Japanese Title: Darling in the FranXX
Similar: Gurren Lagann
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 24 episodes
- Well animated.
- Studio Trigger is stuck on repeat.
- Lore and world is trash.
- Ass piloting.
- Empty relationships.
“Is Darling in the FranXX better than Evangelion?” someone asked me. “Studio Trigger is Gainax 2.0, so have they finally surpassed their past?” Better than Eva? Darling in the FranXX isn’t even better than Guilty Crown – forget Evangelion.
Darling in the FranXX feels like Trigger’s attempt at stepping out of Gainax’s shadow. That’s not how you distinguish yourself from your predecessors. You do so by forging your own path, your own identity, which they were well in the process of doing with the likes of Kill la Kill and the great Little Witch Academia. Now, people will start thinking that Trigger is possibly stuck in the past.
This story, like all others of its kind, is about humanity on the brink of extinction and the only thing saving them from the evil Klaxosaur is a bunch of inexperienced teenagers piloting mechs – or FranXX, as they are known here. Each FranXX requires one boy and one girl in harmony to function. Hiro is part of the latest batch to become pilots, when he fails in his tests and looks set to return to the lab, that is, until the half-human half-Klaxosaur Zero Two invites him to join her on the battlefield in humanity’s last stand. Though she is the best pilot, she also has a reputation for killing her partners after a mere three fights. How long will Hiro last?
Before I dissect the story and characters, let’s address the fan service. I make no secret of my dislike for fan service, as it often comes at the expense of other, better elements. However, most fan service in good anime doesn’t much matter. It’s generally reserved for the low end of the scale.
FranXX was made for fan service first, everything else second. Seemingly every scene has an eye for titillation. When characters get dressed, which is before each fight, they have to wear special underwear (why?) and the camera has to give a close up every time. The “ass shot” camera angle is the director’s favourite. Girls fondle each other despite having no knowledge of anything sex-related (even kissing is alien to them). Zero Two is fan service cancer. Her introduction has her get naked for a swim in front of Hiro, catch a fish with her mouth, and then leap out of the water like a dolphin, boobs almost slapping him in the chin. Does this serve any purpose? No.
The beach episode makes an appearance, of course. One would imagine that a beach episode in a series about sheltered and repressed children would be different, but it isn’t.
Worst of all is the piloting. The boys control the FranXX by steering the girls arse (right after she orgasms from the connection “going in”). I don’t know why Trigger stopped there. Why not just be honest and have them naked in doggy-style for fights? The boys already come equipped with a gear stick.
A key point to remember throughout this is that unlike Kill la Kill where the titillation served some satirical and comedic purposes, Darling in the FranXX wants you to take all of this seriously. And to make it even worse, if you can imagine, it thinks itself clever.
Zero Two is wish fulfilment for sad otaku when she falls in love and drapes herself over a guy of no talent or interesting quality. Every line out of her is “Darling” this and “Darling” that. Far from endearing, this quickly grows irritating. It’s akin to “onii-chan” and all that guff from harem anime.
Relationships and romance are a core theme of FranXX. However, these are the shallowest elements of the series. Society forces these kids to couple up, which makes the relationships inorganic though not a problem just yet, if as a mere starting point. But the organic relationship growth never blooms. When one couple swears undying love, all I hear is the order from above to be “in love”. There is an attempt at relationship drama with the inclusion of another girl that likes Hiro (don’t ask me what she sees in him), but her involvement is irrelevant.
It tries by having love mechanics in the cockpit, whereby a couple’s combat prowess turns flaccid if they don’t trust and “love” each other. This just doesn’t succeed.
The cast consists on an equally bland assortment of characters. The tsundere, the bro, the one fat guy (in a dying world), the shy girl, the reserved chick, the childhood friendzone girl – you know them all already. I keep waiting for a reason to care about any of these people (see the relationship problems above for why). I never get the sense that thought went into developing them. It’s almost as if they knew viewers would draw parallels between them and their counterparts in Evangelion and Gurren Lagann, doing the work for the writers. The closest I got to caring for these characters was when the boys and girls declared war on each other in their dormitory, reminiscent and accurate to boarding school life shenanigans. Wish there was more elsewhere.
The world building is similar – zero effort. Humanity lives in mobile fortresses called Plantations, hinting at a full society, yet we barely glimpse it. The most we have is a quick pass through a city and the grand council sitting around expositing. SEELE was dull in Evangelion and is duller here. The world doesn’t justify itself for being this way because we never explore it. You want the audience to be asking questions, to know more as you unveil the world and characters piece by piece until the big finish (don’t answer every little thing, mind you – leave them pondering small mysteries). FranXX never made me ask the right questions because it never cared enough to show me something worth investigating.
Even the Klaxosaurs aren’t compelling. Yes, there is a little story behind them, but as enemies, they have no character.
Lastly, we come to the story. Well, take Eva but give it Gurren Lagann’s third act, ending included, and you have FranXX’s full story. Oh, and remove anything engaging you may find in those other anime, of course.
For much of the series, the action goes like this: Klaxosaur spotted, send out the FranXX except for Zero Two because she’s a loose cannon and dangerous to her partner, scrub pilots get stomped, forced to send Zero Two and darling Hiro, they annihilate the enemy with ease, Hiro comes back wounded though without lasting damage, other kids hate Zero Two, and repeat. Why even bother with a team of pilots?
Zero Two monopolises the action. Her weakness is supposed to be that she will consume a trained pilot after every three fights, and these pilots don’t just grow on trees, yet once Hiro enters the picture, that weakness become irrelevant. When he reaches the point of death, he magically gets better and that’s that, problem solved. With such little effort I am astonished, astonished I tell you, they even bothered to include the weakness at all.
Also, she can’t go anywhere without an armed guard due to her rogue nature, yet they give her an all access key to go where the other kids can’t? It bites them an episode later. Shocker.
What cracks me up are the commanders. Despite humanity’s existence hanging in the balance, the command crew consists of two or three people. That’s it? I thought we were all about to die.
By now, I am asking myself if there is anything good about Darling in the FranXX. The art is good, as usual from Trigger. It’s likely what’s stopping me from dumping this anime straight into the bottom tier. I don’t want to rely on impulse with this viewing so fresh in my mind, so I will err on the side of caution for now and ruminate on it. And it all could be worse, even in the face of so many faults. Some of the small character moments and interactions are fun, as seen in the dormitory war, for example. The mobile fortresses as humanity’s last homes is also an interesting idea – if only they had explored them!
If only they had explored anything.
Art – High
Sound – Medium
The voice acting is fine, as is the music. The protagonist in English sounds like a middle-aged man.
Story – Low
Boys and girls paired as couples fight in mechs to protect humanity from Dinobots. The boy pilots by manoeuvring the girl’s arse – that is the least of this anime’s problems.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. The memes are better than Darling in the FranXX.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)