DARLING in the FRANXX
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 24 of
DARLING in the FRANXX ?
It says a lot about DARLING in the FRANXX that, if you were to remove every scene featuring the show's two main characters, this finale might be kind of decent. That said, even the portion of “Never Let Me Go” that focuses on the Parasites' lives on Earth has to reckon with all the poor pacing and clumsy writing that got us to this point. Still, if you were to look at episode 24 in a vacuum, some parts of it manage to at least feel like a fitting conclusion to this story.
Outside of Hiro and Mecha-Two's Space Adventure, “Never Let Me Go” uses most of its time to chronicle the years that the Parasites spend rebuilding Earth. Mitsuru and Kokoro successfully give birth to their baby, Ikuno begins teaching herself the medical expertise needed to care for the next generation of children, and so on. In perhaps the one scene I can actually say I love, Goro goes off in search of any surviving children that may have been left behind by the VIRM, promising to return to Ichigo and sealing his farewell with a kiss that cements his affection for her. Seeing as Ichigo and Goro have remained more untarnished by DARLING's terrible character writing than most, I was happy to see them become a couple, and the differing reactions of Miku, Zorome, and Ikuno display the kind of natural character dynamics that DARLING in the FRANXX has been sorely lacking for the past twelve weeks.
Outside of this beat, I have to admit that the rest of this extended montage left me cold, no matter how treacly and emotional it became. The episode eventually leans hard into how the kids have vowed to preserve the Earth by abstaining from using magma energy, which leaves the show's environmental conservation angle feeling forced, since those themes didn't even make themselves apparent until just a few weeks ago. I also remain unconvinced about the finale's paean to child-rearing; the show uses the kids' advanced aging and enthusiasm for baby-making in such an enthusiastically convenient way. I have no problem with a work of art that wants to spread a message about the value of children and parenting, but I do have a problem with a plot where most of what's happened to these characters feels like a means to this end, giving the unsubtle message of the show precedence over telling a good or relevant story.
Miku, Zorome, and Futoshi ended up contributing almost nothing at all to the plot or themes of this show, but “Never Let Me Go” tries to cram in moments of pathos and comedy for them at the last minute. It's as if seeing Futoshi bake a lot of bread or having Miku and Zorome continue their antagonistic affection for one another will make up for having no idea what to do with them for the past twenty-four weeks. Likewise, Ikuno succumbs to the Parasites' advanced aging process much harder than the others, but she's found happiness in devoting her life to caring for the others around her. We even get a single frame of her and another woman holding hands, which suggests the possibility that she might have found a partner of her own, if you squint hard enough. So after all the time DARLING spent building up her internal conflict and identity crisis, she still ended up as little more than background noise, the same kind of vaguely tragic token lesbian that we've seen time and time again in anime.
This finale is well-directed and well-animated, perhaps the most cinematically shot episode we've seen from DARLING in the FRANXX in months, but none of that gloss is enough to cover up the fact that this pathos just doesn't feel earned. This ending is also so neatly concluded and emotionally safe that almost everything involving Hiro, Zero-Two, and the VIRM could be completely removed not just from this episode, but from the last half-dozen episodes altogether, and it would remain fundamentally the same. The Klaxosaurs leave and then return to the planet unceremoniously, and none of the space stuff is relevant to the episode's focus on conservation or raising a new generation. The story could have maintained its focus on the APE-controlled dystopia and it probably would have worked out better; these final character beats would have had more time to build up organically, and we wouldn't have had to suffer from the show flying off the rails so dramatically in itss final push to the finish line.
Alas, we do still have the space-stuff, and it's as bad as it's ever been. Mecha-Two and Hiro essentially spend years floating in space and killing VIRM, with Hiro growing weaker even as he transforms into the same kind of Klaxosaur-hybrid as Zero Two. All of this culminates predictably in a final confrontation with the VIRM where Hiro nearly succumbs to oblivion, before the Parasites inexplicably use the power of friendship and prayer to give the couple a last-minute powerup that allows them to win the day right as they're consumed for good. It's cheesy and nonsensical in the worst kind of way, and it only highlights just how much damage Zero Two and Hiro's romance did to DARLING in the FRANXX in the long run.
Their dynamic has been one of childlike infatuation from the beginning, but it only became more insufferable over time. Instead of exploring and complicating the pair's interior lives, falling in love only transformed Zero Two and Hiro into comical parodies of what young people must think true love is like, where the truly difficult work of building a relationship in stressful circumstances is replaced with melodramatic declarations of love and occasional slow-motion makeouts. It's kind of embarrassing to watch, especially when the two naked souls of Hiro and Zero Two go spinning out into space together, promising that their souls will reunite someday. I'm all for media that embraces the inherent optimism of cheesy young love, but DARLING in the FRANXX lacked the nuance and skill needed to make that cheese work within the scope of its own dramatic setting. It's an experience akin to reading a somber YA story like the Hunger Games that slowly transforms into the Princess Bride as it progresses. Both are good stories in their own right, but they have no business being stitched together like some interminably hormonal Frankenstein's Monster.
So when the reincarnated Hiro and Zero Two meet up once again on a renewed and repopulated Earth, I couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief, not because I cared about the fate of these two characters, but because I could finally be done with DARLING in the FRANXX. Despite the many low points that the series has managed to hit in its final half, I've never hated this show. The crews at TRIGGER and A-1 Pictures/CloverWorks clearly put a lot of effort into producing DARLING; it was almost always nice to look at, and it was entertaining enough in the short term. However, the plot never shaped up into anything cohesive or memorable, and the themes and characters completely failed to do DARLING's dramatic intentions justice.
DARLING in the FRANXX is a bad show, but not the kind of bad that warrants infamy, disgust, or vitriol. The majority of DARLING's controversial musings were tossed out the window with the other 80% of its plot a few episodes ago. All that remains now is a mess of wasted potential that's been buried beneath six months of misguided storytelling and shallow execution. It's not enough to inspire hatred, but it's enough to make me glad that I don't ever need to waste time watching DARLING in the FRANXX again.
DARLING in the FRANXX is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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