Seems like it’s been forever since my last review (which you can find here) but here we are with episodes 20 and 21 of Darling in the FRANXX and uhh…things are gonna get a little weird.
Episode 20 – Summary
After their victory at Gran Crevasse, APE has secured a tremendous power that lies below: the Klaxosaurs greatest weapon – Star Entity. They intend to use Strelizia to pilot the massive machine and bring an end to the war once and for all.
The klaxosaurs are preparing a massive retaliatory attack to reclaim the Gran Crevasse, and the stage is set for the largest battle yet.
Among squad 13, Futoshi is upset because Mitsuru and Kokoro have removed their rings, taking one more step in possibly forgetting their previous bond forever.
Kokoro also isn’t feeling well, and while the kids don’t appear to be picking up on the hints, there’s a very possible chance that she’s pregnant.
The battle soon begins, with Squad 13 showcasing their fantastic growth over the course of the series. The mech version of the Bad News Bears have grown up and are kicking some serious Klaxosaur butt, rivaled only by the 9’s in their destructive ability.
In the midst of the battle, it occurs to Mitsuru to refer to Kokoro by name. As soon as he does, he experiences a terrible pain in his head that causes their FRANXX to go dark. Kokoro attempts to see what’s happening, also referring to him by name and sharing the same searing pain.
As Hiro and Zero Two head to the lower levels in order to board the Star Entity, they discuss the journey that they’ve been on together. They re-commit to one another and share a tender moment as they face their most daunting challenge yet.
Meanwhile, the klaxosaurs are on the attack and the Klaxosaur Princess breaches the central chamber of the Gran Crevasse. Doctor Franxx attempts to offer himself up as her co-pilot for Star Entity, but she denies him, stating that she needs no partner. However, acknowledging Hiro is nearby, she ends by saying she’ll “use the one you provided” to pilot Star Entity. She then takes off after Hiro and Zero Two.
It doesn’t take long for her to catch up to our fateful pair. The two don’t even get a chance to fight, as the Klaxosaur Princess is able to power down and enter Strelizia unchallenged.
The Princess looks over Zero Two with some disgust, dismissing her as a “fake” and tossing her aside as she enters Strelizia’s cockpit and disappears with Hiro down the long hallway to the Star Entity cockpit. Zero Two ends up in pretty rough shape…
As Hiro and the Klaxosaur Princess move forward, Doctor Franxx and Hachi discuss the true nature of the Klaxosaurs. It’s revealed that they are actually “Klaxo Sapiens”, and that the Klaxosaur monsters they’ve been fighting are biological weapons designed and piloted much like the FRANXX are.
Squad 13 is also getting to hear this, and just as they begin to come to terms with what that means, things get even crazier.
The Klaxosaur Princess and Hiro make it to the cockpit, and as she fires up the super-weapon, the shot transitions to APE’s council in space, where Papa comments on returning to their “true role” and a wave of purple lights fills the dark expanse. Back on the ground, numerous rockets launch into the air and begin to counter-attack. Massive lasers emerge from underground and target the vast fleet of the previously unknown enemy: VIRM!
Just as Star Entity unleashes a devastating laser attack, Papa reveals that they had taken special precautions to insure that the Klaxosaur princess couldn’t use their prized weapon. Infected by their technology, it’s set to explode and take the entire planet with it as the episode comes to a dramatic conclusion.
In the closing moments, Zero Two limps towards her darling – committed to saving him no matter what.
Episode 21 – Summary
With the surprise space-invasion underway, the kids of Squad 13 are thoroughly confused and alarmed. Unsure of which side to battle, they decide to fight their way back to the Gran Crevasse to help Hiro and Zero Two.
Papa officially reveals himself and one other member of the council as being part of the invasion force, killing the rest of the APE council. Without the seat of leadership, the battlefield is a chaotic hellscape, with numerous squads and kids dying to the merciless VIRM invaders.
While the VIRM’s original design was to have the trap trigger Star Entity’s explosion immediately, Hiro’s presence in the cockpit throws a wrench in those plans. By sheer luck (and the power of being the MC) he has stalled the process and given his colleagues time to come and provide support.
Within the cockpit, Hiro attempts to connect with the Klaxosaur Princess as they’re both restrained by VIRM’s trap. Tapping into her subconscious, he finds that she is eons old – having been around since before mankind even began. She was part of an advanced race that colonized Earth tens of millions of years ago. They were a thriving and powerful culture, until the VIRM arrived.
