Tag Archives: mecha

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.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 20

Wow. There’s big episodes, there’s huge episodes, and then there’s whatever this ungodly nonsense was. So much happened in this 24 minutes that I felt overwhelmed the first time I watched it, and only puzzled out some of what was going on after watching it again the next day. I’m still unsure about a few things; whether that’s because I’m being a little dim right now, or because the events of this show do not entirely make sense at the moment, remains to be seen.

Before I get to this episode in excruciating detail, a point of clarification: I had been referring to Werner Franxx as “Papa” in these blog posts, but it’s become increasingly obvious that the term is meant to refer to APE in general. It was kind of ambiguous for a while, especially since Crunchyroll’s subs refer to Papa as a “he,” but now it’s pretty clear that APE=Papa. My apologies for any confusion, but to be fair, it was meant to be a mysterious term for a while.

Okay, now I’m going to go through this episode in more detail than I normally do, in part because it might help me figure out what the hell just happened. We open with the kiddos being briefed by the “new” Nana about an upcoming operation. I wonder if this means that the parasites and their handlers are seen as so disposable, they don’t even get exclusive code numbers. I mean, if Ichigo got killed in action, is there another 015 waiting in the wings? I guess it wouldn’t make much difference, it’s more wondering about the scale of the parasite operation. It’s actually sort of comforting that New Nana doesn’t appear to be a clone of Original Nana, which just goes to show how dark this world is.

Hiro and Zero Two are being briefed on their mission: to implant Strelizia into Star Entity, the great Klaxosaur weapon, and take control of it. Hiro asks if there’s a future for them after this operation, and the way the APE elder words it is interesting. He says that after the battle “the future will belong to humanity,” but that doesn’t really answer Hiro’s question; 02 isn’t human, and it’s debatable whether Hiro is anymore. The APE guys are liars and nothing they say should be trusted anyway, but if you want to get all rules-lawyer about it, saying that the future will be safe for humans is no guarantee of anything for our favorite couple.

Kokoro is throwing up on the regular now, so either she’s a)pregnant or b)ate a bad shrimp recently. I’m pretty sure shrimp is not part of the approved Parasite Diet, so I’m going to assume she’s pregnant. But does she know that she’s pregnant? APE erased her memories of Mitsuru (or at least, they tried to), but did they think to erase her memories of what she read in her version of What to Expect While You’re Expecting? The idea that she might be pregnant and not even know what pregnancy is anymore is pretty terrifying. Can you imagine when that baby starts kicking?

My gut feeling is that she knows; maybe the pregnancy hormones screwed with APE’s brainwashing, or something to that effect, but she’s a bit of a cypher in this episode, so we don’t know for sure yet. For the record, I expected her pregnancy to screw with her ability to pilot a FRANXX (since actually being pregnant kid of mucks up the “piloting is conception” metaphor), but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Our kiddos have an interaction with the Nines, who seem to have a vendetta against them now. Zero Two stands up for her squadmates for the first time. Notice when she says that her friends have “their eyes set on the future,” the camera shows Kokoro’s midsection, and she tenses; yeah, she totally knows. Other than that, the most noteworthy thing about this scene is one of the Nines sneering that Papa only lets Squad 13 get away with things because they’re “necessary tools.” Uh…duh? Does this person expect this to be news to anyone? What do the Nines think they are? You can tell that these kids have no playground experience, because that was an awfully weak insult.

Klaxosaur attack! I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief from the sakuga fans who’ve been bored to shit for the last four episodes. Further provoking doubt in the efficacy of APE’s memory-erasing technology, Mitsuru and Kokoro are nearly incapacitated by saying each other’s names out loud. Was Hiro the only person that memory-erasing headset ever properly worked on? No wonder APE loves him.

Speaking of Hiro, he and Zero Two are having a romantic heart-to-heart while they prepare for the mission. They’re smart enough to know that all hell is about to break loose, so their words have proper gravity here. It’s one thing to say “If we get separated, I’ll come find you,” as a general statement; quite another when you’re about 60% sure that’s going to be necessary, and probably in about half an hour.

