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This Week in Anime
What the Hell is Happening in Darling in the FRANXX?
by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,
DARLING in the FRANXX has given some viewers whiplash with its unprecedented plot twists over the last few weeks. This week, Nick and Steve discuss where things went wrong for them in this ambitious mecha series.
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.
Steve So Nick, what did you think of DARLING in the FRANXX's finale? Kind of a low note to end on, but I can respect that decision from a creative standpoint. And certainly some people will be frustrated at the lack of resolution for various plot points, but I'm just glad it's ove—oh excuse me a moment.
...well Nick I've been informed that there are still three episodes of FranXX left after all that.
Nick D Oh boy, I'm so excited...
I mean, I guess I'm curious in a morbid fashion as to how much worse the show can get, but that really shouldn't be my primary motivation to finish a story. Boy howdy, these past few episodes have been a trip. As in the script has tripped over itself more times than I care to count.
It's been a while since we last checked in with Franxx and a LOT has happened in the meantime, little of it good. I think I held out longer than most waiting for the show to pull the rug out and prove it had some idea of what it was doing, but considering the last few plot twists, I do not have much faith left.
I try not to be performatively negative about stuff, and more often than not I'd rather focus on the good aspects of anime. I don't like being a bummer! FranXX is also hardly the worst anime I've seen, and it has some genuinely great moments, but it's also uniquely frustrating in its refusal to commit to anything with regards to plot, character, or theme. And this last-minute reveal of aliens as the Real Bad Guys is so emblematic of that problem.
I gave the show a lot of rope to start with because it seemed to be playing with interesting themes of sexuality and developing identity in a restrictive society, but man has it failed in basically every regard to do anything meaningful with any of that. And that's not even getting into the bizarre trainwreck that its final act has become.
I should not be digging out this crusty old meme in the year of our lord 2018 but here we are:
It's difficult not to think of Gurren Lagann as the prime example of another anime that pulled off this shift. But with Gurren Lagann, the whole thematic crux of the show was that the scope of its conflict would constantly escalate, so the secret alien menace felt like the logical next step after peace on the earth had been achieved. In FranXX, it just HAPPENS with no fanfare. It should be a big moment, but instead it gets lost in the mess of a crowded story.
Also I think instrumentality happens in the background? Like over a minute of screentime? It's wild.
Even if it wasn't a bizarre 11th-hour twist, it'd be a disaster because it only muddies Franxx's already vague themes, begging the question of what alien invaders have to do with the subject of human relationships vs repressive survival. Like a good twist doesn't just surprise you, it changes how you view everything that came before it. All making Papa an alien invader does is make stuff that happened beforehand more confusing.
APE's backstory was already buck wild. A bunch of cosplaying weirdos showed up out of NOWHERE, and nobody seemed to mind that they ended up ruling the planet in less than half a century.
Right, so if APE's entire goal was just to get a couple of super weapons and kill the Klaxosaur princess, what was the point of all that weird shit about abolishing gender norms and banning babies?
I guess to prime humanity for their eventual assimilation into VIRM? But this also brings up more of FranXX's muddled ideas, because the story posits that the gender binary and reproduction are A) intrinsic to human nature and B) need to be protected lest we lose our humanity. Not only are these things not true, they feed into super harmful narratives that are often used to oppress anyone who lives outside of these "norms".
It's a pretty gross idea to theme your dystopia around, but at this point it feels too generous to say that Franxx even has a theme besides "gee being in love is great!" Because every new narrative and framing choice is either contradictory or totally unrelated to what came before it. Like during the whole arc with Mitsuru and Kokoro's wedding (and do not get me started on that tire fire), there's this idea that we're learning the real face of APE is some transhumanist illuminati who want to turn all of humanity into docile immortals.
But then it turns out that wasn't their goal, because they really just wanted this big robot the Klaxosaurs had.
Also most of the plot is just a result of one guy being too horny for a blue robo-dino girl.
It's just a convoluted mess that makes all the vague hints and world-building that came before it feel either totally pointless or actively bullshit, which is endemic of Franxx's totally unfocused writing that seems to constantly grasp at big concepts without ever understanding what it wants to explore.
Also do not get me started on Dr. Franxx because I do not have the patience. Fuck that guy.
God I got genuinely angry during this latest episode, and that hardly every happens when I'm watching anime. But for this show to go out of its way, unnecessarily, to show us how Dr. Franxx tortured and abused Zero Two when she was a child, and then depict him as a tragic figure fighting for the vestiges of humanity, and THEN have Zero Two THANK him right before he dies?
It's all fucking insulting.
It's a bizarre way to frame what should be an emotionally fraught relationship, since the show insists that Dr. Franxx is a complex, deeply flawed man trying to atone for the awful stuff he's facilitated, but it's also frankly par for the course at this point. Before any of this plot nonsense came about, Franxx's biggest issue was always its eagerness to play with loaded ideas and imagery without seeming to understand the gravity of any of it.
