Darling in the Franxx is a mecha anime with a heavy skew towards romance and is a joint production by Studio Trigger and A1 Pictures. It’s set in a dystopian society where children are forced to fight enemies known as “klaxosaurs” for the safety of the human race. This involves piloting a mecha known as a Franxx, which require a male and female in order to pilot. These children are specially picked out from a nursery area known as the Garden, which is where they also return if they cannot handle the Franxx. Our protagonist Hiro is in danger of returning back to the Garden, despite his supposed high innate abilities at being a pilot. While on his own, he comes across a girl named Zero Two, who takes a liking to him and wishes to become partners with Hiro. However, Zero Two’s checkered past as a “Partner Killer” hangs over her, as no one who has ridden with her has lasted three times. As Hiro takes this challenge, the world opens up and the meaning behind the klaxosaurs, the Franxx and the society they live in is soon revealed.
The show features a large ensemble, with the majority of time spent on the 8 children in Group 13 who pilot the Franxx. The protagonist Hiro is a rather quiet individual, though he carries surprising determination. Despite the warnings surrounding Zero Two, he feels like she will be the only one to bring out the best of his abilities. Zero Two serves as a contrast to Hiro, with a manic energy and assertive personality. She claims Hiro as her “darling” and refuses to, or let Hiro, be with anybody else. Her quirks and attitude cause a divide among the team, most notably with the team leader Ichigo. Ichigo serves as a class rep type, trying to give a formal and forward appearance. This is changed with Zero Two’s appearance, as the challenge to her authority and her harbored feelings towards Hiro pick apart at her leadership status. Other teammates include the childish Zorome, who’s desire for praise from the adults (most notably from the “head adult” Papa) fuels his pride to do well, and the mature Goro, who is the most leveled when it comes to the surrounding fighting and drama that encapsulates their lives. Though there’s quite a few characters in this series and the focus can quickly go from one group to another, it’s never hard to manage and I never felt lost following the characters. One aspect of the show that was intriguing stemmed from the innocence of the characters. In addition to learning about the klaxosaurs and their mission as Franxx pilots, they know nothing when it comes to the basics of love, even being unaware of kissing. This sheltered lifestyle puts a spin on the drama that this series purports, where the characters slowly feel what it means to love someone and find the way to express it. It’s an interesting concept and was one of the reasons I was initially hooked. Though the show’s synopsis and premise seem interesting, the execution is full of problems.
One of the major problems of the show stems from the drama itself. The romance and drama found with these characters is messy and unpleasant to watch. Several characters find themselves attracted to another with those feelings unreciprocated. Though its natural that some characters will prefer one over another, it often feels like a means to see more drama rather than part of the story. Additionally, this can completely encapsulate a character, making them feel more as a prop than a person. Futoshi is a prime example of this. Outside of a few fat jokes and his seemingly endless romantic trappings, I don’t feel like I’ve gotten to know the character at all. The drama of their innocence is paralleled by the extensive symbolism. Unfortunately, the symbolism used for Franxx is rather hamfisted, with constant allusions to sex. It never comes off as particularly clever and really only serves as either fanservice or to drive the drama even further. Moments such as the start of the whole “boys vs. girls” debacle or “partner swap” make me roll my eyes instead of keeping me engaged. Obviously some tension and problems need to be felt to keep things interesting, but all of this is rather sophomoric for something that could have had far more depth. Though it’s easy to say this was A1’s doing, that’s not necessarily the case. The character drama is also similar to a previous Trigger show, Kiznaiver, so this isn’t the first time something like this has occurred. However, I didn’t care for Trigger’s take on drama then and I certainly don’t care now.
The drama is a double edged sword, but not in the way one would expect. With so much focus on the character’s conflicts, it makes the other elements of the show hurt significantly. Though the mecha fights are flashy, you’ll notice a pattern as to how they play out. It follows a formula that makes a case for pathos, but is ultimately lost when repeated. These familiar dynamics are used in plenty of shows but often reserved for one important moment. When you see Hiro and Zero Two have another discussion of love among an intense battle, it’s clear as to exactly how things will pan out and part of me wants to just skip ahead to the result. Another show element that is hurt is in the story. Though it’s fine at first as the truth of their situation is slowly revealed, a sharp direction in the last third sacrifices the build-up for a plot twist/attempt at being cool. A move like this is often high risk/low reward and that’s exactly what I got. It’s unclear why Trigger/A1 decided to go for this, but whatever the case, it was unnecessary to do so.
Though the show certainly has its share of problems, there are two things that could have been done instead that would have increased my overall enjoyment. The first would be to let Zorome be the protagonist/let this be “his” story. I know the conflict and development of Hiro and Zero Two was the main point of the story, but their progression was mostly focused on themselves. Zorome started off believing in the world around him and searching for praise in a parental figure he never had (“Papa”). He even had an episode where he meets one of the adults he’s protecting, which is one of my favorite episodes of the series. Seeing how his pride and beliefs change over the course of the story may be a bit par for the course, but it opens up more opportunities for Darling in the Franxx to show its world and story, which in turn could mean less time wallowing in melodrama. The second would be to cut back on the emulation of older works. Watching this show reminded me of some of the mecha shows Gainax had produced, such as Gunbuster, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. These shows certainly were not the first of their kind but each has a unique style that in turn cultivated a strong response. This might have been the cause of some of this show’s downfall, trying to aim to be like past glories instead of being their own show. The last third, for instance, strongly reminds me of TTGL in how the story plays out – why not focus on what you have instead of something wholly unnecessary? Though some audience members may not have seen these shows, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were to enjoy the shows I mentioned more so than this one.
The animation is definitely the strongest point of the show. It’s not as fluid as I’d like, but Trigger’s bouncy style, full of smears and dynamic angles, can be found in this show. The environment is a bit dull, seeing as the world is a flat desert dystopia, but this is more in line of the world of the characters and not really the art itself that’s a problem. The soundtrack is fair. All the songs are what one would expect from a show like this, with pieces trying to drive home emotion with soft piano playing or soaring strings. I do like the battle music that’s led by a fiddle, but otherwise I’m indifferent to the music selection here. The OP, “Kiss of Death”, sung by Mika Nakashima, is a bit overwrought for my tastes and doesn’t feel as powerful as it is annoying. A remix exists midway through the show, but it doesn’t really change my feelings on the song. There are quite a few ED’s here, but they all share a similar feeling. They are all melancholic ballads sung by the cast of girls talking about, you guessed it, romantic pangs and heartbreak. They’re not bad, but not as heartfelt as they wish to be.
Overall, I give Darling in the Franxx a 5 out of 10. I hate to say this, but it does feel like the show was more of a marketing idea than something that director Atsushi Nishigori (or writer Code:000) wanted to say. Whether you abhorred it from the beginning or were mad at the constant relationship troubles, I’m not sure if anyone was fully satisfied with this show. Though I’m not a fan of all the Gainax mecha shows I’ve mentioned, I would look towards one of them if you want something similar that may satisfy you more. Darling in the Franxx has some good elements to it, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the watch.
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