This is when the Klaxosaur Princess decides to crash the party, and here’s where everything starts to get muddy as hell for me. She tells Doctor Franxx that she won’t let the humans do what they want with “our child;” at first, it seems like she means Zero Two, but she doesn’t; she’s referring to Star Entity, the weapon. By the end of this episode, we know that Franxx and the Klaxosaurs created Star Entity together (that’s the only explanation that makes any sense), so…how many layers of deceit have been going on here? Has Dr. Franxx been sneaking out of the Plantation on the back of a horse-shaped Klaxosaur to go work on Star Entity, only for APE not to notice for a while? Or did they know all along, and let him get away with it because they wanted to seize control of the final product? Or maybe Franxx KNOWS that they KNOW and they KNOW that he KNOWS and…*brain explodes*

Okay, obviously I’m not smart enough for this plot twist, so we’ll come back to that later.

Dr. Franxx helpfully informs us that the Princess is the last of the Klaxo sapiens, and…what? Why is she the only one? Shouldn’t there be at least a few more to serve as a kind of ruling class over the other Klaxosaurs? I get that she’s kind of like a queen bee, singular, but it’s not clear why the race would evolve like that.

Interestingly, the Princess doesn’t kill Dr. Franxx once again, even though she easily could; I think she has some regard for him as the “father” of their creation, even if she would never admit it outright. Because now that Star Entity is finished, she probably doesn’t need him alive.

It’s kind of touching, Franxx’s doomed love for the Princess; I’m not going to be all “Werner Franxx Did Nothing Wrong,” but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find him sympathetic. Considering the pathetic state that humanity has been reduced to (which is largely his fault, but eh, details) you really can’t blame him for taking one look at the Klaxosaur Princess and saying to himself “that’s it, I’m switching teams.”

Hiro and Zero Two aren’t having much luck accessing Star Entity, then the Princess starts approaching and Zero Two freaks out. She’s been able to sense Klaxosaurs coming all along, so I imagine feeling the Princess approach must be the equivalent of hearing Godzilla walking towards you. Then we get absolute confirmation that the Princess does not think of Zero Two as her child, but rather as a “fake,” a lesser copy.

I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but there’s interesting subtext here. We just got through this whole arc with Kokoro about how children are the mark you leave on the future, and the Princess, being inhuman, rejects it. She’s not interested in Zero Two as an autonomous replacement for her; she only wants the thing created as a weapon, that she can directly control. Zero Two is more her true child than Star Entity could possibly be, but she can’t see that, because she doesn’t have a mortal human lifespan; why does she need to leave a mark on the future, when she still expects to exist in the future?

The Princess wants to use Hiro as a partner, so she kisses him, and when I say “kisses” I really mean heinously sexually assaults— it looks really violent, like she’s actually pumping some kind of fluid into him via her mouth. Everyone viewing this show through a warped lens of sexual politics just had an aneurysm, but we’ll move on. The APE guys start freaking out that the Princess is getting Star Entity, but they don’t seem to all be on the same page. I thought on first viewings that all of the APE guys turned out to be aliens, but now it seems like only maybe two of them were, and the rest were humans? It’s hard to be sure.

The Princess uses her Klaxo-telepathy to lambast the humans for stealing magma energy, and here’s where things get super-crazy. Dr. Franxx reveals that male Klaxo sapiens evolved into magma, while the females evolved into the monsters that the mechs have been fighting. So, all those times the Klaxosaurs attacked human installations, their motivation was “stop using my friends as a battery, you assholes.” We also learn that the Franxx are just souped-up Klaxosaurs, which isn’t surprising at this point. Oh, and sometimes the magma-males congeal into a fetus-like form and serve as pilots for the female Klaxosaurs, which is what resides in the core.

