When given the opportunity, Ikuno immediately requests to partner up with Ichigo. She justifies it as a back-up plan should they ever lose a stamen, but we all know what her motives are; she’s clearly in love with Ichigo. I’m more surprised that Nana okays it. Surely, they’ve tried this before and it didn’t work, right? If they haven’t tried this before, why not? And as predicted, Ikuno can’t even establish a connection with Ichigo. It could be an equipment issue (no pun intended), but it’s likely due to the fact that Ikuno has a one-sided love. She’s not being honest with herself. She might admire Ichigo, but are they even all that close to each other? Even though Ichigo likely still sees Goro as nothing more than a friend, at least those two have a shared history. We have yet to see anything akin to that between her and Ikuno. But let’s back things up a bit. How did we even get to this point? Well, it’s a long story as multiple interpersonal conflicts collide. One-sided love quickly becomes one of the show’s major themes. We already know that Ichigo has a one-sided love for Hiro, and Goro in turn has a one-sided love for her. The entanglements get even more complicated since Ikuno has her eyes only for Ichigo. As it turns out, things are not so different for Mitsuru and Futoshi either.
In an earlier meeting, Hachi had told Ikuno and Mitsuru that they needed to up their kill counts. Is that the only metric for performance? Obviously, we know what the adults are getting at. Those two have never really had great compatibility to begin with, and we can’t forget that Mitsuru readily ditched his partner for a stab at greatness with Zero-Two. What I’m trying to say, however, is that there are only ever so many enemies to kill in any given mission. If this duo manages to score a higher kill count, wouldn’t this come at the expense of another duo? As such, it wouldn’t hurt for one of these FranXXs to play a support role instead. I’ve always been taught that a balanced team requires at least one member who doesn’t go for all the kills. Instead, they would rather help facilitate the team’s overall success. Mitsuru’s attitude would probably keep him from fulfilling such a role, but I’m just speaking broadly.
Predictably enough, the Ikuno-Mitsuru partnership goes from bad to worse. Chlorophytum completely shuts down out of nowhere during a routine mission. Obviously, it is not really “out of nowhere.” Ikuno and Mitsuru have been having issues since the start of the series, and the guy’s baggage is finally catching up to him. This serves as a nice contrast to Kokoro and Futoshi’s little moment. While those two are happily broadcasting their nonsense to the rest of the team, Ikuno and Mitsuru continue to have their problems play out “behind locked doors.” The rest of the team can’t help, because they never knew they had to help to begin with. The Chlorophytum duo are both paradoxically too insecure and too proud to reach out to others for assistance. We immediately cut to Mitsuru resting in the infirmary. The battle had taken place without Ikuno and him ever participating. Hachi merely tells us that the guy is afflicted with “Child Fever.”
Back in the dormitory, the kids talk about a procedure known as Elixir Injection. It’s a drug that induces yellow blood cell production, but according to Ichigo, Mitsuru is the only kid to ever return from having this procedure performed on him. Kokoro later adds that it only has a 15% survival rate. In any case, we’re getting that yellow blood cell thing again. It came up before, but I never really gave it much thought. Needless to say, humans don’t have yellow blood cells. This anime takes place in some distant future (and perhaps even an alternate universe), so it’s possible that humanity evolved enough to have yellow blood cells. On the other hand, it’s simpler and easier to speculate that these kids are not entirely human. This statement from Ikuno seems to imply as much: “[Elixir Injection] greately increases one’s parasite aptitude.” This would explain why they’re being exploited by the adults. Of course, I’m not saying that this justifies the adults’ actions. Nevertheless, we humans have a penchant for abusing and misusing anything that isn’t like us.
Anyways, when Nana goes to check up on him later, Mitsuru immediately demands to pilot a FranXX. He and Ikuno are placed in one of those test devices, and in reaction to the former’s low scores, Hachi bluntly states that this will make Mitsuru a “pruning target.” This is simply more evidence that these kids are nothing more than fodder to the adults. Nana, however, seems to resist the idea of losing anyone. Maybe she does cares about the kids. Or maybe she just doesn’t want Dr. Franxx’s experiment to fail. We need to see more scenes with her to weigh in definitively on her character. Either way, she tells the rest of the team that they can consider swapping partners if they so wish. Obviously, Zero-Two and Hiro are bound together; we’ve already been through that song and dance. Furthermore, Ichigo and Goro serve as the team’s leadership duo. Do you really want to shake that pairing up? And after last week’s episode, we know things are going well between Zorome and Miku. The trouble is with the other kids.
