What shall I review today?
I was going to do Darling in the FRANXX but then that show disappeared and was replaced with a totally different show with the same title and characters. It started out a bit shaky but soon I had fallen in love with enough characters for a harem when suddenly I had the anime chair pulled out from under me. I feel like it is almost two different anime, one made by Studio Trigger followed by one made by A-1 Pictures.
Spoilers beyond this point.
Background: This is a futuristic world where people no longer age and no longer
procreate. (In exchange for immortality, they don’t have reproductive organs or sexual drive.) There are no needs that are not satisfied, everyone is assigned a function to fulfill, and most live in a kind of placid state of satisfaction. They live in giant mobile cities called plantations. Energy is extracted from magma. Much of the surface is ruined and devoid of life.
Critters called Klaxosaurs live in the ground. They like magma energy too. Everything was fine until we started sucking up the stuff. The Klaxis attack in self-preservation. Not just random attacks but primarily where large sources of energy are being used. This pisses off the humans who react to this like we do to any indigenous people who object to being overrun and starved. We decide to kill them when they get in our way.
Seems they have techniques of fighting that conventional weapons aren’t very effective against. A man named Dr. Franxx gets his hands on some Klaxosaur tech and creates big mechas (eventually called “FRANXX”, after their creator) to fight the indigenous underground dwellers. The odd thing is that these have to be piloted by pairs of adolescents with full sexual functionality. In the case of this series, all the partners are male-female – except at the end, we learn that that isn’t actually necessary.
Sexual tension as a spur to performance seems to be the motif.
These children are created in vitro. The elite 00 group (aka the Nines) are supposedly clones of 002. (I don’t believe that. Too much variation in phenotypes and personalities. If they are clones, each had to be individually modified for some reason.) I see the nines showing concern for each other’s welfare beyond battlefield considerations, so they aren’t completely without emotion.
Each “Nine” is the number 9 followed by a letter of the Greek alphabet. 9 Alpha appears to be the leader. They are not asexual but rather a gender-neutral bisexual since sexuality seems to be the driving force behind having pairings. Hiro then either has a touch of bi in him (9 Alpha sort of had a flirty interest in both Hiro and Ichigo at the start.) or the klaxosaur blood in him doesn’t care. Kind of implies a guy could have been his “other wing”.
Those with numbers in the teens have the highest potential among the non-clones. If nobody else has reproductive organs I can only conclude that the rest of the potential pistils and stamens (aka parasites) were created from egg and sperm samples taken from existing parasites.
They grow up in a “garden” where they are tested for potential, assigned numbers, medicated, brainwashed, and trained. Those who fail disappear with no explanation.
We’ll continue plot discussion later. Let’s look at the main characters:
This is Hiro. Special specimen 016. These kids don’t have names but Hiro was a special sort of guy. He was different and gave his classmates (the future squad 13) their names, something only adults are allowed. That nonconformist kid just kept getting in trouble, especially with 002. Wipe brain, repeat getting into trouble. In his attempted escape with 002, he ingests some of her blood by licking a wound. It doesn’t just get digested, it makes him a tiny bit klaxosaur himself. Because of this, he can survive being the partner for…
Zero Two, originally 002 as a child or 9 Iota as a member of the Nines team. If the art were better she’d qualify as bishojo for sure. She isn’t human but is rather a clone of a hominid klaxosaur. She refused a name when Hiro offered her one, saying names won’t matter after they are dead. This devil of a girl has a history of destroying her partners who cannot survive her intensity. Pairing with her brings out the Klaxosaur in Hiro. He even sprouts blue horns in the end. Together they are far and away the most powerful team. Hiro is her darling.
No story is complete without a romantic triangle, so we have Ichigo. (No, she doesn’t
have a zanpakuto.) Ichigo has loved Hiro from the start in the garden. Of course, she never said anything explicit and he was too dense to notice. (That trope can get boring after seeing it for the hundredth time.) Yet when Ichigo and Hiro team up in a FRANXX, the results are underwhelming. They even try to kiss to stir up some fire and the result was nothing for him and terrible for her.
Maybe I should talk about the FRANXX units a bit here. They are big mechas that must be operated by a pair of genetically compatible male and female adolescents called a “pistil” and a “stamen”. Shades of high school botany! The children are created for this sole purpose. It gets worse.
The pistil bends over and presents his/her rear to the stamen as if they were about to
have rear-entry intercourse. The stamen is the “pilot” and controls the FRANXX with big handles attached to the pistil’s buttocks. When they “connect”, the pistil feels as if he/she were being entered. The stamen describes the experience as being deep inside the pistil and they both feel like they are sharing bodies. As I pointed out before, those terms usually correspond to boy and girl but the Nines have the ability to be either.
