「パートナーシャッフル」 (Paatonaa Shaffuru)
Well if there was an ever an episode to confirm opinions this one would be it. In between a wicked bout of teenage angst we got a cornucopia of additional story tidbits and teasers of big scary thingsTM to come this week, yet still wound up with an episode largely content to tread the waters of character development. It was truly an episode playing to both sides of the fan base isle this week, and while opinions may only be solidified further, there’s no denying Franxx knows how to get the most out of its slow march down the story path.
As well highlighted the focus this time around was on Mitsuru and explaining away that dour attitude of his. Much like with Zorome previously this episode was always going to come at some point—the show is methodically marching down the list of undeveloped characters—but I’m not sure I expected this. Wanting to upstage Hiro and be the man of the hour sure, but being outraged over a broken promise? Secretly wanting Hiro’s attention and praise? Now that’s borderline tragicomedy. While the minds of kids are innocent to a fault and Mitsuru certainly had legitimate reasons for adoring Hiro (i.e. their differences in strength), the writers must have known exactly how this backstory was going to be seen. Starry eyed weakling looking aspiringly up at the prodigy child and eking out a promise to pilot a mecha Franxx with him? You couldn’t lay the tropes on thicker if you tried. I’m sure we were meant in part to see matters seriously, but I’ll be the first to admit, I laughed more than once at Mitsuru’s expense. Well, except him standing tall for the punch, cannot fault that bit of honour.
What arguably kept things from falling too far down the comedy backdoor, however, was the other side of this character development. With Kokoro swapping partners we got confirmation pairings aren’t permanent for example as previously described, and wound up with some very painful scenes of a thoroughly distraught Futoshi. Say what you will about Mitsuru, but Futoshi definitely didn’t deserve that out of the blue. Some correctly identified this switch coming a few weeks back, particularly with Kokoro, and while a little surprising, it’s not entirely unexpected. Each parasite, whether consciously or not, is slowly falling in love with another and realizing feelings they have no explanation for. Some of these connections are between existing matches (see Zorome and Miku), but more than a few run across pairs and breed the drama rearing its ugly head. More than competitive spirit or puberty this aspect is likely where the mentioned squad over-performance is stemming from, as emotional connections and a protective urge are more than enough to induce actions far beyond the call of duty. We won’t know this for certain for a while yet, but the reveal of a Franxx stampede mode noticeably induced by an emotional Kokoro largely proves the point: to get the most out of these big giant robots, each pilot pair has to be more than simple teammates.
Beyond this aspect though lies the darkness of which we got a (teased) face full of once again. Kokoro’s berserker switch was enough of a tell of when suffering and death will likely emerge (hint: when it’s time to use the stampede mode), but there were a few other key tidbits. Mitsuru’s weakness and elixir treatment for example hid the importance of that “child fever” which definitely isn’t the common cold by the talking of Nana and Hachi—full bets on Mitsuru’s treatment accelerating his “progression” as well. Then there was the (re)confirmation (as if we needed it) of a parasite pruning program for removing (i.e. liquidating) parasites unable to meet certain metrics. These kids are undoubtedly on a timer, and it’s only a question of when the unmistakable signs start becoming apparent to all involved. Zero Two is certainly aware of their fate, I imagine it won’t be long before the rest realize it too.
After all, when Franxx finally chooses to get serious, we aren’t going to see it coming at all.