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X-Men: TAS, Episode 1: Night of the Sentinels, Part I

Let’s start with a note on format: I’m taking screenshots from the official Marvel DVDs of this series. While I was glad to support the show by buying the official release, these DVDs don’t have much going for them beyond that. The special features are virtually nil. I have all of SheRa: Princess of Power on DVD, and those sets have tons of extras, including episode commentaries, featurettes, and even the entire series bible; my X-Men discs are just kind of sad in comparison. I don’t know what necessitated putting out such a bare-bones release here (maybe some legal restrictions?), but I hope someday, we get something better.

I’m impressed with how this episode has aged overall. The visuals are often too dark and muddy (a problem that plagues much of the show), and the backgrounds are often very perfunctory, even by the standards of the time; the only area where care seems to have been taken with the bg art was Xavier’s mansion. Still, this episode has to introduce 10 different characters, plus the entire world of the X-Men, and does it pretty darn well, all told. It’s also patently ridiculous at times, but the ways in which it’s ridiculous function better as satire than I’m entirely comfortable with.

Anyway, enough preamble, time for Night of the Sentinels!

We open with a news report about mutant violence and hysteria, which seemed overblown to me at the time. As a child, while I was aware of racism and bigotry, I thought of those as being largely problems of the past; understanding and acceptance of different types of people had improved within my lifetime, and I had every reason to believe that this was something that would only continue to improve as I got older. I thought that if super-powered mutants ever existed in real life, the response to them would be much calmer than this show portrays, because people have to be smarter than this. On some level, I think I’ve always been a little mad at the world for disappointing me about that, ever since.

“I’m telling ya Lorraine, we shoulda known something was up with that kid when she kept wearing that raincoat even when it wasn’t raining. Now she’s blowing up VCRs, and we can’t tape General Hospital? That was the last straw!”

Jubilee’s foster parents are agonizing over what to do about their mutant foster child, and it’s surprisingly hard-edged. Her mother even asks if the father regrets taking Jubilee in, and whoah…isn’t that the kind of thing you’re never, ever supposed to say as an adoptive parent? Granted, she didn’t know Jubilee was listening, but still, introducing the idea “maybe your adoptive parents don’t actually want you,” seems like a pretty dark place to go right out of the gate. This show is really dark for a kids cartoon, notorious for it actually, but I’m still surprised sometimes at the ways in which it’s dark.

Jubilee whines that she used to be a normal kid, and I wonder if she ever was, really. She was a gamer girl in 1992, and weren’t all girl gamers at that time vilified and harassed constantly? I read it on the internet, it must be true!

Five feet tall, I can believe, but 90 lbs.? Yeah, and I’m Scarlett Johansson, pfft. Someone lied on their Mutant Control Agency paperwork.

We get our first look at the mutant-hunting Sentinels, and by God, are they ridiculous looking. They were terrifying when they were first introduced in Days of Future Past, but that was in the context of the whole world becoming an unbelievably horrific place; seeing a bright red-and-purple giant robot strolling down a suburban street just looks ridiculous. Also ridiculous is the amount of collateral damage Sentinels are authorized to allow while capturing mutants; apparently it’s totally fine to destroy houses while in pursuit of target mutants. Part of me wants to laugh at this, and part of me realizes it’s actually not funny; you mean, ideological zealots don’t care who they hurt or what they destroy in the process of rounding up “dangerous” people? HAHAHAHAH what a huge exaggeration that has no relevance at all to current societal problems!

One tiny little dog does not approve of the giant robot in his neighborhood and hassles the Sentinel; remember this dog, he’ll be important later.

Jubilee takes out her frustrations on some space aliens at an arcade in the mall, and someday, when I watch this show with my daughter, I will probably have to explain what an arcade was. Jubes breaks the machine with her mutant powers, and tries to blow it off by being too cool for school, but naturally it doesn’t work. The arcade owner really should just chill; once the Sony Playstation comes out in a few years, electric-type mutants with poor impulse control are going to be the least of his problems.

“Dude, it was a Robocop cabinet, I did you a favor here.”

