Until this point we’ve been under the impression that Zero Two and Hiro are a match made in heaven, but as Zero Two begins to undergo some rapid changes only exacerbated by APE’s meddling, we see her transforming into something truly monstrous and confused. Moving from the character-centric episodes, and back into the main story, Darling in the FRANXX is showing us this is as good as the team is going to get before the apocalypse.
Mitsuru returns to the spotlight in episode eleven, and though his issues aren’t fully resolved, he begins to grow up and move forward with his life, finally seeing past Hiro. Since Mitsuru’s attitude and inability to pilot with Ikuno were two of the weakest links in the team, this episode serves a greater purpose than additional character development- we are finally building a cohesive team of child soldiers.
We begin with a flashback dream where Hiro announces to a group of children that he has been chosen as the representative of the kids. Misturu’s dialogue cuts in calling Hiro a “traitor” as we see small Mistu look at Hiro in admiration. It seems that Mitsuru’s vapid distaste for Hiro has a source, and it’s sometime while they were kids that it all began. Whatever Hiro did, it was enough to scar Misturu for life.
Later in the day, after another Klaxosaur battle, Misturu and Ikuno are told they need to improve their parasite scores and kill counts. This is the first time we are told that the kids are graded on their performance, and though this makes sense because they are pilots, it’s a little odd when the team often sets the Strelitzia for the kills. Obviously, there are more Klax fights than we are being shown as viewers, and it’s likely a lot of them are on a far more hoard-like scale.
Haichi and Nana are left to discuss the kid’s performance after they admonish Misturu and Ikuno. They look over the statistics and see that Squad 13’s kill count in the area is over 90, demonstrating exponential growth over other team’s kill counts. I’m not sure how to take this information because it could mean other teams are less capable and take longer to destroy the threats, it could mean that the Klax concentration is higher here leading to more encounters, or it could mean that the other teams simply have a slower growth matrix.
Moving adjacently, we zoom in on Kokoro and Futoshi who are happily talking in their FRANXX about being on a special mission. Poor Futoshi is none the wiser about Kokoro’s real feelings, and he asks to be her partner forever. She agrees, though it’s obviously agreement out of obligation, not choice.
Just as the fight picks up against the cutest bear-like Klaxosaurs, Mitsuru comes down with a terrible fever and is unable to pilot. The time with Zero Two is hitting him hard, and he and Ikuno have to quit the battle. We learn, back at base, that Mitsuru has already had an “elixirs injection,” an aptitude injection that increases the yellow blood cells used to pilot FRANXX, at age nine. Because Nana and Hachi see that Misturu had this procedure, I am not sure if he was given another shot, or if they forgo this decision because he already had the shot. Either way, it seems like they were willing give him this injection that has a 15% survival rate without his consent which seems to solidify how experimental and expendable these kids are to them.
In another room, the rest of the squad discusses when Misturu got the injection and the details of the shot including the previously mentioned survival rate. Goro mentions that Misturu always followed Hiro around before the shot, but after that day he began to act differently… as did Hiro. Of course, Hiro remembers none of this.
Mitsuru has another flashback, and we got more of the story. It seems that he wanted to pilot a FRANXX with Hiro, and Misturu took the injection in an effort to become stronger to reach this goal. Before the flashback cuts back to the spiteful center of the episode, we see Hiro’s dead eyes staring back at Misturu. Hiro, so we can see, also had a procedure that same day, though we have no idea what it was.
Because Misturu is weak and unable to sync properly, Nana and Haichi institute a partner shuffle so the kids can try out different persons, if they choose. Futoshi, again unable to see Kokoro’s true feelings, overpowers her and says they don’t need this shuffle. Kokoro, however, betrays this and asks to try partnering with Misturu. I’ve been expecting this for some time, and I really believe Kokoro is the kind of person Misturu needs around him. She fills his gaps, and he fills hers.
In trade, Ikuno asks to attempt and pistil-to-pistil connection with Ichigo. This hints at something I’ve been wanting the show to try: same gendered piloting, but it looks like the creators are showing us that it’s just not possible when Ikuno and Ichigo fail. It’s really disappointing.
Though Kokoro and Misturu don’t work any better than when he was with Ikuno, the pair are teamed up for the foreseeable future which causes Futoshi to enter a terrible state of depression. He loves Kokoro and doesn’t understand why she would leave him. The show does nothing to really demonstrate why, either, we can only just assume it’s because Futoshi coddled her too much, and Kokoro prefers a partner she can help more than blindly encourage.
There’s some general conversation about having children between Kokoro and Mitsuru in the greenhouse, but it doesn’t offer much to the overall arc here. It does remind us that Kokoro is very much interested in humanity’s past and where she came from.
As the kids are talking, a large Klax attacks and the squad is forced to use their shuffled partners in real combat. The animation here is wonderful, especially between the new partners. It’s a nice reminder that the creators care so much about good fights and smooth finishes after a few episodes of pure story development.
