Perhaps the most talked about non-sequel for the past Winter and Spring seasons, Darling in the Franxx took the anime community by the hand and led them on a wild ride for 24 episodes. After concluding, we were left with mixed emotions. Some happy, some sad, and some simply conveying “what the hell…” DitF has been talked about to almost no end, with a majority of post-show discussion coming almost immediately after the finale. So what more is there left to talk about? Well, not much. But through a different lens? Maybe a lot more. The show’s dust has settled, and we are left with a clear picture as to what happened. This retrospective aims to provide an analysis of DitF from a much clearer mindset and after time has passed to process the show’s events, and form long term conclusions.
This piece assumes knowledge of the show. Spoilers ahead. Knowledge of Kill la Kill or Studio Trigger’s past work is also recommended, but not required. No spoilers for Kill la Kill.
Trigger’s Next Pull
Being a massive fan of Kill la Kill, I always perk my ears up at the prospect of a new series from Studio Trigger. DitF was no different, but I will say I had reservations about the series. Studio Trigger teamed up with A-1 Pictures, perhaps the largest production studio. On one hand, I was glad that Trigger could most likely benefit from the massive amount of resources A-1 could offer to a comparatively smaller studio. On the other hand, I was concerned that Trigger could lose some of its… creativity due to overhead. I will say that my concerns were answered. DitF certainly didn’t lack creativity, and while Trigger’s art style was of course recognisable in DitF, and very reminiscent of Kill la Kill, a noticeable bump in animation quality could be seen. This is partly due to the animators at Trigger getting even better at their craft, while the other part has to be attributed to the larger number of resources given to Trigger, both in their growth since 2013 when Kill la Kill aired and the resources offered by A-1 Pictures. In terms of technical quality, DitF did not disappoint.
“So you want to ride me, huh?”
Kill la Kill had an underlying theme of using sexuality as a weapon. Expanded, sexuality seems to be something that Trigger likes to explore, but in a very nuanced way. For example, how the FranXX are piloted. When first seeing the position and system, I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it, because I was viewing it from our world of standards. If any engineer introduced a machine that required one pilot to be in a bent over position towards the other pilot, with the primary control extending from the buttocks, they would be laughed at (or given a Nobel Prize, it can be hard to tell nowadays) and their product would probably never make it to fruition.
But that is through the lens of our real world. The DitF world is very different from ours. The fact that not one of the characters ever bring up the positioning of the pilots, as well as it being glanced over in a lot of ways, actually revealed a lot about DitF’s setting. This world is completely devoid of the concept of sexuality. While old world relics exist and are found by some characters that reference sexual behaviors, the greater society in DitF has no knowledge of the “forbidden” behaviors, let alone the isolated teenagers that pilot the FranXX. The taboo of knowledge doesn’t just cover sexuality, but emotions in general.
Throughout the show the primary cast of characters feel emotions that any person would feel. Lust, anger, anxiety, sadness, happiness, but they don’t know what they are or how to even begin to cope with them. The world of DitF is also void of the knowledge pertaining to human behavior, and the Orwellian nature of the world becomes ever apparent through the reverence of Papa. DitF’s world building is one word: masterful. From the first episode on, we’re given more and more subtle hints about the world, and the audience is fed more and more tiny bits of info every episode, only increasing the desire to know more. Eventually we can piece together a fairly good understanding and draw fairly reasonable conclusions, but we’re still left to speculate a majority of the details.
It is because of the strong world building that we are eventually able to predict how each tier of society will react to the events of the world. For the Parasites, they can be unpredictable, just like humans are, but will most likely follow their indoctrinated protocol, occasionally lashing out. For the mid level management (Nana and Hachi) their reactions are most likely anger when the expected behavior is not exhibited by the Parasites. This is also not an insignificant piece of world building. Nana and Hachi simply don’t know how to react or handle unexpected behavior. The behavioral pattern can be traced all the way up to the VIRM Council, where they are cold and calculating regardless of circumstances. They simply have one goal in mind and whatever happens can be reshaped or built upon to reach their singular goal of assimilation. Yet, it still remains hard to determine how exactly they will reach that point. What path they will choose to get there. Trigger and A-1 pictures built a cold and dark world, but one that is not free from conflict.
“We’ve Always Been At War With Eastasia”
Humanity has been waging war against the Klaxosaurs forever. At least, that’s what Papa told me, and he’s always right. The totalitarian rule of Papa and the VIRM council is something that is driven into the audience’s head routinely. So much so that when things eventually start to go against him, the audience is truly given a sense of the chaos that ensues by going against what is the order of the world. The Parasites were bred to fight, to merely be instruments. It is rather hard to get a bead on whether or not they are totally aware of this fact. For example, Zorome seems pretty convinced that eventually the Parasites become Adults and even aspires to be like them. When the Parasites eventually discover Plantation 13’s old squad, and fear what happens when they’ve completed their purpose, Zorome still holds to the idea of a future. As opposed to say Ikuno, who has a much better grasp on their realistic situation. Out of all of the primary Parasite crew, she seemed to be the most aware of the Parasites’ actual situation, and what will eventually happen to them once they’ve served their purpose. Naomi is also an interesting case. Due to her compatibility issues, she also fears what will happen to her, as in her mind she no longer has a use.
