DARLING in the FRANXX
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
DARLING in the FRANXX ?
More anime protagonists need a friend like Goro. Sure, he's guilty of perving out with the other boys from time to time, but our boy Goro has proven to be one of the kindest and most level-headed members of the entire DARLING in the FRANXX cast, despite having to compete with Hiro for Ichigo's attention. “Triangle Bomb” isn't just the first episode in a while to put a Klaxosaur encounter front and center, but it's also a showcase for everyone's favorite second-wheel as he sorts through his feelings for Ichigo.
As it turns out, he's in love. One of the most refreshing things about not only Goro but this episode as a whole is how quickly it cuts to the chase emotionally speaking. After all of the Parasites gather to accept Papa's annual delivery of personalized gifts, Goro sits his best friend down to explain that seeing Hiro's relationship with Zero Two blossom has clued him in to his own feelings for Ichigo. Not only that, but Goro even makes sure to clarify that Ichigo herself feels that same love for Hiro, so he recognizes that Hiro is probably the only one Ichigo wants to love her back. It's a sobering moment of emotional maturity and a welcome change of pace from the obtuse romantic posturing that plagues many other anime.
This engaging execution helps 'Triangle Bomb” rise above the otherwise familiar blueprints of the episode's plot. From the moment Goro and Chlorophytum are swallowed whole by the liquid Klaxosaur-of-the-Week to the climactic resolution of Ichigo's rescue mission, there isn't a single surprising or tense moment to be found. This episode's biggest weakness is also DARLING in the FRANXX's greatest liability; all the story beats and character moments play out exactly as any fan of this genre will expect. At least they're well-animated, well-acted, and slickly directed sequences; I especially enjoyed the tense standoff between Ichigo and Miku, with Zorome shyly slinking away in the background. (Zorome and Miku are currently tied in the running for the Best Faces award.) The Klaxosaur battle was also well-done this week, even if the actual action beats were relatively brief. Still, there's only so far a show can go when it relies so much on borrowed plots, themes, and imagery above all else.
For instance, while I appreciated getting to see more of the Parasites' youthful days via Goro's flashbacks, those scenes only functioned to highlight the romantic triangle that the rest of the episode explored in more immediate ways. As a child, Goro was sad and lonely, but Ichigo arrived to give him a shoulder to lean on. He fell in love with her immediately, but she chased after Hiro instead, and that dynamic went completely unchanged in the intervening years. When young Ichigo doles out her peace sign and says “Maybe we can't win alone, but together the two of us can,” DARLING might as well toss in a bright neon sign that reads “THE THEME!” in giant capital letters. (We even get a flashback to that moment mere minutes later, just in case anyone wasn't paying attention.) It's a cute moment, but it's also the same message the show has been hammering home for weeks now, presented in just about the most cliché manner possible for this kind of anime. We're still only nine weeks into a two-cour run, so I'm willing to forgive such transparent writing shortcuts to a point, but DARLING in the FRANXX will have to start taking some risks if it wants to be anything more than a well-produced mecha anime pastiche.
Then again, as pastiches go, DARLING in the FRANXX is always entertaining and even pretty heartwarming in its best moments. Goro and Ichigo's post-battle reunion was incredibly sweet, thanks largely to Goro's charming bluntness. Even if Ichigo doesn't know exactly how to respond to her partner's sudden confession, the episode makes it clear that their bond is beginning to grow and change for the first time since they were children. The show even busts out one of its patented “So Obvious It Hurts” metaphors as Goro replaces Hiro's hair clip with his own. The pair definitely share a wealth of chemistry with one another, so if the DARLING in the FRANXX is determined to play up its cheesy teen romance drama, I'm glad to see that the cheesy romances in question are sweet enough to hold up their own so far.
As we head into the final stretch of DARLING in the FRANXX's first half, I think I'm starting to get a grasp on its narrative structure. The first six-episode arc was all about setting up the main conflict, introducing Hiro and Zero Two, fleshing out their relationship, etc. This next arc (which I predict will end around episode twelve) is where DARLING slows down and give its supporting cast time to shine, with bits of world-building thrown in for good measure. It stands to reason that the next arcs will be all about turning the status quo upside down and forcing the surviving kids to deal with the aftermath. While I've been enjoying DARLING's sojourn into more episodic territory, every passing week has me more eager to see what the show will do to shake things up. My hope is that the series will eventually outgrow its reliance on obvious tropes and predictable writing; if it's not going to be subversive with its story, at least it could be more surprising.
DARLING in the FRANXX is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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