*This will contain spoilers of some key events, so be warned!*
Darling in the Franxx is arguably the most discussed anime of 2018 and so like any highly popular or controversial topic, it has its share of critics and opinions. For as much as it did right, it had a lot of flaws, but whether it was able to overcome those flaws is a discussion for another post. See my thoughts in my review post here. This post will be discussing Ikuno of Darling the Franxx, and how she became a hero of humanity.
But before we actually get to this, allow me to give you the background. Darling in the Franxx focuses on a team of children who are assigned the duty of fighting against a dangerous enemy, in mechanized weapons know as Franxx. These Franxx require fully functioning male and female sexual organs to be piloted, which therefore requires each unit to have a boy and girl. The power of the mecha is directly proportional to the compatibility of the pair and the feelings between them, or love. So, this necessity makes the likelihood of having same sex pairs almost impossible and therefore seems to push the heteronormative agenda. On this front, I can’t deny it may be based in some truth, and I’ll admit I’d have liked to see a better exploration of same-sex piloting and if it would have been possible if the pair had romantic feelings between them. I discuss this more in my review.
With this as the main setting of the plot, it makes it really easy to open the door to other claims, such as the studio being homophobic and partaking in the Bury your Gays Stereotype because Ikuno, a character who ends up with a shorter lifespan than the others, happens to be gay. In this post, I will attempt to argue against these claims, by showing how the series actually honors Ikuno, by giving her a legacy that cannot be forgotten and how she became a hero of humanity.
The creators of DarliFra sent a shockwave through the fandom when they confirmed what they’d been hinting at since the start, that Ikuno, the lonesome bookworm of squad 13, was a lesbian and was in love with her team captain, Ichigo, who she confessed to. Many were pleased, especially in the gay community, and began to hope for the possibility that the Ikuno x Ichigo ship would sail. Of course, there were also skeptics, feeling it was just bait and that due to the somewhat heteronormative nature of the show, it’d never happen. As it turns out, both sides were half right. It soon became pretty clear that Ikuno and Ichigo wouldn’t be a thing and that she instead chose her male partner Goro. However, her identity was never erased and she received complete support from Ichigo and her friends, denying the idea that it was just bait. Ikuno was a confirmed lesbian from beginning to end, which is something we don’t see often in mainstream anime. Furthermore, she doesn’t end up alone in the end either.
Before we get to that though, I’d like to discuss the confession briefly. During the scene pictured above, Ikuno had reached her wits end and could no longer contain her feelings for Ichigo. She confessed to her and was open and honest about how she felt about Ichigo as well as in general. How she hated the unfair piloting system of the Franxx and how she felt like a freak and a selfish pain to everyone because she was so different. This scene could’ve gone two different ways from this point. Ichigo could have been dismissive and disgusted and made Ikuno feel that she really was a freak or they could’ve had Ichigo not respond much at all, leaving Ikuno feeling rejected and confused.
However, it went in neither direction we might have expected. Instead what we saw, was a beautiful and respectful moment of acceptance, for a confused gay who was brave enough to come out to someone they trusted. Ichigo did not belittle Ikuno’s feelings or harshly reject her, but rather she told her it was ok to be herself. It was ok to be a pain because everyone could be sometimes. She said that she was valid, she was the same as anyone, she was human. She accepted her and who she was wholeheartedly, even if she couldn’t return her feelings. This is why although she may have “lost” in the conquest of Ichigo’s heart, she won in terms of being accepted and having a safe space. This was a win for the lgbtq community in anime, in my honest opinion. It was a wonderful moment.
And then came this moment, where Ikuno chose to risk her life in order to help Hiro and Zero Two break through a blocked path, which would lead them to the Franxx that would save the world. It would require a lot of energy and being that the females take the brunt of the damage, it was naturally going to take the biggest toll on her. However, she believed in her friends and believed in the hope of a better future and so she did what she felt she needed to do and broke through. In the process, her hair turned grey, which we had learned meant her aging had been accelerated and that her lifespan was greatly shortened. It’s a fate all parasites would have to face one day, but this action led her to face it much sooner than the others. However, she was successful and this single act of selflessness, very well may have been the turning point as to if humanity would have a chance. In this moment, she took her first steps to becoming a real hero.
Leaving Hiro Two to fight for their futures, all that was left for the others to do was try and make the earth a viable place to live. Squad 13 and all the other parasite groups, including those previously thought to be lost, came together to rebuild the earth and learn how to create civilization like the days of the past. Ikuno may have a been a bit greyer and bit weaker, but this wasn’t stopping her from helping them out. She did her best and had the support of Ichigo and all her friends every step of the way. This gave her the chance to focus on what she wanted and encouraged her to do what she could with the time she had left. What followed was nothing short of extraordinary.
