Takanashi comes this close to blushing when Ishino takes his hand in hers), both we and Ishino learn in a hurry what his passion is: protecting his little sister. I didn’t know he wasn’t aware Hikari’s brother Kaoru was dating his sister Anzu, but now that he does, he reacts almost reflexively out of his misplaced contempt for Hikari. Trying to rip them apart is wrong anyway you look at it, there’s nothing untoward going on here. But when Ishino steps in to point that out, Takanashi accuses her of “meddling” in things that aren’t her business.

Ishino is proven right when Anzu, frightened of being separated from the boy she loves, grabs Kaoru and leaves Takanashi in the dust. When Ishino tells him to buzz off, you can tell he knows he was in the wrong; or at least taking things too far. While following an angry Ishino (they live in the same direction) he tells her he wants to make her feel better, and gives her a passionate hug.

Ishino isn’t buying it, and tears fill her eyes, not just because she’s convinced Takanashi thinks she’s an idiot, but because she thinks she is an idiot, having gone to so much trouble to make herself pretty for the date. He’s somewhat saved by the ring when his mom calls telling him Anzu said she’s running away from home with Kaoru.

Whatever Takanashi and Ishino are dealing with, that all goes on hold for both of them, as Ishino volunteers to help him look for them, no questions asked. She’s a friend Takanashi doesn’t deserve, at least not the way he’s treated her in return. Again, she’s not meddling for the sake of meddling, but because she cares about him, and his family. So he opens up more, explaining how with no dad in the house, he finds himself filling that role for Anzu.

I said nothing untoward was going on between Kaoru and Anzu, because despite acting very much like the kids they are, they’re also very good kids, and it isn’t long before they reconsider their rash decision to run away. Anzu is scared of never seeing Kaoru again, but Kaoru doesn’t want to do anything to hurt her brother or mom. So they’ll head home.

In a case of bad timing, that’s just when Takanashi and Ishino show up and pounce on the kids. Takanashi slaps Kaoru, who in return asks him to provide logical reasons why it’s wrong for him and Anzu to date, and why it matters that Hikari is his brother. Takanashi turns to Anzu, but Kaoru shields her and takes responsibility for keeping her out so late. This prompts Anzu to share in the responsibility. Takanashi realizes he was too harsh, and invites Kaoru to come over sometime to discuss things properly. See? These two kids will be fine.

After taking the kids home, Takanashi notices Ishino’s feet are probably in agony having to run so much in her heeled shoes. When she trips, he’s the one to take her hand, and she pushes through her joy over that fact by reminding herself she was mad at him, and decides they should part ways for today.

As she walks away, Takanashi suggests they go on another date, only this time he’ll ask her out. Again, is that future second date an apology for being a big dumb jerk, a thank-you for helping him find Anzu, or a sign that he’s starting to feel more comfortable seeing Ishino as something more than a friend? Gimme a little of all three, please…I’m just not sure, and that’s a testament to how well the show has handled Takanashi’s arc. He’s come a long way from macking on Iroha.

Domestic na Kanojo – 03 – The Scary Realm of Adults

Natsuo visits his best friend at the cafe where he works, and describes the incident with Hina and her boyfriend last night. His friend diagnoses Natsuo as jealous, and he can relate. He observes women stuck in non-ideal or flat-out bad relationships at the cafe all the time, and jokingly(?) wishes they’d just break up and date him. Like the young “office lady” who is in an affair with a married man. His friend later spots that woman outside, and to Natsuo’s shock, it’s Hina.

Not only is Hina doing something morally questionable by sleeping with someone else’s husband, but she’s doing something contrary to Natsuo’s perfect ideal of her up to that point. Like catching her crying on the rooftop and then watching her drink herself to sleep, it’s another crack in that facade.

When he confronts her at home, she kindly tells him to stay out of her business, as she dwells within the world of adults where kids like him shouldn’t set foot, and that’s basically that. Then Natsuo kisses her, she shoves him back, slaps him, then kisses him back.

