As they often say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is a frustrating episode simply because the conflict between Hiro, Zero-Two and the rest of their teammates will not be resolved anytime soon. It’s not that it can’t be resolved. It’s that the plot is compelled to follow standard storytelling conventions, and as a result, the main couple must be torn apart. The princess is more or less stolen away from her prince, and there’s nothing that he can do about it. For now, anyways. The same thing is about to happen in Full Metal Panic! if you want to know what I’m talking about. Chidori will soon fall into the bad guys’ clutches, and Sousuke’s going to have to spend the rest of the series trying to rescue her. Sadly, the exact same developments are taking shape here. I had hoped to go down a road less traveled, but here we are. Hiro and Zero-Two’s relationship have been stuck in limbo for quite some time now, and I wanted last week’s revelations to be a sign that we could finally move forward. Unfortunately, the whole world seems hellbent on keeping those two apart.
Hiro and Zero-Two finally recognize each other, but before they can truly talk about their relationship and what it truly means to both of them, the guy collapses from his injuries. She can’t help but feel guilty, because she’s been using him up to this point. Ichigo then manages to make her way into Strelizia and get between the couple. In her mind, she needs to keep Zero-Two away at all costs for Hiro’s sake, but she doesn’t know. And oftentimes, we’ll often hurt the people we love without knowing anything either. But it isn’t as though Zero-Two never had a chance. She’s been stonewalling Hiro for weeks and weeks now. You can’t say Hiro didn’t try. He definitely did. It just so happens that he and Zero-Two have known each other from the start. But suppose he was a whole new person, would it have really mattered? Think about it. We grow up believing in ideas like true love, but such a thing doesn’t really exist. It can’t exist. With over seven billion people on this planet, you can’t honestly believe that your one true love is out there somewhere. No, that isn’t the case at all. Rather, there are certain people that we can develop strong bonds with, then we simply strive to nurture our relationships with them. I actually wish Hiro and Zero-Two hadn’t been childhood friends, ’cause this would’ve sent a clearer, stronger message to all the deluded folks out there. Zero-Two has been so obsessed with a darling from years ago that she threw away a loving, supportive partner. She was so desperate to reunite with her darling from the past that she hurt her darling in the present.
Nana and Hachi discuss Hiro’s yellow blood cell count, which is apparently so high that he may very well undergo saurification. But is that so bad? Will this kill him? Or will it simply turn him into a hybrid like Zero-Two? Unfortunately, the adults no longer believe that it’s safe for Hiro to partner up with Zero-Two. The couple is about to be torn apart, and there’s nothing that he can do about it. He’s trapped in his hospital room, locked away from the one person he needs to talk to most. Zero-Two finally wants to open up to him, but she can’t. We are effectively in limbo as machinations beyond the couple’s control will conspire to keep them away from each other. The worst part is that the rest of Squad 13 has a large role to play in this unending drama. Like Ichigo, most of the kids have Hiro’s best interest at heart, but they don’t know anything about the situation. They’re clueless. They only get to hear Ichigo’s side of the story, and it’s hardly the most balanced take on the situation. Plus, whether they want to admit it or not, they’ve never really cared about Zero-Two.
Lately, Zero-Two finds her mind in a daze. All she really knows is that she needs to talk to her darling, but Ichigo won’t let the pink-haired girl anywhere near Hiro. The truth is that Ichigo doesn’t really care at all about how Hiro feels. She’s obsessed with him, but it’s hard to argue that she truly cares about him. It doesn’t matter to her what he actually wants. He’s just like a stuffed animal that she wants to keep safe and protected in her possession. Goro tries to be the voice of reason, but he’s too nice. He’s too soft-spoken, and as such, he ends up spoiling Ichigo. His words have next to no effect even though he’s supposed to be her partner. I wonder what that really says about their partnership. Are they naturally compatible, or are they only compatible because he pretty much allows Ichigo to run roughshod over him? Even the the most perfect marriage will have strife from time to time, but he and Ichigo rarely ever butt heads. Sometimes, you have to ruffle some feathers if you want to really grow and mature. Speaking calmly to Ichigo won’t accomplish anything, because she’s so blinded by her mission to protect Hiro.
