“Triangle Bomb”, “The City of Eternity” and “Partner Shuffle”
Saturdays at 12:00 pm EST on Crunchyroll
You can tell a show is good when we’re on our third different writer before it’s even halfway done! This time Zigg and Gee attempt to handle petrol monsters, meeting the parents, and the world’s clumsiest attempt at homosexual metaphor.
Watching FRANXX is a frustrating experience at the best of times, but it’s especially so over the course of these three episodes. That’s because over the course of them the show takes tangible steps towards deeper, more nuanced storytelling, only to the mostly fritter them away on the same sins it has been guilty of all along. There’s interesting, if pretty broad, world and character building going on in a lot of this run, but it’s fatally undermined by FRANXX just refusing to let go of its juvenile cliches.
Of the three episodes we’ve got to look at here, by far and away the most interesting is episode 10, for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, it focuses on Zorome, who’s been by far my favourite of the Parasites to date. That’s not necessarily because I like him – he’s an insufferable brat – but he at least has personality, which is more than can be said for most of the rest of the squad. It’s an episode which plays on the strengths and weaknesses of his character too, his obsession with becoming an adult, and the emotional fragility which inevitably lies under any blustering blowhard. The other great thing about this episode is that it explores one of the more interesting but underutilised parts of the FRANXX mythology, namely the socially cloistered, isolated society which the children are fighting to protect.
The idea of a community which has abandoned pleasures of the flesh and fundamental human interaction in favour of a perfectly cold, safe dystopia is not a new one, being the foundation of multiple famed scifi works such as Huxley’s seminal Brave New World, but it’s certainly a dramatic tonal shift for FRANXX, and one which I feel works very well. An almost all talking, backstory and worldbuilding based episode brings out the best in Zorome, exposing his more gentle side and emphasising his childishness and loneliness, while also adding considerable intrigue and darker overtones to the status quo the parasites are struggling to protect. The one thing I resent here is the implication that the lady who rescues him in his biological mother, since it’s a stupid contrived coincidence and adds nothing to the story. The symbolism of Zorome being desperate for a parental figure in his life would have worked fine without an overt connection, but I guess there’s only so much subtlety FRANXX can handle.Episode 9 isn’t as good as episode 10, but it pairs neatly with it in the sense that they’re both character focused stories which do a good job of adding a bit more depth and introspection to the characters that they focus on. I’ve really disliked Ichigo since the show started, since it’s mostly portrayed her as bossy, bitchy, and totally reliant on Hiro to an embarrassing extent. That isn’t really ‘cured’ here per se, but at least she gets called out on her bad behaviour and we get a bit more of a positive look from her. I’m not really sold too much more on Goro though, despite his brave kamikaze effort. He’s just ultra flat and boring, and while his crush on Ichigo has potential to go places in the future if it brings him into conflict with Hiro, the set up and dialogue here are so banal it’s tough to really feel much about it. Again, the idea that these kids can name and put a finger on what ‘love’ is when they’ve supposedly been raised in a society devoid of any concept of interpersonal or sexual relationships is ridiculous, and shows once again one of the fundamental issues with the way FRANXX handles its fiction – you can’t claim this is a society in which the concept of love doesn’t exist, but then play all the usual anime pervy/romantic/fanservice tropes dead straight.
Speaking of which, oh boy let’s get to episode 11. The show has already established Mitsuru as an unlikable, smug jerk, so basing an entire episode around his travails already seems like a bad start. It’s made considerably worse though when we discover the incredibly petty reason for his gloomy outlook, and his casual disregard for both his own partner and Kokoro as well simply makes him more dislikable. In fact, nobody comes off well in this episode at all. Futoshi has received zero characterisation beyond ‘slightly chunky comedy guy’ before this episode and yet now we’re meant to buy him as a tragically wronged figure, alternately as a lovesick puppy and a brooding, protective ex (let’s not even get into the problems of treating a girl like your personal property).
Kokoro’s decision to abandon him in favour of Mitsuru is completely out of left field and makes absolutely no sense considering from what we’ve seen of them they’re one of the pairs who seem to get on the best. Were Kokoro and Mitsuru’s extremely limited interactions in the episodes leading up to this one meant to be the establishment of a relationship? If so you definitely could have fooled me. It’s even weirder considering there have been signals so far that Mitsuru is meant to be gay. Is the idea he just needed to find the ‘right girl’? Bisexuality exists of course, but you’ll forgive me if I’m a little sceptical that that’s what FRANXX was going for. Then there’s Ikuno attempting a female-female FranXX combination and being completely unsuccessful, in a metaphor about as subtle as being hit in the face with a shovel. The spectre of its militantly hetrosexual, no-gays-allowed premise has haunted FRANXX for almost its entire run, and in a show that’s ostensibly meant to be about growing up, puberty, and adolescent sexuality you really need to do better than just sweeping alternate sexualities under the carpet as ‘ineffective’. Even leaving aside the problematic elements, the writing in this episode is just so awful that it’s hard to engage with any of what happens.