Okay, the “Our weapons are really just something we copied from our greatest enemy” thing is right out of Evangelion (and probably 20 other mech shows at this point), but I’m still kind of stuck on the whole “dudes evolved into magma” thing. I think we’re supposed to believe that this evolution was deliberate (since the Klaxo sapiens are said by Dr. Franxx to have “built” the Klaxosaurs as they now exist), but like…who would plan something like this? Who, in response to an existential threat, would say “You know what I think we should do? Turn all the men into a superheated fluid, bury it underground, and turn all the women into giant rampaging rhinoceroses, that’ll show those aliens who’s boss!” It’s just so bizarre I can’t quite wrap my brain around it.

The Princess activates Star Entity right in time for a bunch of purple aliens, VIRM, to show up right near Earth. So APE was infiltrated by these aliens, and APE made sure that the humans would continue killing the Klaxosaurs, since the Klaxosaurs were the biggest obstacle to taking over the planet the first time they tried it. So the Klaxosaurs have never been the real enemy and have in fact been trying to save the planet this whole time. Humans have just been dupes.

Star Entity begins kicking righteous amounts of ass, blowing up the invaders’ ships left and right, only for yet another TWIST! Star Entity has been contaminated by VIRM, who programmed it to self destruct if the Klaxosaur Princess got in the cockpit and started kicking ass. They wanted to use Star Entity, but rather than let the Princess use it, they’d sooner destroy it. And the Earth with it.

The really baffling thing right now is that I have no idea what these VIRM aliens want. Supposedly they want the Earth, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal to them to blow it up to get rid of the threat of Star Entity. Via APE, they’ve said things about liberating the creatures of the planet (and considering they don’t appear to have physical bodies, they probably mean liberation from corporeal form), but if they can do that by blowing the planet up, why didn’t they just do that in the first place?

You could say they’ve been after Star Entity the whole time, but Star Entity was created in response to their attempt to invade Earth the first time. Are they so good at 4D chess that they knew an unsuccessful attempt at invading primeval Earth would lead the Klaxosaurs and the humans to team up to develop Star Entity, which they could then take over and use for their own purposes? But at the time VIRM invaded originally, humans couldn’t even have existed yet in this timeline– *head explodes again*

*Collects pieces of brain and resumes blogging*

So, do I have something completely wrong here, or does this not make sense? Hopefully it’ll be explained further in the remaining episodes, because I don’t get it.

In any case, Zero Two has taken a beating from the Princess, but she’s not down for the count yet. There’s a famous scene in X-Men comics where Wolverine gets thrown down to the basement of the Hellfire Club while everyone’s fighting, and everyone thinks he’s been taken out, only for him to climb his way back up while mutilating about 20 enemies in the process. I get a similar feeling from Zero Two pulling her bloodstained self together at the bottom of Gran Crevasse; she’s about to go on a rampage, and I think her Mom is about to learn that her daughter is A LOT more like her than she thought.

I’m baffled, but excited; I don’t know if the show can make all of this work in the few episodes it has left. But damn if that wasn’t a compelling episode of anime.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episodes 16-19

This batch of episodes was dominated by the “how we got here” flashback episode, which was very reminiscent of Evangelion’s 21st episode. You might think this similarity would be a bad thing, but that episode happens to be one of my favorite episodes of anything, period, so if you’re going to copy something, that’s an excellent choice.

Seriously, at this point I think the similarities to Eva are such that it’s not that the show is “copying” Eva, but it’s very consciously using Eva as a template, and we’re supposed to notice. The scene where Karina says that she doesn’t want immortality because she’s thinking of having a baby is very reminiscent of Fuyutsuki and Yui Ikari’s first meeting, when he asks her about her future and she says she’s “thinking about getting married and having children.” The more I think about it, that scene– where Yui gives that unexpected response and Fuyutsuki looks at her with a mix of shock and wonder– is Darling in a nutshell. Like the creators took that one tiny, blink-and-you’ll miss it moment in Evangelion and created a whole show around it. I’m pretty sure that’s not what literally happened, but I love the idea of it.

