Hiro opens the episode by telling us that his origins do not matter to him, because he only wants to live each moment to the fullest. Clearly, this is folly. We’ve learned from last week’s episode that there are gaps in his childhood. Clearly, something happened. Something big happened. And not just with him, but with Zero-Two as well. We cannot completely deny our roots. They play an undeniably large role in establishing our personal identity. It is only fitting, therefore, that this week’s episode delves into the past by revisiting the children’s orphanage, a.k.a. the Garden.
Shortly upon arriving at the Garden, Squad 13 bumps into a special team led by a familiar face. Collectively, they are the 9’s, and the blond kid is none other than Nine-Alpha. They also consider Zero-Two as one of their own. Nine-Alpha also refers to Zero-Two’s tests as simply maintenance. The girl, however, leaves without giving him a response. Those in the know seem to fear the possibility of Zero-Two going feral. After all, Nana insists that they can’t put her tests off any longer. They need to “maintain” her humanity, so to speak, but this isn’t enough for Zero-Two. She doesn’t want to just maintain her human side; she wants to become completely human. Judging from what we’ve seen in the last few weeks, however, she’s fighting a losing battle not from a physiological standpoint but a psychological one. She’s been pushing Hiro away lately even though she often claims that she and her darling will be together until the day they die. This adds credence to the blond kid’s words: “Glad to see you haven’t changed.” He’s taunting her, and they both know it.
As Hiro waits to undergo his own battery of tests, he thinks of his last encounter with Zero-Two. He had tried again to get her to open up to him, but she continued to resist his overtures. Despite being her darling, she doesn’t actually trust him. It’s as if her heart is meant for someone else, and Hiro is nothing more than a stand-in. So instead, she demanded a kiss from Hiro. She’d rather placate him with sex instead of emotional intimacy. Like a predator, she backed Hiro up into a corner, then went in “for the kill.” Her canine teeth have become more pronounced than ever, and this didn’t go unnoticed. Rather, they scared Hiro, and he flinched. He didn’t mean to reject her, but he did. Just a simple subtle look of fear in his eyes was all that Zero-Two needed to see. Whether they both realized it or not, she put him to a test and he failed. Hiro probably wonders what he could’ve done differently at the time.
After a brief but nostalgic tour of the Garden, Hiro later walks through a nearby forest and stumbles upon a large tree that he refers to as “mistletoe.” All of a sudden, memories start to flood his mind. He remembers meeting a little girl with red skin and prominent horns. Obviously, this has to be Zero-Two, and this is also obviously the girl we had seen at the very start of the series. Back then, she had confessed to us how profoundly beautiful she found humans to be. This will be important in a bit. So in typical anime storytelling fashion, Hiro and his darling used to be childhood friends. But wouldn’t she remember him? It would appear that she does. She just doesn’t recognize that her childhood darling and current darling are one and the same.
Elsewhere, Nine-Alpha gets to talk to Ichigo once more, and he brings up Hiro and Zero-Two. This instantly gets Ichigo’s undivided attention. The blond kid claims that Zero-Two is just a monster hiding behind a human guise. If you’ll recall, Dr. Franxx had warned Hiro against allowing Zero-Two to consume his emotions. Maybe they don’t think Zero-Two is ever capable of generating her own human emotions. Maybe they think Zero-Two can only wear her human mask by feeding upon her stamens. Remember what Mitsuru said about his experience with Zero-Two: “That girl tried to devour everything I had. My blood, my flesh, and my soul… All of it!” For whatever reason, Zero-Two isn’t having the same effect on Hiro. And possibly because of this, her human guise is falling apart. Is she unable to consume Hiro’s emotions in some form or fashion? Or does he simply lack authentic human emotions for her to consume? Something big happened to Hiro in the past… we just don’t know what yet.
