Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned!
Unbelievably, the Winter 2018 anime season has already come and gone, leaving in its wake a gnarled string of otaku now mustering their strength to move into the hype-filled Spring season. AAA titles like My Hero Academia are making their return, as well as other highly anticipated titles such as Steins;Gate 0 and Persona 5 The Animation.
Darling in the FRANXX captured the title of being the, well, “darling” of the season early on. Studio TRIGGER has a solid and dedicated fan-base that was thrilled to see their latest project. Adding to the hype was the fact that there were giant robots involved, as opposed to the psychological drama that was Kiznaiver.
The show certainly kicked off well, largely due to its main duo. Hiro, as an MC, combined elements of the broody, isolationist type with an encouraging leader and unifier. We’ve seen interesting MC’s before – in this case it was his partner that really made an impact on the wider anime community.
Zero Two stood out immediately as a wild-card. Her character design and aesthetic caused her to pop from the broader cast of characters, setting her apart from the crowd. Reflecting on it now, it reminded me a lot of how Asuka was portrayed in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Granted, Asuka was a lot more childish than Zero Two is, but the red hair and boisterous personality was like a bucket of ice water compared to the other characters leading up to that point. Zero Two had a similar effect on me.
And so, Hiro and Zero Two helped to launch Darling in the FRANXX when it came to anime popularity. If you’re keeping up with the Kardashians, you’re probably aware that Kim even modeled her recent hair-coloring after otaku’s Horned Queen. From a narrative perspective, the early arc surrounding Hiro and Zero Two was about her curse and reputation as a “Partner Killer”: she could only ride with a partner 3 times before they either died or could no longer pilot. Of course, who else finds themselves in the cockpit with her than our MC? After which point it’s essentially a high-tension counting game to see what happens to Hiro when he pilots for that third and fateful time.
The episodes building up to the third piloting session/battle are palpably exciting. There is a profound sense of mystery surrounding not just Zero Two, but also Hiro’s background and the broader world as a whole. Then, the arc comes to a powerful conclusion as Hiro and Zero Two establish their relationship with one another and Hiro is able to (temporarily) resist the “curse of three”.
And it’s here, I would say, that the season began to falter a bit. While there was certainly some compelling drama surrounding the other pilots and within the various couplings in the house, no other plot could really capture the same electric energy that Hiro and Zero Two had in the first half of the series. The show didn’t go completely off the rails, it was just noticeably deflated when the primary pain-point of the show was seemingly dispelled. The closing episodes of the season seemed to be continuing this deflated theme, at least until the finale came through in a big way.
It’s been a few weeks since my last review, so I’ll just quickly sum up the final episodes of the season:
Episode 10 has the kids visit the The City of Eternity to receive special commendation. Zorome is fascinated with the City that he and his fellow pilots work so hard to protect, and inadvertently gets lost after wandering away from the group. He gets a glimpse into the surreal, dystopian living of the adults in the city, unable to process or appreciate tastes and sounds. They take turns being administered “happiness” in a virtual environment, and after further discussion it’s alluded to that Zorome may have been talking with his birth mother. He leaves somewhat disturbed and confused by the experience.
Episode 11 brings some more teen drama into the mix when Mitsuru has continued issues connecting with his current partner, Ikuno. The adults suggest a partner shuffle to find more suitable matches, and Kokoro volunteers right away. This wouldn’t seem like such a big deal, except she and Futoshi had just talked about staying together as partners all the time, which leaves the viewer thinking that Kokoro might be hiding more villainy under that sugary sweet demeanor. Futoshi also is the token “Nice Guy” in this episode, and might serve as good material for clingy, insecure guys to hold up a mirror. In the end, Kokoro helps to bring Mitsuru around to not be such a douchebag, and he promises Futoshi that he’ll take good care of her.
Real quick – I’m not sure how I feel about this whole “trading around the girls like baseball cards” thing. There is an element of the show that gets touched on a couple times, showing that girls can pilot a FRANXX alone, but that it typically puts it in a rampage-like mode that is dangerous for everyone involved. I want to know more about this! Moving on.
Episode 12 brings the spotlight back onto Hiro and Zero Two. More specifically, Zero Two. The kids return to The Garden, where future pilots are created. Seeing the operation now that they are older disquiets them and causes them to wonder aloud what all of it could possibly be for. Zero Two, in the meantime, is even more broody than usual. Her attitude has continued to decline over the previous few episodes, and Hiro has grown increasingly worried. After Zero Two aggressively approaches him for a kiss at The Garden, the wedge between them seems to grow even more. She calls him “fodder” and leaves him to his thoughts.
The kids each undergo routine screenings and testing, with the exception of Zero Two. After a scuffle with some security guards, she’s knocked out with a dart and taken away for extensive testing. Once she returns, she encourages Hiro to help her kill as many Klaxosaurs as possible.
During the fight, she nearly goes berserk, and Hiro has to continually reign her in as she puts both of them in danger.
This enrages Zero Two, to the point where Strelizia appears to be going into a rampage mode. Within the cockpit, we see that something abnormal is happening with Zero Two, as a violent spirit appears to manifest itself and choke Hiro.
Who is this darling from “back then”? Hiro appears to have some mental flashes of a small, red-skinned monster wandering through the snow. What’s the history behind their relationship? These are the questions that are starting to breathe more life into the story, and have me excited once again to see where Darling in the FRANXX goes in the Spring.
This is a flaw in the show that I’m hoping to see worked on as it progresses. Right now, Hiro and Zero Two are the centerpieces. Take them out, and the rest of the furniture seems rather drab. There are some solid foundations to make the other characters compelling and their own interpersonal dramas engaging. So far, however, nothing can match the excitement and electricity of our darling duo. Here’s hoping the Spring season changes that.
The Spring Season has arrived, and my review of Episode 13 is live!
Darling in the FRANXX (Episodes 10-12)
- Important and interesting story and character development in the more recent episodes
- Episode 12 sees a return of the interpersonal drama between Hiro and Zero Two
- Some really stellar moments of animation
- The Futoshi/Kokoro thing seemed kind of rushed
- The tension between Hiro/Zero Two was a powerful driving force of the show in the early episodes - without it, it remains interesting...but not captivating.