Yeah, I agree that most of the show's faults come from a lack of vision more than anything else. But that still doesn't excuse the way it often runs parallel to harmful ideas about gender and sexuality. Any piece of media like this still bears responsibility for its messages, whether they were intentional or not. Bad writing isn't apolitical just because it's unfocused. This stuff matters, especially when it's contained in a big dumb action show that's supposed to appeal to everyone.
Franxx doesn't commit to any of its messages, but being vague about them can be even worse.
Yeah, that vagueness is a crutch the show leans on a lot, but after giving Franxx enough rope to hang its entire cast and then some, I've finally run out of patience for it to sort out what - if anything - it actually intends to say, because no matter what it lands on, I have zero confidence it'll be well considered or thoughtful enough to matter. Even if it just happened to come off as a bizarre martyr narrative for heteronormativity by accident, that still sucks pretty hard.
And that's before we've even addressed its insulting attempts to flesh out its queer cast.
Ikuno deserves so much better than this show. I mean, that goes for most of its characters, but Ikuno especially.
That one line cemented for me that Franxx has no clue what it's talking about. Like sorry, I don't care how much time you put into making this weird anti-baby dystopia, comparing the struggles of a woman who wants to have a baby to the struggles of queer people is just blockheaded.
Along those same lines, comparing Ikuno's struggle of growing up repressing her feelings for other girls because she had no other choice to Ichigo's unrequited crush on Hiro is the fucking pits. It's NOT the same! I want to believe that this comes from a severely misguided attempt to express empathy, but it rings so hollow and dismissive. And all Ikuno gets is some tepid reassurance that she'll just have to give up when she's emotionally ready to, which plays into the narrative that homosexuality is a phase that people grow out of.
And all this plays out in one scene after 18 episodes of buildup. It sucks so bad.
You could maybe make the argument that Ichigo's weaksauce reaction is just her being a super sheltered kid learning baby steps to empathizing with someone in a much more complex situation, but then this exact problem repeats itself in the show's big emotional climax in episode 21.
Hiro, our unsalted baked potato of a protagonist, faced with the fact that the Klaxosaur princess spent literally millions of years in solitude after her entire society was reduced to ash by the VIRM, somehow manages to make her entire story about how he also used to fight a lot but now he realizes that friends and love are more important.
Sorry, just threw up in my mouth a little.
It has been happening a lot lately because the attempts at sentimentality in FranXX's latter half have been far too treacly, with too much purple prose and too much distracting letterboxing to be anything but nauseating. Like, a lot of this excess I could forgive if the story was stronger, but the poor writing really does drag everything down with it.
I'm all for sappy romances, but man are Hiro and 02 ever boring together. Like at some point your relationship has to consist of more than just constantly reaffirming how in love you are.
I have seen plenty of people head over heels in love and y'know what they talked about? Gundam and anime porn. That's romance.
Zero Two, once the best part of the show, got all of the edges sanded off her. Like, I'm glad she got to be happy, but it seemed to come at the cost of her entire personality. She may have turned Hiro into another oni, but Hiro turned her into another potato in turn.
And I think that more than anything, more than the poor plotting or inconsistent visual metaphors or gross subtext, is why Franxx just does not work anymore. Its characters feel like hollow versions of themselves at best and consistently vacuous at worst.
Like you have 10 characters to explore and you just make one of them this video on repeat for 20+ episodes? Really?
I don't know why the show hates Futoshi so much, but it revels in torturing him at every possible moment.
At this point I'm expecting him to have to deliver Mitsuru and Kokoro's child some time in the next three episodes.
It's either that or die tragically to protect them along with Ikuno. Boy, wouldn't it have been interesting if that pair had shared any dialogue since they switched partners?
Hey, remember when we found out that Futoshi had an eating disorder? And then it got resolved in five minutes, and by resolved I mean it just never came up again? That's a super great way to address a serious psychological disorder!
I mean, remember when 02 was haunted with grief over her past partners that she killed? Because I don't think the show does.
That's ultimately the story of FranXX. An endless parade of serious issues reduced to window dressing for a bizarre and unfocused story about sex-powered robots.
It's been equal parts frustrating and tedious, and franxxly I'm kind of over even being angry at it. It's shown enough of its cards that you're either locked in for its shallow love story, or you're just hanging on to see how this fire burns out.
It's just become a bad show at this point. I don't begrudge people for liking it, but I hope they're at least willing to think about the show's plot and themes instead of dismissing criticism out of hand. I don't want to be entirely negative though, so here are some things I DO like about FranXX.
1) Someone on the staff is mad horny for sharp teeth.
2) Ichigo's robot has robot hair under her robot hat!
3) Nah, that's about it.
I do think it's worth noting that the show's production has never wavered. It's still consistently gorgeous, and on-the-nose homages to Evangelion aside, I do still like a lot of the direction and storyboarding that's gone into it. But Franxx's dour tone and nonsensical plotting just drags that all down and makes it hard to enjoy. Regardless, there's three episodes left and I'm sure this show will find some new plot twist or bizarre character choice to make me scratch my head again.
Maybe, mercifully, the black border will encroach upon the whole screen and snuff the entire story out of existence.
We've already gotten close:
No matter what happens, I can finally agree with Franxx on one thing:
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