“When the Sakura Blooms”
Saturdays at 12:00 pm EST on Crunchyroll
Hiro decides Mitsuru and Kokoro should get married…for some reason, prompting a shocking but welcome instance of police brutality.
I think the most distressing thing about continuing to cover FRANXX is not that the show is getting worse (though it is), nor the frustration that any sort of analysis is pointless (because the show simply isn’t interested in answering reasonable questions about its plot), but the way the story’s ignorance has gradually manifested itself in more and more dangerous ways, to the point where the show is now actively courting offence every time it opens its mouth and inserts its foot. I’m not going to stand up and say FRANXX has become some sort of right-wing diatribe, because it’s nowhere near smart enough to actually express the ideas it’s espousing in a coherent way. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly disheartening to see a show which presented itself as having something to say about gender and sexuality falling back to the basest, most outdated concepts of morality out there.
The ‘big moment’ of this episode is clearly meant to be Ikuno finally confessing her actual feelings. That’s kind of bogus in itself, since Ikuno’s done exactly one thing of note in the entire show up to this point – trying to do a female/female FRANXX pairing with Ichigo, failing miserably and outing herself as a freaky lesbian in the process. Other than that she’s been even more of a non-entity than Futoshi, which is really saying something. Still, this is FRANXX so a complete absence of any sort of characterisation isn’t a bar to an attempt at a big emotional scene. Ikuno’s actual confession isn’t so bad, in that it’s just classic tortured anime venting (it’s certainly the most emotionally honest the show has been in a while), but it’s the reaction to it that really gets my goat. Ichigo basically pats her on the head, tells her everything will be alright, and then says that “she’s just like I used to be”.
It’s almost impossible to convey how dumb and offensive this is, and what staggering false equivalence it places on the problems of the two characters. Ichigo’s attraction to Hiro, no matter what sort of weight the show tries to give it, has consistently been shown as a one-sided, childish crush. To say that ‘my childhood friend doesn’t like me the way I like him’ and ‘I am tortured by my very existence being the antithesis of the inherently heterosexual purpose we were created and raised for’ are equal and relatable problems is simply laughable.
What’s even worse is that Ichigo’s comments about how they’re the same, and they all have charming pains and personality quirks basically implies that Ikuno’s attraction is an immaturity that she’ll grow out of, just as Ichigo did with Hiro. Quite apart from the fact that we never actually saw Ichigo get over Hiro, it just sort of happened, the idea that being gay is ‘a phase’ or ‘something you’ll get over eventually’ is one of the most mind-bogglingly shitty things you can say, and has been a huge part of attempted gay erasure in real life. It’s a shocking abdication of any sort of self-awareness or social commentary on the show’s part, another sign that the story will happily surrender to clichéd anime tropes rather than dare to have anything, ANYTHING interesting or ambitious to say. Not only that but the narrative implies that this rancid excuse for a consolation actually works, as Ikuno is all smiles for the rest of this episode. I doubt we’ll hear a single important thing out of her ever again. That makes both nominally gay characters casually tossed aside for the sake of reinforcing the ‘boys & girls’ status quo, 18 episodes to say nothing and do nothing with those characters.
The other main theme of this episode is Mitsuru and Kokoro’s wedding, which just from the very beginning is so unbelievably, teeth-grindingly twee I cannot stand it. It’s not like the last episode had the two of them on exceptionally good terms – their sexual tryst was clearly the ‘desperate moment of passion’ type of thing rather than the ‘this is indicative of a healthy, emotionally stable relationship’ thing – yet now they’re suddenly making googly eyes at each other like they’ve steeped straight out of a Disney cartoon. Then there’s Hiro and Zero Two, who have become so overwhelmingly saccharine that I can feel my teeth rotting out of my skull. I mean, there’s an unironic ‘twirling around in the cherry blossoms’ scene for god’s sake, complete with earnestly stupid voiceover and text laid over the screen. I felt like I was watching an episode of 100% Unrequited Love or any of the thousands of gag romance shows that have popped up in other stories. Honestly it might be even worse than the forced edginess that the show embraced during the first part of its run.
