DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 21

A lot of stories don’t commit to their themes, in my opinion. They’ll mention them from time to time, do some tapdancing around them, but then hold them at arm’s length when it’s convenient; when the theme calls for a gesture too big, too bold, for them to convincingly sell to the audience. DARLING in the FRANXX committed, has always been committed really, and I love it for that.

Let’s go through this in some detail, since that seemed to work pretty well last time. VIRM assimilates the last of the human APE members, and an indeterminate number of other humans, into their collective. The way they define their way of life is intriguing: “There is a form of pleasure that is gentle and perpetual.” Gentle and perpetual…so pretty much the opposite of an orgasm, then? As the ultimate enemy on a show all about sex, VIRM is thoroughly anti-conception; it even pulls life in, instead of pushing it out.

Left with no other options, Hiro uses Strelizia to bond with the Klaxosaur Princess and sees inside her mind; in theory, this should probably drive him insane, but I like this episode so much I’m not going to make an issue out of it. Somehow, he processes the eons of time that the princess spent alone, before humans were there. It’s pretty similar to what his own life was like before he met Zero Two, only much, much longer.

Our kiddos in Squad 13 are smart enough to realize that the battle between the Klaxosaurs and VIRM is no longer about them, and there’s no point in wasting their energy fighting either of them. This is why Werner Franxx raised them this way, allowed them to value their own lives; so when this day came, when it was no longer clear why they were fighting, they’d ask the right questions. Okay, it’s mainly Ichigo who catches on fast here, but the other kids don’t take much convincing to see things her way. I bet all those people who said mean things about Ichigo and her voice actress earlier in the series feel really stupid now, as they should.

It’s kind of funny how the Klaxosaurs basically ignore the Franxx at this point. Everybody’s got better things to do.

Kokoro says that no matter who the enemy is, all she can do is fight. Amidst all the craziness of this episode, there’s a great little moment where Mitsuru seems to know what she’s saying is ironic somehow, but doesn’t know why. He doesn’t remember, but he viscerally knows that there’s something else that she can do.

Dr. Franxx helpfully informs us why the world hasn’t already ended: the self-destruct program was meant to work on Strelizia in Stampede Mode (what happens when a pistil, usually Zero Two in the past, operates a Franxx by themselves), but now that Hiro’s there, Strelizia is still in “normal” mode, whatever that is. Union is currently saving the world; if the princess hadn’t taken Hiro with her more or less on a whim, the planet would be gone already.

Zero Two reaches the area where Franxx and Hachi are monitoring the situation, and promptly faints. Well, it looked like she lost about 50 gallons of blood on the way there, so I guess it’s be expected. When she regains consciousness, she asks Dr. Franxx why the princess called her a “fake,” and here’s where I start to get a little confused. Because I was 99% sure, based on what we’ve seen so far, that Franxx made Zero Two by combining the princess’ DNA with his own, making her their daughter. However, here Franxx says that Zero Two is just “a clone” of the princess, with no mention of his own genes playing any role. He could just be being vague, but considering that Franxx has pretty much been telling the truth about everything lately, it seems odd that he would lie to her now.

I like the idea of Zero Two being a child of Franxx and the Princess a lot more than her being a clone; it works better with the themes of the series, and it also helps explain why Zero Two doesn’t look all that much like the princess. However, I suppose the specific way Franxx created her is really a minor detail at this point.

The Princess gives us a little more background on how the Klaxo Sapiens evolved to fight VIRM, with one curious detail. Last time, she said that the male Klaxo Sapiens evolved into magma, and the females evolved into weapons. This time, she says that the “weak” evolved into magma and the strong became weapons. An inconsistency, or insight into the Klaxo Sapien worldview? If they were a matriarchal society, they might consider men to be “the weak.”

The Nines turn out to be clones of 02, which is maybe another clue that when the doctor says “clone,” he doesn’t mean creating a literal copy. The Nines all have different appearances and don’t look like Zero Two much, so I think his version of cloning may involve mixing in whatever DNA he has on hand just for the hell of it. Speaking of the Nines, they’re busy fighting the last war; they were raised to fight the Klaxosaurs, and that’s what they’re going to do, even if it no longer makes any sense, because they weren’t raised to think.

There’s a gruesome moment where one of the Nines’ mechs is brutally ripped about by VIRM drones, killing her. This is one of those times that the show is again referencing something from the past, because the scene is very reminiscent of what happens to Asuka and her mech (also called Zero Two, come to think of it) in The End of Evangelion. What’s interesting is, making that connection to Evangelion kind of put up a barrier between me and what was being shown. When it started happening, I thought “Oh, this is an obvious homage to that one scene in EOE,” so I wasn’t thinking about the person being ripped to shreds inside the mech.

Hmm…where have I seen this before…it’ll come to me, I’m sure. Something about people turning into Tang?

