Episodes thirteen and fourteen are accompanying episodes with all the heart and soul of something a little deeper than what the internet is calling a cheaper Evangelion. While there is quite a bit of homage packed in each episode of Darling in the FRANXX, the whole of the show stands on its own. I believe that these two episodes are great examples of how Darling is more than.
The whole of episode thirteen is just what was teased at the end of twelve: a flashback. It’s a classy flashback episode, but it’s a flashback episode nonetheless. We see how Hiro and 02 met and little more of what life was like in the Garden. What a lot of us believed about the memory erasure was true, though this ultimate melding of Zero Two and Hiro seems to have unlocked the blocks.
As Hiro and Zero Two consciousness merge, we get whipped back and forth between narrators. Luckily, it’s not as jarring as it could have been, and I do appreciate the variation in storytelling by not focusing on Hiro’s account of events first then moving to 02’s. Regardless of how well it works on screen, it will not work when I walk through it here, so I will start with Hiro, then move to Zero Two to prevent any headaches and confusion.
If you remember back to the beginning of the show, there was a bit of talk about Hiro being a prodigy and how his “teen” (014) designation meant he was a cut above the rest. This is finally revisited and basically proven to us- I certainly know that I wasn’t really convinced Hiro was so great as simply lucky before now.
As Hiro recounts his time, he tells us that he was not only treated, but told, that he was special and better than anyone there. During this time he meets Ichigo, also a “teen” designation if you remember, who is upset about her position after noticing that the other kids have stopped smiling. Hiro comforts her by latching onto the idea that the “teens” are supposed to be different because of their higher code, so of course they would still be able to smile. Off the cuff, Hiro names himself and Ichigo after learning about names from books, and this is how the naming process begins.
While naming the other kids, you can see the children who were dead-eyed begin to light back up with life as they are given something to hold on to. However, in the middle of this process, APE nurses run in to scold Hiro who begins to ask why they can’t name themselves. The nurses immediately back off and leave after realizing his code status.
Hiro is constantly being ferried back and forth from the Garden to the testing facility for injections and such, after which he receives candy. While he is there, he sees a little red, feral friend we come to know as Zero Two. Because no one would answer his questions about her, Hiro made it his mission to see her again. This works out quite well for him because he eventually sees small Zero Two fighting to keep a book away from a nurse in what turns out to be the daily holding room for Zero Two.
The questions and scouting for Zero Two by Hiro doesn’t go unnoticed (he is dubbed sensitive by the APE employees), but instead of taking punitive action like increasing the yellow blood cell count, Dr. Franxx allows Hiro to live as he is- curious how the kid will turn out. From this we hear that increasing the yellow blood cells is more than just a battle aide, it’s a way to facilitate control. If the yellow is increased, the kids are likely more stagnant and dead-eyed, unable to hold emotion.
Hiro’s tipping point is after a day of exhausting examinations when he hears screaming from around the corners. He comes across Zero Two being tortured by Dr. Franxx and other various employees before being kicked out to return to the Garden. Instead of going back to his room; however, Hiro climbs up a tree and waits for Zero Two to return to her holding area.
On Zero Two’s side of things, she remembers being held by a wall chain in a bedroom for a number of years being brought only food for a very long time. One day, that same person brings a beautiful picture book, and though Zero Two never sees this person again, she treasures this book. An interesting note is the shape of the hand on Zero Two’s had during this sequence because it looks very similar to her own hand (pretty bumpy). This person may have been a similar Klax-hydrid, even a mother to her.
We see Dr. Franxx running aptitude and health “tests” on Zero Two which simply involve her torture, like shooting her to see how she heals. It’s twisted, and if I ever thought this guy may be pretty cool before, all that is completely gone now.
The memories meet a few points, eventually converging where Hiro takes his chance to fee 02 from her prison. The kids just walk through the snow for hours, almost playing. At one point, they stop to read Zero Two’s book and almost get caught by the APE employees who mention that Hiro is expendable and to kill him if they need to. Hiro and Zero Two are able to escape and make it through an electric fence and out into the world past the parasite raising facility. I’m not sure how long they were outside, but I don’t believe it was longer than five or so hours since they didn’t have to deal with sleeping in the snow which would have likely killed them. It’s out here that Hiro promises to be Zero Two’s darling being both of the kids are finally caught and dragged back.
The final points of the episode show us both Hiro and Zero Two attached to large machines, having their memories erased. The actual resolution of this is followed up in episode fourteen, however. This is was very important episode that helps us understand the idiosyncrasies of Zero Two’s behavior fully, the picture book obsession and her use of “Darling” in particular.