In Mitsuru’s first nightmare, we see that Hiro was chosen to represent a group of kids (I count 17 of them). More importantly, the former even used to look at the latter with admiration in his eyes. Present-day Mitsuru, however, calls Hiro a traitor. He then wakes up from his dream in a cold sweat. As he starts to get up out of bed, Mitsuru’s narration blasts us with a heavy dose of cynicism: don’t believe in anything, never have hope, promises can only be broken, yadda yadda yadda. So why does he respect Papa so much? Maybe he’s not as gushy about Papa like, say, Zorome, but he’s never this cynical about the adults. Furthermore, he’s in the wrong job if he wants to insist that trust and promises are badTM. Obviously, Mitsuru has no choice in the matter. These kids must fight for the adults or perish. At the same time, however, he should know how important it is for him to be compatible with his partner. Low compatibility means death on the battlefield. Nevertheless, the guy insists that he’ll never put his trust in anyone ever again. Sure.
Later in the episode, Mitsuru has another nightmare. This one reveals that he was never strong enough to become a pilot in the first place. He had to risk undergoing the dangerous Elixir Injection if he wanted to go anywhere near a FranXX. He had also hoped to be Hiro’s partner. As far as we’ve seen — and much to the Internet’s chagrin — the FranXXs aren’t designed to accommodate same-sex partners. But who knows? Maybe the adults just need to be a little more open-minded when it comes to the kids’ experimentation. What’s important, however, is that Hiro and Mitsuru had made a promise to each other before the latter’s painful procedure. The young child risked death just to one day pilot a FranXX with his idol. We might even dare say that he loved Hiro back then. He suffered for Hiro. As a result, his world shattered when he returned from the Elixir Injection to find that Hiro had forgotten all about their promise.
I’ll be honest: I find this ridiculous. I find it outrageous that Mitsuru never questioned Hiro any further about their broken promise. It’s obvious to the audience that something had happened to Hiro. Goro even alluded that the guy’s personality suddenly took a drastic change around this time. The adults properly took him somewhere for further experimentation considering how he’s referred to as Nine Iota by some random kid we haven’t seen again in weeks, but I digress. My point is, I don’t understand how no one else realized it. I don’t understand how Mitsuru could’ve followed Hiro around like a lost puppy at the orphanage and not realized that something had changed in his friend. I don’t understand why he doesn’t try and help Hiro. Hiro simply remembers nothing. Not only that, he carries on as if nothing’s wrong, which only serves to rub salt in Mitsuru’s wounds. Clearly, he had to suffer greatly to undergo the Elixir Injection. Clearly, he’s hurt. But his reaction just seems disproportionate to what he perceives to be Hiro’s great transgression. I dunno, maybe it’s just me but I’m not convinced.
Anyways, when given the opportunity to swap partners, Ikuno decides to needle Mitsuru: “You want to be acknowledged, but not by Papa or the adults–…” Mitsuru immediately cuts her off in rage. She understands him better than he would like to admit. This is probably why the adults ever thought they were compatible in the first place. Ikuno probably even feels that they’re a bit like kindred spirits. After all, she’s got a one-sided love for Ichigo, and Mitsuru has this toxic one-sided love-hate thing for Hiro. As stated above, Ikuno eventually requests to partner up with Ichigo. Mitsuru, however, doesn’t request to partner up with Hiro even though he probably should. Instead, he stays quiet. He’s too prideful. One also wonders if Hiro will ever understand why Mitsuru is so mad. He’ll probably have to recover his memory first though. In any case, by the end of the episode, Kokoro will have taught Mitsuru that it’s okay for him to believe in not just others but himself as well. As a result, he relents a little. In his narration, Mitsuru tells us that he doesn’t know if he’ll ever forgive Hiro, which, I guess, is progress.