Jubilee runs out of the arcade and collides with Rogue and Storm, who were clearly on a shopping spree. In fact, considering the fact that they have about ten packages, I wonder how much of an allowance Xavier gives them for “personal expenses?” Meanwhile, Gambit is introduced flirting with the cashier at a stationary store; this wouldn’t be noteworthy, were it not for the fact that it’s so clear they’re both thinking about knocking boots that it’s actually kind of disturbing. Like, I have seen hentai less sexually charged than this scene between Gambit and this nameless cashier lady.

Sentinel bursts into the mall, causing havok, and captures Jubilee. Rogue and Storm take exception to this, and Storm changes in a flash of lightning from her normal clothes into her X-Men uniform. It bugs me a little bit whenever Storm does this, because it looks too much like magic, and mutant powers are not supposed to be magic. Technically she could be using lightning to incinerate her outside clothes to reveal her uniform underneath, but eh, I still don’t like it. Rogue’s initial response to all the mall shoppers running and screaming for their lives is “Must be sale,” said in a very deadpan way; this is why the entire world loves Rogue.

“Ah keep tellin’ ya Sugah, if you didn’t keep frying your clothes like that, we wouldn’t need to go to the mall once a damn week!”

“As if you don’t LOVE IT.”

“Ah do.”

Rogue and Storm retrieve Jubilee from the Sentinel, which involves Rogue decking it with an escalator, than flying up and punching the snot out of it. Jubilee is amazed that other people have powers more useful than breaking  VCRs, and seems to be somewhat in awe. Rogue eventually sends the Sentinel flying into the card shop where Gambit is busy flirting, nearly nailing him. I’m 90% sure she didn’t mean to do that, but I guess we’ll never know.

The Sentinel blasts Rogue and Storm out of commission for a little while, leaving Jubilee to run into Gambit. He actually catches her in his arms, making this the best thing to happen to Jubilee all day. Granted, her day so far has involved being betrayed by her foster parents, getting yelled at, and getting attacked repeatedly by a giant robot, so it’s kind of a low bar to clear, but still; Gambit has her in a princess carry. You cannot put a dollar price on that.

Suddenly this trip to the mall was not such a bad idea. Now, onward, to Dippin’ Dots!

Unfortunately, the version of this story where Gambit and Jubes have a romantic date at the mall will have to be continued in my fanfiction, because the Sentinel catches up and proceeds to blast the shit out of Gambit. When the Sentinel looks like it’s about to finish Gambit off, Jubilee belts the sentinel with her fireworks power. I like the fact that Jubilee’s first proper use of her powers is done to protect Gambit; that’s my girl.

Dear Sentinel 9872, this scan has revealed insufficient information. Please do a more thorough scan, and send all of your findings to my phone Mutant Control Agency Headquarters.

Jubilee bolts outside and runs into Cyclops, who easily takes out the Sentinel by using his optic blast to sever the Sentinel’s head from its body. Now forget you ever saw him do that, because if you remember, you’re going to spend all of Night of the Sentinels Part II wondering why he doesn’t just do that a few more times, and many Sentinel-related problems could be avoided. Jubilee succumbs to some knock-out gas the Sentinel emitted before its unfortunate decapitation, and blacks out. Scene shift to the Mansion, yaaay. The backgrounds in the mall were just too depressing.

Jubilee wakes up and destroys the lock on her door, since that’s what you do when people rescue you from a rampaging giant robot; break their stuff. She begins sneaking through the mansion, only to run into Beast, doing some kind of experiment. Beast muses aloud that it would be really fascinating if his experiment were to suddenly explode, so Jubilee wisely books it out of there. She then gets a view of Morph, the male character created for this show with Mystique’s shape-shifting power. Hmmph. I feel like I should have a lot to say about Morph, but I’m not sure what that is yet. Maybe I’ll wait until next episode…oh, wait, never mind.

Beast’s Log: –Still no progress creating an anti-dandruff shampoo that doesn’t dry out the scalp. Shampoo +Conditioner hybrid is still years of testing away.

