Ah, Trigger. Every time you announce an anime, you do it with such fervor that one can’t help be hyped. Whether you follow that hype to the end by meeting all expectations is another story altogether.
After the massive success of ‘Kill la Kill’, which ingrained Trigger as the champion savior of anime in the minds of most, we got ‘Kiznaiver’ which one either liked or heavily disliked. Then we had ‘Little Witch Academia’ thrown into our faces which many welcomed with a hearty moan as a sign of getting back on track. Between these, there were a couple of shorts such as ‘Space Patrol Luluco’ and some adaptations. As you can see, by and large, Trigger is an animation studio that has mostly thrived on its original works. So, when ‘Darling in the FranXX’ was announced (alongside two other shows) a lot of people could not contain their genital juice. They had a good excuse for getting underwear wet: many of the folks at Trigger are responsible for greats such as ‘Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann’, ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’, and ‘FLCL’. A-1 Pictures’ involvement also caused heads to turn. Another major reason is that FranXX was largely advertised as a mecha anime. People who know the recipe to a good mecha show making a NEW MECHA SHOW!? Pants were shat, I tell you. Shat!
The pants were then washed. Or thrown into a trash bag. Who knows. Fucking weeaboos. Anyway, with the release of the first episode, new trousers were donned and ready to be soiled.The question is, though, did FranXX manage to make the audience do what they were expecting? I don’t know about everybody else but I can at least tell you about my own experience.
Before I start analysing my shorts for answers I have to make a few things clear. I suffer from chronic constipation so I couldn’t drop a brown-bomb even if I wanted to. Also, I am very much a huge fan of Trigger and, to an extent, A-1 Pictures. Kill la Kill is one of my favorites, Little Witch Academia was great, and I found Kiznaiver to be rather fun. But I know when to and when not to submit to expectations. So I will be reviewing FranXX as fairly as I can but do expect some slight bias for the romance. I also went into FranXX fairly spoiled since Facebook and Funnyjunk had regular memes about it – along with pedophilia for whatever fucking reason.
Anyway, FranXX starts off with our protagonist, self-named Hiro, about to be booted off a mobile fortress of sorts called Plantation 13 with a dystopian environment as the backdrop. Hiro and his first partner, Naomi, had trouble piloting their mecha, called a FranXX, and so the scientists bid them adieu for being useless. At that moment, a giant robotic dinosaur, appropriately called a ‘klaxosaur’, attacks the plantation. A lone FranXX, piloted by horned heroine Zero Two, attempts to fight it off in vain. That’s when Hiro and Zero Two recall an earlier lakeside meeting and decide to join forces. Hiro loses consciousness the instant he links up but they still manage to kick metal ass and the credits for the very first episode roll. Thus marks the beginning of a story of love, hope, and hardcore mecha fans bitching, “Why isn’t this focused more on the mechas?!”
In my opinion, FranXX is not mecha anime by definition – where the sole purpose is giant robots kicking the crude oil or Energon out of each other with everything else as mere features. FranXX instead goes for the character route with the use of mechas as minor plot devices for progression and world building. The difference between the two is almost minute but still important to acknowledge. Viewers keep drawing FranXX on graphing sheets alongside Gurren Lagann, Evangelion, and Eureka Seven for constant comparisons. I find that unfair as FranXX only narratively parallels Eureka Seven. The other two shows are not entirely different from FranXX but from each other as well. Gurren Lagann is an absurd action anime mecha loaded with slapstick elements and unbound by even its own chaotic narrative rules. Evangelion is a serious story with an emphasis on the psychologically disturbing that is heavily undermined by its own pseudo-intellectual fans. FranXX is a semi-realistic coming of age story with a defined rule-set and often childish maneuvering in regards to both the plot and characters. Let me explain.
Like I stated many times before, I consider ‘originality’ to be a ‘myth’. Now what does that exactly mean? It means that any idea one may ever produce has already been done a long time before the same-ish idea that people already claim to be the standard. A modern example for easy understanding is the whole PUBG and Fortnite debacle. People bitch about them copying each other and calling whichever they like best the ‘father’ but they forget that what actually matters is how the games are on their own. Hell, the idea of chucking a group of people into a game of survival was done years ago in the Japanese ‘Battle Royale’ novel. Satan’s domain, the proposition of making a sizable number of human beings to forcibly partake in a fun activity whereby attempting to kill each other and come out on top at the end of the competition had been achieved centuries before in coliseums. You get the picture? When trying to fairly review, you have to talk about the thing’s own merits. You may love Shakespeare’s tragedies and consider Greek tragedies to be trash while your friend may compose a stanza in which he puts the vice in the versa. If you still don’t understand what I am trying to say then I don’t know how else to put it.
Rant aside, for argument’s sake, a true comparison of FranXX should be done against Trigger’s own two works – namely Kill la Kill and Kiznaiver. To be more accurate, I will say that FranXX is a lovechild of these both with Eureka Seven as the godfather while still growing up to have it’s own personality. Kill la Kill was chock full of metaphors. If you looked hard enough at one scene, you’d find at least find three of them. They often went overboard with it at times. Kiznaiver was a character (or caricature) study set in a somewhat strange world. Mix that in with Eureka Seven’s interspecies romance and you get Darling in the FranXX.
