Darling in the Franxx is an original anime by a collaboration between Trigger, A-1 pictures and CloverWorks. It has 24 episodes and aired over the Winter and Spring seasons in 2018. Elements of all three studios shine through the project in a variety of ways, especially along the lines of animation, drama and romantic themes, which are characteristically A-1 and CloverWorks. However, Trigger’s presence in the Action, Sci-Fi and Mecha themes are prevalent and have a commanding presence that easily outshines its partners. This is why Darling is heavily considered another staple in Trigger’s legacy and gets them most of the love…and the hate. However, we should keep in mind that this was a joint effort and the hard work and dedication of all three studios should be praised.
Darling is set in a futuristic world where humans have thrown away their emotions and rudimentary desires for the chance to live immortal lives without the troubles that the civilizations of the past brought them. Thanks to a new group of leaders known as APE, they were able to maximize their use of a special Magma energy, which fueled their cities and made their complacent lives possible. However, as a consequence, they were constantly attacked by a force known as Klaxosaurs, forcing them into highly secured cities known as plantations. To combat these beings, they began experiments, which led to the creation of children called parasites. These parasites were able to operate special mechanized weapons called Franxx, because unlike the “adults”, who were the humans that choose immortality, the parasites retained their ability to use their sexual organs, which was required to pilot the Franxx. Their sole purpose was to fight for their “Papa.”
Plantation 13 is a special team of parasites that were even more unique than the standard parasites because they also retained emotions. This made them act quite differently from their fellow parasites and they often felt as though they didn’t belong because of these differences. Hiro was the most out of place, being unable to link up with his previous partner and pilot the Franxx, making him feel as though he had no worth. However, he soon encounters a rouge parasite with horns, named Zero Two, who is part Klaxosaur and has a bad reputation for draining her partners’ life force, getting her the nickname, “the partner killer”. During a surprise attack by the Klaxosaurs, Hiro is given the opportunity to become her partner and is surprised to find that not only can he fly, but with Zero Two, he can achieve impossible heights. From this point on they vow to do whatever it takes to always pilot together, despite outside opposition and interference, but they soon find that their freedom and newfound love will come at a higher price than they could’ve ever expected and they will have to go through much hardship, to protect their home, their friends and their future.
With that said, let us now take a look at the most talked about series of the year so far and discuss what it got right, where it went wrong and the ugliness of the fandom.
For much of the first half of the series, the focus was on Plantation 13 and the growing relationship between Hiro and Zero Two. We began to discover a world in which children were not allowed to ask questions, explore their world, know themselves or pursue interpersonal relationships with each other outside what was necessary to pilot the Franxx. They were not allowed to voice their opinions or reach for anything more than what they were made for, piloting the Franxx and waging war against the enemies known as the Klaxosaurs. However, we soon learn that the children of 13 were meant to be different from their peers. That they were an experiment of Dr. Franxx, the genius behind the Mechas and the various uses of Magma Energy. They were essentially a case study and what we, as the viewers, saw in the first half, as a result.
We saw that by being allowed to retain emotions and desires, the children acted in strange ways. They experienced sadness, pain, rejection, depression, confusion, jealousy and anger. They struggled to find their self-identity, suffered from illness both physically and mentally at times and came to discover that they were starting to feel the greatest emotion of all, love. Love was the one emotion they were never taught or allowed to acknowledge, yet it alone created a frenzy within the group and started a chain reaction of conflict and drama. We saw triangles start to form, we saw puberty begin to influence their sexual desires and we saw some struggling to understand why they were different. The catalyst of all these changes, was Hiro and Zero Two, who quite naturally fell in love and became the example to the others of what it really meant to be human. This idea in fact, is what the series was really after, and is what it perfected by its end.
The relationship between Hiro and Zero Two is also something the series got exceptionally right. From the start, the love between them was raw and deep, and their feelings never wavered, even when there were many forces working to keep them apart. Even when they were separated, they yearned to be together and worked to return to each other by any means necessary. They were portrayed as a unit that could no longer live without the other, literal halves of one existence. The theme explored by referencing the Jian, a species of bird that cannot fly without one lending the other a wing. Zero Two desperately wanted to become human for her Darling and Hiro in turn was willing to lose his humanity for Zero Two. They were destined soulmates and from start to finish, their relationship was developed, crafted and nurtured so delicately and perfectly, it can easily be seen as one of the greatest examples of true love in anime.