Eventually, klaxosaurs attack, so the team must ready themselves for battle. When Hiro meets up with his partner, he can’t help but notice that Zero-Two’s horns have somehow grown in length. He apologizes for staring, and grabs her hand to show her that he’s still her partner. She doesn’t hold his hand back, though. At this point, it’s far too late for him to do anything to help her. She just wants to kill. She wants to take her rage out on klaxosaurs. The mission begins, and once again, Strelizia dashes in alone. It’s getting harder and harder to Hiro to rein his partner in. But of course, she never wanted to be a part of a team. She just wanted a darling. At the moment, however, Zero-Two is so consumed with self-hate that she takes her spear and bashes away at a klaxosaur that has long died. Again, she thinks killing klaxosaurs will make her human, but this is far from the case.
After the mission, Hiro finds the girl chewing on her fingers so badly that she’s starting to bleed. Even though she wants to be human so badly, she’s clearly uncomfortable in her human skin. It becomes painfully clear at this point what Zero-Two is going through: she’s a hafu. Not only have hafus always faced discrimination, they feel as though they are neither Japanese nor the ethnicity to which half of them belongs. Zero-Two is the same since her biracial identity leaves her in no man’s land. She rejects the klaxosaurs because their blood is responsible for her ostracization, but she’s clearly not purely human either. She can’t pretend to be something that’s she’s not. Rather, she’s something new. She’s a synthesis of two ideas, and there’s a remarkable beauty in that. Unfortunately, Zero-Two feels too much internal pain and anguish at the moment, so her true identity is not something she come to love and appreciate on her own. All she can do is lash out against her “impurity” by killing klaxosaurs. Just replace the word “human” with “Japanese.” Imagine hearing over and over that you’re not Japanese. Imagine hearing over and over that your Japanese identity is a facade, and you’re just an outsider pretending to be otherwise.
Zero-Two sorely wants to belong, but the adults have only ever wanted her for her body. Hiro tries to confess his true feelings, but it is to no avail:
Hiro: “I don’t know why you’re so fixated on being human (Japanese), but you are who you are! It doesn’t matter where you were born! Your horns and fangs (skin color) aren’t an issue, either!”
Zero-Two: “Shut your damn mouth!”
Hiro: “I was attracted to the person you are! It doesn’t matter whether you’re human (Japanese) or not. This entire time, I’d been trying to figure out why I felt this way about you, and watching Goro and Futoshi helped me understand this unique feeling. I love you, Zero-Two! I love you as you are!”
To a girl who has been used and abused all her life, Zero-Two thinks Hiro only wants her body: “I’ll teach you what comes after kissing.” As a result, she unbuttons her top and climbs on top of Hiro. She’s daring him to use her like the rest. Use her and discard her. Again, he tries to insist that he truly loves her, but Zero-Two is too far gone. Since he’s wasting her time, she decides to reject him instead and calls him nothing but fodder. She gave him the chance to discard her first, but since he didn’t take the chance, she does it to him anyway. This wounds Hiro enough to give up for the time being.
Before anyone can collect their thoughts, more klaxosaurs attack. Needless to say, Zero-Two continues to endanger herself and Hiro by charging into battle alone with her single-minded obsession. When he tries to restrain her once more, this leads to dire results. Strelizia can’t hide Zero-Two’s madness. Inside the cockpit, a red apparition suddenly emerges from Zero-Two and starts choking Hiro out. Perhaps this is what other stamens have had to suffer through, and our protagonist can now finally experience the horror for himself. Up until now, some special quality about Hiro had protected him from Zero-Two’s wrath. Perhaps it is this special designation as her “childhood friend.” In other words, she doesn’t consciously recognize him as her darling from the past, but a small part of her does. Nevertheless, her blind hate against half of her own identity has now removed all restraints. Her hate now threatens the kill the very darling she so badly wants to be with. The apparition confesses, “Give me all of your life. I’m going to become human, so I can meet my darling from back then.” She’s lonely and she just wants to be loved.
