So this review was a long time coming and man, Darling in the Franxx has really caused a stir over these last six months, hasn’t it?
It’s probably the most popular mecha anime since the heyday of Gurren Lagann and Code Geass over a decade ago, and as most people probably know, the robot genre hasn’t had a lot of luck after those two series ended apart from the cult fanbase centered around Gundam OVAs.
There have been plenty of mecha anime since R2 astounded the world, but they haven’t exactly caught on to a wider audience like their predecessors did, mostly due to them not being very good. I think the most popular was Aldnoah Zero, but as anyone with working eyes who saw the second season can attest to, we don’t speak of that series anymore for a good reason. You can argue about the positive qualities of Star Driver and Kuromukuro all you want, but at the end of the day, most anime fans don’t care about them. I definitely haven’t seen any Star Driver cosplay at any anime convention I’ve ever been to, and I’ve seen someone cosplay Letter Bee at a convention.
As such, when Darling in the Franxx was announced, there was a lot of hype for it. I think most of it was due to Trigger being attached to the project, which is something I’ve just come to accept from the fandom because at least it could be A-1 Pictures, right? Oh wait no, A-1 Pictures is attached to the anime too. And obviously no one gives any attention to them, as a lot of the reviews I’ve read and watched for this show only mention Trigger, whether they’re being positive or negative. I just want to make it clear that while it’s true Trigger shares blame for pre-producing this show and apparently Imaishi kept in touch with the main staff even at the latest Anime Expo, A-1 and their spinoff studio Cloverworks were responsible for almost the entirety of the series. Literally no episode after the fourteenth one has Trigger’s name on it, and they didn’t have a lot to do before then either.
But it wasn’t just Trigger that people paid attention to when they were looking at Darling in the Franxx. There are quite a few articles that paid attention to the actual staff as well, and while I don’t recall everyone who was highlighted, I do know that hope was given to the director of Idolmaster (which is apparently the best-looking idol anime in existence according to my idol-loving colleagues. I never watched it) for creating Franxx, the writer of Steins;Gate helping with the series composition was highlighted too, Imaishi doing the action direction is always a plus, and the mecha designs were by the same guy who did Star Driver’s, which means that they’ll look stylish at least.
So we’ve got a group of talented people onboard that most people saw as promising whilst I saw as a bunch of red flags. A guy who directed one show that’s not even in the same genre as his current one is never a good sign in my book. There’s only so much action and cool-looking mechs can accomplish on their own. And do I even have to talk about how much I don’t like the writer of Steins;Gate?
I recently rewatched Plastic Memories and holy hell, it is one of the worst popular anime I’ve seen in recent times. I’m currently watching Steins;Gate 0 and am really not enjoying it. It should be obvious at this point that I hate Franxx. Although Naotaka Hayashi doesn’t have full writing credit for it, he apparently wrote the majority of the episodes according to Wikipedia, so I’m allowed to lay a fair amount of the blame on him. He’s attached to more episodes than Trigger for god’s sakes.
But honestly, while the staff played a large part in hyping the series up, a lot of anime fans are reasonable enough to know something is awful when they see it. That’s why Re: Creators got such a bad reception despite the Fate/Zero staff along with it being a favorite of Anitwitter and Youtube. That’s why Tada Never Falls In Love never took off despite the Nozaki-kun pedigree. No, when Franxx actually came out, people liked what they saw. If you’ve gone to any anime convention recently, chances are you’ve seen a fair amount of Zero Two and Ichigo cosplay there, as well as tons of Zero Two fanart. Hell, I’ve seen women cosplay the actual mecha from this show, I doubt any of them hated the actual source it came from, and I doubt they’ll go away soon. Kyoukai no Kanata fans were far and few from the start, but I still see Mirai cosplay at every convention I go to.