Hiro’s side of the story only gave us additional information on yellow blood cells being a controlling agent, though I feel as if that could have been inferenced, much like the rest of this backstory was before we got here. I don’t find this episode as a waste, and I do appreciate actually being told what happened with these kids instead of just assuming the rest of the show. I do wonder about the timing and if we should have had this sooner instead of having varied focus on the other pilots. The extended cast exhibitions (though a lot of fun) has caused a little bit of issue in regards to resolving our main’s conflict which could have been avoided by keeping Zero Two and Hiro the sole focus of the show.
Additionally, there a ton of great visual cues in the episode including one that I loved featuring Hiro being handed candy in a show of passive kindness compared to seeing Zero Two’s hand in a similar position being blasted open with a laser in a show of pure aggression. It’s a very simple, but obviously a thought out move by the story boarders who wanted to show how Hiro and Zero Two are treated differently, all the way down to how they view hands.
Folding in on itself, this episode begins in the middle of Zero Two’s realization that she has been hurting her true Darling this entire time. I can’t imagine how surprising and terrible that must feel, and how sick she likely is knowing she is destroying the one good thing she ever met.
Hiro is rushed away for medical care, having been virtually sucked dry from Zero Two’s mental attack. During this time, we learn that Hiro can “saurify” at any moment. He is stricken from piloting to prevent this, and his friends all decide to make sure Zero Two cannot see or interact with Hiro. Ichigo even calls out Zero Two, saying that she makes people lose their humanity as they pilot on purpose. I didn’t think the saurification would affect everyone or that it was something Zero Two did on purpose, and that fact makes me like this best girl just a little less.
We now get a little bit of background on what happened after Hiro’s memories were deleted. His prodigy-self began to slowly fail aptitude tests, which explains the confusion with his designation number and his ability. Something in the memory wipe destroyed his ability to functionally pilot- until he met Zero Two, the one connection he has to lost mind. The main reason we are given is his ingestion of Zero Two’s blood, but I have to assume his memory loss shares some of the blame.
Meanwhile, the kids are informed that they are going to Grand Crevase to destroy all the Klax living inside the maw. We still aren’t told exactly what the Grand Crevase is, but at least now we have a working idea of the whole goal. Our special team is going to part of a larger operation beside the Nines and that other team they partnered with before.
Operation Protect Hiro is in full swing as the kids prevent Zero Two from seeing Hiro and vice versa. Hiro wants to learn if Zero Two actually knew that he was her Darling, or if she had also forgotten his face.This part of the show is quite difficult to watch because it’s simply forcing these people apart against both their wills.
Eventually, Zero Two has a mental break and begins to tear apart her holding room, likely having flashbacks to before when she was held as a testing subject as a child. She breaks out of the room and rushes to meet Hiro, beating anyone senseless who prevents her from her goal. Ichigo and the surviving members of the team meet Zero Two in their meeting area. Zero Two is upset that Ichigo won’t listen, but she does finally relent when the entire team sees hat Zero Two is truly sad. They all agree to let her see Hiro as long as they are can accompany her.
The troop arrives at Hiro’s room only to find that he, too, has escaped. Zero Two loses her mind, believing the kids lied to her and goes into beast mode. Hiro realizes that 02 isn’t at her dorm room, and after seeing her wrecked quarters, he races back to his hospital room. He finds Zero Two and his destroyed team. We don’t know the amount of beating everyone took, but I’m thinking that Ichigo receives the worst of it. The scene accentuates Zero Two’s horns, now much larger than we have ever seen. Hiro sees the scene and runs in to protect Ichigo, calling Zero Two a monster for what she did to his friends. Basic separation elements with the characters on screen were seen throughout this episode with Zero Two being constantly pushed away from the group; however, Hiro feels farther than he’s ever been from Zero Two during this scene as Zero Two is the only one with any light striking her.
Following this terrible interaction, Zero Two is called away for the Grand Crevase mission- unable to pilot with Hiro now that she is caused his near-saurification. Ichigo forces Hiro back, preventing he and Zero Two from making amends as Hiro cries (in his heart, not literally) for his missed opportunity that wasn’t his fault for missing. Ichigo kisses Hiro and confesses her love to him in the most selfish act I have ever seen by her. Remember when the internet hated Ichigo for a week? This is why.
This is a solid episode to add in before we start the Grand Crevase mission, and it was heavy on emotion which will make the eventual reuniting of Hiro and Zero Two that much more significant. The drab, dark focus of the show really put you in a somber mood, ready to jump into next week’s action feeling as empty as you should.