Anyway, onto our beloved parasites. My girl Kokoro is not one to let the grass grow under her feet; no sooner did I say last time that the future for their world was probably about having kids instead of fighting Klaxosaurs, and she’s all in Mitsuru’s face about making a baby. The romance between Mitsuru and Kokoro happened very fast, but I find it believable; it’s hormonal teenagers, stuck in a hurry-up-and-wait situation, who have just discovered that sex exists. The implication is that this is what Papa wanted to happen too, but I don’t think he really cared about the kids specifically; I think he just wants to observe humanity in it’s “natural” state, outside of the stagnant and ossified society that he unwittingly helped create. When Mitsuru and Kokoro get their memories erased, I get the impression that he was pissed off more because his experiment was curtailed than because he gives a toss about either of them. That said, Papa seems to be the only one who’s doing good things for the kids, even if his motives are entirely self-serving.

About “Papa,” I wonder: do they call him Papa because he used his DNA to create them, and they’re literally all his children? That would make logical sense (especially because at the time parasites were being created, a lot of people were already sterilized, so he may have been one of the few people who could serve as a father), but I don’t think that’s it; my gut is telling me that 02 is Papa’s only true child. My guess is that they harvested DNA for parasite creation before everyone was sterilized, and Werner Franxx is called “Papa” simply because he was the head of parasite creation. Maybe I just don’t want to believe that all the parasites are siblings, because I think that would be a bad direction for the show to go.

Meanwhile, with 02 finding grey hair on Miku’s head and the various problems the kids have been having, it’s clear something bad is going on with their health. Maybe parasites aren’t designed to live past their teenaged years, but I think it’s more likely that the very act of piloting is sucking the life out of them. I thought that the ending was likely to involve the other kids living on after Hiro and 02 die, but now I’m not so sure about that.

This part of the show also gives us confirmation on something hinted at all along; Ikuno is a lesbian. To me, her frustration about having to pilot a FRANXX with a male partner mirrors the frustration gays and lesbians feel when they want to have a child, or otherwise having to fit within the general male/female paradigm; this gels well with what I’ve thought all along, which is that piloting is a metaphor for not just sex, but conception. If it was only about having sex, Ikuno and Ichigo could pilot a FRANXX all day long (well, assuming Ichigo was up for it), but that’s not what it’s about. They can’t create new life together, and it’s frustrating and unfair, but it’s a fact.

Apparently, if my internet sources are correct, some people have taken this scene to mean that the creators of FRANXX are saying that lesbians shouldn’t exist or something, and that’s just…that’s just…sigh….

Look, I’ve been trying really hard not to talk about the criticism I’ve heard of this show too much, but this is a good time to mention that I can’t believe just how off-base several professional anime critics have been in regard to this show so far. Yes we’re all entitled to our opinions and so on and so forth, but the criticism I’ve seen of FRANXX has been on the level of reading Lolita and then deciding that Nabokov must be advocating for everyone to go out and have sex with 10-year-olds. It’s…functionally illiterate. This is the old maxim “when you have a big enough hammer, everything looks like a nail” in action; in the anime criticism sphere, some folks have giant titanium mallets with GENDER POLITICS written on the side, and they will hammer all day long until any substance below is reduced to mush.

I should note that the moment in the second OP where 02 and Hiro embrace, and she phases through him and disappears, only for him to disappear a moment later, gives me a minor case of the chills, every time. I don’t know what it is exactly; it could be that I’m afraid the characters are going to die soon, but I think that’s very likely to happen, so I’m not really afraid of it. I guess it’s just that you can’t have a whole show be about the creation of new life, and not deal with the flipside of that; that we’re all only here for an instant.

As I write this, episode 20 has just come out; now that I’m caught up, I’m going to start doing single-episode posts. I’m apprehensive about what comes next, just because this show has so far exceeded my expectations so much that I’m afraid of how I’ll feel if it falls apart in the last stretch. I don’t think it will, but we’ll see.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episodes 11-15

Now that we’re getting into some story reveals, my enthusiasm for this show has dampened somewhat. I’m still enjoying it a lot, but it’s not going quite where I hoped it would go.

The childhood flashback episode was almost very poignant, but was spoiled by being just a little too perfect. I can just about buy that Hiro and 02 met as children and then were forced to forget, since they were both different from the other “specimens” and thus would have been drawn to each other, but the framing device of the storybook was just a little bit much. I guess 02’s nameless caretaker cared about her enough to try to teach her something about her place in the world, but the whole story is just a little too on the nose for my liking.