I wonder; people have been talking about this show’s frequent homages to Eva and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and some have concluded that Darling is a ripoff because of that. I wonder if the purpose of these homages the whole time was to create the kind of distance I experienced above. Not to save my delicate sensibilities from violence and gore (although I appreciate it), but to call our attention to the fact that we’re actually watching a play.

This may seem like a strange connection to make, but please stay with me here for a moment: it’s like watching the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2010 film version of Hamlet, with David Tennant as the lead. You’re not really paying that much attention to the story, because it’s freakin’ Hamlet; if you care enough to watch an RSC production in the first place, you likely know the story backwards and forwards already. What you really pay attention to is what’s been changed; the modern clothes, the way technology is utilized, the way Tennant is playing the most batshit insane Hamlet you’ve ever seen, and it might be over the top, but it might also be closer to Shakespeare’s actual intent with the character.

We know the beats in these mecha stories: Eva and it’s legion of copies taught us, Gurren Lagann further refined the formula. This is the latest iteration of that same kind of story and we’re not supposed to be watching expecting a brand new play. We’re supposed to be paying attention to what’s changed; What’s different now from 20 years ago in Eva? What’s different now from 10 years ago in Gurren Lagann?

Anyway, Zero Two could give a rat’s ass about the finer points of the situation, because she’s loaded up on fluids now and ready to go rescue her Darling. Since cementing her bond with Hiro, she seems to have reached this evolved state where she knows exactly what’s worth caring about and what isn’t; perhaps it’s the clarity one can achieve before death. She’s so fearless and beautiful here, and you kind of wish everyone in the world had their own Zero Two to come rescue them when things got bad; then again, if everyone had their own Zero Two, things wouldn’t get bad in the first place.

Surprisingly, Dr. Franxx decides to go with 02 to save Hiro, and Ichigo’s team shows up just in time to get them where they need to be. I’d say that was awfully convenient timing, but let’s face it; it’s not like Squad 13 had anywhere else to go at this point, so it’s pretty plausible that they’d show up around now. Dr. Franxx jostles, but does not break, the fourth wall, in an attempt to make us all like him at the last minute. It’s pretty damn effective.

Squad 13 has to deal with some VIRM vermin and physical obstacles on their way to Star Entity; it didn’t feel tedious at all while I was watching it, but going over it in detail feels unnecessary. Basically, Ikuno seemingly uses up her life force in one desperate move to clear Zero Two’s path, and Ichigo and Goro appear to die in the process of taking out the last invader. I wouldn’t count those two out just yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they actually were dead; I think this show has been signalling for a long time that the only two lives that really NEED to continue in this story are Mitsuru and Kokoro (and I’m not even sure about Mitsuru.)

Then we get a scene which seems ridiculous on the face of it, which is Hiro explaining to the Klaxosaur Princess the concepts of love and friendship. Yes Hiro, I’m sure this 60-million-plus year old being really needs to know what your 15-year-old self just learned in the past two months. I think it makes sense if you keep in mind that the Princess probably knew this, but between the Klaxo Sapiens warlike evolution and millennia of solitude, she’s forgotten. So Hiro’s not really telling her anything she doesn’t know; she’s being reminded of things she’s been afraid to remember.

Hringhorni, the giant spear made of Klaxosaurs by APE, is being stolen by VIRM; I know it’s a Checkov’s Gun situation and that thing is probably going to be very important in the last three episodes, but I kind of wish it would just fly off into space and we never see it again. Go to the moon, keep the Lance of Longinus company.

Franxx has some of the princess’ cells on his person, so he’s able to bypass the “Only Klaxosuar Princess Can Use This Door” rule at Star Entity. Those crazy scientists; give one of them a sexy look, next thing you know they’re running around with your DNA for decades and copying it all over the place. Franxx then all but confirms that he took Zero Two to Plantation 13 deliberately to reunite her with Hiro, which does a lot to redeem Zero Two and Hiro’s all-too-convenient backstory for me. It’s one thing if Zero Two and Hiro met as children and were lucky enough to stumble into each other again years later, quite different if the person in charge was deliberately manipulating events.

Franxx apologizes to Zero Two, expecting her to hate him. Instead she thanks him for creating her, and allowing her to meet her Darling. Franxx then muses that she’s become very human, which rings a bit ironic to me; how often does a human child say to their parent “Thank you for making me?” No kid does that. The giant Klaxosaur the princess was using as a ride takes Zero Two to the center of Star Entity, sacrificing itself in the process.

You have to wonder what this lady’s story is; just another tiny piece of the puzzle that we’ll never know.

Zero Two reaches the cockpit of Strelizia to find an either already dead, or nearly-dead Hiro, and reverts to her full-on Klaxosaur form. Having seen Zero Two in Hiro’s mind, the princess is now ready to accept her as a successor. Their horns join, another form of union, and whatever’s left of the princess merges with Zero Two; she kisses her Darling.