That’s the state that the show finds itself in now, falling back to its unimpressive origins after a few episodes where it seemed like it might be branching out into stronger, more personality and character focused stories. There are still interesting elements to this mythology, and the action remains solid and nice looking, but with the show ardently refusing to display more depth than a puddle, it’s more frustrating and disappointing than enjoyable.
I’m not gonna say purposely waiting til now to do a 3-parter focusing on three thematically linked episodes focusing on side characters was our plan, but hey we’ll make it work. In many ways, these three episodes are a microcosm of the everything interesting and subsequently terrible about the show as a whole. Episode 9 focuses on Goro’s backstory, giving us a better picture of the man. Even in the face of being the loser in a love triangle, Goro still manages to be a bright spot in FRANXX, being the mature and reasonable guy he is. If there’s any character in this show that I personally hope manages to find some semblance of satisfaction and happiness in life in the aftermath of this shitshow, it’s him. He takes Ichigo’s rejection remarkably well for a fictional character and seeing the two move on as a more mature partnership is gratifying to see, even if it’s a piece of positive character development that comes way too late in the show’s run for its own good. Additionally, this is the first of three episodes that will inevitably hammer home the point that Darling in the FRANXX is better in every conceivable way when Hiro and Zero Two are out of the spotlight.
Episode 10 is all about Zorome and the truth of the society he dreams of joining. All in all, this is maybe the most interesting FRANXX has gotten in a long time. The twist of the remnants of humanity living in sterile lifeless cities devoid of culture is no surprise, but the execution of its reveals is effective. While Zorome is far from being my favorite character, this episode does a great job of fleshing him out and honestly, he’s at least more interesting than 75% of the cast purely on merit of actually having a personality at all. If anything the monologue at the end implying that this episode had zero effect on Zorome’s character development and reset things to the status quo is maybe the most disappointing thing of all.
Even when FRANXX wants to introduce interesting ideas, it’s still too afraid of doing anything interesting with its narrative in service of those ideas. It’s emblematic of FRANXX’s continual inability to commit to something deeper because by doing so, they wouldn’t be able to rely on their lowest common denominator tricks anymore. It’s a show that wants to “appear” deeper than it is while still playing with the same immature tropes that have been there since the start. But hey, Hiro was mostly absent from the episode so that was a plus.
And then with episode 11, we reach the end of our metaphor for FRANXX as a whole. It’s a show that at times seems well-crafted if inoffensive, sometimes posits interesting ideas (even if it doesn’t always commit to them), but it’s here at the end of these three side-character focused episodes that we remember that what makes FRANXX such a drag to watch are its extremely shoddy metaphors and questionable character developments. There are just so many things to criticize here. The blatant homosexual metaphors for both Mitsuru and Ikuno, throwing the non-character Futoshi under the bus, Kokoro’s apparent lack of motivation for her betrayal beyond generic kindness, this whole episode is just a mess on so many levels. The motivation and causes of all of this week’s drama comes from nowhere and makes even less sense the harder you look at it.
Why Mitsuru and Kokoro? They barely had personalities before this episode, where did the sudden compatibility come from? Why did Futoshi have literally zero character beyond “eats a lot” until this episode? If this week was supposed to make us feel some sense of tragedy, why didn’t you develop this character at all? Did he exist purely to get fucked over? Does the writer think that’s how narratives work? If the supposed reason Ikuno has trouble piloting with Mitsuru is because she’s in love with Ichigo, then how come she seemingly has no trouble piloting with Futoshi? Why is Mitsuru such a spiteful dick despite the fact that it’s obvious that Hiro got mindwiped or something? Do all the robots have cool beast mode transformations? Why the fuck have we not seen them yet? What the fuck are you doing A-1 and Trigger? Can I meet the writer? Can I drag him into the streets and savagely beat him within an inch of his life? Apparently FRANXX thinks that making the viewer ask all these questions is a replacement for good writing.
It’s immediately telling that I haven’t even talked about the cool robot fights, because with episode 11, we’ve finally reached a point where the narrative and character development have gotten so bad they’re actively distracting me from the fights. That is a serious low to sink to. Three weeks ago, I said I didn’t want to watch Darling in the FRANXX anymore. That still holds true now, but I guess we’re all stuck on this ride now.