I think I would have preferred it if Hiro wasn’t her original “Darling”; if Darling was a random parasite hopeful who wasn’t promising enough and was culled from the herd. Then it would be really bittersweet that 02 keeps trying to recreate Darling, because she’s latched onto him as an idea rather than a person. That said, if they’d gone that route, they wouldn’t have had a good explanation for why Hiro is so well-matched to 02 as a pilot; having ingested her blood at a young age, it seems like it acted as a vaccine, so the later trauma of bonding with her was less damaging to him than it was to the other pilots, allowing him to survive it. Still, the whole thing is just wrapped in a neat little bow, which takes away from it. I don’t want this story to be neat: I want it to be messy and visceral.

The most interesting thing to me about the childhood flashback (other than Chibi-02 being painfully adorable of course), was the fact that Hiro’s outgoing personality and inquisitive nature were seen as curious and worrisome to his handlers. Being in that kind of love-free environment wouldn’t be good for any child’s natural development, so it makes sense that the other kids weren’t exactly cheerful and curious. However, the fact that Hiro seems to be the only curious child ANYONE had encountered makes me wonder if they’ve actually been breeding these kids to be compliant. Maybe the whole reason Hiro was a “special” specimen wasn’t anything related to his parasite ability, but the fact that he’s a throwback to a time before children were emotionally stunted.

Speaking of human development, we get something that looks like a fetus inside one of the defeated Klaxosaur cores, so it looks like the Klaxosaurs are a product of human meddling with nature. I kind of hope the story is more complicated than “Man tried to make himself more powerful, only the child of his creation turned on him!” but it looks like that’s where this is going. To be fair, the idea of Klaxosaurs as the nightmare children of humans would fit in well with this whole series theme of sex/conception.

After episode 15, I’m a little confused about what’s going on with Hiro and 02, physically. Let me try to lay this out: Hiro met 02 as a child and ingested her blood, effectively vaccinating himself against her influence, then was brainwashed into forgetting her. 02 was also brainwashed, but less completely, so she still remembered the existence of her “Darling,” but probably not precisely what he looked like. So she keeps hoping every new partner will turn out to be the real Darling, only to be disappointed again and again.

So she acts like Hiro is her real Darling, but deep down, she doubts it, which comes to light when she says that he’s just fodder for her. Then after Strelizia enables the shared flashback, she realizes he is THE Darling and she’s been using him like any other partner. The thing is, even if she knew he was the real Darling, wouldn’t she use him the exact same way?

Then again, when Strelizia fully activates after the two remember their shared past, she looks different; she’s all red, like 02 is no longer fighting her monster nature. So maybe knowing who the pilot is, 02 functions differently, and as a result, is no longer draining the life out of Hiro? Part of me wishes that this had been explained and part of me is just as happy that it’s left vague, since any explanation probably would have been tedious. I think the bottom line is supposed to be, “They love each other, therefore the robot magic works SUPER GOOD now!” and trying to think about it any harder than that is probably a mistake.

The big fight against the gargantuan Klaxosaur was very effective, with the OP song doing a lot of heavy lifting. I know that playing the first OP during a climactic fight scene is an old trick, but it works particularly well here, because Kiss of Death is so well-suited to this show. I think it communicates the feeling of frenzied desperation you would feel if you were fighting for your life; Kiss me now, because we’ll probably be dead tomorrow.

And then there’s the giant baby hand and uh…I’m not sure. Maybe there’s a giant baby Klaxosaur incubating in the ground, and all the little Klaxosaurs are just there to protect it. Maybe the Klaxosaurs started having babies because humans stopped, and if the humans want to beat the Klaxosaurs for good, the answer is not fighting them, but Kokoro’s “Your First Childbirth” book. I think that’s ultimately where this is going, I’m just not sure exactly how.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episodes 6-10

Five more episodes of FRANXX, and I’m becoming increasingly confident in my initial appraisal of the show; These themes are the real deal, and Trigger isn’t just throwing around all this sexual symbolism just to be salacious. It’s also opening up to be less about sex specifically (although that’s still very important to the show), but more about any kind of sensual, animalistic behaviors that mark humans as part of nature, and what it means when we start getting away from that.