Before Natsuo knows it, he’s being pushed onto the bed by Hina, but she stops when she sees his eyes, which she immediately detects as those of a child. He may have thought his stolen kiss was bold and cool, but she can sense his fear now that she’s responded to it.

With that, she gets off of him and shows him the door. It may have been harsh, but Hina is right that her business is her own, and she gave him fair warning not to stray into it. Also, Natsuo initiated with the kiss. That being said, she doesn’t feel good about having but Natsuo in his place. Indeed, she feels like shit/

The next day Natsuo’s father finds a note from him saying he’s gone to his friend’s house for a couple days. Pops and his wife quickly assume it’s a move protesting the marriage, but Rui knows better why Natsuo left, and Hina’s not great at hiding from Rui that she knows as well.

Natsuo moulders away in his friend’s room, not even moving for the entirety of a cafe shift. But as luck would have it, Natsuo is looking out the window when Rui walks past, clearly looking for someone. They meet eyes and he meets her downstairs, and his friend’s mom invites them in.

Rui isn’t copying Natsuo, she’s simply “boycotting” Hina’s affair, much like Natsuo, if for different reasons. One reason they share is that they both had a higher idea of who Hina is, and she’s letting them down with her adultery, and if she wants her little sister and stepbrother in her life, she’ll have to make a difficult choice.

After a strategy session with Natsuo’s friend , he and Rui return to a dark house where their folks are considering signing divorce papers. Such is the result of Natsuo and Rui not telling their folks what’s actually troubling them; they make the most obvious assumption based on the little they’ve been given.

Natsuo and Rui reassure their folks they don’t oppose the marriage, but don’t tell them why they ran away from home. They’re back now, and willing to endure one more awkward day with Hina until they set their plan into motion. We’ll see if the show leans more toward their side, even as it’s offered little hints that explain, if not entirely justify, Hina’s behavior.

She likes this guy, wants to be with him, and wants to make it legit by having him divorce. She feels things neither Rui nor Natsuo have ever felt, and thus dismisses their concerns out of hand in addition to looking down on them as simple kids. I wonder if some compromise or middle ground can be found.

Musings:

  • Natsuo’s pal puts the pieces together pretty fast that Hina’s affair is what triggered Rui into sleeping with Natsuo. Rui doesn’t really mind Natsuo telling his friend, as he doesn’t attend their school.
  • I like how we get a little snapshot of Natsuo’s friend’s family life. Everyone wears glasses there, his mom is really nice, and his sister is eager to see him with a girlfriend.
  • That said, Natsuo’s friend’s boss at the cafe was…uh…something.
  • Speaking of parents, Natsuo’s pops and Rui’s mom really are kind and generous people who’d put their happiness aside for their kids’ sake.
  • Who else thought Hina was going to take it further after ripping Natsuo’s shirt open? Yikesy…

Banana Fish – 07 – Lee Lee Land

Ah, Los Angeles, home to…Roadside CGI Booty? All right then! Ya know, Shorter, women aren’t objects to be catcalled from the back of a truck! But in Max’s case, women are the people who take care of your adorable son while you’re in prison or on an unpaid cross-country investigative journalism gig. But at least Jessica “Lobo” is handy with a rifle.

Max paying a visit to his son on his birthday ends up being a bush-league move in addition to a dawdle, as it only serves to let whoever is following/watching them know that Max has something to lose. When they arrive at the address they got in Cape Cod, they find a kidnapping in progress. Ash breaks it up with his nighttime marksmanship, and they end up rescuing a very pretty young man: apparently the adopted son of Abe Dawson, who was apparently kidnapped six months ago.

Ash spends an inordinate time at a computer hacking into Abe’s files, which does not make for particularly thrilling action. After dicking around on Windows XP, Ash discovers that Banana Fish is not a “who”, but a “what”; an experimental psychotropic drug that may have been developed by the military.