Zero Two is a former Nine with the ability to operate a FRANXX in reduced capacity mode all by herself. If I were her – and looked at myself – I’d certainly feel sexual tension.
Being in a FRANXX is nothing but an allegory for sex. All the tension without the finish.
We have here bits of welcome sexual diversity, but only bits. As far as I can tell, even though there are still phenotypical differences, the general population is asexual. Every immortal human in this world was once a mortal who chose to give up sexuality in favor of immortality. So even though sexual drive and fertility are gone, the morphology of being male and female in appearance would remain.
From what I see, almost every other drive and emotion, except to do their job, is gone as well. Everyone is a perfect cog in a vast machine. (My former employers would consider that idea pure porn.) Dehumanization of people by the social construct is a very important theme here. Even though it is a voluntary dehumanization, the result is not a human society so much as a hive.
By the way, did you know that klaxosaur blood melts clothing? So all the girls get their
clothing melted in an episode. Kokoro is embarrassed, Zero Two couldn’t care less and the rest of the pistils go ballistic. Of all the stamen it was Kokoro’s stamen, Futoshi, who stated his true feelings about seeing her nude. He thought she was amazingly beautiful and that is why he didn’t tell her her clothes were gone.
Now, these kids have been living together 24/7 their entire lives and being prepared for combat and death. I am confident that in a real situation like that, seeing a bit of skin would be common. Shyness about one’s body is incompatible with any military organization I have ever heard of and this one seems especially intent on eliminating emotional content. Maybe a squad of unembarrassed kids wouldn’t have had a gender battle and the authors might have had to actually get creative about Zero Two learning the joy of playing a harmless joke.
Speaking of Zero Two…
Her introduction in episode one is explosive. You can consider it fanservice but I consider it magnificent. Epic. Probably the best couple minutes of storytelling in the entire anime. It tells us a lot about her and Hiro. Zero Two’s beauty is savage, magnificent and she is completely unashamed of who and what she is. Hiro is a hero, jumping in to save her when he thinks she’s been under for too long. And when confronted by the reality of a pink haired girl with red horns, he isn’t phased a bit (Just put some clothes on, please? He’s embarrassed.) Love at first sight for both. They do not remember their past. And she likes how he tastes.
Then there is the Jian bird. It is a species where the male and the female only have one wing apiece. To become complete and fly it must find its forever mate. Hiro hasn’t found his opposite wing. He feels incomplete until he meets Zero Two. He doesn’t know it but has a touch of Klaxosaur in him. Only a klaxosaur can complete him.
I don’t take the specific male/female makeup of the bird too seriously. Could have been 9 Alpha if Zero Two hadn’t shown up. I could totally ship those two. The one you are looking for is the one who helps you fly, whatever gender they may be.
Within squad 13 there is a bit of yuri but it is not allowed to properly play out. I had a devil of a time getting a good image of Ikuno. She isn’t given as much attention as many of the other parasites. Ikuno is a lesbian. This poses a real problem. The key to operating a FRANXX seems to be sexual compatibility. You don’t necessarily have to love your partner but it sure helps. For example, when Ichigo is pistilizing with her partner Goro, every time she thinks of Hiro, the unit vapor-locks.
Ikuno isn’t interested in her stamen at all and finds the act of connecting with Mitsuru a bit disgusting, so she is considered unstable. (There is even a quick cut where his gauge is full but hers is almost empty.) She overcomes this by touching her arm where Ichigo had touched her and remembering her. I never got any idea of what Mitsuru is thinking about this. I mean, if their minds are united, he HAS to know who she is thinking about. But he does romantically connect with Kokoro
When Ikuno tries to do a pistil to pistil link with Ichigo, it doesn’t work. Ichigo is still straight, after all. Using a Hiro fantasy to link to Ikuno didn’t occur to her.
Hiro’s original pistil was a girl named Naomi. It didn’t work between them. She got cycled into cryosleep, though to everyone she just got disappeared. Naomi is also gay. In ep 1, when Hiro and Naomi can’t connect, Ikuno is far more worried about Naomi’s fate while everyone else fusses over Hiro. In ep 24 she has a relationship with the defrosted Naomi.
For those who watch closely, this quick shot shows up briefly in the closing for eps 16 thru 20. The music title is Escape. The Ichigo/Ikuno theme persists but is very subtle. My usual paranoia suggests the artists and authors wanted a more prominent place for the yuri but had were limited by higher-ups.