The one thing I’m not sure I like is all the emphasis on Ichigo’s unrequited love for Hiro. There’s nothing wrong with it in general, but I feel like we’re kind of being knocked over the head with it, when it’s been pretty obvious what the dynamic is between these two from the very beginning. That said, there’s probably a reason why heartsick Ichigo is getting so much attention, so I’m going to suspend judgment until I know what that is.

Episode 6: This was actually the most typical episode, in the sense that it felt like watching Evangelion, or Gurren Lagann, or insert-popular-mecha-show here. Hiro’s miraculous recovery, spurred on by his desire to protect 02,  was predictable, but I don’t think I would’ve wanted them to do it any other way; sometimes, we use tropes because they work. This probably would have been a more powerful episode if I hadn’t already seen these things done in other mecha shows, but it was still effective.

Now I’m wondering what Hiro’s status is; having survived the three-times curse with 02, is he part-Klaxosaur now like she is? Or is there something else going on entirely? Meanwhile, the characters response to Hiro’s survival– “Oh, looks like that thing about stamens dying when they ride with 02 was just a rumor–” is a little strange. Has it occurred to any of the kids that 02 actually has killed multiple partners, and Hiro was just the first one who survived? Maybe it’s just denial; now that she’s on their team, they don’t want to believe that she is a partner-killer, even if all evidence points to it being true.

I am not gay for 02; I am a straight woman. I just want to collect screenshots of her and draw fanart and think about her all day long, okay? Please respect this distinction. Seriously, major credit to Haruka Tomatsu for doing such a great job with her lines; I didn’t even realize that she also played Asuna from SAO until I looked it up. That’s some impressive separation.

Episode 7— You know it’s a good show when even the beach episode is about 50% devoted to world-building. I was expecting to turn my brain off for this episode and wait for normal plot-services to resume next episode, but there was a lot going on here; not only in terms of what the kids discovered, but why they discovered it. I’ve been wondering what kind of an authority figure Papa is, and the first couple of episodes painted an ominous picture. However, the fact that it was Papa who sent the kids to the beach, knowing they would fall over the ruins of a town and learn something about their world, is intriguing.

It seems like he does want the kids to learn and grow beyond their role as human weapons, but is he alone in that? Maybe he had to sneak in the beach vacation because the people in charge won’t let him educate the children directly; or, maybe he has some sinister purpose in mind, and he’s picking a really round-a-bout way to go about it.

One moment that kind of kicked me in the teeth was when Kokoro finds the FRANXX version of What to Expect When You’re Expecting in the ruined town. The kids in FRANXX have no concept of sex and childbirth; what would it feel like to find out about that all at once? It’s hard enough to process even when you have years to absorb that information.

Which reminds me; of the critics who have had strongly negative things to say about this show, how many of them are parents? I’m guessing not many. Lord knows, I don’t want to make this some kind of perverse gatekeeping thing (“you can only understand this show if you TOO have borne a child!”), but I think it probably makes a difference in how certain writing choices affect you. If you saw Kokoro pick up that book and you didn’t feel anything, then it’s almost like we’re watching two different shows.

OH NO SHIT JUST GOT REAL, FUUUUUUUU~~~~~~

Episode 8— This is the kind of episode that typically annoys me, but FRANXX threaded the needle here somehow and kept it from being too obnoxious. I tend to get annoyed when kids in these life-or-death situations start acting like spoiled suburban children, but the fact that the kids actually realized how immature they were being by the end of the story made it work. Plus, it’s been made pretty clear at this point that these kinds of childish antics are what set Squad 13 apart from all the other squads, and possibly, everyone else in the known world. They’re being allowed to be childish and emotional, and I wonder how this ties back to Papa’s master plan.