What exactly was it about Franxx that got so many people to pay attention? Because to analyze why Franxx sucks so much, we first have to look at what I consider one of its biggest problems: the lack of an immediate hook. When you look at the premise, there’s not really a whole lot to it. It’s pretty much your standard post-apocalyptic sci-fi mecha story that anybody who’s watched something from this genre would know about, right down to the characters only feeling useful when they’re in the robot. I’m pretty sure the demographic of people who have watched this yet haven’t seen Gurren Lagann or Evangelion has got to be pretty low.
And like most mecha anime, Franxx starts off in medias res, meaning that you’re thrown right into the middle of the conflict and we don’t get any explanation for who the characters are and what they’re fighting for until later on in the story. You know that the kids are piloting female-looking robots to fight giant monsters called Klaxosaurs and you know that they need a male and female to pilot them as a metaphor for relationships, but it’s not clear as to what the end goal is in regards to this, what dreams the characters are trying to accomplish by being used as underage soldiers, or even what the Klaxosaur are.
A friend of mine told me this is so the writers can get to the robot fights faster, which really makes me wish more anime would dedicate an hour or so to these premieres so we can have enough time to do plot and characterization within the same time frame. I recently saw the first episode of Planet With, that robot anime by the guy who made Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, and suffice to say, I was not sold on that show’s characterization either. What I can see of the story looks interesting, but why can’t we have both of them existing side by side?
But you know what Darling in the Franxx had as a hook to make people pay attention whilst hoping that future developments would turn out well? That’s right. Zero Two. The mysterious waifu that everyone, male and female, fell in love with because of her rebellious attitude, sexual appeal, and basically being so memetic that Kim Kardashian herself drew inspiration from her in terms of style. A lot of fans and former fans admit they only watched Darling in the Franxx because of her. And I’ll admit, I did think she was an interesting character in terms of being a serious version of Lala from To-Love-Ru, right down to having the same voice actress, but I had my reservations even then. Because the problem with mysterious waifus is that they can’t carry a show on their own since being a mystery means you’re disqualified from being a grounding point that the audience can use to get into the show. And I have seen a lot of mysterious waifus who stopped being interesting the instant you know the mystery, so she definitely wasn’t enough of a hook for me.
So instead, we have the true main character and focal point of the show, Hiro. What do we know about him? Well he’s introduced to us as a former ace pilot who lost his ability to pilot a Franxx due to unknown reasons, which disgraced him and sent his female partner away for the remainder of the series. Not a great character right off the bat, but his conflict is somewhat relatable to the point that he can carry a show for one or two episodes as long as there’s development to be had later down the road. So with lacking characters and a vague direction for the story, Franxx didn’t begin all that great, but it had enough of a hook to not write off the premiere entirely. The romance between Hiro and Zero Two had potential and the vague symbolism regarding couples gave me hope that the show would say something interesting about romance and relationships.
Then Episode 2 came and introduced the method for how the robots were piloted. The butt plugs. The doggy-style piloting. I personally dismissed these concepts after the initial shock because sexual robots are incredibly common in post-Evangelion shows, but obviously the Internet did not share my opinion, because those images spread all over social media and for every person that was disgusted, there were ten people who found this to be hilarious, intriguing, and most of all, a hook. Yeah, because why put effort into characterization or story development when you can just throw out vague sexual symbolism? No wonder fans of Franxx and fans of Violet Evergarden don’t get along.
Of course, this would all have been a moot point if character and story were thrown in with the symbolism, but that second episode threw out any chance of forming a solid hook when it introduced a childhood friend love interest at us in the form of Ichigo, then spent the entirety of said episode having her and Hiro try to pilot with each other in order to convey to the audience that sex/romance isn’t going to turn out well if you’re not compatible with each other. I’m sorry, but why the fuck would I want to watch an entire episode on a lesson that even high school virgins would know? And more importantly, how is that lesson important to the story in any way?
