For this installment of “The Best Part Of…” I had a dilemma picking which couple to write about. If I had been asked to write this a few weeks ago before Darling in the Franxx finished airing, I would have written about how cute Hiro and Zero Two were as the main couple. But as the show progressed, a romance blossomed between side characters that I was not prepared for, and it made such a strong impression on me because of how good the writing was. So ultimately, I decided to change things up a bit by writing about Mitsuru and Kokoro and how great they are together.
Setting The Stage For Romance
First, some background. The plot of Darling in the Franxx revolves around a post-apocalyptic world in which teenagers, referred to as children, pilot mechas called Franxx in pairs to fight the klaxosaurs. Early on, it becomes clear that they’re disposable, given code numbers for identification and aren’t educated on concepts like adulthood, “love,” or “kissing.” Squad 13 is a unique group with names given to them by Hiro, and they all have distinguishable personalities that is vital to the show’s story.
In the early part of the show, Hiro and Zero Two’s fantastic chemistry and budding relationship dominates each episode. But not only is it adorable to see unfold, it also plays a fundamental role in the story, as their romance serves as the catalyst for the rest of Squad 13 to find love as well. It’s through their relationship that the rest of the team begins to discover their own versions of love and what it means to them, and the most surprising romance that develops as a result is Mitsuru and Kokoro’s.
Warning: there are going to be major spoilers ahead for how the development of Mitsuru and Kokoro’s romance unfolds in conjunction with key points in Darling in the Franxx‘s story. Read at your own risk!
Switching Things Up
What’s great about Mitsuru and Kokoro’s romance is that it’s a slow burn, and I mean really slow. At the beginning of Darling in the Franxx, Kokoro and Mitsuru barely talk to each other since they have different partners. Mitsuru is something of a lone wolf who loathes Hiro, and Kokoro is the quiet and kind girl who doesn’t say much and mostly goes along with what everyone else thinks.
They have some short scenes together that showcase her kindness towards others, including Mitsuru despite him shrugging off her concern, but there wasn’t anything about those scenes that made me suspect they could become something more. It isn’t until Squad 13 visits a beach that their relationship really starts to develop. While they’re out exploring an abandoned town, Kokoro finds a book about having babies and Mitsuru, who sees her discovery, keeps it a secret with her. This mutual secret they share leads to them spending more time interacting with each other until they switch partners.
The partner switch is initially recommended because Mitsuru and Ikuno are becoming increasingly incompatible, but it gives him some much needed character development while also giving a Kokoro a chance to be honest with herself. Nothing against Futoshi — he was a nice guy who happened to fall for her, but all of their conversations revolved around him putting her on a pedestal — and it doesn’t make for a very interesting couple when there’s no opportunity for them to express their feelings, especially Kokoro.
So it’s no real surprise that when an opportunity presented itself to switch partners, Kokoro decided to help Mitsuru even if it meant breaking her promise to stay with Futoshi. Mitsuru has been dealing with the scars of his past and feeling betrayed after Hiro broke their childhood promise. In his mind, not only is he unable to trust others, but he feels that he would cause the same disappointment to Kokoro too. Kokoro admits that she isn’t a good person because she broke a promise as well, but that it doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t lean on others for support when they need it, too. This honesty between them makes them a better match, and Mitsuru even promises to protect Kokoro, something he wouldn’t have even considered before.
How The Love Blossoms
For the next several episodes, their continued partnership grants them more opportunities to spend time together in the greenhouse while talking about their future. Kokoro also develops a growing interest in having a baby because of the book she found, and as their conversations become more deep, it showcases how Kokoro has developed her own voice by being with Mitsuru. At the same time, Mitsuru is noticeably kinder in these episodes, becoming more comfortable with her and expressing his feelings without doubt or hesitation. It’s great seeing them interact together, and it’s during one of these conversations after Kokoro gives Mitsuru a much needed hair trim (seriously, why wasn’t his hair like this all the time?) that Kokoro kisses him.
It’s a touching scene brimming with the sincerity and uncertainty while also cementing her desires to invest in the future and leave something behind when she’s gone. Part of what makes Kokoro’s assertiveness so appreciated is because it’s in the context of a world that has left behind love and families in order to fight a never-ending war. It makes their questions of what it means to be in love and intimacy far more innocent than in typical anime shows, and it all comes to a head in one of my favorite episodes.
In a scene filled with sexual tension, to put it lightly, Kokoro makes her desires known to Mitsuru. Mitsuru, while unsure of what she means or how he feels about her, rejects her advances. What’s great about the scene though is that he doesn’t reject her with the stereotypical lashing out. Instead, he tries to understand what she’s thinking and why. It isn’t until later during a conversation with Hiro that he realizes, through his desire to understand and know her better, that he loves Kokoro in the same way that Hiro loves Zero Two.
Mitsuru’s revelation that he loves Kokoro is a noticeably quiet moment that he internalizes, unlike Hiro and Zero Two who constantly (but adorably) scream their declarations of love to each other. It’s a small detail, but it enhances the scene so much. He doesn’t admit that he’s discovered his own form of love with Hiro’s help or that it’s changed his perspective. He simply thanks him for the opportunity to chat. Love can sometimes creep up on people and be completely unexpected, and it resulted in a great scene of introspection for Mitsuru.
Unfortunately, before the two have a chance to talk about their feelings, Kokoro’s book is swiped by the Nines who expose her interest in having a child like people did in the past and call her “absolutely disgusting” for defying their leader, Papa. Later that night in an emotionally animated and well-written scene, Mitsuru comforts her and reassures her that she wasn’t wrong to think about the future, and after sharing another kiss, the seeds of the future are (literally) planted.