It isn’t until the tail end of the show that we’re given the motivation of the “villain”, the Klaxosaurs. In a way, the audience fell for the indoctrination of Papa. We were never led to believe that Papa’s actions were inherently evil, but rather they came off as either a logical step in combating an enemy or an action meant to preserve a tyrant’s power and system in place. His calm and calculated actions all made a degree of sense. We were also never led to believe that the Klaxosaurs had much of a motivation besides to destroy humanity. Occasionally, tiny flares of rebellion are seen and stamped out before they become wildfires. While often times this confuses the Parasites to some degree, their faith remains.
No Man Is An Island
Perhaps the most common theme of the show, and I dare say the overarching theme of the entire series, is the unbreakable human spirit. No matter how devoid of knowledge and emotions the world becomes, no matter how absolute a power’s rule, no matter how stacked the odds are, the human spirit always finds a way to persist. Every human in the show, no matter how indoctrinated or comparatively rebellious, finds a way to press on, when it would have been all too easy to give up. Even when told not to be curious or emotional, the spirit lingers and even the most brainwashed can wonder and cry from time to time. A large part of the show is spent discovering that spirit, as it is certainly present, just unexplored, unawakened.
Eventually the spirit manifests itself in a different way in each of the characters. For Kokoro and Mitsuru, it’s the realization of their affection for each other. For Ichigo, it’s acceptance of something that will never come to fruition, no matter how hard she tries. And then for Zorome it takes the form of questioning and abandoning long held beliefs. This is just to name a few. The human spirit exists in all of the characters, and when it breaks out, it is unleashed, almost to a fault.
The Kiss of Death
Every system needs some degree of entropy. In DitF the ball of chaos is Zero Two. From the very first time she appears on screen, we know she is different, and not just because of the contrasting pink hair and horns. Her mannerisms and nuances are so totally different than the rest of the characters, that she almost comes off as alien to the world and the audience. A splash of color to the world that has become grey. She possesses knowledge of the taboo of the world, and flaunts that fact to the sheltered Parasites, occasionally teasing them with it. She also seems to understand how to get under the skin of the Parasites, and not necessarily in a malicious way. She will humor them in attempts to show them how trained and stonefaced they are. Her relationship favoring Hiro makes sense from this perspective as well, as he is portrayed as the most curious about the outside world as a whole, and has demonstrated acts of rebellion in the past. Zero Two wants to break the system, or at the very least disrupt it, and she pegs Hiro to be the one she can most likely accomplish that with. When it all comes to a head, we find out she doesn’t even really know her own motivations, and just simply acts out impulsively, sometimes for a smile.
For not being fully human, Zero Two is ironically the most human character in the show. She demonstrates the most free will from the get-go, not hesitating to go where she pleases in the presence of armed guards, or speak her mind even at the displeasure of those around her. She also demonstrates the concept of levels of effort, where if she actually wants to do something she will do it, and vice versa. This is opposed to a Parasite, who views everything as an order, and gives 100% effort 100% of the time. I believe Zero Two’s mentality can be traced back to the knowledge she has of her place in the world. Zero Two is by far the most self aware “ruled” character, and it’s because of this knowledge that she is able to act the way she does. Not only does she understand that she has to fight as that is her purpose, she also understands that she is integral to VIRM’s ultimate purpose of destroying the Klaxosaurs. She understands that the military arm needs her, and without her they don’t really stand a chance. She never necessarily acknowledges this fact, but she is definitely aware that no real consequence could ever really befall her. This isn’t to say she’s not remorseful about any of her actions. She shows immense capability to regret when Hiro ends up in the hospital due to her, and wants to make things right by any means necessary. Zero Two is very complex, and plays the role of temptress perfectly. This is opposed to any other given character, who develops complexity as the show goes on.
Zero Two is an incredibly well written character, and is perhaps the perfect contrast to the hyper ordered world.
The Final 5
So far, all of what I’ve said has been largely positive. I genuinely like the show. But it is impossible to gloss over the final five episodes. So I want you to take everything I just said, and toss it out the window completely, as it is irrelevant.
Okay. Maybe not quite that far. Up until now we’ve had subtle and nuanced exposition and hints about the world, with episode 19 being the most spoon fed piece of information we had been given the entire series. All subtlety went out the window from episode 20 onward. The fault of the last 5 episodes isn’t necessarily all of the plot points that were introduced, but more of the speed at which they occured.