Professor X and Jean appear, with the professor upset that the existence of the X-Men is going to be revealed to the world “like this.” Err, what were you expecting exactly, Charles? Did you expect to send out a press release that said “Today I’m proud to introduce my private militia, the X-Men,” and get favorable media coverage? It was always going to go down like this. Jean realizes that something is amiss, and the Professor puts out an alert that “an intruder” is afoot. Kind of rude to call Jubilee an intruder when she’s a guest, but I understand that it’s important to find her before she hurts herself.

“I always thought the public launch of the X-Men would be a joyous occasion. I had even hoped for…cake.”

“I can bake you a cake, Professor.”

“It’s not the same, Jean.”

In her zeal to get away, Jubilee accidentally crashes a Danger Room session meant for Gambit and Wolverine, which is definitely not something you want to be in the middle of without superhuman agility. Gambit tries to get her to safety, but he has Wolverine to deal with, who’s still oblivious to Jubes’ presence. Interesting choice to introduce Wolvie over halfway through the episode, by the way; you would think they would have put him front and center. Since Jubilee doesn’t know yet that the Danger Room is for training, and Wolverine is only pretending to beat up Gambit, she blasts Wolverine with her fireworks, sending him flying. Apparently, whenever Jubilee is protecting Gambit, her mutant powers increase by about 50%; that’s a girl with her priorities straight.

“Hah hah Wolverine, you just got beat up by a 90 pound girl!”

“You really believe she’s only 90 pounds, Bub? And I thought I was the one who just hit my head.”

Storm takes Jubilee outside for a heart-to-heart about who the X-Men are. Jubes is less than enthused about being taken to Xavier’s School for the Gifted, pointing out that “gifted” is a euphemism. That’s a really politically loaded comment that I’m afraid to touch, and I don’t mind admitting it. Storm tries to console Jubilee about her situation, but Jubes gets her bitch mode on for some reason and points out that the people at the mansion seem a little old for school, like they might have been left back because they failed. Wow! Is that how you treat someone who just rescued you, kiddo? I like you, but you pick all the wrong times to get vicious.

Storm then does a gratuitous display of her powers, allegedly to show Jubilee the importance of learning to control your abilities, but mostly to get back at Jubes for being a snotty little brat; no one would hold it against her.

“How big an allowance does Professor Xavier give you if you join the X-Men?”

“It’s $200 a week. In 1992 dollars.”

“WHERE DO I SIGN?”

Inside, everyone gathers in the war room, planning their next move. Wolverine asks if anyone’s called Jubes’ parents, and it’s important that he’s the one to ask that; when he finds out that they haven’t heard back from her family, he effectively becomes her parent, right then and there. All you need to do to get on Wolvie’s good side forever is blast him in the spleen with some explosive energy, he respects that sort of thing. Professor Xavier has somehow hacked information out of the disembodied Sentinel head (don’t ask), and found out that the Sentinel had Jubes’ information because it had access to her profile from the Mutant Control Agency.

The gang then discusses what the MCA is, and I feel like I need to quote this:

Cyclops: Professor Xavier, could the government be plotting against mutants?”

Xavier: No; the Mutant Control Agency is a private organization with occasional support from the government.

….

…Wow, what a critically important distinction, Professor. I’m sure Cyclops feels so much better now. Of course, it’s a little rich that anyone’s surprised that an organization called “The Mutant Control Agency” has an interest in controlling mutants, but that’s one of those things we just have to shrug off. It would make a lot more sense if it were called The Mutant Outreach Program or something, but we gotta make some allowances for this being a kids cartoon.

While the X-Men are all busy discussing the MCA and its “hidden” agenda, Jubilee hops a bus to go see her foster parents. Great security there, X-Men, but I guess hacking that giant Sentinel head was pretty distracting. Gyrich from the MCA is asking Jubes’ parents about her friends, curious if the X-Men are among them, but they claim not to know about Jubes friends because she’s only been with them “a year.”

Your kid has lived with you for an entire year, and you still don’t know who any of her friends are? What the hell is wrong with you people? I know I’m supposed to have some sympathy for these folks, being caught in a dangerous situation they were totally unprepared for, but damn, are they making it hard to care about them. Jubilee then promptly gets captured by the Sentinels, because without Gambit there to motivate her, her powers are still weaksauce.

