“The Garden Where It All Began”
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The Parasites return home to ‘The Garden’, the mysterious laboratory where they were all raised. Zero Two becomes increasingly angry and upset, prompting Hiro to try and find out what the matter is.
This entire episode is built around a false premise, namely the idea that we don’t already know Zero Two is some sort of inhuman monster. The big problem here is that the show has been telling us that since the very first episode. There have been explicit statements, by the characters themselves no less, that Zero Two has Klaxosaur blood in her, and even if nothing had been said it doesn’t take a genius to realise that there’s something not quite right about that girl. As a result, everything about the structure of this episode feels like it’s treating the viewer like an utter idiot. We’re meant to be shocked when
9S Nines reveals that Zero Two has already had over a hundred partners, but again the idea she’s a partner killer has been repeatedly emphasised pretty much every time she’s appeared on-screen. Are we meant to be shocked by the number? If so that’s a pretty weak justification for treating common knowledge like a shocking twist. It’s incredibly baffling and just makes me think the writing team has no idea of how actual dramatic structure works, which, er, is kind of a problem to put it mildly.
It’s a shame too, because there’s actually some semi-decent character work going on here. Seeing Zero Two tetchy, upset, and out of her comfort zone is a nice contrast to the ultra-assured sadist she’s been up to this point. The scene where she attempts to rape Hiro by the lake is probably the first time the show has used its ultra-sexualised tone to genuinely disturbing effect, and her constant nail-biting is a neat tic which ties in with the episode’s emphasis on her monstrous transformation. On the other hand, Hiro’s dialogue is a series of awful banal cliches and the writing continues to paint Ichigo as dumber than a sack full of hammers, so let’s not get carried away here. The show still seems unable to commit to a believable tone, never better exemplified than when the Parasites re-enter the garden and seem shocked at the experiments being done on younger and younger children, even though they themselves were raised in this system and have no objective morality to compare it to. It’s the kind of outrageously lazy writing which has plagued the show all along, unable or unwilling to fully commit to its dystopian ideal in favour of ultra broad, flat stock anime characterisation.
The apotheosis of this has to be the episode end, where it’s revealed that…wait for it…HIRO AND ZERO TWO WERE LOST CHILDHOOD SWEETHEARTS! Alright, maybe sweethearts is a bit of a push but come on, we have seen this damn cliche a million billion times and I can count the number of times it has actually been done well on one hand. It’s even more ludicrous in this context where they were both meant to be highly regimented lab experiments, although I’m betting Zero Two probably ‘escaped’ and Hiro will have displayed some random act of kindness which caused her to obsess over him for the rest of he life, because that’s how this works. It’s entirely possible to build a good tale on the back of cliche of course, but considering the risible writing we’ve seen in FranXX up to this point I’m not holding my breath.
- For a super secret lab complex which houses the hope of humanity, The Garden sure seems to have absolutely no kind of security at all. The staff seems pretty happy to spill to any random passers-by also.
- Why does the show need to have Zero Two read fake Shakespeare? It’s not like real Shakespeare has a trademark going or anything.
- The absence of Naomi seems to confirm she was in fact killed in the first episode. Nobody seems that concerned honestly.
- There’s some real nice directing and animation this week, particularly in the robot fights, and when Zero Two smashes the mirror and we see her reflection in the shards.
- The book which Ichigo and Hiro discuss is The Golden Bough, a classic comparative study of magic, myth, and religion. It’s pretty much a stock anime meaningful text and shows up in a fair few shows, notably Eureka Seven.
All our fears were confirmed when this episode marked the return of Hiro and Zero-Two to the spotlight and the accompanying dip in interesting ideas that comes with it. Anime in general often has a problem of feeling the need to overexplain things repetitively. We get it, Zero-Two isn’t human. We get it, piloting with Zero-Two is doing weird genetic mojo to Hiro. We’ve known this since episode 1. Even if we didn’t, you don’t need to explain it four times in a single episode. Maybe some anime viewers aren’t always paying attention, but it’s almost insulting how much FranXX thinks we need to have our hand held through this narrative development.
Throw in the cliche heroic amnesia that’s also been broadcast since the first episode and you’re left with an episode that neither introduces anything new or move the narrative forward in any meaningful way. It’s frustrating because a drastic shift in the status quo is exactly what the show needs to stand even a remote chance of sparking anything interesting, but it’s dragging its feet every step. It’s a damn shame too, because there’s some nice robot action in this episode, and I almost wish we got to see more of the FranXX going into their berserk modes. It would at least add a new angle to the show if nothing else. For a show that so shameless apes Evangelion, it continues to prove it’s far less willing to make the meaningful choices needed to emulate it.