The idea that kids raised in a supposedly gender-neutral futuristic dystopia would instinctively adopt the mannerisms and rituals of western-style marriage is yet another arrow in the quiver of extremely dubious things about this episode, and it’s also packed with things which I assume were meant to be character development but which come off as utterly baffling. I’m assuming Futoshi volunteering to be the priest (how does he even know what that is???) is meant to be a symbol he’s gotten over losing Kokoro, but it just kind of makes him look like an even bigger punching bag than before. In any case what prompted him to be OK with Mitsuru and Kokoro being together? We don’t know because we’ve never seen anything about this dude other than his comedy eating disorder and the running joke that ‘he’s fat so only the lesbian will be with him’. Just writing that wants to make me tear my fingers off by the way. What’s frustrating is that there is something here – the scenes of the girls fashioning a wedding dress out of curtains, or Mitsuru folding wire to make a wedding ring have a sort of gentle melancholy to them that would work much better if the show had given this bizarre happening any sort of context. Of course, it hasn’t, so they’re just tossed off moments which somehow still ring truer than the emotional grandstanding seen elsewhere.
Given all of that, it’s a blessed relief when the Nines and APE’s secret shock troopers show up to violently crash the wedding because….wait, why are they doing this again? Even this far into the show there’s so little concrete motivation for the actions of the bad guys that it’s hard to fathom why they would do this. I guess APE just hates straight people so much that they’re violently cracking down on that sort of behaviour in general, the PC Police boogeyman made laughably real. In any case, it’s one of the stupidest crackdowns ever because after Mitsuru and Kokoro’s forced ‘reeducation’ they’re immediately released back into the company of their non-brainwashed squadmates, who I’m sure will be discreet and not say anything at all about what just happened. They don’t even take Kokoro’s ring off for god’s sake. It’s a metaphor for FRANXX in general really – what’s more offputting, the genuinely disturbing stuff or just the sheer incompetence in executing it?
- In true Hollywood sex tradition, Mitsuru is somehow wearing boxer shorts immediately after he wakes up.
- The scene of Zero Two’s ex-partners coming out of the floor to attack her is nicely dark, but why is she only feeling guilty about it now?
- Where on earth does Futoshi obtain the beautiful period rangefinder camera (Leica M4?) and tripod from?
- Zero Two’s fight against the Nines seems to imply that they’re just as inhumanly fast and strong as she is. Also she is felled by the deadliest move of all, the patented Dragon Ball Z double axehandle from behind!
- Nana and Hachi’s flashback is one of the more effective scenes in this episode simply because it implies rather than just says.
- The dialogue between the APE’s suggests their ultimate plan is
Human Instrumentalityhumanity transcending their physical forms, a plot twist which will only be familiar if you’ve seen any robot show from the last 25-odd years.
- I’m not going to lie, I laughed a lot at Zorome being hit in the back of the head with a rifle butt.
At this point in FRANXX’s run, I’m running out of ways to express my displeasure with the show so I’m keeping it relatively short. The wedding is kind of a bland thing that doesn’t really go anywhere but act as the catalyst for APE to finally pull some even shadier shit than normal, tipping their hand. If we hadn’t already seen multiple instances of their sheer incompetence at this point, I would be questioning the logic of brainwashing two of Squad 13’s members, and then returning them back to the same squad as if this couldn’t possibly go wrong. You didn’t even remove their rings! Have y’all never watched anything with brainwashing before? The characters always manage to get their memories back at the vital moment. But this is the same organization that regularly makes seemingly self-destructive decisions for no reason but to push the plot forward because its writers can’t think of anything better, so whatever.
Anyway, let’s talk about Ikuno. Oh Ikuno, you’ve done basically nothing this entire show but be an obvious lesbian subplot, and this is what the show does to you? It’s bad enough that the show resorts to the, “because you were kind to me once as a child,” explanation for her attraction to Ichigo, but we also have to have to the wailing navel gazing of how tragic it is to be gay. How we must all pity poor Ikuno for having to live with the defect of being attracted to women. Oh if only she was normal like all the other kids. It’s the kind of patronizing take on homosexuality that is almost more damaging than the explicitly malicious kind. Instead of merely treating it as a degenerate aberration of a “proper” society or some nonsense like that, it goes as far as to treat it as some kind of cruel terminal illness. It’s a terribly clumsy way to handle her character but also said character literally hasn’t existed for any reason but this. It’s telling the show hasn’t even once attempted to actually explore the fact that she and Futoshi have basically been paired together out of lack of other options. It speaks to how redundant the characters are in the grander narrative which makes me just ask, why did they even exist? For the confession scene? That you wrapped up in five minutes? Why even bother then? But I suppose that last question could be applied to basically all of FRANXX.