First Look: Darling in the FranXX

Alternative title: I Really Hope A-1 Doesn’t Fuck Up The Trigger Part of This
Anime original by Studio Trigger and…*sigh* A-1 Pictures
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Humanity fights monsters known as Klaxosaurs with humanoid giant robots known as Franxx. Each one is piloted by a boy-girl duo known as, “parasites.” Hiro is a parasite whose washed out of the program after his failure to reach synchronicity with his former partner. Ready to leave for good, a chance meeting with the mysterious fatalistic parasite known as Zero-2 changes his fate forever.

Gee’s verdict: 50:50

Darling in the Franxx is an ideological merging of two studios, Trigger and A-1 Pictures, and in many ways it shows. Darling in the Franxx shines in its visuals in every conceivable way. Its art direction is that magnificent stylised sparseness Trigger cultivated in Kill la Kill, the mechanical design is probably the best of the season, and the animation moves and bounces in the way only Trigger is capable of. Unfortunately, every time the A-1 Pictures part of the equation rears its ugly head, things become a whole lot less interesting. Beyond Zero-2 and the old doctor, the characters feel like they were pulled from a hat of generic anime archetypes. Hiro is your standard milquetoast mecha protagonist who lucks his way in heroism. Zero-2 isn’t even the most unique character in the world, but her interesting brand of femme fatale weirdness harkens to what might happen if someone attempted to create the character of Haruko from FLCL in 2018. Compare to other Trigger outings that almost always manage to make every character interesting, either visually or narratively. In comparison, Darling in the Franxx feels generic.

Luckily, when it shines, it glimmers. Trigger’s action animation is on point here, and the (2D!) mecha action has that Trigger punch you expect. Combined with Shigeto Koyama’s unique mechanical designs and you have some really enjoyable robot fighting. Also, that fucking beam lance with the feed hose and the ejecting cartridges is the coolest goddamn thing. At this point, what happens to Darling in the Franxx is going to come down to which studio’s philosophy wins out in the end. Will it be Trigger’s kinetic spontaneity, or will it be A-1’s generic lowest common denominator pandering? At this point, Trigger’s fun sensibilities will keep me around, but if the characters remain generic and unlikeable, this could turn into a real slog. Still, this is the first non-Gundam 2D mecha fighting I’ve seen in years, I can certainly tolerate it a little longer if it means more good robot fights.

Iro’s verdict: A Hard Darling to Love

This feels like some people really wanted to make a show about robots fighting dinosaurs and then got shouted down in the production committee, where the suits decided that the entire rest of the show should be the same boilerplate mecha shit we’ve seen ten thousand times. But we don’t want a vanilla-flavored mecha show with light Trigger aftertaste and a Trigger garnish, we want a whole fuckin’ bowl of that Trigger. Thing is, it’s too early to tell if FRANXX‘ll go off the rails and attain full Trigger weirdness or if it’ll stick to the guns of being an uninteresting mecha show with cool fights. Here’s hoping for the former, but most aspects of this show aren’t exactly filling me with confidence.

Zigg’s verdict: FranXXly My Dear I Don’t Give A Damn

I’m not exactly surprised that a collaboration between two studios as talented as Trigger and A-1 produced a show that’s got some neat animation, but aside from that this was a curiously underwhelming, almost lifeless premiere. What’s even more worrying is how much this episode felt assembled out of the spare parts of other, better robot shows. You’ve got the dual-piloting romance of Eureka Seven, the post apocalyptic mecha school for chosen ones from Diebuster, the design aesthetic of Star Driver, and of course the omnipresent overtones of Evangelion, all mashed into one place and as a result stripped of almost all of their style and unique characteristics.

Hiro is about as generic a protagonist as you could possibly hope for, and Zero Two is the tired sadist girl anime stereotype we’ve seen umpteen times before, complete with a healthy dose of creepy fanservice. There’s no attempt made to contextualise these characters, or give them any sort of weight beyond their bare dramatic necessity, best seen when Hiro’s supposed partner Naomi gets refrigerated two minutes after we’re introduced to her. I suppose getting to the smashy robot action faster is a good thing, considering it’s by far the outstanding component of the show thus far, but everything around it seems totally hollow so far. Both of the contributing studios are going to have to up their game considerably to make this thing a success, or else it’ll remain just as pretty and empty as this first slice is.

Artemis’ verdict: A.k.a ‘Bad Star Driver

I won’t beat around the bush here, my reaction to this episode was largely disappointment. The mecha anime I really like are few and far between, but I figured that if any new mecha show had a shot at appealing to my tastes, it might well be Darling. Unfortunately, while I do think the series has some potential, I also think it’s more or less completely buried under what feels like an almost compulsive need for fanservice. I make no exaggeration when I say that literally half the episode was made up of the camera lingering over various butts and Zero Two’s miraculously elastic boobs. Moreover, while Darling might conceivably be hiding a bit of genuine originality under all that naked/tightly-clothed flesh, this first episode at least seemed like it was just taking nearly all the stuff I didn’t like about Star Driver, with vague hints here and there of the likes of Evangelion and Eureka Seven for good measure, and mashing it all together while pretending it was being funky and imaginative. Why bother even making an anime original in the first place if it’s going to be so damn generic?

2 thoughts on “First Look: Darling in the FranXX

  1. It irks me that we’re attributing everything good about this show to Trigger and everything bad to A-1 — even when A-1 has made shows like Erased and Form the New World and Trigger is just as guilty of lowest common denominator pandering as any other studio is. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised FRANXX’s entire bizarrely heteronormative “boy and girl together grow wings” premise ends up beating Kill la Kill for the most “ridiculously reactionary moral disguised as depth in an anime ever” award.

    Plus, the director, character designer and chief animation director, are all affiliated with A-1. In fact, the entire episode was explicitly credited to A-1, with only the action sequence at the end being directed by Imaishi. I honestly don’t think a blogger should have had thoroughly studied the credits of any show before criticizing it, but when making bold, sweeping statements like this one it might be worth the time to check if said statement is at least partially grounded in reality. If we honestly think it’s the influence of A-1 that’s causing Trigger to incorporate skeevy fanservice and tired clichés all of a sudden, I’d recommend giving Kill la Kill another watch.

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