Neomo takes a closer look at Darling in the Franxx, and in particular, its female lead.

In the post-apocalyptic future, humanity has sheltered itself in huge mobile cities, Plantations, to hide from their enemies, mysterious beings they call Klaxosaurs. Their biggest line of defense are giant mechas known as Franxx, which are piloted by two people: one male and one female. These pilots are picked from birth and raised separately from the rest of the Plantations’ citizens. They know nothing else except piloting. In Plantation 13, our main male protagonist, Hiro, fails his initial test, meaning his preassigned female partner is forced to drop out too. When the human hybrid Zero Two arrives at his Plantation, his life is changed forever…

…this sounds like the plot of an interesting and thought-provoking science-fiction show, right? Well with Darling in the Franxx 5 episodes in (as of time of writing), viewers have not all been impressed by its execution. From the very start, critics compared Darling in the Franxx to existing sci-fi/mecha shows and franchises, in particular Evangelion, with character designs, storylines, metaphors and hidden messages echoing old shows. Because of this ‘borrowing’, it’s almost as if all of its attempts to carve its own identity have fallen flat with the audience and so picking it apart with a fine-tooth comb and finding all of its faults is easier than finding enjoyment in the show. While I can agree with some of the show’s critics (in terms of flawed storyline at least), I can still see some light at the end of the tunnel for this. While all of the pilots have left very little impression so far, the main female protagonist/anomaly/troublemaker herself Zero Two has pretty much stolen the show.

She speaks her mind, is unafraid of any boundaries that are put in front of her, and is very pretty to boot. It has bewildered us how she is drawn to the very bland and unexciting Hiro, aside from the fact that he is the only one who sees her as a person, and not the inhumane monster and ‘partner killer’ that everyone else sees. This could well be interpreted as ‘finding the perfect woman’. So have the producers simply portrayed Zero Two as the dangerous woman that boys should fear? Perhaps. Darling in the Franxx is full to the brim with metaphors relating to love, emotions and especially sex.

The method of piloting the Franxx units is the male pilot (the stamen) is put in a riding position atop the female pilot (the pistil), and as they power the unit up, the stamen enters the pistil’s mind and the two operate the Franxx unit together as one. This alone can be interpreted as a sexual position, with the mind-melding an interpretation/metaphor of sex. With this we are left a little stumped. With a Trigger co-production, we would typically expect this to be taken with a pinch of humor, and to be approached from a light-hearted point-of-view, but because the show takes this piloting super seriously, it is almost as if we can’t enjoy it as much. Hiro is painted and portrayed as the atypical dull boy with a lot of sexual anxiety. Then the perfect woman, Zero Two, comes along and enchanted by her ‘spell’, he follows her blind into the unknown, not even caring if the other pilots worry about what it could potentially do to him, what with Zero Two being a ‘partner killer’.

The other standout character in this show is Ichigo, the squad leader and close friend of Hiro. All of the pilots in Plantation 13 (Hiro, Ichigo, Goro, Zorome, Miku, Kokoro, Futoshi, Ikuno, Mitsuru and Naomi) were all raised together from birth as a large sibling unit that cannot be broken, even if they enjoy fighting and competing with one another. Then an outsider like Zero Two comes along, captures Hiro’s heart and threatens a split in this family unit. Zero Two is like the wild girlfriend that is Hiro’s first taste of womanhood, despite being raised alongside girls like Ichigo, Miku, Kokoro, Ikuno and Naomi, and her stealing him away from them bothers them greatly, no one more so than Ichigo. Knowing that she cannot partner with him herself, Ichigo feels helpless and unable to stop Hiro from doing something he could regret. The repressed crush she has on him only makes the situation worse; as none of the pilots are taught what love is (it is unnecessary to their work after all), the feelings that build up inside are totally alien to her, and she has no idea what they are and how to control them.

Zero Two knows how Ichigo feels, and is certainly not afraid to show her that only she was able to awaken Hiro’s piloting skills…

Getting back to the show itself, the several holes that are in the show’s script and plot are just the tip of what have got people rattled and annoyed. Because the pilots are, for the large part, rather forgettable and dull (leaving Zero Two to shine and take center stage), we care much less about what happens to them. Episode 5 shows us a more confidant and outgoing Hiro; a refreshing change to the deflated and defeated one who could only sit and watch while his colleagues piloted their Franxx units. We soon find out that Hiro is actually getting sicker and sicker, with a high fever, erratic sleep pattern and a bizarre blue tumor-like growth appearing on his chest. Whether this is related to Zero Two is unknown, but she certainly knows about it and even despite being in constant unbearable pain, Hiro chooses to ride with her as their biggest mission yet comes. Plantation 26 arrives to dock with Plantation 13 to deliver fuel, the process of which will draw attention to Klaxosaurs. Both pilots from 13 and 26 plan to work in teams to defend both Plantations, but 26’s pilots object to Zero Two being involved after it emerges she was originally part of a team with them that cost them the life of a pilot.

This show is a Trigger and A-1 Pictures co-production, with each studio effectively taking turns in producing each episode, but it has a lot of Trigger signatures stamped all over it, and I think that might be part of the problem. Could this be a matter of us (the viewer) automatically assuming that because Trigger has been renowned for its humor and self-parody, that any attempt by them to do a serious show ends up becoming universally panned, despite still not having enough time for it to develop? Darling in the Franxx is a 2-cour show, so Hiro and Zero Two have until the end of June to impress us all. But with the many flaws evident in the show, will we even care if this show gets better or not? First impressions are everything in new anime shows, and Darling in the Franxx didn’t pass the litmus test for a lot of people. Hiro is an impossibly dull male lead, although it is possible to predict that this ‘awakening’ that Zero Two has initiated will bring out a bigger and better character in him. Now that he tasted the forbidden fruits of being a Franxx pilot, perhaps he can grow a backbone and take the center stage alongside his partner. As for when it comes to love and romance, the relationship between Hiro and Zero Two still feels very empty and shallow. While he sees her as a person (when others will not), Hiro still sees Zero Two as a means to pilot a Franxx. She, on the other hand, is still very much a mystery. Why did she choose Hiro to be her darling? Why is she so feared by everyone? What really did happen to her previous partners? How did she come about as having Klaxosaur blood?

A part of me is glad that we have 2 cours to find out more about her…providing that the writers actually give us a tangible script that we can follow and not complain about. Zero Two has already become the darling of new anime fan art, and as her character design is strong enough for her to lead the show by herself, we are expecting great things to come from her. Sadly, neither the people at Trigger or A-1 Pictures have got it 100% so far. Is Darling in the Franxx in danger of becoming 2018’s first total flop? I suppose it depends on how deeply you enjoy reading into mecha shows. As someone who is no Gundam or Macross follower, and had Evangelion put me off mecha for the longest of times, the hidden messages and metaphors in Darling in the Franxx is something that actually doesn’t bother me, although I know that they will annoy the heck out of many more, better-educated mecha fans than I.

Darling in the Franxx is available on Crunchyroll now.