How The Love Is Snatched Away
Some time after this, the authorities catch on to what Kokoro was planning after the Nines reported to Papa. Since this is seen as defying their order, the children are ordered to leave the Missiletainn. Before they’re taken away, they decide to throw a wedding for Kokoro and Mitsuru, and after an adorable montage of planning and preparing, the wedding commences.
Before Mitsuru and Kokoro can seal their union with the kiss, the soldiers come and forcibly separate them. At the end of the episode, Kokoro and Mitsuru reunite with the squad, but their memories of each other are completely wiped. That scene destroyed me, and it was also the moment that made me realize how invested I was in their story.
Here was a pair of teenagers who had fallen in love and were trying to make the best of their lives, and they were punished for wanting something more. It was a heart-wrenching moment, but it also resulted in some of the most wonderfully touching and sweet scenes in a finale filled with bombastic space battles and hastily told story-telling.
A Story of Love Lost & Found
The last few episodes of Darling in the Franxx get bogged down in a lot of ways, but the saving grace through it all was Kokoro and Mitsuru. The scenes they share in these final episodes present the theme, “with love, we can overcome anything” through meaningful character development and a more realistic, human story. Throughout Darling in the Franxx, love is portrayed as the most powerful thing in the world that’s capable of conquering anything. But for Kokoro and Mitsuru, this is the moment where their love is no longer a source of joy, but pain, and it challenges the couple to either overcome their struggles or give up.
These episodes with Kokoro and Mitsuru becoming distant with each other were difficult for me to watch. They had no recollection of each other, decided that there wasn’t any possibility that they could ever fall in love, and take off the rings that tied them together. They become singularly focused on their missions and fighting as their sole purpose in life, but they quickly realize that things aren’t adding up though, because during an intense battle they say each other’s names and the pain of trying to conjure up memories they no longer have renders them unable to fight.
Later on, it’s officially revealed that Kokoro is pregnant, and because of this, she’s unable to keep piloting the Franxx. She’s given the option to either abort the fetus so she can continue piloting or keep the child and be unable to fight. Traumatized, Kokoro is overwhelmed and has lost her purpose in life. She grows distant from Mitsuru, and while they both reflect on what they want to do, his concern for her well-being leads to maybe one of my favorite moments in the show because it’s a heartfelt scene that epitomizes how love can a challenging, but rewarding journey for a couple.
Everything about their love story — how they first experienced love as a beautiful, exciting thing, how they fell out of love and grew apart after a conflict, and how they regain the magic through mutual trust and understanding — is all woven into Mitsuru’s confession during the thunderstorm. Kokoro doesn’t understand why Mitsuru would willingly choose to stay with her and their unborn baby. She feels useless because she can no longer fight, and in her despair, she’s convinced that putting herself in danger will give her life meaning.
Mitsuru refuses to leave her side, proving his resolve to love her and start over no matter how difficult it may be. He admits that he may not understand what love is, but that they can find it if they stay together. For me, the moment that reinforces this the most strongly is when Kokoro asks why he says her name even though it’s painful.
His response is simple – it’s part of their battle to start over and he’ll say her name as many times as she wants. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it should be given up on, and despite the physical pain Mitsuru experiences by saying her name, he still does it anyway because being with her is more important. It’s revealed that they both kept their rings as well, and it’s in this perfect, quiet moment that the love they had before is reignited.
The confession in the thunderstorm and its conclusion, with the screen fading to black while they say each other’s names, is a perfect representation of how powerful and impactful love can be, giving people what they need to overcome conflict and move forward. Without realizing it, Mitsuru kept his promise to continue protecting Kokoro by giving her the support she needed, and in a series of touching scenes that span over two years, they have their daughter and name her after the Japanese word for love, Ai.
Mitsuru and Kokoro don’t end up regaining their memories of each other, and while it’s sad that they don’t get to remember how it all started, there’s something sweet about their love bloom all over again. She became pregnant and didn’t remember the feelings and desires that led to that moment, but chooses to keep the baby anyway. They fell in love again even though they lost their memories and don’t really understand what love is, but it’s telling of how deep their bond is. It allowed them to grow back together despite losing their way.
After Hiro and Zero Two’s sacrifice, life goes on as the children rebuild their world, and Mitsuru and Kokoro’s family grows over the next eight years. Through a few simple scenes, it’s clear that their bond has strengthened over time. Seeing them happy in each other’s company was all the proof I needed that their love remained genuine.
Ship Versus Ship
Now for the debate – for many fans, Hiro and Zero Two’s relationship and romance in Darling in the Franxx is the cutest. And honestly, I can’t argue with that. In terms of genuinely sweet, adorable scenes together, Hiro and Zero stole every scene together for nearly three fourths of the whole anime, and their bond is what got me into the show to begin with.
It was great seeing an anime maturely develop the meaning love and the different forms it can take by representing it through a variety perspectives and relationships. Unfortunately, the growth they gained from it became stagnated in the last few episodes, with reunions happening left and right after no real passage of time, rehashed drama, and “cute” scenes that began to feel forced, all before resulting in their transformation as the physical representation of “with love, we can literally do anything.”
For me, the love story between Mitsuru and Kokoro became more believable and realistic because the writing humanized them, giving them a chance to see and love each other in the face of adversity and ultimately allowing them to become stronger because of it. I wasn’t expecting to love this couple as strongly as I did. But between the fantastic writing and heartwarming scenes, Mitsuru and Kokoro’s surprisingly emotional and deep story of finding love, losing it, and reigniting it captured my attention so strongly that it made them, by far, my favorite part of Darling in the Franxx.