A collaboration series from the makers of Kill la Kill and Sword Art Online is a sci-fi love story that has become among the popular animes of this year.
The following is a transcript of the video review version, which you may view here.
Several months ago, if not for longer, Studio TRIGGER, who provided memorable hits like Kill la Kill and Little Witch Academia, announced a series of new projects that would come out from 2018 to 2019. The first of those projects is “Darling in The FranXX”, a collaboration project alongside A-1 Pictures, the studio behind Fairy Tail, Sword Art Online, and the anime adaptation of the Persona games, among others. Darling in The FranXX (or DiTF, for short) is one of those works where it doesn’t matter how much it is criticized, it has so much appeal that it’s popular. Think Bayformers – there’s no denying the movies suck, yet people flock to see it anyway and it’s making big bucks. Darling in The FranXX is the same way in which, love it or hate it, it’s one of the most popular animes of the year. The July 2018 issue of NewType Magazine in Japan listed it as the most popular anime of the season among Japanese fans. And even celebrities like Kim Kardashian are into DiTF, if only because she likes one of the characters.
The story in DiTF doesn’t really reveal itself until the series’ final episodes. But it does start in a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the surviving human race is battling against the ‘Klaxosaurs’ – a species living underneath the Earth’s magma, for control of the planet. The Klaxosaurs battle as these giant, beast-like creatures. To combat this, the humans developed giant robots called ‘FranXX’. Piloting the FranXX requires a synchronized operation between a male and female pilot, specifically teenagers. These teenagers are also identified by their Code Numbers and are not given actual names.
We then focus on Squad 13, the only group where its members have actual names, thanks to one of their members, Code 016, or ‘Hiro’ as he calls himself. Hiro longs to be a FranXX pilot, but struggles in his skills, resulting in him being benched while his partner is removed from the group. Hiro is distraught over this until he encounters a girl by the name of ‘Zero Two’, who happens to be a Klaxosaur. Thus begins a series of events that not only changes the lives of these two characters, but also the rest of Squad 13, and that of the world.
Darling in The FranXX follows this pattern where you have to patiently watch a number of episodes before the big payoff. You’re not going to get any good impressions on the first episode, and you must watch the other four to get to the outcome in episode 6. It worked at first, but come the next cycle, it’s starting to get diminishing returns if you know what I mean.
At the heart of DiTF is a love story between Hiro and Zero Two, and among the pairing of characters within Squad 13. It’s also a coming-of-age story, where the teenagers gradually start to become mature as the series progresses. This is quite essentially the show’s strongest asset, as the members of Squad 13 have so much appeal that viewers invest themselves into these characters. (Part of the reason is thanks to Masayoshi Tanaka, who serves as Character Designer and Chief Animation Director for the series. He also did character designs for the film “your name”.) Once we get to the conflicting parts of the narrative, the viewers (me included) heavily express ourselves with what is going on among the cast, hoping something good comes out of it.
TRIGGER and A-1 have done a very good job with making Squad 13 very likable and memorable. But it does come at a high cost: the show’s general story. Like I said, the overall plot doesn’t really reveal itself until much later in the series. And when it does, it’s rushed and totally out of left field. Also a bit unoriginal. Many scenes and plot points in Darling in The FranXX are callbacks to when the members of Studio TRIGGER were still working for Studio Gainax, responsible for classics like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gurren Lagann. I don’t mind these callbacks as they are cool and nostalgic, but like the relationships in DiTF, it comes at the cost of the general plot. It’s like that “Where’s The Beef?” commercial from Wendy’s back in the 80s.
It’s not as though you can create a general story in the series, or go with a love story, and not both. You actually can if you do it right. A prime example of this is Eureka Seven, which makes a fine balance of plot and a love story that has made it among the classics. But Darling in The FranXX is just focused too heavily on its cast of characters and their view of what it’s like to be human and to bond with one another. That is thoughtful and endearing, no doubt, given the current atmosphere we are experiencing when it comes to relationships. But the lack of plot drags the series down and keeping it from being a great one.
Nevertheless, like I said earlier, regardless of whether or not you enjoy Darling in The FranXX, its appeal has gained such a following that it’s now among the list of popular anime, much like Gurren Lagann back in the day, if not One Piece. The series did end with a possibility of a sequel sometime in the future. We won’t know if we’re getting that. But either way, DiTF is a series people within the Anime Community will be discussing about in the weeks and months ahead.
Darling in The FranXX gets my score of 7/10.
Darling in The FranXX is available in subtitle and dubbed formats on Crunchyroll.
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