In fact, if anything, it further complicated the story because the kids aren’t supposed to know what kissing and romance is, so how the hell can Ichigo have romantic feelings for Hiro in the first place?! Some people will say it’s an important step to make clear in order to expound on the show’s upcoming themes about sex. I respond with: that only works if we learn anything interesting about the characters through that lesson, and other than learning they’re not compatible, we don’t learn anything about Hiro or Ichigo through that second episode other than the tropes they embody. Also, what’s the main hook whilst we’re waiting for those themes to be expounded on? Mind introducing that, Franxx? I sure hope you’re not going to wait until the last third of the series to clarify what the Klaxosaur are.
You may think I’m making a big deal out of these first two episodes, especially in a review that’s supposed to be about the entire series. However, the reason I’m doing so is because I want to make it clear that Franxx set itself up from failure at the very beginning. It was never good for fifteen episodes then turned to shit like a lot of people claim, because it was never good at the very start. And last I checked, most anime don’t get better after failing to produce a hook by the end of the second episode. It’s sad, but the My Hero Academias and Steins;Gates of the world are exceedingly rare, and the more episodes of this show that I watched, the more clear it became that Darling in the Franxx did not belong to the 1%.
First off, the characterization is awful. After failing to tell us anything interesting about Hiro or Ichigo through their failed connection in Episode 2, the show mostly proceeded to keep that level of character writing for the rest of the cast. There are a lot of episodes in the second quarter of the series dedicated to fleshing out the supporting characters, but all they do is tell us mundane things about them we already knew by the time they got focus like how one kid also has a crush on Ichigo or another loves adults. One of the girls is a lesbian, but nothing ever comes from that, so why should I bother giving it more attention than the creators did? There’s one kid who does get somewhat of an interesting story and might have been gay himself, but he loses his appeal fairly quickly when they pair him off with a girl who’s interested in making babies with him. You know which girl I’m talking about. The one who’s labeled a thot by the majority of the fanbase.
The main trio of Hiro, Zero Two, and Ichigo are so defined by their love triangle shenanigans that I couldn’t even bother to invest myself into the shipping wars. It kind of reminds me of the love triangle in Re: Zero and how I didn’t see why Rem getting rejected was so tragic considering Subaru wasn’t exactly worth a damn himself. Hiro as a character is just a low-rent Kirito. He never grows throughout the series, we don’t learn anything interesting about him, and the way he sees Zero Two as an object to fulfill his own desires rather than her own person is very demeaning and unhealthy. I understand that being single sucks for most people and all that, but what good is having a girlfriend if you see her as nothing more than a tool to fulfill your own ambitions? Ichigo isn’t worth commenting on. She’s such a construction of every rejected childhood friend in existence that I honestly think her controversial choices in Episode 14 was an improvement to her character.
Zero Two is a good idea buried under a bunch of lame anime cliches. She has a decent backstory and stood out as a dangerous love interest that wasn’t quite yandere, but as I predicted because almost all mysterious waifus go through this, she becomes a boring nice girl when the mystery around her gets revealed and she gets together with Hiro. Some people argue that this is growth, but I wouldn’t a wife that threw away everything interesting about her in order to be with me, because then she wouldn’t be the woman I married. Remember the criticisms Stardew Valley had regarding how whoever you married became hollow shells of themselves to the point that it ended up being one of the many things the creator fixed with his patches? Zero Two desperately needs one of those.
In fact, remember that joke comparison I made a while back on how Zero Two was Studio Trigger as a character whilst Hiro was A-1 Pictures as a character? That turned out to be more accurate than I expected. Zero Two was the main hook that people got excited for, but loses appeal the longer you stay with it, and doesn’t even get much to do in the long run. Seriously, how many episodes actually focused on her beyond just being a mystery? Hiro is the true person spearheading the plot, but he’s such a soulless construct that he drags everything down with him. You replace him with Ao from Eureka Seven Ao, what changes?