How does a kiss stop the self-destruct sequence? Because love changes you. When Zero Two and Hiro kissed, Strelizia shed it’s skin like a caterpillar and became something new. The self-destruct sequence no longer applied, because that was a condition placed on the old version of Strelizia, who’s been obliterated. I know this idea that love can change you may seem hard to believe if you haven’t experienced it, but it’s true; I can hardly recognize myself from ten years ago. Maybe it’s an awfully convenient way to stop a cataclysmic explosion, but if you don’t buy that a kiss can save the world, I don’t think you’ve been on board with the story Trigger’s been trying to tell all along. From the first moment, it’s all been about the two birds that can only fly together.

Hiro and Zero Two have a meeting of the minds, returning to the snowy glen where they bonded as children. Hiro says he missed her, and it’s like dude, you just saw her like three hours ago. But what can you do? That’s how young lovers are. Plus, Hiro has just experienced eternity via the Princess’ mind, so for him, I guess it really has been a long time.

I’m glad the two of them get this moment together, this moment of happiness and perfect understanding. It makes what’s about to happen more tolerable, though still painful.

Strelizia takes over Star Entity and becomes a super-mech, easily devastating the VIRM forces; VIRM manages to get away with Hringhorni, but give up on assimilating the rest of Earth’s technology after losing so many of their forces. I wonder though; haven’t they already been successful? It seems like they absorbed an awful lot of humans early in the episode. Are the only remaining humans the parasites? It’s not clear if the human population even exists anymore. In any case, VIRM has been defeated for the day, but they’re coming back. With their entire army.

And now humanity is screwed, because only Strelizia Apus can fight VIRM, and only Zero Two can operate Strelizia Apus, and Zero Two appears to be dead from the strain of everything that’s just happened. I’m torn here; part of me wants Zero Two to be alive, because I like the character a lot. But I also feel like her dying here is something that needs to happen; I’m going to feel kind of cheated if next episode reveals that she’s only in a coma or something. Remember, in the second OP, Zero Two disappears a few seconds before Hiro does; the writing’s been on the wall.

So…now what? Whoever’s left from Squad 13 is going to have to try to save the world from the return of VIRM, but what’s even left of the world at this point? Does Hiro even think a world without Zero Two is worth saving?

VIRM said they’re coming back, but they seem to think in terms of geological time, so they may not actually return for eons. Therefore we could get a timeskip, just like Gurren Lagann, and as illustrated above, I think it’s more likely to happen because it was already done in Gurren Lagann. Maybe in episode 22, it will be thousands of years later, and we’ll be seeing the world created by Kokoro and Mitsuru’s children; there are worse things. It’s hard to imagine staying in the present, because there’s nothing left here; only Hiro and his grief.

I think I’ll still be thinking about this episode for a long time. It feels like Studio Trigger finally did what they’ve been trying to do for years; they got close with Space Patrol Luluco, but there was a limit to what that show could do as a comedic short. This is the emotional resonance that mostly eluded Kiznaiver, that only worked intermittently in Kill La Kill. I feel almost proud of Trigger for pulling this off, but it’s not a uniformly positive feeling; part of me wants them to go back to making shows about school uniforms from space shredding each other, because this was exhausting. Just as VIRM was completely out of their depth with Zero Two, I don’t know if I can handle a fully-awakened Studio Trigger.

2 thoughts on “DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 21”

  1. I think it was the weak that became energy while both a man and a woman became the weapons. That was my understanding although maybe I simply auto-corrected what was actually an inconsistency that I didn’t take the time to think through. Maybe the translation was off? I’d need to go back and check to be sure.

    I expected Zero Two to die, but not right there. I’m not sure if anyone else actually died or if even she died. Surely the story must have one more twist and depending on what it is I might be willing to accept a happily ever after where they all survive. It would be hard to ruin this story at this point either way I think.

    The bit that got the waterworks going for me was Zero Two’s thank you to Franxx. Her death just kicked it back on.

    Trigger hasn’t done a good love story up until this point I think. Good drama? Sure, but this was something new for them. The mechs and the explosions are familiar, but this love story wasn’t in the material they remind us of. The reuse is more like actors given new roles than a retold story. That’s something a lot of anime do I think. Take Blast of Tempest for example. It’s clearly taking ideas from Shakespeare left and right, but it’s also clearly not one of his stories. Or for a closer example to NGE take Rahxephon. The story is dramatically different from NGE, but also gets tons of comparisons draw. No one claims that every movie Morgan Freeman stars in rips off every other movie he was in. This is something similar I think.

  2. I really need to see Rahxephon one of these days. I’ve been hearing the argument “It’s an NGE clone,” “No it’s not,” for 20 years now and could never participate, lol.

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