Meanwhile, in L.A.’s Chinatown, Shorter is ambushed and forced to spy on Ash for the Lee clan, lest they kill his sister. Realizing how big this shit has gotten, Ash decides to play the bad guy and insist Eiji get the hell back to Japan.

Shorter voices his disillusionment with the Lee clan, who he once looked up to despite all the bad stuff he heard, which turned out to be true. The pretty raven-haired kid, who turns out to be the seventh son of the Lee clan, almost seems ashamed after Shorter’s rant.

Even so, some goons from either Golzine or Lee show up to Max’s ex-wife and son’s house, so they’re either dead or hostages. Whatever Ash intends to do—and I’m not sure exactly what that is, beyond “confront Dino again”—he’d better to it quick before his enemies are out of loved ones to kill!

Banana Fish – 06 – All the Good Ones Die First

Ash, Eiji, Shorter, Max and Ibe head north to Ash’s birthplace at Cape Cod, far from the blood and chaos of NYC. The scenery is gorgeous and the air is clean, but the family dynamics have a few warts.

Ash and Griff had different mothers; Ash’s mother forced Griff’s mother out, but then left their Dad. Ash’s Dad welcomes him by calling him a “whore” about six times in two minutes of contact. Ash doesn’t care; he just wants the keys to their now-abandoned birthplace.

It’s a sad, lonely little house. His Dad’s kindly companion Jennifer assures him he’s actually happy to see him; I have no reason to doubt her. She lives with the guy, plus it’s always hard for Dads to express their true feelings, and often cover them up with a bunch of machismo and faux loathing.

At the house they find the clue that indicates that their next destination in discovering the truth of Banana Fish will be Los Angeles, but the truck needs to be fixed before they can set off. Ash and Eiji share a sunset, but Ash tells him there’s nothing there, and he has no feelings for it.

Ash gives Eiji a shooting lesson the next morning, while Ibe talks with Max about how he wants to help Eiji after he lost ability to pole vault competitively. When Max tells Ash’s Dad that he was in Iraq with Griff, he loosens up a little, has a drink with Max, Eiji, Ibe and Shorter.

He tells them how Ash was raped when he was 7 by a coach. It went on for some time but eventually Ash killed him, and the coach was exposed as a serial rapist and murderer. Considering what a cruel and violent childhood Ash endured, it’s no surprise he’s gone on to live a cruel and violent life.

Not only that, but people close to him tend to get caught up in it. Case in point, Golzine’s goons catch up to him and take his Dad and Jen hostage. IN the ensuing fracas Jen gets shot dead and Ash’s Dad takes a bullet in the chest. So yeah, Ash’s record with hostage situations clearly sucks ass.

No matter, when the chips were down  his Pops came through for his son, stalling the authorities so Ash & Co. can escape and get on with their mission. But while Golzine has nobody out west, he forges a quick alliance with Mr. Lee, who does have men in L.A.’s Chinatown. One wonders who among the five-man group will kick the bucket there.

Banana Fish – 05 – No More Quitting

Ash is on his best behavior when interacting with Max’s lawyer, who manages to score a conditional release for the kid, checking off one of the items on my wish list for this week: Get Ash Outta Jail. Max, thanks to his time inside with Ash, isn’t fooled, but Charlie and Ibe are when, after telling him Griff was killed, he breaks free of their custody. Though that’s only possible when Eiji decides to commandeer the car. Ash wants to take care of everything by himself, but between Eiji and Shorter, he’s destined to be disappointed.

Having to quit pole vaulting has never sat well with Eiji, and now that he’s involved (feeling responsible for getting Griff killed since he was followed), he’s done quitting. Shorter too doesn’t trust Ash to do anything on his own but get himself killed. Thankfully, he listens to reason, and the trio are harbored by the “banker” Mr. Lee, who is cool with anyone trying to bring Dino down. Ash knows where Dino will be…but so does Max, and he tells Ibe.