We know that Squad 13 is a test case for something. Is Papa using Squad 13 to model the way humans used to interact, in the hopes that the rest of society could go back to the way it used to be in pre-Klaxosaur times? More on this later.

I remember some outrage online around the time this episode aired because of Hiro’s comments that the boys control the robots, but it’s the girls with their “frail bodies,” who take the brunt of the punishment. I can obviously see why this seems sexist, but if you’re like me and see the piloting of FRANXX not just as a metaphor for sex, but for conception (and possibly the entire heterosexual cycle), it makes a lot of sense. Stating that women’s bodies bear the brunt of the punishment during pregnancy is hardly controversial, and I think Hiro’s comment was meant to parallel how men and women function in reproduction, not just sexual intercourse.

I wonder about the conclusion the kids draw that the previous Squad 13 died in battle; that may not be correct. This show has been hinting pretty strongly that parasites don’t live to become adults, so maybe the previous squad kids aged out of peak piloting age and were unceremoniously murdered.  If that’s the kind of world these kids are living in, the threat from the Klaxosaurs seems rather unimportant in comparison.

I’m writing too much about this episode, but I also have to acknowledge the scene where 02 taunts Hiro with the kids’ underwear and runs away; her joy is infectious, and it’s scenes like that which elevate this show from episode premises like “Monster goop makes the girls’ clothes evaporate.” Even though she’s not really human, so far only 02 seems to understand what the people of this world have lost by putting aside their humanity.

Episode 9— I was distracted during this episode by the fact that I couldn’t get the part of Eva where Shinji is trapped inside Unit 01 out of my mind, and I was wondering how much of that is my fault. FRANXX obviously takes inspiration from Eva, and from Gurren Lagann (especially considering that some of the same people worked on those shows), but that’s normal; earlier shows inspire later shows, and certain things become codified as tropes of the genre. Yet, even though I know that the tropes that FRANXX is using have become general mecha tropes, not tied to any one series, I can’t stop comparing it to Evangelion specifically. I wonder if the creators of this show would be annoyed by that, or if that’s what they’re going for?

I like Goro as a character, and I appreciate his (doomed) love for Ichigo, but I’m not quite sure what to make of this episode. If the big takeaway was that the kids learned that their leadership was willing to sacrifice one of them very easily, then err…they really should have known that already. Otherwise, they haven’t been paying attention at all.

Episode 10— Oh boy. We see the society that the kids have been protecting, and you have to wonder: Why bother? Let the Klaxosaurs have it, everybody can just lay down and die.

This episode made me more confident in the idea that Papa is trying to use Squad 13 not just to protect humanity, but to change it, however I’m a little confused about Zorome’s role in this episode. There are hints that the older woman he meets is actually his birth mother, but how contrived would that be, even by anime standards? Besides, I kind of figured that with the technology they have in FRANXX, they’ve been growing the parasites in artificial wombs anyway. Maybe they do need women to give birth to children, and then in return the mothers get a free pleasure-center-stimulating machine?

This episode made it clear that the children are believed to be infected with something; whether this is some bacteria that allows them to interact with the FRANXX, or it’s a mislead for something more basic (like the fact that they haven’t been sterilized) remains to be seen. I think I’d prefer it better if the “infected” children were seen as dirty simply because their biological functions haven’t been replaced by technology yet.

So now we’re in Brave New World territory, which comes as something of a surprise to me even though it really shouldn’t. I’m torn between wanting to find out more about how dystopian adult society works in this world, and never wanting to see it again because it’s too goddamn depressing. I think 02 has the right idea; stay as far away from the adults as possible.

Hopefully I’ll be able to watch 11-15 and get my thoughts on them down pretty soon, and then I’ll almost be caught up to the outrage du jour! Exciting!

DARLING in the FRANXX Episodes 1-5

SPOILER WARNING: Not only are there spoilers for FRANXX, but also Neon Genesis Evangelion. You can talk about FRANXX without talking about Eva, but I didn’t want to.