Ichigo brings up the fact that Hiro will lose his humanity, but what does this really mean? I don’t think she really understands what she’s saying. If saurification means that Hiro will resemble Zero-Two, then what’s so bad about that? When we say that losing our humanity is bad, what we really mean is that we fear the loss of rationality and empathy, two traits often associated to humanity from an anthropocentric point of view. But if that’s the case, then Zero-Two seems perfectly human. She’s a little rough around the edges, but considering her childhood, what do you expect? If she’s not like the other children, it’s not because of the blood flowing through her veins. It’s because she was raised like a lab animal. But this is what often happens when we discriminate. We claim that the Other lacks humanity without often realizing that its is through our own actions that they are dehumanized. The other kids think that Zero-Two is a monster, because they treated her like one from the first place. Yes, other pilots die after riding with Zero-Two too many times, but again, is that due to her klaxosaur blood? Or does she simply strain her partners because she’s fixated on killing klaxosaurs? It’s not quite so clear upon further examination.
Either way, this fear of Hiro losing his humanity is unfounded. His appearance might change, but it’s doubtful that Hiro will cease to be Hiro. Ichigo knows what’s truly bothering her, but she just doesn’t want to admit it. She knows that if Hiro keeps spending time with Zero-Two, at some point, those two will eventually cross the point of no return. The thing is that Ichigo hasn’t given up on Hiro. Despite Goro’s confession, she still pines for Hiro and Hiro only. She doesn’t want him to fall in love with Zero-Two, and this whole saurification nonsense is just the perfect excuse for her to drive a massive wedge between him and her rival. Ichigo is going to pretend to take the high road and act as though she eventually accepted Zero-Two into the team, but I think that’s disingenuous at best. Yes, she defended Zero-Two in last week’s episode, but was that really for the pink-haired girl’s sake? Or did Ichigo simply not want any outsiders to disparage the team that she leads? I truly believe that Ichigo is selfish, and we’re finally seeing her true colors.
Unfortunately, Zero-Two can’t even defend herself. She’s too overwhelmed with anger and anxiety to properly reason with Ichigo. She’s finally found her darling, but she can’t even speak to him. Anyone would be torn up by that. As a result, Zero-Two only makes things worse. She even double-downs by claiming that she’s never once cared about the rest of the team. Unfortunately, she’s not doing herself any favors by turning all of his friends against her. This week’s episode is just one painful shot in the foot after the other. Initially, I was honestly surprised that everyone could keep Zero-Two away. If she really wanted to, she could easily overpower the entire squad just on her own. Instead, we just later see her cooped up in her room, nervously chewing on her fingernails. This isn’t the Zero-Two that I want to root for. This isn’t the Zero-Two that I can get behind. I like her strong, confident personality from earlier in the series. I understand that she’s anxious to speak to Hiro again, but I had to really consider why she was preventing herself from seeing her darling. The truth is that although she often acts tough and talks a big game, but she doesn’t actually want to hurt these kids. Zero-Two’s pride makes it seem as though she doesn’t give a damn about the rest of the squad, but this isn’t true. We’ve seen in previous episodes that she was actually starting to enjoy her time in Squad 13. She just can’t come out and admit it even though it would extremely help her case to do so. If Zero-Two had just appealed to their empathy from the start, the rest of the team probably would’ve relented and told Ichigo to back down.
Naturally, the first thing that comes out of Hiro’s mouth is Zero-Two. What he truly wants is to be able to talk to her, and what’s the harm in that? If she poses any danger to him, it’s in a FranXX. In a small room surrounded by friends, what can Zero-Two possibly do to Hiro? It’s so frustrating that none of the other kids seem to realize this. I can only wonder if they ever will. I also find it weird that his friends don’t even stick around for very long. They exchange a few empty words then immediately bail. Hiro doesn’t get a chance to explain why he wants to see Zero-Two so badly. Like with Zero-Two, if he had appealed to them, it might have helped. But like most shows, the lack of communication prevents anyone from taking any sort of meaningful action to improve the situation. Hiro does, however, get the chance to make amends with Mitsuru, so I guess one potential ship at least got to make some progress in this week’s episode. Unfortunately, the latter pretends as though he had forgotten all about the promise. Still, you have to imagine that things will improve immensely between these two in future episodes.
Once everyone has left the room, Hiro then recalls how his numbers kept dropping soon after the incident with Zero-Two. Did the doctors mess with Hiro’s mind so much that only Zero-Two can draw the best out of him? Or did she inadvertently alter his make-up in such a way that he could no longer pilot with anyone else? Maybe this happened when he consumed her blood. If that’s the case, then that’s one of hell of a trick. Imagine if you can prevent your partner from straying completely, because he can no longer get it up for anyone but you. In any case, Hiro wants to ask if Zero-Two had known all along that he could only ride with her. Is that really what matters to him right now? I guess I’m not really certain what he’s hoping to hear from her. What sort of answer would satisfy him? Does he want to be with her or not?