Everyone converges at “Club Cod”, a restaurant front for a dastardly child sex trafficking operation that once included Ash himself and still ensnares bigwigs the nation over, who end up in Dino’s pocket (for the record, the Mafia aren’t that powerful in America anymore…though they certainly once were!). Unsurprisingly, things go pear-shaped: Dino takes a bullet, but it’s not fatal, and Ash and Shorter get shot too (though also not fatal).

Max and Ibe arrive in the middle of the fracas, and decide the best move is for all the good guys to take a swim in the river, which, East or Hudson, ain’t a pleasant experience. But it’s certainly better than getting killed, which no one important to Ash is, notably. Max knocks Ash out and takes him to his hideout where he fixes Shorter’s wound and plots the next move: heading to Cape Cod, where Ash and Griff grew up, hoping to find more clues in the Banana Fish investigation.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 09 – She Loves Me as I am; I Hurt Her as I am

Hikari manages to find Iroha, but their communication impasse continues unabated. Iroha knows she shouldn’t get so mad whenever he’s kind to others, but doesn’t quite know how. Hikari doesn’t know much of anything, just that something’s wrong and he wants someone—Iroha, Ishino, Takahashi—to give him all the answers.

Itou’s doomed pursuit of Ayado has him accompanying her into town for a post-fever hospital visit, but what with her talk of needing to confess to Hikari, he never gets what he deems a decent chance to tell her of his own feelings for her.

While on the train home (alone), Hikari dreams of Julia, the only other girl who ever interacted with him on a regular basis, in elementary school. She liked how he was good at drawing, but he didn’t know how else to get approval from others, so he kept drawing, even after everyone else, Julia included, moved on.

He repeats his assertion it’s a miracle someone like Iroha likes him, but decides a grand gesture like confessing his feelings for her might get things back on track. To his dismay, Iroha doesn’t want to talk, but Hikari only makes things worse by answering a text from Ayado when his attention should be on Iroha first and foremost.

I don’t care how indiscriminately kind you are; the person standing in front of you is almost always more important than a text or phone call. Hikari blows it, then gets completely blindsided by Ayado’s confession. So much so he runs away, engendering the scorn of Itou, who tells him he’s “the worst” for responding to Ayado’s courage with such cowardice.

Hikari surely looks like he’d like to go back to not having any friends at all, but it’s too late for that. He may not be on the best terms with some of them, but they’re still his friends. He may be on rough seas with Iroha, but they’re still boyfriend and girlfriend.

Ishino and Takanashi serve as sounding boards for Hikari and Iroha, and both find themselves giving out serious advice in spite of themselves. Like it or not, these two have become good friends with this dysfunctional couple, and so they’ll lend a hand whenever they can, because beneath Ishino’s rough and Takanashi’s douchey exteriors, they’re both good people.

Takanashi tells Iroha the only way to figure things out is to keep seeing Hikari and talking with him. Hikari, meanwhile, gets punched by Ishino…but at his request, leading him to properly respond to Ayado’s confession.

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.

AICO – 03 – After a Rescue, The Real Journey Commences

Aiko and Yuya have been captured by CAAC (Control Agency of Artificial Creatures), led by Director Nanbara, your obligatory Badass Director Lady giving orders in the back of a fancy car. She’s in frequent contact with Dr. Isazu, director of the Kiryu Hospital and once the doctor in charge of Aiko’s care. Clearly lots of people are interested in Aiko.

Thanks to a clever tracking strip in his paper airplane (activated when he goads a guy into crushing it), the Divers get a fix on Yuya’s location before the government takes harsher steps to interrogate him and fill Aiko’s head with lies (they insist her family is dead).

The Divers ambush the captors when they try to move their prisoners, in a decent action scene that demonstrates the Divers’ coordination and toughness, even in non-diving situations. That they were able to so easily infiltrate CAAC and retrieve their assets speaks both to their exceptional skills and CAAC not expecting an ambush.