Back at the mansion, Professor X comes up with a plan to sneak into the Mutant Control Agency and destroy their files, so that hundreds of mutants will get their anonymity back and hopefully be safe from the Sentinels. Gambit suggests doing it himself, and hey, that’s a great idea! And no, I’m not just saying that because I obviously want to marry him like his character. Gambit is a professional thief; getting in and out of places without being seen is his specialty. Even if the Sentinels were to show up, he’d pull some ruse to distract them and then get away, the other thing he’s really good at.

But no, Professor Xavier decides that for a stealth breaking-and-entry mission, he does not want the free services of the best thief in the known world, but instead wants a team of Beast, Wolverine, Morph, and Storm; Storm, the woman who cannot go five feet without announcing her presence. You know, Cyclops is going to get hammered later for how this mission goes south, but really, this was all the Professor’s fault from the very beginning; he put lives in danger the minute he refused to send in the best qualified person.

I think the implication is supposed to be that Xavier doesn’t full trust Gambit yet, whereas he does trust the others, but still; stupid, stupid decision.

Cyclops confronts the professor about his concerns about the mission, namely that attacking a civilian organization is not the way to teach people that mutants are not to be feared. It’s really interesting that we’re already getting this schism between Cyclops in the Professor this early on, although it’s never fuly developed here the way it is in the comics. The Professor really has no response to Cyclops, so he cops out with “we have no choice,” and leaves it at that. I kind of feel like all of Professor X’s terrible decisions in the entire series were front-loaded into this one episode, because I don’t think I’d remember him as fondly if he were normally like this.

“Look, all I’m saying is, if you want people to learn to like us and even trust us, this is not the way. This is not how we win hearts and minds.”

“That’s an excellent point, Scott. My well-reasoned counterpoint to that is that I am the boss of you, and you will do what I say.”

The crew finally catches on to the fact that Jubilee is missing, and Wolverine decides to go after her, despite the fact that he’s just been assigned the MCA mission. Cyclops and Wolverine have power struggle/testosterone spewing competition, then Wolvie storms off; if you make taking a shot every time this happens part of your X-Men:TAS drinking game, you’ll probably have a very good time, but that’ll be the end of your liver.

Mission time! For some reason, everybody’s tagging along on this mission (except Jean and Prof. X) even though only Wolverine, Storm, Beast and Morph are supposed to go inside. En route to the MCA complex, the group has an interesting discussion about what makes mutants the way they are. One of Beast’s suggestions is “television!” which is delightfully meta; see, it’s a good thing this program that you’re watching is teaching you how to deal with being a mutant, because it might be turning you into one. Discussions like this, by the way, are what put this show a cut above typical action cartoon fare, at least in my mind.

Wolverine catches up with the rest of the team, having lost Jubilee’s trail. He sheepishly says that he “got bit by a dog, too,” and AHA! Remember that little dog from the beginning of the episode, the one who was hassling the Sentinel like “stay way from my house, dude!” That dog bit Wolverine, apex predator; canine has balls of steel. Great guard dog, 14/10.

You know who has really good night vision and wouldn’t need to use binoculars to scope the joint out? GAMBIT.

Storm whips up some clouds to lower visibility (I guess she has her uses), and the guys head into the complex. There’s an interesting little bit where Morph gets thrown over the fence, then uses his shapeshifting power to impersonate a guard and take him out. What’s neat is when Morph copies the guard’s appearance, he also copies the weapon the guard is using, then uses said weapon to shoot the guard. Then when he shifts back, the weapon disappears.

This is interesting to comics geeks because this isn’t how Mystique’s shape-shifting works; she can copy anything, but it’s cosmetic when it comes to devices that people may be carrying. If Morph can make his copied objects functional, that actually makes his powerset more like a cross between Multiple Man and Mystique, but he’s going to die in about ten minutes, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

Storm electrocutes a guard (nice job being gentle on the puny humans there, team), and Wolverine uses his claws to destroy the door inside. Beast already lifted the key from one of the guards, meaning there was no need to destroy the door, but look; Wolverine needs an excuse to use his claws on something. It’s actually a bit of a problem for this show that Wolverine is constantly brandishing his claws but can’t do much with them, because if he used them on a person, things would very rapidly get too bloody for the Y-7 rating.