Futoshi and Ikuno are great together and Ikuno is finally encouraged and assisted in a way she never was before. However, Kokoro and Mitsuru take a little longer to find their sync. The two fall dark and Kokoro has a heart-to-heart (pun intended) with him.
We finally see how much Mitsuru struggled during and after the shot he received as a child, and how when he finally met up with Hiro after the procedure, Hiro didn’t remember any promise about piloting together. This is what Misturu views as a betrayal, though I really have to call this a gross overreaction, and this is what has shaped Mitsuru for the past few years. Hiro, again, looks dead, and it’s more than likely he had a memory-wipe procedure done in a similar timeframe to Mitsuru’s shot.
Kokoro also doesn’t see this very obvious connection because is just as sheltered and controlled as our buddy Mitsu, so she builds on this betrayal that Mitsuru feels and says (basically) that he has likely done terrible things, too. She, herself, is not without fault, either. Kokoro corrects Mitsuru and calls him capable and admirable, and she emphasizes that the squad does look up to him before attempting to take the FRANXX into stampede (pistil-only) mode.
After realizing that Kokoro is right, and that holding grudges over betrayals is silly, Mitsuru joins back into the fight and they help the team secure victory. It’s important to note that Mitsuru does not forgive Hiro for what he did, and he doesn’t see that Hiro was likely brain mashed before their meeting. Instead, Mitsuru is just moving on, which is the healthiest thing I’ve seen a character do on this show so far: moving on and moving forward.
As if his body was so severely affected by Mitsuru’s trauma with Hiro, it begins to heal and Mitsu no longer struggles with his illness.
In the background of this episode, we see a different side of Zero Two than we’ve been shown before. She’s still not talking with Hiro, and she is also fighting like a madman. Her movements are manic and uncontrolled to a point where Hiro has to stop her from constantly attacking just so the team has a chance to strategize. At the very end of the episode, when we see that the partner shuffle is made permanent, Zero Two tells Hero that they will be together until they die. This is striking because before Zero Two has only said they will be together forever, never mentioning death. Though death is an inevitability, Zero Two has never been so dour around her Darling before now.
Though there is a healthy amount of confusion in regards to the Zero Two/Hiro section of the episode, I’m happy with the level of development we got from Kokoro and Mitsuru. I still don’t care much for Mitsuru, but now he will be more useful as a team member and less of a terrible sourpuss constantly bringing down the room.
We’ve been hinting at something deeper with Zero Two for some time now, and episode twelve will take this concept an run with it as we learn that both she and Hiro are changing for the worse as the climate around Squad 13 becomes more stagnant and suspicious than before.
The kids are traveling to their first home, the Garden, in a wintery mess of a season that I didn’t think Earth had any longer. In the back of the large transport, Zero Two is tearing apart the library looking for picture books, possibly in a way to recapture her youth.
We get some background on the Garden, mostly that it’s a parasite development facility where all the parasite candidate children live. There’s a laboratory for experimentation that overlooks the entire Garden, and that’s where our Squad is headed for the day. They are told that they cannot enter the Garden, though Hiro later leads his friends there in an effort to meet Naomi again (she’s his old partner if you remember).
The unique group featuring the still unnamed blonde fellow, interacts with our squad before the kids are called away for testing. We don’t get a ton of information out of them, only that these pastel pretties are known as Squad 9 or colloquially the Nines and that they know far more about the situation in this world than our protagonists. There’s some fun dialogue featuring Ichigo and Blonde Nine, and it’s clear that Ichigo is becoming far more suspicious about their part as pilots.
All the plantations are converging on one spot, likely the Grand Crevasse, and the Klax encounters seem to be increasing in number and intensity since the beginning of the show. With Zero Two’s condition as it is, being a monster and all, APE is bringing the kids back to the Garden under the pretense they are there for testing on all parties. However, the group is really only there for the testing on Zero Two- the rest is just a farce with a few of the kids understanding this terrible reality.
In a flashback to the transport to the Garden, we see Hiro trying to speak with Zero Two in the library. As she snaps and goes in for a kiss, Hiro sees her fangs (now a little longer) and flinches for a second. Zero Two steps back, no longer comfortable. Her monster-ness has taken quite the toll on her, and back in real time we see her damaged thumb from constant anxiety biting.
Nana is not as kind to Zero Two as she seems to be with the rest of Squad 13, and we see her heartlessly allow Zero Two to be tranquilized and forced into testing she doesn’t want to do. After Nana asks the drugged Zero Two to not make things difficult for her, we move back to the kids who were all done with their general physicals and following Hiro to the Garden.
The kids remember their lives as smalls, and we are told that it’s only been about six months since they left the facility. Ikuno runs in to get everyone when she finds a room where children are undergoing tests on computers and receiving injections, the same elixir injection that has a 15% mortality rate. The kids all wonder if they had maybe had similar experiences, but no one could remember anything like this and therefore deny they were tested. A nurse Kindly informs the group that they are giving these injections to younger children now in an effort to produce more capable and obedient parasites.
