DARLING in the FRANXX
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
DARLING in the FRANXX ?
This opening volley of DARLING in the FRANXX's first episodes has been all about establishing a status quo, Over the past six weeks, DARLING has introduced the characters, the setting, and the premise of the conflict enough to make absolutely sure that everyone watching understands its central metaphors. While the show still lacks much of a game plan for wherever it's taking this mishmash of teen angst and mecha-flavored psychosexual drama, its earnest storytelling has made it fun to watch these pieces fall into place. This week, we get the big title drop moment, as “DARLING in the FRANXX” takes all the tension and suspense that's been building up over the course of this arc and finally lets it explode. If you can bear my unforgivable pun, this episode of DARLING in the FRANXX is all about the climax.
As pure spectacle, this climax works quite well. The Klaxosaur of the Week is a strange behemoth cube, swarmed by dozens of smaller beasts, so even with two separate teams of FRANXX at work, the Parasites have their work cut out for them. Seeing the stark design of the Plantation 26 mechs further highlights just how conspicuous our team's machines feel, setting them apart even as they're reduced to playing support to P-26's coolheaded battle strategy. The action is cleanly directed and well-shot; the fluid camera and crisp animation keep the action feeling fresh and exciting. As the giant Klaxosaur unfurls himself into a surprisingly threatening bipedal form, we even get some welcome character beats for each of the Parasite pairs. Ichigo struggles with her role as a leader (and her unresolved feelings for Hiro), Zorome and Mitsuru stumble over themselves trying to outperform one another, and Goro just wants Kokoro to be safe. If nothing else, this episode is a great example of how to efficiently use action beats to develop character, even if the action and the characters on display are pretty routine stuff.
That sense of creative déjà vu is only enhanced by the onslaught of Evangelion references stuffed into this episode. I'm well aware of the many other sci-fi and mecha influences woven into the fabric of DARLING in the FRANXX, but the lengths to which DARLING pays homage to its most obvious inspiration are so overt that they vacillate between being endearing and distracting. Shots of Zero Two contemplating her FRANXX, the FRANXX being launched into battle, several beats of the Klaxosaur attack, and more have been ripped nearly frame-for-frame either from the Evangelion franchise to the point where it feels excessive, even for well-meaning fanservice made by former Gainax artists.
Moreso than that, this episode digs its heels deep into recreating the feeling of Evangelion, not only from borrowing its imagery and dialogue, but also remixing the themes that formed the emotional backbone of EVA's story. Hiro question's Zero Two's need to pilot the FRANXX almost identically to how Shinji asked the same thing of Rei in Rebuild 1.0, and the way he idolizes both Zero Two and the FRANXX as a means of masculine self-actualization might even make Hideaki Anno chide the lack of subtlety. Zero Two (and Strelizia's) transformation into an animalistic state also recalls specific moments and shots from Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance in particular.
I could go on, but the point has been made. The overabundance of Evangelion imagery on display this week isn't even strictly a criticism; it just contextualizes my personal reservations about an otherwise excellently animated and directed episode of anime. Even when the show is indulging in allusions, it's thrilling in execution. The climactic battle between Strelizia and the transmogrified Klaxosaur is among the most purely fun action sequences I've seen since Kill la Kill back in 2013. The end of the episode even delivers a key difference in how DARLING in the FRANXX is deviating from Evangelion's template. After recovering from his infection and helping restore Zero Two's sanity, Hiro realizes that he wants to pilot not just to make himself useful as a Parasite, but also to support Zero Two's own needs. If Evangelion was about how one boy learned to accept himself in relation to the people around him, DARLING in the FRANXX might be taking the next logical step and showing how a young man might go about making relationships with those other people work.
At least, I hope the show has some kind of thematic direction in mind, even if it's not necessarily that one. It felt good last week to see DARLING in the FRANXX begin to establish its own brand of identity; for as fun and exciting as this episode could be, I can't help but worry that it also represents a regression in that regard. We're only a quarter of the way through DARLING's run, and it can't just coast on Evangelion nostalgia for another eighteen weeks. Ideally, these first six episodes were overstuffed with homage to provide a kind of Evangelion-in-miniature, a rapid-fire summation of that seminal series' most recognizable images and themes that DARLING in the FRANXX will now begin to respond to more thoroughly. I don't doubt that the show could simply remain an eye-catching mecha series for the next eighteen episodes, but it would be much more interesting if it could determine what it actually wants to say.
DARLING in the FRANXX is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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