Trouble in paradise
In contrast to Ikuno and Mitsuru, Kokoro and Futoshi always appear to get along. “Appear,” however, is the operative word. Nana mentions something interesting in this same episode: in addition to their individuality, Squad 13’s success can also be attributed to the team’s simultaneous puberty. Conflicts — even interpersonal ones — appear to “[draw] out the full abilities of these children.” As such, the story seems to subscribe to the idea that conflicts bring out the best in us. If you go too far in one direction, you end up with Ikuno and Mitsuru. Those two can barely work together because they simply don’t get along. On the other hand, if you can never ever be critical, then you lack the ability to self-improve. Every couple fights. They don’t need to fight every week or even every month, but it would be odd if they never fought about anything. Case in point, Futoshi asks Kokoro if she would promise to be his partner forever. She barely takes a second to consider his requests before answering affirmatively. Neither of them are taking this as seriously as they should. Neither of them are really considering what their partnership entails. The guy is lost in his puppy love, and the girl is just casually going along with his whims. Kokoro wants to be the peacekeeper even when it isn’t necessary.
During the whole partner-swapping discussion, Futoshi wants to insist to Kokoro that they have their promise, but are their numbers even good? Is he being objective about the superiority of their teamwork? Furthermore, the adults are likely more inclined to prioritize the entire squad’s overall teamwork over any particular couple’s synergy. More important than anything I’ve just listed, however, is the kids’ happiness. Futoshi is obviously content with Kokoro, but is she content with him? And like I said before, Kokoro never reveals her true feelings; she always wants to keep the peace. She’s a big softie at heart, but this also renders her cowardly. She’s always hiding behind a smile even when it’s no longer genuine. Her partnership with Futoshi is obviously not all roses, but when a couple never fights, that’s a red flag. He doesn’t understand her as well as he thinks he does, and she is too afraid to confront him about anything. Maybe his clinginess is a turnoff. Maybe he’s too overprotect of her in battle, and she feels as though they can never reach their potential. Maybe she’s just tired of being pigeon-holed as the nice, perfect girl who never stirs up drama so she self-destructs their partnership.
As a result, it is Kokoro who volunteers to become Mitsuru’s partner. Make no mistake, this is for her. She’s doing this for herself. Hiro later suggests, “She’s really nice, so she must’ve felt she had to do something for Mitsuru,” but this is not the whole story. She’s unhappy with something about Futoshi, but she doesn’t have the heart to hurt him directly. This Partner Shuffle nonsense, however, gives her the excuse to get away from her overly-doting partner. Even with Mitsuru, Kokoro’s personality doesn’t fundamentally change. She’s still super nice and super supportive. She gives Mitsuru the encouragement he needs to believe in himself and continue fighting. She gives him a reason to live even though he is all but ready to throw his life away. After all, giving up on the battlefield means you’re no longer useful to the adults. And if you’re no longer useful to the adults, you’ll quickly find yourself with a death sentence. So why did Kokoro destroy her partnership with Futoshi for a less-than-ideal one with Mitsuru? Well, human hearts are fickle. Even when things are going mostly well, we still reach out and yearn for the remaining 10% that eludes our grasp. Kokoro admits she hurt Futoshi greatly, but she won’t be happy if she’s always selfless. She needs to think for herself too. This adds much needed complexity to her character, which up until now has been far too generic and cookie-cutter.
The ongoing Zero-Two problem
Hiro continues to try and dig away at the wall that Zero-Two has erected between them, but the girl is not forthcoming. All of a sudden, she appears to fear intimacy. Maybe she’s always feared it. Earlier in the series, Zero-Two was all over her partner. She clung to him like a lover going through the honeymoon phase. But that was all a game, wasn’t it? She was having fun teasing Hiro and the rest of the kids with her lovey-dovey nonsense, wasn’t she? When it comes right down to it, however, Zero-Two is afraid to really open up to her partner when it counts. Maybe she’s scared that he won’t understand what she’s going through. Maybe she’s scared that if she opens up to him, they’ll become too close as a couple. Since she’s always so certain that everyone will die in battle one day, she doesn’t want to form any sort of attachment to Hiro. She wants to die with him, but she doesn’t want any of that to be emotionally painful. At the moment, however, we can only speculate since we don’t know what’s actually bothering her either.
