“The Beast and the Prince” & “Punishment and Confession”
Saturdays at 12:00 pm EST on Crunchyroll
Hiro remembers his first encounter with Zero Two in their early childhood, while back in the present her violent assault on him causes the rest of the squad to reject her.
These are probably the best episodes of FRANXX yet, in that they tell a story that’s emotionally consistent and largely makes sense thematically. That they’re probably still not better than average speaks to how poorly the show has laid the groundwork for what happens here. There are good strong moments sprinkled in, but also the usual niggling issues and the overall feeling that show doesn’t really have much of an identity as it has a collection of beats and tropes it cribbed from much better, more original shows.
Take the entirety of episode 13 for example. There are some good segments here, particularly visually (Zero Two’s room is almost Penguindrum-esque in its surreal devastation) but the story itself is so built on cliches we’ve seen a million times before that it’s tough to get invested or even take it that seriously. The idea that the childlike Zero Two we see hear grew up into the hyper-agressive vamp the rest of the show has shown her has just doesn’t match up and it once again smacks of the show wanting to have it both ways. The writers want Zero Two to be both a sexy femme fatale but also at the same time to be a moe-moe baby who’s incapable of existing without her precious man. That’s not to say you can’t have characters with contradictory personality traits – the best characters have hidden depths and facets – but the show has done so little to flesh out the gap between the two extremes that it basically just turns on a dime. Let’s not even talk about how Zero Two’s entire plot arc has now devolved into the classic ‘I’m in love with a boy because he was nice to me once’, which is so played out I almost rolled my eyes out of my skull. The attempt at allegory with the storybook is spectacularly trite and the whole thing honestly probably damages my assessment of Zero Two’s character more than it deepens it.
The same issue, namely that of executing attempted character development in the most cack-handed way possible, continues to affect episode 14. It’s nice to see the squad unite around their concern for Hiro, and to forcefully rebuff Zero Two, but it’s a shame that it mostly descends into a series of tiresome vignettes around Ichigo. There’s mileage to be found in her latent attraction to Hiro but the show has done a such a spectacular job of making her bitchy, tedious and generally unlikable that it’s difficult to feel much for her now her time has seemingly rolled around. Her scenes in this episode are incredibly poorly written, with lots of banal dialogue, and her big confession at the end mostly just makes her seem pathetic and kind of unhinged. Maybe that’s the point of course, but I have my doubts somehow and even if it is, I don’t feel any sympathy for her so the entire thing is moot. It’s also a shame that Ichigo is so dominant that she mostly completely removes all the other squad members from any meaningful screentime – their first truly shared initiative would have been a good time to get some bonding between them established, but instead they’re reduced to wordless props.
Again, I want to emphasise there”s good stuff in these episodes – there’s more attention paid to genuine character and emotion than maybe the entire show has contained up to this point. But without a firm foundation to build on, many of the grand gestures FRANXX is attempting to make fall flat, or even worse come off as laughable contrivances. The show seems to be convinced that its style and an abundance of warmed-over repeats of past stories can tide it along, and that just isn’t the case in my opinion. Even at its best FRANXX remains deeply disappointing.
- OK, I’ve been joking about it for a bit now, but there really is no security at all in this world is there? Child Hiro is free to wander wherever he wants after his tests are complete? Nobody questioned the wisdom of putting child Zero Two in a room with huge windows? Were there any guards outside who heard the glass break? Hiro escapes his hospital bed and makes it all the way to the Parasite’s house in a robe, and nobody stops him? As far as dystopias go this seems to be a pretty laissez-faire one.
- Speaking of failing to present a dystopia properly, Ichigo seems pretty happy to go insubordinate immediately huh? You’d have thought child soldiers raised from birth to be super obedient killing machines would perhaps be a bit less tempted to disobey a direct order, but fie on me I guess.
- Hiro’s improvised escape from his room is actually pretty clever.
- I guess a 30 second conversation is enough to resolve the Hiro and Mitsuru subplot.
- Goro’s wordless smile and disappearance from the final scene might legit be the best bit of character work in this pair of episodes.
With episode 14, Darling in the FRANXX has somehow graduated from merely a bad anime I have to watch every week to a solid contender for being one of the worst mecha anime I have ever watched in my life. That’s right folks, if it continues its current trajectory, Darling in the FRANXX will get to sit at the table with such luminaries as Gundam SEED: Destiny and Aldnoah:Zero. But lets talk about episode 13 first. Luckily there isn’t much to say. Kid Zero Two is ridiculously adorable and maybe the only decent thing about it. The rest of the flashback is somehow 22 minutes of information we basically already had. As if all the other hamfisted dialogue and imagery wasn’t somehow enough, episode 13 spells out in big blocky letters and diagrams that Hiro and Zero Two had met as children. Okay sure, thanks for that I guess. It’s an episode that had to happen and there are some interesting directorial choices at play but otherwise, it isn’t really noteworthy.
Episode 14 on the other hand, is noteworthy for all the wrong reasons. Hey anime writers, contrived coincidences and misunderstandings are shitty plot devices. You know that right? Apparently not, because most of this episode hinges on Zero Two being the most inconsistent and selective nutcase in the world. She’s apparently crazy enough to use physical violence on her teammates at the dorm, but rational enough to accept their terms to visit Hiro, but is so unhinged she’ll descend into a violent rampage when Hiro just so happens to have conveniently broken out of his hospital room? It’s not that unpredictable characters can’t exist in fiction, but the lack of any appreciable consistency just makes it stupid. Keep in mind, said breakout has Hiro away from his room for a grand total of 30 seconds. Yes yes, in context, it was probably longer, but the way its directed makes it feel so contrived it falls completely flat in every way.
And really that’s the problem. FRANXX was already a bad show, but this week they decided to lean on the same trick multiples times, which only further reinforced how weak of a narrative throughline they’re working with here. When a coincidence is the lynchpin of your narrative multiple times in the same episode, you have inherently failed to tell a compelling story. I was fine dunking on FRANXX for being the shallow thing it is, but this week drives it into the territory where its very existence outright offends me. Almost no amount of robot action (of which there was NONE of in the last two episodes) can save it now.