Back to the plot. Sort of.
My paranoia also tells me they saw the original storyline was going to take too long so they threw it to the other studio to wrap things up quickly. I don’t have a problem with the last 6 episodes but I feel like I’ve stepped into the ending of something I entirely missed the beginning of. That should have been the third act of a completely different show. Not nearly enough foreshadowing.
Zero Two promised Hiro she could get him out of the plantation. That got discarded along the way. It was VIRM who did that by destroying the plantations.
In one episode, the 13s went on location to a real not-in-the-dome paradise. An oceanside vacation with growing things and a long-abandoned town. That is how Kokoro found a book that described pregnancy, among other things. Her brain eventually got wiped for it but not before she and Mitsuru fell in love, had a full-on wedding, and did as the book instructed.
The anime never did another thing with a fully constructed habitable community, complete with a library of ancient knowledge just sitting there for the taking. That’s like prominently featuring a loaded gun over the mantle in act one but promptly forgetting about it. Chekhov would be turning in his grave.
And then came VIRM. They’d infiltrated the humans long ago and led them to the Human Instrumentality Project. – OOPS! Sorry. Wrong anime.
Turns out that Zero Two is a clone of Princess Klaxi (just joking) of the hominid klaxosaurs. She was meant to take over a Klaxosaur superweapon. The princess had other ideas, the weapon was sabotaged by VIRM, but it all worked out in the end.
For all the fuss, VIRM didn’t really offer anything different. An infinite existence full of gentle pleasure and absence of pain? How is that any different from what the people already had? Humans had just been set up to want it more than it would have in the emotional and conflicted past.
Klaxosaurs were never the enemy. It was the corruption of humanity itself. The 13ers were already in a struggle against eternal bliss and passivity. The sudden change of “enemy” completely ruined a potentially good story. VIRM got rid of the pesky elements in humanity and we were never able to see how it would have played out.
Turns out the war between humans and Klaxis was all VIRMs doing. Wear the locals down by having them beat on each other, then move in. That is not an uncommon strategy in international affairs. And the Klaxis were saving up some major tech to assist us in the battle against VIRM – once we stop beating on them.
And here I have spoken very little about the many battles, the relationships between most team members, the adult minders, day to day life, a mind wipe or two, the war with VIRM and the nature of the ending. They didn’t seem very important to me. I also avoided the times I wanted to cry. Those spoilers really hurt a first time viewer. You still have a lot to see.
Thought I’d toss in a few more screenshots. Hate to go to the effort of snagging them and not use them.
Have you ever read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley? It is one of the greatest dystopian books ever written, right up there with 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. We have a world so advanced there is little to be concerned about. The drug Soma ensures there will be no pain and no unhappiness, no boredom. At the top, we have a tiny hand full of men who steer everything. But a couple of people somehow realizes that this is not enough.
DitF could have been another Brave New World, only free to craft an alternative ending. Instead, they make an abrupt turn into an Evangelion knock-off and then a Star Wars variant in which the heroes demolish the death star at great sacrifice and polish it off with the final scene from What Dreams May Come.
I loved Darling right up to VIRM showing up formally. Yeah, there was some REALLY vague foreshadowing but there needed to be more. It was not a great anime but it had potential. Started off a little slow but I wouldn’t have traded Zero Two in the lake for anything.
Didn’t read the manga. But this story should have stayed earthbound. Instead of just being good, I have an alternate ending that could have made the anime great.
The kids should have left – or been kicked out by Papa – and then fled to the Eden they had visited earlier. Papa couldn’t allow them to prosper so they would be attacked and win their liberty either with their own blood or the power of their ideas (I like that better).
And that could have been Dr. Franxx’ secret plan all along.
We don’t need VIRM. We still defrost the failed parasites, but a bit earlier. It hurts me to see Ikuno hurt, altho pain is a part of any drama. I love 9 Alpha’s arc. He should flirt with Hiro more. Extend the arc and have him find his other wing. You could make it a romantic triangle between him, Hiro and Zero Two. Or even a ménage à trois.
Peace should have been established (at least between the 13ers and Princess Klaxi). The rest of humanity could rot and decay and fail from the interior, be destroyed by Klaxis or they could stumble into this world they’d forgotten existed, having regained mortality (think Logan’s Run).
Zero Two and Darling recreate the Klaxosaur/hominid hybrid subspecies. Finish it with them dying of old age with lots of descendants. You can still have their souls spin off into space planning to return someday.
If you REALLY want to jerk the tears, play the ending like Les Miserables.
I like my version a lot better.
Ok, guys. Who do I want in my harem and – why?