With Aiko and Yuya back, the mission proceeds as planned—even as there’s a sudden flare-up of the Malignant Matter behind the Gate, spurring an increased military presence, which launches tranquilizer missiles over the gate that manage to calm the Matter down.

While preparing for zero hour, Aiko nods off and her dreams include the POV memories the other Aiko—her real body with an artificial brain. She and her double are connected. Not only that, the Matter is attracted to her artificial body; but Yuya hopes a certain drug will diminish that particular effect.

Aiko has decided to side with those who cultivate and embrace her belief her family is still in there, alive (the other Aiko seems to have encountered them, after all). We’ll see if she’s put her trust in the right people. The Divers are pros who will carry out their mission to the best of their abilities, but they also seem to have taken to Aiko and want to help her out, in addition to, well, trying to save Japan and the world.

Once she and the other Divers are suited up in their “Live Suits” (a process that reveals a lot of her and the Divers’ skin), they head to the Gate. Just minutes after they’re allowed through, however, the Gate is locked down by the government. There’s no turning back; if they’re going to do this, it’s now or never.

AICO – 02 – Getting Up to Speed, Running Away, Getting Nabbed

Aiko’s new “friends” dump a lot of info on her in an episode that gets us up to speed, introduces some other players, and sets the stakes, which are far-ranging. To sum it up, Aiko’s natural body was all but destroyed in a car accident, so researchers decided to put her brain in an artificial body they made when she was born.

However, the surgery that allows her to be standing there today caused the Burst: an overpowered proliferation of “malignant matter” that threatens Japan and the world. She’s also apparently the key to stopping it. Oh, and her mom and brother are still in ground zero.

It’s obviously a lot to absorb for poor Aiko, whose world has just been flipped upside down. She’s a lot like Neo during his sprawling introduction to the Real World, though she doesn’t throw up, she RUNS…nowhere in particular, just away from all this scary shit.

While running, she ends up falling through a roof, right into the lunch a redheaded Diver named Misawa Kaede is about to tuck into. Kaede’s colleague Kazuki assists Aiko when he learns she just wants to get away, but Kaede and the others corner her and bring her back to Kanzaki, Dr. Korose & Co.

Kurose decides to hire the 4-person Diver team to infiltrate Ground Zero in order to retrieve Aiko’s real body. Kanzaki will be their guide, they’ll be paid handsomely even if survival can’t be guaranteed, and whatever 2-person team from the quartet fares better by a certain leg in the mission, will get a bonus and be the ones to accompany Kanzaki to the final leg.

Now that the situation and the plan for dealing with it have been established, it looks like it’s time to impliment it, but the team hits a snag: a SWAT team busts into the hideout and snatches up Aiko and Yuya.

In two episodes, Aiko has been plucked from school by one party, given an infodump, freaked out and run away, picked up again, and then kidnapped by another party. I’m not seeing a whole lot of agency for the titular character, nor are there any indications she’ll be gaining any of it anytime soon.

That could be problematic going forward, as we’re dealing with a Netflix “Original”-style series that has been intricately formulated to check a lot of boxes and satisfy multiple audiences, but in doing so lacks any kind of basic originality.

AICO is (and will probably remain) watchable because’s it’s well-made competently executed, and isn’t gratingly gratuitous (likeDevilman Crybaby). But I like to think I’ve watched enough anime to make the determination that there’s no potential for AICO to be anything other than popcorn entertainment.

Darling in the FranXX – 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever comes next, a solid foundation has been laid.

Darling in the FranXX – 05

Now that Hiro has shown he and Zero Two can make a difference in Strelizia, everything is just peachy on the Plantation, right? They can relax, celebrate their victory as Plantation 26 hooks up with theirs, and look forward to Hiro leading the way in the next Klaxosaur battle. Hiro and Zorome even bury the hatchet.

Well, not so fast. Hiro’s body is boiling. Gorou is concerned, but Hiro says he’s never felt better. On one level that might be true—he made a difference and has a chance to keep contributing—but on the basic physical level, he has to be suffering. And this is after two times in the cockpit with Two. “The next time is the third”, Nana ominously says. No stamen has ever made it to a fourth.