Using the preserved records of the past, Ikuno studied science and medicine and became a self-taught doctor and scientist. She then went on to discover a cure for the accelerated aging that the parasites suffered from. She created a new energy source to power their civilization, so that the dangerous alien energy could be discarded. She gave the others the knowledge on how to best cultivate food and create resources to sustain their booming population. As a doctor, she treated everyone’s sickness and improved their quality of life ten-fold. She literally paved the way for earth to become a self-sustaining planet and ensured that humanity would rise again and flourish for centuries and beyond. She saved humanity and became its hero, all while fighting her own battle to survive and live as long as she could. If that’s not legendary, I don’t know what is.
Most importantly of all, she didn’t have to do it all alone. Yes, she had the love and support of her friends, but I’d imagine that it would get pretty lonley spending your days in a lab trying to save the world while everyone else went on to live their lives with their loved ones and children. Perhaps if she had never found love and died alone in her bed, she could be called a tragic hero, but this was not the case, as she did find love and a life partner both professionally and personally.
This is Naomi, if you don’t recall who she is, she was Hiro’s original partner, but because she and Hiro couldn’t link up (not hard to figure why knowing what we know now 😉 ), she was sent away, presumed to be dead. But as it turns out, she was not dead, and she’d been kept in a deep sleep for a while, until the day came that she was freed. However, she wasn’t without loss, as she did lose an arm during an attack early on. That is to say, she had her own disability to live with. So, when she came back to squad 13, and they all began to live their lives together with their chosen partners, it should come at no surprise that she and Ikuno would probably become closer, as they were the only two who didn’t have a set partner and as they obviously had much in common.
They both couldn’t conform to the Franxx system properly, they both had a disability and they both, we can assume, could only find love with other woman. It’s only natural that they would connect, especially since they would’ve likely spent more time together since all their other teammates had their own families to attend to. They were both sort of the odd girls out and were facing solitary lives, so if they could lean on each other in times of loneliness or when they were struggling with their disabilities, why wouldn’t they get closer? Perhaps Naomi could see how hard Ikuno was working for everyone and felt that while she was looking out for everyone else, maybe she needed someone to look out for her. That, I imagine, was why she likely became her assistant and spending as much time alone together as I’m sure they did day after day, it’d be more illogical for them not to fall in love. And it was clear they were in love, with Ikuno even going as far to have Goro track down that old mirror on one of his explorations so that she may give it back to Naomi. That seems an awful lot like a girl trying to do something nice for her crush.
There are some naysayers against them being official, but to them I say they must be blind, because there is no way these moments can be seen in any other way. Ikuno was a lesbian who feared she’d be alone forever, but then she found another lesbian and they fell in love. She had found a healthy way to move on from Ichigo and live out her remaining days with someone who loved her just as deeply in return. Someone who’d stay by her side and could understand what she was feeling in every sense. She worked her hardest for the sake of her friends, the future and humanity. Finding love was a fitting reward for her selfless act and a gift she probably never expected to have. Whether you agree with it or not, is it wrong to allow her that simple happiness?
There’s been so much debate on whether Ikuno is another victim of the Bury Your Gays trend and to that I say a hard NO. See OG’s rules on Bury your Gays here. Ikuno was not sacrificed for no reason other than to erase her existence or in a way that made no sense to the plot. In fact, she wasn’t even sacrificed at all, as she didn’t die. By the finale, her final moments were what we see above. Maybe she died right after, or maybe she dies in another ten years. We have no way of knowing, but that doesn’t really matter. Ikuno made the choice to risk her life to preserve the future of humanity. She believed in her friends. She believed in the future. She believed in herself. She did what she could do while she could do it. She fought a battle all of her own and won, even if ending up maimed along the way. She succeeded in what she set out to do and then was allowed to spend her remaining days with someone who loved her unconditionally. That is not a tragic end, that is a happy one. She is not a tragic gay, who drew the short end of the stick because the creators wanted her to suffer. She is a hero and the creators honored her as such, by allowing her to leave a legacy that will never be erased. Even thousands of years into the future, the humans of their world will know of Ikuno, the mother of modern science and medicine. They will know that they are alive thanks to the efforts of a strong, powerful woman, who against all odds, and with a single snap decision, became a hero of humanity and was also gay.