This episode of Darling in the Franxx continues the string of character episodes we have been enjoying. Like the last episode was a Zorome episode and the episode before that focused on Ichigo and Goro’s relationship, Partner Shuffle focuses on Mitsuru and Kokoro.
As the title of the episode might imply, some of the pilot pairs have switched around. Kokoro has partnered up with Mitsuru, and Ikuno and Futoshi have been stuck together by default. This episode focuses mostly on the relationship between Mitsuru and Kokoro, while their partners will hopefully get a little more development in an upcoming episode.
The episode opens with Mitsuru having a flashback dream about Hiro. While his younger self smiles and claps along with the other children, present-day Mitsuru rails against Hiro. It becomes evident later on in the episode why.
Mitsuru had been one of the few children to survive an experimental injection. Before he was to undergo the treatment, Hiro had promised him that they could pilot a Franxx together. After he returned, Hiro either forgot or pretended to forget about the promise. Brokenhearted, Mitsuru swore off ever trusting anyone and became the surly loner we know today.
In the episode, somebody comments on how Mitsuru is always butting heads with Hiro but has he been? There was that time that Mitsuru partnered up with Zero-Two, and Mitsuru sometimes said mean things to Hiro. But for the most part, whenever Mitsuru is on screen, he’s mostly off by himself or talking to Kokoro.
There isn’t very much to say about Mitsuru’s arc this episode, despite him being the primary focus. This is a plot we’ve seen dozens of times already. While there’s nothing truly original under the sun, this particular episode doesn’t put an exciting spin on the old idea. Mitsuru begins his journey of learning to trust again with his new partner who is literally named “heart”. This show doesn’t do subtle.
Speaking of Kokoro, she has a much more interesting arc this episode. Kokoro has been in a seemingly happy relationship with Futoshi this entire series but abruptly chooses to abandon her partner in favor of Mitsuru who she often has clandestine meetings with in the greenhouse. While her decision does seem to deeply hurt Futoshi, the show doesn’t pass any moral judgment on her actions.
Mitsuru fills a need for Kokoro that Futoshi can’t. Kokoro desperately needs to nurture another person, as evidenced by her desire to have a child of her own. Unlike Mitsuru, Futoshi seems to be relatively well adjusted. He’s open with his emotions and wants to protect and support Kokoro even after she breaks her promise to him.
It’s honestly a little refreshing that nobody involved in this conflict is shown to be outright wrong or malicious. Sometimes no matter how much you love someone things don’t work out, and it isn’t anybody’s fault. It’s impossible to live with other people without hurting them and being hurt in one way or another. I think that’s an important message for young people to see in our current media climate where love and friendship is mostly shown as mostly painless and frictionless.
On the other side of the coin, the onus of “fixing” Mitsuru seems to be entirely on Kokoro’s shoulders. She puts herself in great physical peril to try and force him out of the rut he’s been in. The moral of the story seems to be a troubling one. It is good and noble to sacrifice your own happiness and well-being in order to fix someone else’s emotional problems. I’ll be interested to see how this theme is dealt with in future episodes.
Sex and Sexuality
Mitsuru’s character arc in this episode is attempting to get over a childhood heartbreak at the hands of Hiro. Ikuno decides to try a Pistil to Pistil operation of a Franxx as well. Finally, we get the answer to the most obvious question. Can a same-sex pair operate a Franxx?
The answer is apparently no. I find this to be a troubling answer, but it is still early in the series. There is still a chance that the answer will change or develop as the series goes on.
As Zero-Two, Ichigo, and Kokoro have all demonstrated now; a Pistil can pilot a Franxx on her own. Ikuno’s line to Ichigo suggests that perhaps the problem might have been Ichigo’s hangups, and not that same-sex Franxx piloting is impossible.
The rigid system they live in has repeatedly been shown as the wrong way to go about things in the series. They call out the idea that the experimental Squad 13 is refuting all of their previous beliefs. I believe that the similarly rigid heteronormativity in the series will be similarly challenged in a later episode. Or perhaps, that’s wishful thinking on my part.
Darling in the Franxx is available to stream on Crunchyroll and FUNimation.