FranXX proves it can deliver an engaging episode without any flashy battles between the enemy and its titular sexy mecha. That’s because both the main players and the supporting roles are all very well-executed, if archetypal.

Ichigo in particular turns in a wonderfully-layered performance, due in no small part to the talents of newcomer seiyu and Hana-Kana sound-alike Ichinose Kana, as the squad leader watches her beloved Hiro snatched away from her by the haughty Zero Two.

Ichigo takes this in stride—she isn’t even the person she was a few episodes back, but just because she’s better able to prioritize her personal feelings with her duties (and asking that Gorou do the same) doesn’t mean those feelings aren’t there, seething beneath her cool surface.

Ichigo makes it plain to Zero Two that she won’t tolerate rule-breaking or offer special treatment, and takes Two’s “bossy” comment as a compliment. Meanwhile, Hiro continues to writhe in a pain he is hiding from everyone, and spots a spider on the bathroom light about to kill a moth; a not-so-subtle symbol of his current situation.

When Squad 13 meets Squad 26, we learn just how different and unusual our squad is, with its unique FranXX and nicknames for their parasites. 26 is All Business, but aren’t so cold they’ll crush Zorome’s dreams by telling him no children ever become adults in this business.

Parasites purpose is to fight until they die or can’t fight anymore; growing up and procreating, it would seem, is for other people. They’re not fighting for their future, but for a future for mankind they’ll never see. Hiro seems to understand this more than anyone, as he’s willing to keep partnering with Two even as a bizarre and intensely painful blue growth spreads across his chest.


Gorou eventually discovers Hiro’s secret, but Hiro makes him keep it a secret, out of deference to their friendship and because Gorou doesn’t want to be the one to deliver the news that will ground Hiro and rob him of his chance to make a difference.

There’s also the fact that Strelizia is a big part of Hachi and Nana’s battle plan for the impending surge of Klaxosaurs descending upon the kissing Plantations, and they cannot guarantee the success of the mission (i.e., their survival) if Hiro and Zero don’t sortie.

When Squad 26’s leader hears that Strelizia will join the battle, he shows the most emotion he has up to that point, condemning Two for not caring about her allies and blaming her for the death of his former partner.

Two isn’t apologetic; she doesn’t even recall the battle that changed this guy’s life, and says “weaklings die”. But when he draws closer in anger Hiro blocks him, assuring him he’ll keep Two under control.

That night, Ichigo goes off with Two to warn her not to push Hiro too far. This is beyond jealousy; Ichigo doesn’t want to lose Hiro, no matter what, but Two cannot guarantee anything. Things turn nasty when Ichigo accuses her of wanting to “suck Hiro dry” and discard him.

Two states that if he dies its because he didn’t have anything going for him, she slaps her and calls her inhuman. Two, with her headband knocked off her horns, glares at Ichigo with glowing red eyes and asks what Ichigo and the others even think “human” is.

Gorou, who couldn’t sleep (Hiro groaning in pain in the opposite bunk), observed Ichigo and Two’s exchange, and Ichigo bursts into tears, lamenting how much of a mess her mind is, and not wanting to feel the way she does. Faced with his partner getting so upset about another guy, Gorou seems to feel something similarly undesirable.

Ichigo and Gorou would seem to be in the worst possible emotional state prior to the biggest and most hazardous battle of their lives (it might claim a parasite or two from Squad 13 before it’s over), but Hiro and Zero Two are an island of tranquility, standing by the pond where they met.

Two knows about the growth and the pain Hiro is enduring, and gives him one last chance to back out from darlinghood. Hiro immediately and firmly declines. He said he’d fly with her. It’s what he wants. And he’ll do it as long as he’s able and allowed (or even if he’s disallowed, as he was last week). He knows the wings he’s been given may snap any day, but his place is in the sky.