Of course, I’m using the term “plot” very generously, because I couldn’t find it for the life of me. The pacing was so bad. From the lack of a hook in its first two episodes, Franxx decided to keep things hookless for around eighteen more episodes because it wanted to keeps its viewers in the dark regarding what the klaxosaur are and what the characters are fighting for. It tries to mask this with energy and throwing ideas at the audience, but it’s so empty, mostly because none of the ideas it throws are original in any way. Sex robots have been around for so long now with the only difference being that they aren’t operated by butt plugs. And when the only reason you have the robots is so you can conveniently pair up the characters, then that just speaks volumes regarding your inability to write convincing relationships, as well as your inability to see that you have freaking sex robots! Use them to tell us something interesting about sex that even Johnny Sins doesn’t know.
I think Episode 7 was when I abandoned all of my hope for the series. Not because it was a beach episode, because as far as beach episodes go, it could have been a lot worse. The reason I dreaded watching more after that was because that was point when I realized Franxx had no intention of ever doing anything interesting with its sexual themes or character relationships. I gave it some leeway after the sixth episode because it seemed like the extended prologue might be over, but when they had the guys ogling the girls despite them still not knowing what a kiss is, as well as have a girl become interested in baby-making, I realized it was just going to be another boring heterosexual romance mecha series. The kind that ignores gay relationships and sees women as objects to be used by men. I’m sure most people have noticed that when the girls are hooked up to the machines, they speak through the robots while the guys still stay themselves. As cool as the female-looking robots are, the unfortunate implications that come from that sort of setup would be too prevalent to ignore if the show didn’t seem to forget it had sex robots after that episode.
After the first arc, the mecha just seemed to disappear from the plot. They were still around for the fight scenes, but the sexual positioning required to pilot those things barely came up again. You see it occasionally, but when it’s not being used for a bad joke, it’s just background noise. The only thing that stands out about the mecha around that point is that you need a male and female pair to pilot them, which as I stated before is only just a convenient excuse for couples to form.
And while the action in the first couple of episodes is decent thanks to fluid action direction and choreography, the action afterwards is incredibly boring to watch. The monsters that the mecha fight have incredibly generic designs and attack patterns, there’s very little at stake since you know the main characters aren’t going to die, and the final fight scenes are devoid of animation altogether. This isn’t even taking into account that robot fights become increasingly less common the longer the series goes on, and how Franxx always ends its arcs with the same “Hiro and Zero Two are powering up” climax every time, diminishing its impact with each repetition. You guys thought Rahxephon rushed through its robot action? I think Franxx beat its record.
I hesitate to even call whatever substance you can extract from Darling in the Franxx a story. There are a lot of Youtube videos analyzing the series’ metaphors and inspirations, but I don’t think I’ve seen one video that clarified what the end goal was supposed to be. Yeah the kids are experiencing puberty, but what is the puberty in service of? You can accurately portray what’s written in the research material as much as you want, but it’s useless if it just exists for its own sake. Re: Creators is an accurate portrayal of anime fandom, and it still wasn’t very good. And Franxx doesn’t even portray puberty all that accurately anyways. When the characters become more aware of their hormones, they act like more anime stereotypes of teenagers rather than actual teenagers. No, this show isn’t exactly Aku no Hana, is it?
When the story finally gains a direction, and here we’ll be entering spoiler-town so don’t read this paragraph if you haven’t finished Franxx yet but you intend to, it takes the most cliched and poorly developed route imaginable. You remember how a lot of mecha anime had terrible environmental messages at the end regarding how important protecting the planet is? Franxx ends with one as well despite never hinting at an environmental message for more than 3/4 of the runtime. You remember how every Imaishi anime ends with characters fighting aliens in space? Franxx decided to toss that in for the final climax without any hints it was going to go that direction. Remember when the show was supposed to be about sex? About kids becoming adults? Um, we have one of the girls getting pregnant, taking her out of the final battle so that she can be the mother for the new land after we destroy these aliens?