Last but not least, the most unexpected development of the series, was the reveal of homosexuality with certain key characters. While one character was hinted to be possibly Bisexual, another character was confirmed to be a lesbian. This character was shown to struggle with their homosexuality throughout the first half, starting subtly, but soon after by the climax, her struggles came crashing down and she could no longer hold back her feelings. She confessed to another girl in 13 and what we saw was a beautiful example of support for those who may lead alternative lifestyles. Her crush did not express disgust or belittle her feelings. She didn’t make her feel as though she was a freak and embraced her. Even though it was a soft rejection, she was supported and allowed to feel safe and comfortable. She was allowed to feel valid and normal. She no longer felt there was something wrong with her. She was allowed to hope that she might one day have her love returned or in the very least would be able to be herself without fear of being outcast or crucified. I found this to be a beautiful moment and I respect the creators for representing such a critical and important topic so well.
The second half of the series is where things started to truthfully become unstable. This was largely due to the fact that they introduced a very unexpected new enemy into the fray of this war. Those who are familiar with Trigger shouldn’t have been too surprised, but despite this, the development was still a bit odd and frankly out of place. To go from fighting the planetary beings that were the Klaxosaurs, to suddenly being faced with the threat of a massive alien race, was a rather ridiculous jump, even for Trigger’s standards. I think this is where we perhaps saw a power struggle between the studios, namely A-1 who likes things to be dramatically contained and Trigger who likes things to be explosive and grandiose. Or maybe it felt more like they needed a way to pump up the action and so they pulled a ludicrous plot point from out of a grab bag of flair. This is all to say, this development was a bit off the mark and may have cost these studios a chance to have a collective masterpiece under their helm. They’d have been much wiser to keep things in line to the first half and focused on Papa, who truthfully is the enemy in any sense. A coming of age into rebellion story would have been a more sensible outcome.
Another negative aspect was the fan service and lewd innuendos the show began with. It gave the impression that this was going to be a bit of a trashy mecha series and so it made people take it less seriously and undermined the beauty it would later exhibit. It may have been an intentional tactic to bait in a certain audience, but it also backfired a bit because when it went in a different direction, this same audience became the biggest of critics. They managed to pull in a whole different audience midway in the series, at the crux, but then turned them off by again switching their focus to the extreme. It made them seem incompetent and honestly just confused everyone. It seemed to have lost its identity somewhere along the way and had to struggle to bring it back. It was only by the finale that we saw where they wanted to go, but the path they took to get there was too inconsistent to have as much of an impact as they may have intended and hoped for.
Finally, the plot called for the pretty non-negotiable need for the Franxx to be piloted by a male and female pair, making it seem that same-sex pairings were invalid and heterosexuality was superior. While not the most glaring example, I will agree that this is slightly heteronormative, despite being a valid plot point. I feel that the fact that male and female pairs were the norm was not the problem, but rather their lack of exploration of same-sex pairs. I think if they had a scene or two showing that same-sex pairings could pilot together if there were romantic feelings between them, it would have been better. It seemed as though they might be going there with that Bisexual character I mentioned and Hiro, but they didn’t seem to follow through on it. They could have utilized this chance to show that simply love, no matter if you’re gay or straight, is enough to save the world. That said, this doesn’t make the studio homophobic and their willing inclusion of an officially lesbian character shows that. I’d call it more of a missed opportunity to break the mold and support a better way of thinking.
Despite the flaws, Darling succeeded in being an experience and a massive success in many ways. It certainly wasn’t perfect on all fronts, but when it was perfect, it was PERFECT. However, an imperfect stain on its legacy was the extremely volatile and toxic fandom. From wishing death on characters for being human and taking it as far as threatening their actor, to calling the show a rip off of other popular shows, to calling it trash and to even claiming Trigger is homophobic simply because the story focused on the need for a male and female pair to pilot the Franxx. Fandoms always seem to take it too far and it can be very tiring to say the least and really can drag down enjoyment of the show. Love it or hate it, but don’t drag it because it didn’t cater to your personal desires. That’s something many still need to learn.
Darling in the Franxx was an interesting story of philosophy, ideology, society, self-identity, personal discovery and most important of all, love. To its core, it’s the one thing it never strayed from and the one thing that it perfected by the end. It had its flaws and may have lost the right to be called a masterpiece by some poor decisions, but that doesn’t take away the fact that it is something to be respected and praised. It had a charm that is hard to ignore and it leaves you with a sense of fulfillment you didn’t know you needed. It’s a kind of journey and you fall in love with the characters to the point that their happiness becomes your own. You feel as though you’ve grown along with them over the course of the story and you reconnect to your sense of humanity thanks to its ability to pose the question, “what makes us truly human?”. I would give Darling in the Franxx a solid 8/10 objectively, but personally, it’s a 10/10 and one of my favorites. It’ll be up to you to decide if you like it or not, but I implore everyone to give it a chance and if you do, form your own opinions and enjoy it in your own way. Don’t let anyone else’s opinions sway you one way or the other and that goes for this one as well.