Back to the past
Other than Zero-Two, everyone seems eager to revisit their past. They peer through the snowstorm to gawk at the Garden. After all, this is the orphanage that they all grew up in. The word “development” might have more than one meaning. Hiro tells us that this is where children live, but as viewers, we can’t help but wonder where the children in this world even come from. The humans in the plantations certainly aren’t sexually reproducing. Hiro remembers well enough that he used to be a “designated special research subject,” but does he remember anything else? Apparently not. I want to ask why he doesn’t question the gaps in his memories, but from his perspective, he likely has no clue anything is even wrong. To continue where we had left off in last week’s episode, Hiro has no clue that Mitsuru had been experimented. Naturally, this angers the latter, but he keeps his emotions under check in front of the adults.
So what are we all doing here? Well, we’re going to conduct some tests, and that’s all we’re going to do. Nana explicitly forbids the team from entering the Garden itself. They probably don’t want the younger children to realize that when they grow up, they’ll have to go on dangerous, life-threatening missions. You need to indoctrinate them first. Even so, Hiro soon tells Goro that he’s going to defy the adults and return to the Garden. He wants to tie up loose ends and tell Naomi that he has found a partner. I bet he won’t find her there, though. Still, the rest of the team (minus Zero-Two, of course), decides to join him anyway. This makes sense, since they all have their own sentimental ties to the orphanage. I’m just surprised that it’s so easy for the kids to trespass. You’d think security measures would be tighter. You’d think this dystopian future would rely more heavily on AI to keep things under control.
The group can’t help but see their younger selves when they stop to observe the young children currently living at the orphanage. For instance, Ichigo recalls talking to Hiro about a specific book. The Golden Bough is apparently some comprehensive book on mythology and religion. I’ve never touched it myself. Child Hiro did, however, and he zeroed in on some “holy tree.” I don’t want to speculate too much on this right now, though. But yeah, it’s clear that the children have plenty of books to read. Of course, we don’t know what kind of books are supplied, and if I had to guess, they probably don’t get to read anything about sex. Then again, a book on religion should contain lots of references to sex, right? But I don’t really know. Like I’ve said, I’ve never touched The Golden Bough.
According to Goro, it’s only been six months since they left the Garden. The team eventually come across a room full of children with empty, zombie-like stares. They’re obviously being experimented on. Judging by Zorome’s words, however, it seems as though none of them ever recall going through such a ghastly experience. What’s remarkable, however, is that up until now, no one has noticed Hiro and his friends walking around the place. Eventually, the topic of parasite injections come up, so an adult finally notices the squad. She chimes in to say that yellow blood cells are what you receive in said injections. Yellow blood cells not only make you better in combat (heightened senses?), they also render you obedient.
The adult also informs Hiro that parasites never return to the Garden when they leave. Nobody is really surprised, but I guess Hiro still clung onto the hope that he could meet Naomi again one day. After all, he feels guilty that they never became proper partners. He essentially doomed Naomi to whatever fate awaited her. Eventually, the adult kicks them all out of the Garden, and as they return to the laboratory, Kokoro finally asks the question we’ve all been waiting for: where do children in this world even come from? Miku answers that they must have been created by Papa and the rest of the adults. Sure, that’s possible, but how were they created? But before they can discuss the topic any further, Nana shows up to yell at them. We’re slowly inching our way towards the truth, but we still have far more questions than answers.
Misc. notes & observations:
— We see Zero-Two making a mess of the library. She’s looking for a picture book but she only finds dusty tomes full of words. I wonder why she wants a picture book.
— This laboratory looks like a microscope… an evil microscope.
— I’m reminded of how Hiro and his gang had no clue they could die so easily. I know some people find this a bit hard to swallow, but teenagers often feel that they’re invincible. Of course they know what death is, but I don’t find it surprising at all that they don’t take their own mortality all that seriously.
— Hiro speculates that the only person who really needs to undergo any tests is Zero-Two. The rest of the team is just here for… what? Just to get the girl here? The pink-haired girl remains as isolated as she’s ever been. Part of it is her fault, part of it is also her team’s fault. Other than Hiro, no one else has made any concerted effort to reach out to Zero-Two.