What it comes down to at the end of the day is that Darling in the Franxx wanted to combine anime cliches with serious storytelling, but it couldn’t mesh the two into anything worth a damn. Generally, you’re supposed to use cliches as a means to ease the audience into the story, but that only works if the cliches don’t distract and the story is good. And when the two don’t match, not only will your show suck, but there are a number of unfortunate implications that can occur as a result. The tone shifts from comedic to deadly serious at a large number of inappropriate moments to the point that it feels like Franxx doesn’t have faith in the audience. And while I know that teen pregnancy isn’t that big a deal in Japan, I’m pretty sure it’s not something you’re supposed to encourage, so the way it supports one of the girl’s aspiration to have a baby is just creepy.
The animation is also as inconsistent as the action. Sometimes it looks cinematic. Sometimes it’s noticeably off-model. I lost count of the number of times I saw characters with just dots for eyes, several climactic scenes like the reunion in the fifteenth episode looked very silly, and do I even need to bring up the final few episodes again? I heard that the creator of this show called Imaishi at Anime Expo the day before the finale aired in order to let him know that said episode was finished. Yes, it’s standard animation studio practice for anyone not named KyoAni and apparently ufotable to finish the drawings at the last minute, and to be fair, Franxx looks better than most A-1 Pictures shows. Still, I’d roll my eyes anytime anyone described this series’ animation as breathtaking.
I’d like to call this show an ambitious failure, but the only thing that’s ambitious about this show is how much it wants to make such mundane things come off as important. In other words, it’s as pretentious as Soulja Boy’s lyrics. And the sad part is, it wouldn’t have taken too many changes to the execution to have made Darling in the Franxx an actual standout series. You just needed to actually be subversive with your cliches from the very start. Portray the main romance and other shallow relationships as purposefully destructive. Go all out with the sexual themes. Maybe give the project to a more talented studio and director. They did all of that, Franxx might have actually turned out great.
…hey wait a minute. They did!
This is a nigh-blatant copy of Guilty Crown, which was the last big Evangelion ripoff to grace Japanese television! Same plot structure. Same character archetypes. Same bombast. Stupider sexual metaphors. Guilty Crown as a series isn’t exactly something I would call the second coming of Christ, but it worked for what it was, and it definitely didn’t need to be any dumber (at least not while Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress exists). So basically, not only is Franxx redundant when it comes to being a straightforward mecha series, it’s redundant when it comes to being a subversive mecha series that borrows liberally from other mecha series too. They even stole the “lovers reunite before death” ending, except they twisted it into a much less funny and much more agonizing result.
This anime is supposed to be the Idolm@ster guy’s passion project, right? I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he had bigger goals in mind than what actually translated, but that just begs the question, what exactly happened to make the series come off like such a corporate shell? I’m sure Naotaka Hayashi’s lack of imagination played a part, as I saw in the Franxx interviews that his goals for the show were mostly generic “everyone needs to get along” garbage, but that can’t be the only reason this series turned out so badly. Gurren Lagann didn’t do anything different from the 70s-80s mecha anime it was tributing either. For a more recent example, Megalo Box does nothing you haven’t seen in a boxing story. Now granted, both shows left me with a resounding “eh it’s not bad” before I dumped them from my memory and moved onto something else. Still, they had direction and visual pop and some character to please genre fans at the very least.
I don’t know why things turned out this way, and quite frankly I don’t care. Now that I’m finished with this show, I’m putting it out of my mind and am content with just revisiting it through the merchandise and cosplay I’ll see at future anime conventions. And while I can’t say for sure how long Franxx is going to stay in the public’s consciousness, I’ll admit it’s going to be sad if I see less Zero Twos walking around those big halls, especially given how cool her design is. If you like Darling in the Franxx, then fine. I’ve looked at various reactions on the Internet and there are quite a number of people who still think it’s anime of the season and whatnot, and there’s nothing to be gained from trying to change their minds. I gave up on fighting the acclaim Re:Zero got and now I’m having a lot of fun taking pictures of anyone who dresses as Rem and Ram at a con.