Life goes on without Hiro as the rest of the team receives its marching orders. What are Papa and his ilk up to? What’s so important about this “Gran Crevasse?” Why will this mission require the collaboration of numerous Plantations? Seeing as how this is an episode all about Hiro and Zero-Two, however, don’t count on finding out the truth anytime soon. Ichigo then raises her hand and directly requests to have Zero-Two removed from the mission. She is just being spiteful now. If she only cared about Hiro’s safety, she could’ve just talked to the adults in private. In reality, she’s deliberately trying to humiliate Zero-Two and ostracize the girl even further by calling her out in front of everyone. This is a show of power. Ichigo is beating her chest and shoving her leadership into Zero-Two’s face. She wants its to be known that she gets to call the shots around here, and her rival won’t get to pilot with Hiro again. She claims that this is the group’s decision, but Goro’s expression doesn’t look as though as if he wholeheartedly agrees. I can only wonder if this was ever actually discussed. Either way, it’s still bad for any decision to be made on Hiro’s behalf without his input. I’ve never really liked Ichigo, and in this week’s episode, she just continues to dig a hole for herself.
In the end, Ichigo’s power move is all moot anyways, since HQ had long decided to remove Zero-Two from the team completely. Nana and Hachi are just finally giving the team the news now. Knowing that she’ll soon lose her chance to be with her darling, Zero-Two tries once more to see Hiro, but everyone continues to stand in her way. Again, we have to realize that Futoshi and Zorome armed with a couple sticks can’t possibly keep Zero-Two away from Hiro. C’mon, those two guys? The two lamest guys on the squad? Again, she’s the one who’s keeping herself away from Hiro, because despite what Ichigo will claim about her, she doesn’t want to get violent and hurt anyone. At the moment, anyways. Everyone eventually gets pushed too far, and we’ll soon find Zero-Two’s limit. Nevertheless, what’s tragic about this episode is that Zero-Two’s “monstrosity” has proven to be nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy. She finally has her darling right in front of her, but what can she do? They already think she’s a monster. If she uses force to get her way, she’d just be tightening the noose around her neck. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And if she has to choose between her darling or these kids, that’s an easy choice to make. She just didn’t want to make that choice. She thought she had more time. She thought she could stick around and wait for Hiro’s condition to improve. Then everything would go back to normal and they’d be a team again. But now that her impending departure has been signed and sealed, the rest of team has forced her hands. Zero-Two will do what she thinks she needs to do.
Elsewhere, Hiro gets out of bed and tries to leave his room, but he finds Miku standing guard. But… it’s just Miku. Instead, however, Hiro takes one long look at his room. He’d rather hatch a convoluted plan to escape from his prison than just pushing his way past one person. Ichigo ends up paying him a visit, and she even brings an apple that doesn’t look very good in her hands. In any case, the girl claims that if Hiro even talks to Zero-Two, he’ll never be the same again. That’s such nonsense. She can’t truly believe that, because how can she even possibly know that? Rather, she fears that those two will end up together if they get to speak again. That’s all it is. This is her biggest chance to swoop in and steal Hiro, and that’s exactly what she’s doing. I’m not suggesting that Ichigo is some sort of conniving, manipulative person. She’s not intentionally trying to hurt Hiro and Zero-Two, but nevertheless, the results of her actions have the same effect. Ichigo is simply selfish, and this causes her to act in inadvertent ways that simply serve to further her own ends. She doesn’t really care about Hiro. She even says that it’s okay for him to hate her so long as he doesn’t go anywhere, i.e. leave her. As long as he stays here, cooped up in this little plantation, he’s just a caged bird. After all, he can’t take flight with anyone but Zero-Two. The fact that he can’t pilot with anyone but Zero-Two doesn’t matter to her. Ichigo can believe all she wants that he’ll one day be able to ride with her, but she has no evidence to back this up. In truth, his feelings don’t matter to her. Hell, she doesn’t even understand them. She doesn’t even know how useless and suicidal Hiro felt when he couldn’t fly. She just wants to keep him propped up around their dormitory like some kind of pet. Ichigo’s only protecting him for her own sake. She then says that as a team they don’t want to lose anyone, but Zero-Two is about to return the Nines.