This same kind nurse informs Nana that they had disobeyed orders, but not before telling them that Naomi isn’t at the Garden because no parasite ever returns to the Garden. Now, everyone wonders where Naomi went. The positive way to look at this is that Naomi was reassigned to another squad, but it’s likely that it’s a little more dour than that.
Before the squad makes it back to the lab for their reaming, Hiro tells them to go ahead and he runs to the mistletoe tree from his youth. There, he remembers seeing a small red person by the tree. If you couldn’t guess at this point, that’s Zero Two, though later in the episode we get full confirmation. I’m guessing that Hiro met Zero Two as a child, and when the adults in the facility found out, they tried to wipe his memory which led to him forgetting a lot of formative years- including his promise with Mitsuru.
Kokoro has her own two cents before the kids reach Nana, as well. She asks the group where they came from, and Miku says that Papa and the rest made them. Kokoro wonders how true this is considering everything she has seen and knows at this point. Maybe they were not made, but born.
After Nana yells as the Squad for disobeying her orders, Ichigo speaks with Blonde Nine where he throws information at her. He confirms that they are test team by Dr. Franxx which is why they are treated so specially. He further says that Zero Two can never coexist with them as a team because she is only a monster in disguise. Though this is something we’ve been throwing around around a lot since the beginning of the show, Ichigo’s hand is tied when she sees Zero Two acting so erratically during battle.
Continuing this episode’s poor decision to make us jump around so much, it seriously got a little convoluted at one point, we see Zero Two looking at herself in a mirror again. She is focused on her teeth and continuing to bit her hands. As it turns out, giving a girl with self-destructive behavior and a sensitivity to her looks a mirror is a bad thing.
Whipping back to the Garden, we are given this episode’s battle. It’s some Klax, but Haichi wonders behind it all if the Klas have figured out what APE is up to. I know I haven’t figured it out, and I do wish Haichi would be more specific in his exposition.
Before hopping into the robot, Hiro notices Zero Two’s horns are a few inches longer than they were before, though she refuses (per the usual) to comment on the subject. In the battle, Zero Two is frenzied and attacking to her detriment, though the Klax are small they are not pushovers. Hiro is forced to pull her back again before she loses it and begins to stab the already dead Klax saying she will kill them to become more human.
It’s at this point where we move to another scene, and I’m not sure when it takes place because after this scene, we move back into another battle. I am not sure if the next battle section takes place during the previous battle, or if it’s a new battle entirely against the same type of Klax. I certainly hope that I am not the only person confused by this jump, but I’m a little concerned the jumpiness of this episode has left more than just me in the dust by the end of the timecard.
Anyway, I’m going to assume the last fighting scene takes place during another the battle, later on and pick up on our home scenes. Back at the old house, Hiro follows a trail of blood to Zero Two who has now destroyed hers fingers and nails from the nervous biting. She, again, acts not herself and attempts to have sex with Hiro before he snaps and yells at her. Zero Two deflates and calls the situation tedious and asks Hiro to die like the fodder he is. She begins to rave about her ticking clock and needing to kill more and more Klax to become human.
Zero Two has lost herself as we knew her, and has become absolutely mad.
We get just a snippet as to why thanks to Ichigo who walked past Nana and Haichi discussing Zero Two’s test results. Zero Two’s “saurification” has accelerated since she began riding with Hiro, and this is beginning to mutate Hiro to a point where he will become like Zero Two and undergo his own transformation. This is something I predicted back when he has his little revelation, and I’m glad to see the idea coming through because it’s the only reason Hiro should be able to handle Zero Two’s power.
During that mysterious fight that happens later, Zero Two becomes so upset with Hiro pulling her back from her blind rampage that she turns her life drain back on him. She begins choking him out asking him to die so she can meet the boy she met long ago. In another flashback, as see Hiro and Zero Two’s memories converge as it’s confirmed that these two kids once met in the Garden before Zero Two looked as human as she does today.
Episode twelve offered some interesting ideas with the parasites and later when Zero Two goes into a mad rage as Ichigo watches her eyes glow that Klaxosaur red. I love this show so dearly, but the direction this time around wasn’t cohesive or conducive to a learning environment. The flashbacks and snaps in the current timeline caused some confusion on part, which is saying something because I am taking notes when I watch. Additionally, this is a pretty color-dull episode with an emphasis on the wintery background and coldness of the Garden to help sear that blinding redness of Zero Two in your mind when you see it.
Zero Two has her lost mind, and Hiro is likely to undergo a transformation soon if he is able to pilot any longer. However, before we fully reach any conclusion with those two items, I think we will be unpacking some memories and APE as a whole before the Klax D-Day where I’m afraid we are going to lose Zero Two.