Just don’t try to convince me that I’m misunderstanding something like several Youtubers I won’t name are trying to do. Because if we’re talking about the same Darling in the Franxx that sold itself on sex robots and then forgot about that aspect after five episodes, the one where every single relationship amounts to nothing more than unhealthy codependence that I’m hoping the fans who are actually in relationships don’t take inspiration from, the one with the badly animated final fight scenes and agonizingly built-up finale in general, the one that wasted time on developing the most mundane traits on its supporting cast before making them completely irrelevant to the plot, and the one that promotes the joys of heterosexual relationships at the expense of non-hetero relationships, then how on earth do you expect me to see what you’re seeing?
And I’m not saying that for the sake of trashing this show. I didn’t constantly bring the show’s poor quality up in previous reviews because I wanted to be an SAO edgelord or something. I really did want to like it. The start wasn’t living up to its promise, but I honestly thought it had a potentially good future, especially after the first arc ended whereas a lot of Anitwitter and some of my own friends were not that optimistic. Then the beach episode shattered my trust forever and I stuck with it anyways because I review anything that’s interesting to talk about regardless of quality.
However, sticking with it weekly was definitely a mistake. I just kept getting frustrated and bored with how much it refused to differentiate itself from all of the mecha anime it was copying, along with how much it wouldn’t even clarify what the end game was going to be and how Zero Two seemed to be the only thing fans liked about Franxx. And when you have to do that for six months, it’s just exhausting (looking at you too, Steins;Gate 0). That’s a big reason why I only binge-watch anime nowadays rather than keeping up with week-to-week discussions. You run the risk of burning out from a wave of mediocrity when you watch a bad series in chunks, but I’ve built up so much tolerance over the year that getting it over with is a lot easier now. Plus, I just don’t like talking about anime that aren’t finished. I prefer content to have some shelf life, and when you discuss an anime that’s not finished, your thoughts can become dated very fast and it just makes you feel stupid.
I’m really glad that I got to write this review because I’ve wanted to talk about the show for so long, but I’m not happy about how the show actually turned out. Personally, there’s a lot more I could cover like how the series’ usage of amnesia on a certain couple was extremely unnecessary, or how the fat kid was never anything more than a shallow stereotype, or how Franxx sells itself as a post-apocalyptic future of Earth despite not following real-world logic at all, or everything revolving around the Nines and how they did nothing throughout the series, but I think I’m done. I want to review something else now, even if it’s something I also have negative feelings for. This show has gotten so much shit on the Internet already, and I don’t want to pile on anymore than I already have.
I’ll just end by saying that I’m sorry to all of the mecha fans who hate how robots aren’t really around anymore and wanted Darling in the Franxx to be the return to relevancy the genre needed. I guess it succeeded on that front given its popularity, although jury’s out whether that success will result in anything worthwhile going forward, but you guys deserved a much better robot show to spearhead that direction than this. Hopefully you’ll get it one day.
- Darling in the Franxx can be streamed on Crunchyroll, Funimation, VRV, or Hulu.
- For those who are curious, the English dub is actually decent, although Hiro’s voice actor sounds incredibly miscast.
- If the initial reaction to Planet With is anything to go by, robot anime are never going to achieve significant acclaim for a long time.
- Remember when I sarcastically asked if the more petty criticisms people leveled towards Violet Evergarden were from Darling in the Franxx fans? Turns out that yes, Darling in the Franxx fans do snipe at Violet Evergarden for being pretentious and slow-paced, and Evergarden fans respond by saying Franxx is badly made and stupid.
- If someone ends up cosplaying that giant Zero Two in a wedding dress, I will laugh my ass off.
- Worst main couple contest: Hiro x Zero Two? Or Kirito x Asuna?