On the battlefield, their compatibility remains high. Well, high enough to get the job done. Zero-Two and Hiro’s partnership has always been different from everyone else; they actually share control over Strelizia. Hiro is often content to let Zero-Two do her own thing, and that works for them 99% of the time. This week, however, the situation gets a little messy. When a Gutenberg-class klaxosaur shows up, Zero-Two immediately rushes Strelizia into battle. At one point, Hiro has to restrain her from getting too reckless. Clearly, she’s hungry for a fight, but why is that? Zero-Two likely feels as though she’s losing her identity by being on this team. On the one hand, she wants to be human. She doesn’t want to identify herself as monster like these klaxosaur. On the other hand, joining a team has made her soft. It has made her yearn for intimacy and camaraderie from Hiro and the rest of the kids respectively. As a result, she throws herself head first into battle because it’s what she’s always known. What’s familiar to us also feels safe to us. In contrast, her partnership with Hiro is unexplored territory. She wants a darling, but only a darling that she can die with. She has never considered growing old with her darling. This realization frightens her partner, though.
Hiro’s not necessarily scared of her. He is, however, scared of the idea that Zero-Two is so ready to die.
Misc. notes & observations:
— I’m getting the impression that former Hiro was a bit of a golden child. At the very least, he may have seemed like one from the kids’ perspective, and that can always breed resentment.
— Dude, Futoshi has a baguette in his bed? They’re Flanderizing his love for food before he even gets the chance to be a full-fledged character. Plus, it’s his turn to get some character development this week. We seem to be double-dipping with Mitsuru as well.
— Much of Squad 13’s overall improvement is occurring offscreen as we hear Ichigo report their latest mission success. I’m fine with that. Like I’ve said before, the mecha part of this anime comes third to the character drama and dystopian vibes, and I prefer it that way.
— Conrad-class, Guten-whatever-class, so on and so forth. Hana tells the children that the S-Planning is doing well. At some point, I hope to find out what any of these labels actually mean.
— Hachi is in disbelief: “That would be a total refutation of our prior methods.” That happens all the time in research, buddy.
— Apparently, this is S-Planning. And like us, the kids don’t know what’s going on here either. The adults are digging for something is pretty much all we get. Zero-Two adds that the stench of klaxosaur is heavy in the air. Whatever S-Planning is, it’s drawing in the enemy.
— Futoshi is so cringeworthy. Over and over again, he gets on my nerves in this week’s episode. This is why I don’t mind at all that Kokoro ends up torpedoing their relationship. He’s such a sad sack. He even ends up crying in battle. Actually, he reminds me of someone I work with.
— Aw, do we have to kill them? They look so cute.
— This will probably get the Internet mad again. The kids don’t have a choice in the matter. The adults decide everything. And why would they do it this way? Think about it. What are the ideas that this show is trying to challenge?
— There’s truth in Zorome’s bluntness. Unfortunately, no one really takes him seriously.
— Kokoro continues to obsess over baby-making. Considering how we’re now wondering if these kids are even human, we must naturally wonder if they can even make babies.
— Despite this show not really focusing on the mecha aspect as much as advertised, this episode actually has some pretty exciting action. The klaxosaur-of-the-week, however, looks too adorable to be threatening.
— It has some cool tricks, though. For one, it can quickly heal up its wounds. It can also extend its reach a great distance. Chunks that falls off instantly becomes miniature klaxosaurs as well. As a result, Goro instantly deduces that this Gutenberg-class baddie is actually made up of smaller Conrad-class baddies. But if that’s the case, shouldn’t the big klaxosaur have a bunch of mini-cores?
— We finally get to see another FranXX threaten to enter Stampede Mode. It looks kinda silly since Genista has that top hat. As an aside, people will probably be mad that the FranXX turns into a beast without the male component, but this completely disregards the fact that the FranXX is useless without the female component. The boys are helpless without their partners. This isn’t the case at all for the girls.
— And in the end, Strelizia gets to strike a pose.