Jul 7, 2018
“How can I become popular?”

Darling in the FranXX is a sad attempt at creating or rather, replicating a legacy act. It took inspiration from what popular shows like Evangelion and Gurren Lagann did, without understanding a thing about what made them work. It tries to expand on ideas without understanding how to sell them, let alone incorporate them meaningfully. It wants to craft a setting to draw us in and make us remember it but instead, FranXX falls flat on its hormone-driven face. It’s a brilliant showcase on why the insular nature of anime writers & directors is detrimental. It is the definition of an anime that tries to pander to the entire anime community, and as a result, FranXX lost the chance to craft a work of art worthy of being remembered. What we have now is a vulgar yet ambitious mess whose only remarkable features are its volume of ineptitude and its interesting but horrendously executed aesthetic.

Speaking of which, what does FranXX’s sex aesthetic contribute to the narrative? Nothing good. Sure, every conflict deals with the idea of sex, gender, and couples in some way, but the visuals don't remotely contribute to this. Additionally, the world-building that stemmed from this is as questionably handled as it is derivative. Yes, Neon Genesis Evangelion did similar things, from the concept and world to having its mechs be drenched in symbolism. However, we get to what separates the two: humanity and focus.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most human anime ever made. It constantly delves into the psyches of each character in a way that feels both relatable and real, while exploring their hobbies and how these people bounce off each other and affect each other personally. They were in the face of a war against deadly creatures, and the focus was placed on how this, their upbringing, and their conflicts stemming from this affect each other. This happened because Eva was written and directed by a legendary man and nerd who went outside, talked with people a lot and had a social life with them, and suffered through personal, relatable problems. The director and writer also had a sense of focus, making sure each world-building element made sense and retained consistency in the logic of the show, and that each character was consistent, with gradual mental declines that felt natural.

Now, look at this show, made by someone who no doubt worked to get here but is as much an unknown figure as most other directors in this insular, borderline unsustainable industry. While he's capable of delving into his characters' upbringings, no one is written well enough for us to care. Part of why is because instead of relying on substantial interactions and meaningful introspections, FranXX takes the Re:Zero route of letting these caricatures shout their pathetically written and constructed feelings to each other Light Novel monologue style while letting flashy directing choices do the rest, often during contrived scenarios meant to incite drama with the most hideous of dialogue. To put this into perspective, episode 1 does this 5 or 6 times with its main character. Unlike say: Fate/Extra: Last Encore, this show isn't oozing with the kind of style to make it feel natural, instead only busting out the interesting presentation as a borderline disingenuous attempt at enhancing or explaining emotions. LE also delves into the introspection aspect far better and shows a superior portrayal of broken people raised by a horrible, controlling system that sends its inhabitants to fight for their lives. Additionally, it better demonstrates how that affects several of them once they’re out fighting and when they’re part of the system. FranXX can't even make a compelling character to save its life, let alone a character that truly feels real. They're barely explored at the best of times, and some such as Zorome and Miku (which make up 1 of the 4 mech teams in this squad) have almost no relevance or character given they pretty much stop at just being whiny brats. The few that do get explored don't fare much better in terms of having standout or consistent personalities.

If you're familiar with awful post-Eva works such as Brain Powerd or De;Vadasy, you may have found these problems all too familiar. Another common post-Eva trait is the ability to have a general idea of what to explore without any idea on how to make it work. Brain Powerd focused on trying to do the concepts and relationships of Eva backward and did so incoherently with a script to reflect that as they had to make up new terms and ideas out of nowhere that don't fit or make any sense. It decides to copy the actions of Evangelion and the narrative structure of Gurren Lagann while failing to create a coherent world with believable characters to care about. The disastrous second half more than cements this fact in several ways.