— Zero-Two is often cool and collected, but the thought of suffering through these “thorough tests” is enough to make her anxiously chew through her own skin. But of course, her protests fall on deaf ears. Nana and Hachi aren’t likely to break protocol.
— It turns out Nine-Iota doesn’t refer to Hiro after all, but a lot of people seemed to think that it did. There was a theory going around about how turning the numbers upside-down would give us 016, i.e. Hiro’s code number. But this still works in a way… Zero-Two and Hiro are destined to be together because she is his counterpart. She is his inverse.
— After Zero-Two departs from the scene, Nine-Alpha wonders how Hiro and his team managed to “tame” her, which, of course, serves to dehumanize the girl even futher. Ichigo comes to her teammate’s defense, which is nice… unfortunately, Zero-Two is no longer in the room.
— Miku thinks Nine-Alpha is hot, which amusingly stirs up Zorome’s jealousy.
— Nine-Alpha tells Zero-Two’s teammates to escort her to “you-know-where.” Apparently, all of the plantations are convening on one locations, but we are as clueless as Hiro’s team. Nana simply tells them that she’ll fill them in later. Great.
— A simple kiss on Ichigo’s hand turns her beet-red, which is amusing. She insulted his etiquette, so he responded in kind. He’s just being polite in an antiquated, gentlemanly way, but because these kids are clueless, Ichigo assumes that he’s flirting with her.
— Eventually, Nana informs the kids that they need to get a move on, i.e. let’s move the plot forward. One can only wonder what she and Hachi were thinking as they watched the two group of kids interact.
— As Ichigo departs with her team, Nine-Alpha teasingly remarks that he would like to join their squad one day. Ichigo has a lot of pride as a leader. Like a mother, she’s very protective of her “children.”
— Elsewhere, Zero-Two fights off armed adults as she continues to refuse to undergo any tests. She’s becoming more feral than ever, but in the end, they manage to restrain her. Nana seems cold and uncaring to the girl’s plight, but we don’t really know what pressure she’s under.
— Ichigo is seen leaving Nana’s office last, so she probably got a tongue-lashing for not reining her team in as its leader. Nine-Alpha taunts the girl as she walks by: “I’ve never seen any children disobey and get yelled at before.” This is why a team full of kids undergoing puberty is so risky. Teenagers are rebellious, after all. Even the yellow blood cells aren’t perfect.
— He has more to tell her, but we don’t get to hear the rest of their conversation for now. The anime is deliberately withholding information for dramatic effect, but this gimmick has always annoyed me.
— No wonder Zero-Two is so obsessed with her mirror. She’s constantly checking on her facade. It eventually shatters. It’s a little on the nose, but I’m fine with it.
— Why is the Garden in such a cold and desolate place anyway? Well, it seems klaxosaurs aren’t inclined to show up in a place so devoid of energy. Nevertheless, five Moho-class beasties have decided to crash the party, and we can’t help but wonder if they’ve been summoned in some way. It almost feels as though Zero-Two’s slow transformation is acting as a catalyst.
— Back in the laboratory, Hachi and Nana confirms what we already know about Zero-Two’s slow transformation, but they refer to it as “saurification.” What’s new, however, is that Hiro is being affected as well. If he continues to stay with her, he might also become a hybrid. He may very well become “impure” (if that’s not already the case). This revelation sends Ichigo in a spiral, because she’s incredibly protective of her childhood friend.
— Afterwards, she tries to at least open up a channel of communication with Zero-Two, but God only knows what she has to say. Zero-Two is still raging at her identity, so no talk can be had.
— It is at this moment that we finally learn everything that Nine-Alpha had said to Ichigo, and he merely confirms what he had learned from Hachi and Nana. We already know that Zero-Two devours her stamens. What’s clear, however, is that Hiro has been spared the same fate. Rather, he’s being turned. Either way, Zero-Two is apparently the key to whatever Papa and his ilk intends to achieve. They call it “saving the world,” but as hardened anime veterans, we know better.