VIRM is described as a collective hive-mind. Their goal is to have different races “abandon the shell of their bodies” and contribute their minds to their cause. Of course, when you decline, they just destroy you and assimilate your culture and weapons into their vast arsenal. So, the Klaxosaurs went through a devastating war with the VIRM all those millions of years ago, and by the time the battle was won, their losses were far too great. They had lost the ability to procreate, and to make matters worse – the forces they fought were merely the vanguard of VIRM’s army. More would come, and they needed to prepare.
They dug themselves deep into the earth. Weaker fighters were converted into magma energy, as the stronger models merged and made the massive, powerful klaxosaurs that we’ve seen Squad 13 battle in the past. As Hiro is having this conversation with the Klaxosaur Princess, Doctor Franxx is having one as well with a wounded Zero Two. He points out that this process of combining stronger klaxosaurs together is how Star Entity was made. He also reveals (officially) that Zero Two is a clone of the Klaxosaur Princess, designed with the sole purpose of piloting the Star Entity on behalf of humanity.
In an added twist, it’s revealed that the 9’s are clones of Zero Two, but they were unable to preserve the klaxosaur blood that she had. Having heard enough, Zero Two re-commits to making her way to Hiro and trying to set things right. Just as Doctor Franxx attempts to talk her out of it, Squad 13 comes barging into the facility, providing them with the transport they need to get to the heart of the Star Entity.
After a bumpy journey, including some uncertain ends for the members of Squad 13, Zero Two finally makes it to Strelizia. Opening the cockpit, she sees Hiro within, completely enveloped in VIRM’s trap and badly wounded. She attempts to talk to him and wake him up, but he appears to be unresponsive.
As the Star Entity timer reaches 0, the battle seems lost. However, in that moment, Zero Two resolves not to give up. She reverts to her true form, her large red horns expanding into the cockpit. The spirit of the Klaxosaur Princess looks on, impressed, and commits the last of her energy to helping Zero Two and humanity fight for Earth’s future.
From their bond, Star Entity is broken from VIRM’s control, and evolves into its mightiest form: the Strelizia Apus! A shatteringly powerful beam of energy, imbued with blues and reds, fires from the tip of Strelizia Apus’ horn and completely destroys the invading fleet in a single attack.
VIRM is forced to retreat, taking the massive ship Hranghorni with them.
And so, the survivors breathe a sigh of relief as the imminent threat is fought back. However, as Hiro congratulates Zero Two, the final frames of the episode reveal a chilling visual.
Unresponsive, Zero Two’s horns crack and fall away.
Whew! A lot happened in these last two episodes, and largely I’d say that Darling in the FRANXX pulled it off really well. The reveal of VIRM as the true enemy echoes plot elements that we’ve seen in previous series from TRIGGER and, before that, Gainax. Admittedly, parts of it did feel a bit haphazard, including APE’s involvement and the fact that we all knew Papa was shady as hell to begin with. In previous series, the true villain often remained completely unknown/off-screen until the right moment, but from episode 1 we knew that Papa was up to no good.
A big takeaway from these last couple episodes for me is just how much Squad 13 has grown. As a team, they’re a cohesive unit, and their combat abilities have evolved dramatically. During the initial fighting they are kicking some serious ass, and as the series comes to a close it’s a great time to use scenes like that to see just how far they’ve come. In previous reviews I definitely disparaged them and wondered when they would get better. That moment is here.
Hiro and Zero Two continue to provide the majority of this series’ emotional investment. We’ve seen their relationship grow, then be broken, then mended once again, and now as they set their eyes on the future, they have one last challenge to overcome together. The final scene in episode 21 hits you like a ton of bricks as fans of Gurren Lagann recall a rather tragic end for that MC. Obviously it would be devastating, but I think that if anyone could pull off a meaningful and powerful death (or series of deaths, if the rest of Squad 13 didn’t fare so well), it would be Studio TRIGGER.
It was also interesting to see the 9’s dilemma after Papa abandoned the battlefield and VIRM was wreaking havoc. Alpha went on a murderous spree after watching his teammates get viciously torn apart, but he still clings to some semblance of loyalty to Papa in spite of everything. This balance of duty and the confusion they have when it comes to concepts like “free will” made for some interesting scenes.
Overall, some really powerful and fast-moving episodes for Darling in the FRANXX. The real drama will be what happens next episode, and how they prepare for their inevitable final fight against the VIRM.
Darling in the FRANXX (Episodes 20 & 21)
- The old Gainax plot switcheroo works once again
- Some great action sequences/animation
- Doctor Franxx gets some redemption
- Squad 13 demonstrates some serious growth
- The VIRM/Klaxosaur/APE battle was almost too hectic
- Even though the circumstances are slightly different, the reveal that Papa was the "big bad" came as no shock at all.