“I can’t decide which one I love more; nineteenth-century poetry, or assault and battery.”

“No one’s asking you to decide, Bub.”

The inside team encounters a laser trap. Beast quotes nineteenth-century poet Coventry Patmore, of all people, then uses his agility to disarm the trap. I’m curious what went on behind-the-scenes here; who on the staff was a big enough fan of Coventry Patmore to include his poetry in an episode of X-Men, but was still okay with Beast’s dismissive quip “A minor poet for a minor obstacle,”? Maybe someone had to read Patmore in college and this was their revenge? In any case, it’s delightfully incongruous with the rest of the episode, like about 50% of everything Beast does.

Outside, Cyclops is worrying how the inside team is doing, wishing he had some way of keeping tabs on what they were doing. Gee, if only there were someone on the team who had the power to keep everyone in constant telepathic contact, that would be mighty convenient. Come to think of it, aren’t there two people with telepathic abilities, both of whom stayed home for no apparent reason? At some point, you have to wonder if Professor X is trying to sabotage this mission.

Morph says “It looks like clear sailing from here,” so of course a bunch of gun-toting guards are just waiting to ambush the X-Men. This is why I’m not too broken up about Morph’s imminent death, by the way; who but a moron tempts fate like that? Plus, he teased Gambit not once but twice during this episode, and that’s not acceptable.

Storm opens the door, enemies await on the other side, and we’re done with this episode! Next time, we’ll see the conclusion of this storyline, and commiserate a little more about how everything bad that has ever happened is actually Professor Xavier’s fault.

 

Anime Expo News Wrap-Up: Day 1

Hope everyone is staying cool this weekend!

Speaking of cool, Anime Expo is happening as I type this and there is a TON of news for us to recap. Please keep in mind that due to the sheer volume of news that has been announced over the last day, I’ll only be publishing bullet points. For more info, please visit the appropriate links to get all the juicy details that you’re craving.

Now, on with the news!

Dark Horse

– We start by revealing that Dark Horse Comics has licensed the classic manga, Elfen Lied.

JAST USA

New Licenses: togainu no chi, DRAMAtical Murder, Lamento -Beyond the Void– Boys-Love Games

NIS America

– NISA will be releasing SNK 40th Anniversary Collection Switch Game in November.

– Also announced were plans to release The Princess Guide, Caligula: Overdose in 2019

Sentai Filmworks

Will be dubbing Tada Never Falls in Love, Real Girl, UQ Holder

– Dub casts revealed for Made in Abyss and Scum’s Wish

– New license: Mr. Tonegawa which will come complete with a dub on HIDIVE

Crunchyroll

New licenses: ReRideD, Double Decker, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Radiant, all of which will premiere in the Fall

– Crunchyroll Expo will premiere The Rising of the Shield Hero

– New manga licenses: Planet With, Holmes of Kyoto, Crossing Time

J-Novel Club

– Will begin print publishing with In Another World With My Smartphone novels

New licenses: Amagi Brilliant Park, Kokoro Connect, Sorcerous Stabber Orphen Novels

Sunrise

Live action Gundam movie announced

Maiden Japan

New licenses: Maria Watches Over Us, Hataraki Man, Basquash!, Yumeiro Pâtissière, Votoms, Ideon, Xabungle, Human Crossing Anime

Viz Media

New licenses: Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection Manga, Megalobox Anime

– Will reprint Banana Fish manga

Warner Bros.

– New trailer for A Certain Magical Index III

Netflix

Aggretsuko gets second season

– Premiere dates revealed for 2nd Godzilla Anime Film, Dragon Pilot, Kengan Ashura

Eleven Arts

– Theatrical screening announced for Liz and the Blue Bird, Laughing Under the Clouds Gaiden in U.S. Theaters

Aniplex USA

– Theatrical screenings announced for I Want to Eat Your Pancreas and 2nd Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel Film in U.S. Theaters

Whew! That’s it for Day 1 of Anime Expo but check back tomorrow as I’ll be highlighting all the hot tidbits of news that are revealed on Day 2.