A thing to note about FranXX’s plot is that the pacing is all over the place. The anime is quite slow for most viewers until episode 10. I binged FranXX a day or two after the last episode aired so I didn’t have much of an issue with it. A large number of shows like this tend to have weird pacing. If you had attempted to watch FranXX as it aired then you would have dropped it by the 7th or 8th episode. Then there’s the divisive point of episode 18 which is where it becomes a ‘love or hate’ situation. I will get into that after the end of the review so as not to spoil the ending for those who haven’t watched the show yet.
Now to talk about the characters. As I’ve mentioned before, FranXX is a character study. Thus you can’t be lenient on that aspect. I feel that Trigger has learnt from most of their mistakes with Kiznaiver. They managed to fix the romantic issues that were present in Kiznaiver and the twist of the characters not knowing about the concepts of love and sex was quite interesting. The characters aren’t super deep or anything like that nor do they need to be but a tad bit more depth would have been appreciated. FranXX tries to deliver a message of hope and of love: if you want almost nihilistic pseudo-philosophy then go beg for another Evangelion. You don’t ask for something extremely specific when it already exists.
The cast members are also sufficiently fleshed out. Some grow into their personalities early while a few fully develop after a timeskip. Zorome doesn’t change at all so that was a neat touch. As they say, some dudes never change. Interracial relationships are highlighted with Hiro and Zero Two’s struggles with their interspecies hoohaa. Emphasis is put on gender roles and reproduction using the subplot of squad mates Kokoro and Mitsuru. I am an old school romanticist and simple romance like these with just the right amount of drama tickle my cardiac muscles. Honestly, in today’s world where sex, the most intimate of acts, is treated like holding hands and where disillusioned men and women actively hate each other for being the other gender the message that Kokoro and Mitsuru convey is most welcome. These two developed an understanding and procreated because, as Kokoro said, “I want to leave my mark.” (vital scene in the context of a plot reveal)
Some might argue that the teenage crew of FranXX is way too dramatic but I don’t think so. They are 16 year olds going through late puberty in a war-ridden world with not even a definition for love and sex. What the fuck else were you expecting? You have no problem with Shinji and Simon being massively whiny fucks but now have complaints here where the whine is much less? Then there are the certain special folks who correlate the plot’s nuances, like how the mechas are piloted, to pedophilic tendencies. I… Huh? Honestly, it’s not even ironic. Some peeps actually believe this. That is a rant for another time, though.
Now for the technicalities! FranXX was a tri-studio collaborative effort and they did a great job with the animation. Fluid scenes, highly expressive facial animation, and detailed non-clunky CGI. A neat package. The mecha combat could have been better. Even though I don’t feel that FranXX is a mecha anime per se, they should still have made them more exhilarating. Another point to raise is that the mecha designs themselves are rather meh. The designs for the klaxosaurs are uninspired. The name is also stupid: they stop looking like dinosaurs a couple of episodes in. Considering how the Japanese language works, it could very well refer to being ‘ancient’ (because plot) but I still find to be rather ehhhh. These factors could very well prove to be mighty turn offs for those who came for the action and those who nitpick plot inconsistencies.
There’s also the constant use of the letterbox in impactful scenes. Works well.
The soundtrack is alright. Nothing that pumped me up or appealed to my ‘sad reacts’. The only time the music was on point and I was actually aware of it was the last episode. I wasn’t a fan of the ending songs. I loved the opening song, though. Mika Nakashima and L’Arc-en-Ciel’s Hyde have done an excellent job with ‘Kiss of Death’ and the animators have done justice to the OP’s visuals.
Despite the numerous plot inconsistencies, most of which occur after episode 18, Darling in the FranXX is still quite a solid show. It doesn’t deserve the hate it is getting but neither should it be showered with accolades. While it has managed to form its own identity, it is bested by other works in the ‘genre’. ‘Borrowing’ elements and still managing to be its own thing isn’t such an easy task as one may think especially today when there is an oversaturation of ideas with bad execution. Think back to the PUBG vs Fortnite argument, please. FranXX could have done with refinement especially past episode 18. I am also disappointed that I did not get goosebumps even once over the course of the show. Trigger is my main goosebumps supplier. As such, on its own, Darling in the FranXX is a 7 out of 10 show for me until episode 18. After that is a 5 out of 10.
One final thing, though, I find it absolutely hilarious that fans of Eureka Seven are bashing FranXX even when Eureka Seven is utter crap after the first volume. This is coming from someone who has spent money on the whole manga, lol.
Main review over. Time to discuss the last six episodes as they play a huge part in my decision for the score.
FranXX remained fairly semi-realistic until halfway through episode 18. That is when the final battle occurs between the klaxosaurs and humanity. Suddenly, people start betraying each other and a new villainous hive mind alien called VIRM comes back for round two of an ancient war against the klaxosaurs. There are very little, if any at all, indicators to this appearance. A good twist should be slightly predictable and yet still catch you off guard. This was just a mess.
Then our gang takes the battle to Mars and then the far reaches of space. Like, what? Now this is where the comparison to Gurren Lagann is justified. As mentioned before, Gurren Lagann could pull shit out of its ass and make you eat it and you’d still be fine with it. Its world allowed it to do so. FranXX’s, on the other hand, did not allow such extreme leeway so it ended up being a distastefully rushed mess. Trigger learnt lessons from Kiznaiver but failed to emulate what made Kill la Kill work.
Even so, the message of hope and love, no matter how simple, that the conclusion portrays is still pretty well put. It’s not preachy and it’s displayed not without hardships. It works well with the haphazard plot shifting so that, at the very least, offers some solace.