Spoilers for episode 5 of Darling in the FRANXX are in here!
Oh Darling in the FRANXX, you are proving to be one hell of a ride this season.
Recently I stumbled across the series subreddit and Discord server, and an interesting conversation sprouted up as more and more folks commented on Hiro’s assertiveness and even eagerness to pilot as a stark contrast to Evangelion protagonist Shinji Ikari, quite possibly one of the most recognizable and (generally) despised MC’s in anime history.
For those unfamiliar with Evangelion, I’ll give you a brief primer: Shinji is a reclusive and passive loner, summoned to pilot a giant robot (Eva-01) against his own wishes at the behest of his estranged (understatement of the century right there) father. Through a series of emotionally and psychologically cataclysmic events in the process of piloting said robot, Shinji grows increasingly resistant to piloting this machine. Thus, the “Get in the fucking robot Shinji” meme is born.
Hiro, on the other hand, is regarded as a gifted child from the start. After demonstrating immense potential, there were high expectations of him from the adults and the children. His camaraderie with the fellow children, including giving them names, helped to build him up as a central part of the community. His value and worth would surely continue to grow, and he would attain his glorious destiny, whatever that might be.
However, things went sideways at some point, and now Hiro is essentially viewed as a talented pilot fallen from grace. Even his continued presence at the academy is a gift from the powers that be: recognizing that there was (and continues to be) something special about him, but he no longer has worth since he can’t pilot a FRANXX. Hiro is acutely aware of this as well.
Ultimately, I believe Shinji and Hiro have a lot more overlap than people give them credit for.
A landmark moment of Evangelion is following the defeat of Sahaquiel, when Gendo calls Shinji and commends him on a job well done. This single moment of praise from his father is enough to throw a serious mental wrench into his already tormented teenage mind. He develops relationships with others and realizes that piloting the Eva-01 means being able to protect these new friendships, and possibly earn more praise from his father.
Hiro has resigned himself to a life of uselessness, foregoing his “pardon” of sorts and agreeing to be relocated/exiled/executed (who knows what they had planned for him) before getting the opportunity to pilot Strelizia. Once he has, and realizes that he does still have the opportunity to pilot and add value to this world, he’s eager to get another opportunity. Sexual innuendo and jokes aside, his desperation to pilot with Zero Two again is mainly because he wants to make sure it wasn’t a fluke or a dream. If she can provide this for him, his life can begin again.
At the end of the day, both of these young men derive their value from their ability to pilot their respective machines. It allows them to do things beyond imagination – to literally move mountains and vanquish huge, otherworldly threats.
Now, there’s a ton to unpack philosophically, thematically and otherwise within the world of Evangelion, but I will say that one of the themes that made the most sense to me was the idea that Shinji’s first experience in the Eva-01 was a metaphor for the transition from being a boy to a man. Shinji’s clunky movements within the Eva-01, including literally tripping over his own feet at the start, signified a Child who was not ready for the responsibilities and weight that being a Man would bring. This body was unwieldy and odd, lanky…and also taller than many downtown buildings.
I think that this same theme works within the world of Darling in the FRANXX as well, though these waters get a bit muddied, what with the connected pairs and everything*. That being said, the general premise still carries: Hiro is getting the opportunity to become a man because he can pilot Strelizia.
Overall, examining both of these protagonists is a fun exercise, and I’ll be curious to see what Hiro’s journey looks like going forward. There’s still plenty of opportunity for him to take a wildly different path than Shinji, but as of right now, the two don’t seem all that different to me when it comes to their motivations.
* – Although those familiar with Evangelion also can appreciate that Shinji was never alone in the Eva-01 either…