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.

Strip Search #29: Webcomics Are Coming

StripSearch29_aKatie’s cat is ready for the upcoming War of the Webcomics. ARE YOU?

This episode of Strip Search is nuts, y’all. I was expecting another social challenge, like maybe they would have to play Scrabble really aggressively or something, then Mike and Jerry are suddenly in the house (WHAT?), there’s a two-month time skip (WHAT?), there are cats everywhere and people are producing mountains and mountains of art like it’s just pouring out of their faces. This is like the Red Wedding episode of Strip Search, except instead of getting married people are drawing comics and instead of getting murdered they are getting even more internet-famous.

Does that metaphor work? No? Sorry, I don’t watch Game of Thrones, I’m just trying to keep up with the zeitgeist and whatnot. Continue reading Strip Search #29: Webcomics Are Coming

Strip Search #28: Shove It Up Your Monochromatic *$$

StripSearch28_bIt was with no small amount of trepidation that Penny Arcade announced their latest Kickstarter: raising money to help confused lumberjack art critics get the counseling they desperately need.

For Elimination #9, the artists get a tough set of topics and both kind of choke a little; fortunately, one of them chokes a little less than the other. More importantly, we learn that Lexxy is a total pro, Maki is as sexy as a walking pineapple man can be, and there is at least one joke that even Mike finds inappropriate; a good time was had by all. Continue reading Strip Search #28: Shove It Up Your Monochromatic *$$

Strip Search #27: Move That Tin

StripSearch27_bThis episode was about as interesting as an episode about contract negotiation could be…which usually would be followed by a comment like “Which, sadly, wasn’t very interesting,” but it actually was fairly interesting. That said, I feel like recapping stuff about “licensee and licensor” about as much as I feel like cleaning the bathroom, so it’s a pretty shallow recap this time. Continue reading Strip Search #27: Move That Tin

Strip Search #26: The Lexxy and Maki Comedy Hour

StripSearch26_dSomewhere on the Internet, a hilarious .gif is being made. “.gif” can be pronounced in one of two ways, have you heard?

In a downtown Seattle scavenger hunt that showcases the area’s beautiful weather (snort), Lexxy and Maki try to be all organized and end up going on a wild goose chase that costs them mucho time and points. Katie and Abby pretty much just bumble around and hit all the landmarks partially by chance, because they are gorgeous fae creatures who run on pure chaos magic. In Lexxy and Maki’s defense, they are hilarious together. Continue reading Strip Search #26: The Lexxy and Maki Comedy Hour

Strip Search #25: Cartoonist Man Harem

StripSearch25_aHow did this elimination go down this way? I mean, out of all the possible topics in all the possible Wastebaskets of Broken Dreams, how did Abby manage to pull “Cats” as her topic? She couldn’t have been any more in her comfort zone if she were receiving a foot massage at the drawing desk while a half-dozen semi-nude Hugh Jackman clones dropped Raisonets into her mouth while she drew. What were the chances of her getting the best topic for her right off the bat, without even needing the Redraw Ticket?

Guys, I’m afraid I’m going to have to call it: This is The Great Abby Conspiracy. She must have known just where the cat-paper was in the basket before she even got to the studio. Before the competition even began. Perhaps, she knew even before she was born— which, since she’s a college kid, was only like five minutes ago anyway. Continue reading Strip Search #25: Cartoonist Man Harem

Strip Search #24: Thanks, Obama

StripSearch24_aIn a particularly strange challenge, the Strippers must compete to forge President Obama’s signature over and over again, because that’s the foremost skill that today’s webcomic artist really needs to survive in this economy. No, seriously, I get the point of this challenge (and why it would have been somewhat unfair to have everyone use their real signatures, which vary in length and complexity), but, I mean, it’s just…really? President Obama? That’s where your minds went when designing this challenge? Continue reading Strip Search #24: Thanks, Obama