There’s been so much talk about this show lately that I felt like it would be criminally irresponsible for me to keep ignoring it, so I’m catching up. I just finished episode 5 and so far, I’m loving it; I regret that I didn’t pick it up when it started earlier this year. It uses sexual metaphors in a very broad, obvious way, but I like that in this case. Too much anime (or fiction in general) tends to try to be coy about sexual themes, and it can become obnoxious. I appreciate FRANXX being all up-front, like “Yup, piloting the robot is all just a big metaphor for sex and relationships, let’s move on from there ‘kay?”

I wonder though: is the piloting of the FRANXX primarily a metaphor for sex, or is it more meant to be a metaphor for conception? The most notorious example of a mecha show with sexual themes is Neon Genesis Evangelion, and in that show, the primary sexual metaphor was that of pregnancy; the pilot was like a gestating baby inside of the mother, who would protect it at all costs. In FRANXX, we’ve gone backwards to the moment of conception itself. The mechs, with their unusually childlike faces, do seem to be the offspring of both parents in the cockpit, figuratively if not literally.

Compared to a lot of other mecha shows I’ve seen, there also seems to be a surprising lack of urgency in FRANXX. I don’t mean that as a criticism, but it’s just that the way the world is set up makes things more routine than we’re used to seeing. For all I know, this situation with humanity fighting the Klaxosaurs could have been going on for thousands of years already, and the squad of pilots we’re following may only be one among dozens, if not hundreds. There isn’t that “the world is going to end RIGHT NOW if we lose this battle” theme; the lives of the individual characters, except for arguably 02, are not important. They’re important to us as viewers, but you get the impression that if the whole squad died during episode 2, the only thing Papa and his subordinates would feel would be minor irritation at having to replace them.

Speaking of Papa, at first I thought his nickname was just a show of affection for the head scientist from his staff, but it definitely seems like there’s a Big Brother theme going on. The fact that the children’s prayer at the beginning of episode 5 isn’t for safety, or even for victory against the Klaxosaurs, but for Papa’s well-being, is a little bit chilling. Is Papa even fighting against the eradication of humanity by the Klaxosaurs, or is this perhaps the world he wants?

Since the humans are relying on magma for their energy, on a dried-out looking world, the implication is that the environment has been ruined. Are the Klaxosaurs a product of that (perhaps, a failed experiment in creating an alternate energy source?), or are the Klaxosaurs invaders from somewhere else altogether? What does it mean for 02 to have “Klaxosaur blood”? Obviously, she’s stronger and more agile than other humans her size, but what unholy process did they go through to create something like her?

Or maybe, when Papa and a Mama Klaxosaur love each other very much….

Congratulations, humanity, your super-risky experiment in genetic engineering has gone horribly right! Good luck with that.

At the end of episode 5, 02 seems to be in the process of turning Hiro into some kind of human/Klaxo hybrid, like herself. For some reason, he’s compatible with this process; the most obvious possible reason for this is because he was created with Klaxosaur blood too, but I think the show is going to go a different route. Something is special about Hiro, and I think how much I ultimately end up liking this show is going to depend on what his special quality is. It needs to be something more than “he was bred to be compatible with Klaxosaurs” in order to work for me. Anyway, it seems like Hiro and 02 may be the only future for humanity, but it may be a humanity that no one else recognizes as such.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this show is that it’s most central metaphor really isn’t a metaphor at all. It’s about young people using sex to stave off extinction and well, how is that a metaphor? If young people don’t have sex, humanity will become extinct. Granted, it’s hard to imagine that now, given our world’s current problems with overpopulation, but the fact remains true. Sex is what humans do to stave off oblivion, whether shiny-cool dinosaur-like thingies are involved or not.

A lot of series deal with sexual attraction as a theme, but I feel like FRANXX is dealing with (or is at least being set up to deal with) heterosexual sex on a more primal level than we usually see; the fact that sex creates the future, but we often shred ourselves to pieces in the process, in more ways than one. There’re a lot of potential pitfalls here, but I’m cautiously optimistic that Studio Trigger will accomplish here what they couldn’t quite do with Kiznaiver; a show about human relationships, particularly sexual ones, with real teeth and bite to it.

Or horns, if you will.