DARLING in the FRANXX
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
DARLING in the FRANXX ?
This week's episode of DARLING in the FRANXX is called “Boys x Girls”, and does it ever lean hard into stereotypical gender tropes. This isn't an intrinsically terrible development, though it does make for worrisome signs of things to come. Coupled with last week's mostly breezy beach episode, “Boys x Girls” marks the second week in a row that DARLING has downplayed its signature mecha action in favor of digging its heels into worn-out sitcom setups that ask that tired old question: “Women, am I right fellas?”
To be fair, the show at least tries to explore the female perspective of its cast. The inciting incident behind this kerfuffle is that the girls are sick of constantly being ogled by the boys, so they resolve to forcefully separate themselves from interacting with the opposite sex until the boys finally apologize. This being DARLING in the FRANXX, a show that has never met a cliché it didn't embrace, both halves of the team divvy up the headquarters literally with tape (and figuratively with acts of passive-aggression). As far as stock comedy plots go, it's okay; there were plenty of gags that made me laugh, and the episode was entertaining enough on the whole. My main issue is that the girls have legitimate grievances against their male counterparts; being forced to pilot the FRANXX with their asses sticking straight up in the air is embarrassing enough, and the girls have every right to be complaining about feeling exposed and objectified by the Stamens they pilot with.
Despite Zorome and the others making a big show of apologizing, the real focus of this episode becomes clear after the kids' infighting has come to a head, where the boys and girls conclude that both sexes need to work together to be successful as pilots. This is alright as a development on paper, but I have some issues with how much this conversation is framed around each group's understandings of their respective gender roles. Hiro starts off by making a perfectly decent speech about trying to empathize with the girls, even if they don't quite understand them, but it starts to derail once he and the other boys deduce that the girls have a heavy burden placed on their “frail bodies”, so they need the boys' masculine strength in order to succeed as Pistils.
Likewise, the girls all conclude that they need to be the ones to initiate the group cease-fire, despite being the ones with reasonable issues to be addressed in the first place. This armistice is spear-headed by Kokoro, whose recent perusal of the baby book she snuck out of the ruins last week has her believing that some things simply cannot be done unless both boys and girls work together. The example she uses is the piloting of the FRANXX, but it's clear that she has another, more biological function on her mind as well. Again, this isn't necessarily a failure on the episode's part, but DARLING in the FRANXX is still muddled in its messaging, so this serious thematic diversion distracts from the cheesy fun of the sitcom plot to deliver such extremely obvious subtext.
None of this is to say that the episode wasn't fun in its own right; if nothing else, DARLING in the FRANXX is perhaps the most consistently entertaining series this season. Even though the show gives me reason for pause whenever it stops to explain its big ideas, the moment-to-moment storytelling remains relatable and engaging. Unsurprisingly, Zero Two ends up being the MVP of the episode with her quirky charms. Her desire to insert herself into the kids' feud isn't just adorable; it communicates her personal desires in a way that the show has been struggling to do until now. Zero Two still has a ways to go before she feels as fully fleshed-out as she should be given her status as the series' co-lead.
It also helps that Zero Two's character animation was totally on point this week; her acrobatic flips and spins carried both weight and whimsy, and nearly every closeup she got managed to speak volumes about her mood and mindset. Of course, Zero Two is often the standout of any given episode, but it bears mentioning all the same. The aesthetics this week were generally strong, with Miku's despair-inducing discovery in the taped-off rooms of the deceased Squad 13 being a particular highlight. The abrupt shift in tone was somewhat awkward there at the end, but the scene itself brought back the eerie moodiness of the stellar fifth episode, which is always welcome.
So despite being rooted in such a cliché setup, this episode of DARLING in the FRANXX was not at all terrible. It balanced its humor and heart in just the right doses, and the cast continues to become more endearing every week. I still can't help but balk at some of its writing choices though, as the themes and ideas that are starting to form make DARLING seem disappointingly limited in the way it engages with sex and gender. We're not even halfway through the series' run yet, so I'm not giving up hope, but I'm beginning to worry that DARLING could just end up being a well-animated manifesto on the benefits and pleasures of baby-making.
DARLING in the FRANXX is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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