Ichigo accidentally cuts herself, but Hiro simply puts a band-aid on it. He doesn’t lick her blood. Perhaps in Ichigo’s mind, she’s having a bonding moment with her crush, but all she can do is remind him of Zero-Two. Back at the dormitory, Zero-Two appears to have finally reached the end of her rope and come to a tragic decision. She doesn’t want to hurt the other kids, but she just can’t take it anymore. She’s played their game. She’s killed her own kind in the hopes of being accepted (I wonder if this was a lie that the Elders had told her). And yet, they continue to keep her away from her darling. Zero-Two has had enough. Sadly, this is what I was talking about earlier. By taking any sort of action against the group, no matter how justified, Zero-Two will just end up shooting herself in the foot. As a result, her monstrosity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But that has always been the case, hasn’t it? Outsiders like Zero-Two (e.g. hafus or any other minority for that matter) are always put between a rock and a hard place. We treat them poorly, but at the same time, we expect them to behave and fall in line. When they finally and inevitably lose their composure like Zero-Two — when they finally can’t take the ill treatment anymore — it just gives us false justification to spread hatred and fear even more. This is nothing more than confirmation bias; it’s an unending, vicious feedback loop that has doomed many societies from achieving their fullest potential. “Oh no, she’s violent so we can’t have her come near Hiro!” Then when Zero-Two gets fed up, Ichigo can smugly gloat that she had warned us beforehand.
Ichigo returns to find from the hospital to find that Zero-Two can no longer be held back by the other kids. The latter is no longer afraid to use violence. After all, she’s given up any pretense of being their teammates. She’s going back to the Nines soon anyways. She does, however, finally appeal to everyone’s emotions like I had wanted. As a result, Goro finally gets through to Ichigo and convinces their leader to let Zero-Two see Hiro. Unfortunately, it’s too late. In his own desperate effort to see Zero-Two, Hiro has broken out of his cell. Everything goes terribly wrong as Zero-Two can only see red. They must have tricked her, she feels. They’ve done everything they can to keep her away from her darling, so this must be another dirty ploy by the rest of the team to screw her over. Elsewhere, Hiro walks into Zero-Two’s room and finds that the entire place in a state of complete disarray. It almost seem as though an animal had torn the room apart. He gazes into Zero-Two’s broken mirror, and it’s hard not to think that the girl’s human facade has shattered. What’s unfortunate is that he can only see the result of Zero-Two’s monstrosity but not the cause. Again, if Zero-Two errs, it’s because she has been treated poorly. He instinctively rushes back to his hospital room and finds Zero-Two hurting his friends (her deranged cackling didn’t help either). So in his anger, he rejects her as well. He might not have meant to reject her completely, but that’s the funny thing about words… they often have unintended effects.
With that, Zero-Two accepts her punishment. She feels the guilt of having used him as a placeholder for her darling, not realizing that he was her darling all along. The next day, she willingly departs from the Plantation without a word. In fact, her horns are more pronounced than they’ve ever been. There’s a group of stamen ready and willing to sacrifice themselves to Zero-Two, but what’s even the point? She’s been fighting all this time to become human so that she can be with her darling, but even Hiro has rejected her. Does she even have a reason to fight anymore? Does she even have a reason to obey the adults anymore? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this all turns out. In any case, Zero-Two doesn’t even look at Hiro as she walks past him. In the moment, he foolishly doesn’t say anything to her either. He eventually regrets his inaction when he reflects on their relationship and what she truly means to him, but unlike earlier in the series, there’s no embarrassing romantic speech to give. As he turns to chase after Zero-Two, Ichigo desperately clings onto him and prevents him from pursuing what his heart truly wants. In front of Goro, she kisses Hiro and confesses her love. She claims that she’ll do anything she can so that they can ride together, but Hiro is just speechless. I’m speechless too. The depth of Ichigo’s selfishness is unbelievable. She doesn’t care at all about Hiro’s feelings, but more importantly, she doesn’t care at all about Goro’s feelings. The guy risked his life for her, and this is what he gets! I’m not saying that he’s entitled to her love. Of course not. But a little consideration wouldn’t hurt. A little more tact and diplomacy isn’t the end of the world. But Ichigo continues to charge forth as if she’s the only person who matters in this entire group of friends. And despite her heartfelt pleas, all Hiro can do is gaze longingly at the sky as he watches Zero-Two depart from his life.