I won't cover everything, but let's start at the top. The world-building in FranXX is among the worst I have ever seen, delving into its symbolism with little regard as to how it can make sense beyond vague setup, much like with the direction of the narrative as a whole. So much about the setting and lore counters itself, even outside of the parts that already make no sense. This anime’s inability to show us the necessary information for certain events to have possibly taken place have resulted in monumental plot holes to make matters even worse. The FranXX mechs make no sense in literally any aspect, and the implications in them manage to assassinate the already badly executed relationship between Hiro and Zero Two. Let’s not even mention how hideous the final 11 episodes were, especially in regards to FranXX's lore. Even then, the beginning was atrocious too, what with the awful love triangle, episodes 6 and 8, the aforementioned world-building, and the fact that most of the characters are obnoxious, worthless, needlessly hateful, and surprisingly inconsistent caricatures at best. The show has such little respect for them that its primary mascot character Zero Two, constantly switches on a dime simply for the sake of creating drama and steering the show in a planned direction. It shows a sense of callousness for the show's characters on the part of the writers that even the most uncaring audience member cannot surpass.

Before we wrap up, we best look at the audiovisual side of things, as this show still manages to trip over itself in this regard, though it doesn’t do so as hard as it does with the writing. The fembot designs are all around the passable range with nothing being truly awesome or toy-worthy. The creatures and settings have nice colors but nothing is particularly well designed, from creature to character -with the possible exception of Zero Two-. Hiro’s design is especially awful for obvious reasons, and several of the supporting cast designs are eerily similar to certain Eva characters. The outfits are also mediocre to bad, often with awkward “X” and “Y” logos for no good reason, and whenever the show tries to do something with dynamic cameras -sometimes even when they don’t- the frames get cut in half, from a normal amount to what feels like half, if not less. The premiere episode alone is the perfect indicator. It thankfully doesn’t happen too often when it does, the viewing experience becomes a rough one. As mentioned, the directorial idea of messing with the aspect ratios haphazardly or for the sake of emotion and whatnot is borderline laughable as well. Additionally, there are several scenes where no one has any facial features, and the luckily infrequent CGI here is subpar at best. This collaboration between A-1 Pictures, Studio “saving anime” Trigger, and eventually, A-1’s new subsidiary, Cloverworks, was definitely shaky, even from a visual standpoint. It’s not like the show was badly animated or anything, and the environments were done rather nicely. There were just several variables that kept this work from functioning greatly on a visual level. One last one to mention is how the fight scenes manage to be completely unexciting, with little real flow or impact to anything, or many truly good bits of animation or spectacle.

In regards to the music, none of the background tracks stick out, even if none are necessarily bad or ill-fitting -outside of one rap song at the start of episode 8-. There are some triumphant tracks in the first quarter that are good, but that’s as far as that goes. The opening theme "KISS OF DEATH" by Mika Nakashima x Hyde, is certainly unique, even if not to my taste. The ending themes are all numerous, and none of them are particularly good or memorable. Sure, some are better songs than others, but none of them are really going to stick with you in the same vein that Gurren Lagann ED 2 or Neon Genesis Evangelion’s ending themes did. Somehow, all of this makes the music the most competent part of the entire show, which is mortifying.

The most embarrassing thing is that the show not only tried its best to become popular, but it did so whilst having its staff being treated like shit by its “loyal fans” like it was the second coming of Re:Zero. There was ambition here but little thought beyond popularity and mimicry with a spin. One could argue this is propaganda for the Japanese to have kids and fix their under-population problem, but that doesn’t exactly fix anything, or even help give the show any real identity. Such a shame since, again, the ideas present here, if given more thought, could have turned into a fun dystopian action show that explored its characters in interesting ways while being a meaningful allegory for sex and puberty. It isn’t like the show doesn’t have its moments of sincerity or even a visible narrative through-line either, so the potential was obviously there. It's just that so much of what it did would require a complete and utter reworking in order to even become salvageable. Alas, we get this broken, tiresome replica to forget about once the memes are over.
Reviewer’s Rating: 2
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