Because… VIRM, who had been made out to be this ever-expanding military research arm slowly gaining power, turned out to be aliens wanting to assimilate all things into a higher state of being. The Klaxosaurs are not all that bad when we found out their story and motivations. And because… FranXX are based off Klaxosaurs and it turns out the Klaxosaurs developed a similar technology back when they were humanoids on the surface. But because of VIRM they had to become magma energy, and the Klaxosaurs that were fighting were very similar to the Franxx but had to use barely developed male Klaxosaur fetuses to successfully pilot, much like the Franxx requires the male and female components to work. In the Klaxosaur’s absence humanity took over and eventually VIRM, which started as a research firm, gained more and more power among humanity, eventually manipulating them to instruments of their will. But remember VIRM is actually aliens who want to assimilate everything into one consciousness. And Kokoro is pregnant and experiencing all the symptoms that go with it, the jig is up about VIRM so the people are left to fend for themselves, the Klaxosaur queen (who managed to maintain her humanoid form) is using Hiro Franxx style to try and stop a planetary bomb that VIRM planted from destroying the planet . But the queen isn’t strong enough, but luckily Zero Two is, so Zero Two and Hiro stop the planet from going boom. Hiro is released but Zero Two is forever in a state of piloting. The bomb gets retooled into an orbital cannon because did I mention VIRM is launching a space invasion and the Klaxosaurs have their own space fighters to combat them? Anyway Zero Two’s machine eventually goes into flight. But her body isn’t there, only her consciousness, causing her physical body to become a lifeless husk on Earth that exhibits signs of pain based on the damage her machine is taking. Oh, did I mention RIP Dr. Franxx? Anyhow Hiro and the gang decide to go to space to help Zero Two out, eventually pushing past the VIRM fleet with the help of the Nine’s and reaching a stargate around Mars. Hiro completes Zero Two’s machine and they pilot FranXX style into the stargate, and everyone else goes home. After an absurdly long time everyone has moved on, gotten married, had babies, and is just kind of wondering if and when Zero Two and Hiro will return, and Earth has reestablished things like schools being taught by Zorome of all people. But all the while Zero Two and Hiro reached the “planet” of VIRM where they send a really big bomb along with their machine and bodies into the planet, destroying it, and their spirits take another absurdly long amount of time to return to Earth but they are holding hands and dancing all the way there so that’s cute I guess. Eventually they reach a cherry blossom tree planted by Squad 13 an absurdly long time ago and manifest themselves within it and their spirits live on in the nature of the tree as a symbol of how the world once was. Or something.
Whew. All of those plot points happen within the span of 5 episodes, and this is perhaps the show’s greatest failure. The failure doesn’t come from the plot points being what they are. No, no, I have no issues with that. If they wanted VIRM to eventually be aliens, that’s fine. The issue arises with how and how quickly they did these not insignificant plot points. Up until this point, we had been given very well paced bits of exposition and development, and things were progressing along very smoothly. Whereas the final 5 episodes were an absolute developmental overload. While no one outside of the studio can really say for sure what happened in the writing process, a couple possibilities come to mind. One of which is the writers just simply planned on having a lot more episodes to work with, but was informed at the last minute they only had 24. Another possibility is that the writers had all of these ideas near the last minute, and absolutely wanted them to make it into the show even though they knew about their episode constraint.
These 5 episodes are perhaps the show’s biggest point of contention in the community. I’ve seen comments replying to the question, “Is DitF a good show to watch”? that go, “Yes, except for the last part where it goes a bit crazy”. It is a tragic occurrence for an otherwise amazing show. I believe a much better way to go about this would have been having the first cour as it was ending at episode 15, and for the second cour an additional 15 episodes. The additional 6 episodes, although it may not seem like much, would have worked wonders for the remaining plot points the writers wanted to introduce and conclude.
The Evangelephant In The Room
It’d be almost impossible to analyze DitF to any degree without bringing up Evangelion. The community has enjoyed comparing these two shows to each other as DitF is the most closely related mecha anime that has come out that could be compared. However, my opinion, and it is most likely unpopular, is that I don’t believe the shows should be compared and one ruled better than the other. Both tried to send a different message and explore different themes, they just share a medium deeper than simply being both anime. Evangelion is another incredible show that if you haven’t seen but liked DitF, I would encourage the watch, or have seen Evangelion but not DitF, would encourage the watch of DitF.
Never Let Me Go
So what are we left with? What am I left with? At the conclusion of DitF, I also concluded three camps had arose in the community that had seen it. Those that liked it but were a bit off put by the last five episodes, yet still managed to get through it. Those that didn’t like it through and through (which is of course a valid opinion). And finally those that aren’t even sure whether they liked it or not, but were just along for Zero Two’s wild ride. I personally fall into the first category, and am interested in hearing which one you fall into.
Darling in the FranXX was an incredible journey to experience. I even admit I shed a bit of a tear at the final visuals and conclusion of episode 24. And while I recognise that it does have its flaws outside of the episode crunch, Darling in the Franxx will be sticking with me for a while.