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Squad 13 team up with a bunch of other FRANXX units, including the enigmatic Nines, for an assault on the ‘Gran Crevasse’
First things first – this episode looks INCREDIBLE. There’s an elasticity and energy to the animation that fully justifies the Trigger name being attached. Word is that Hiroyuki Imaishi personally storyboarded parts of this battle, and given some obvious stylistic similarities to Kill la Kill and the general quality of the fight choreography that’s easy to believe. Whether it’s A1 or Trigger ultimately responsible, there’s a fluidity and excitement to everything that happens here that makes it very easy on the eye, and an obvious climax to the recent story-heavy, action-light episodes.
Unfortunately, while the action definitely holds up its end of the bargain, the same can’t be said for the story. This is clearly an attempt to provide a fittingly emotional finale to the recent plot arc concerning Zero Two and her past with Hiro, and I suppose it does technically fulfil that remit, but pretty much in the most mechanical, rote way possible. I don’t necessarily have an issue with Hiro ‘curing’ Zero Two with THE POWER OF LOVE, since that’s a completely stock and acceptable cliché at this point, but it rings hollow because we’ve just seen so little chemistry between them. Their relationship was never believable or relatable to begin with, and there was pretty much zero attempt to grow the romance or the characters before plunging us into the angst of the past few installments. Thus this episode is attempting to cash cheques that it simply can’t back up – so much of the attempted emotional heft of the story is reliant on an emotional attachment to Zero Two and Hiro which I’ve just never felt.
The lack of planning for this moment shows elsewhere in the script too, most notably in the behaviour of perennial worst girl Ichigo. Just last episode she was the most violently anti Zero Two voice on the team, desperate to keep her away from Hiro for fear of his life. There was even a kiss and tortured proclamation of love at the end. Now she’s happily acting as the main agent in reuniting them, with nary a word of protest or any sort of expression of reservation. Sure, she’s definitely upset, but where’s the fear for Hiro’s safety, the certainty that Zero Two would kill him that we saw last episode? The thing is, this could have been a great piece of character development for Ichigo – she could have gradually realised the fact that Zero Two and Hiro had genuine affection for each other, and come to accept that Hiro would never love her in the same way that she loved him. Of course, such revelations would take a decent amount of time and foresight, neither of which is something the show has shown much capacity for. As it is, we get this odd about-face in disposition, which is…weird to say the least.Also weird are the attempts at building out the greater fiction which largely come across as clumsy and ill-fitting. The reveal that the Klaxosaurs might actually be humans or human based is basically the storytelling equivalent of a custard pie to the face, given how extraordinarily unsubtle it is. Honestly it probably would have been more surprising if humanity were not connected to the monsters in some way, given how well-worn of a cliche it is, but this is still an astonishingly simplistic way to denote that, again with the near total lack of foreshadowing or build up which has become a trademark of the show. I guess they could still take it somewhere interesting, but I’m not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt given the show’s past form.
The other odd bit of storytelling is the reveal that the Nines ride reversed, with the boys splayed out doggie style and the girls
pegging ahem, piloting them. What’s weird about this is that the show clearly thinks it’s a super important and meaningful surprise, given how they deliberately cut shots so that it’s not revealed until partway through the action, but its actual impact is…nothing at all. It doesn’t even really make sense thematically. At least if this had been the situation with Zero Two and Hiro (as many initially suspected) it would have reflected their dominant and passive roles in the lexicon of the show. Since we know none of the Nines aside from Nine Alpha (and even then only barely) this revelation tells us nothing about the unit other than they’re unusual, something we already knew. Are we meant to be scandalized by the transgressive nature of girls mounting boys? If so guys, I have some bad news for you – it’s 2018 and everyone is already way freakier than that.
The net result of all of this is that it leaves our story poised to plunge into a final decisive chapter, where the truth behind the Gran Crevasse and the Klaxosaurs will hopefully finally be revealed, not to mention the actual motivations of the Omniscient Council of Vagueness. Structurally FRANXX seems the most sorted it’s been in a while, but that doesn’t mean I’ve grown any more attached to she show, or that I feel it’s generally low quality has improved. Despite the best efforts of the art team the thing I mostly got from this episode was anticlimax, and the next few episodes are realistically going to be the last chance for the show to prove that’s not going to be my lasting impression of the entire affair.
- The male Nines all appear to have energy versions of Zero Two’s horns, so I suspect that they’re somehow less powerful versions of her. Imperfect clones perhaps?
- Again, the FRANXX world’s shocking level of security is on display as Hiro is able to just take a stroll out in a training mech.
- Hiro says “Without you I can’t fight” to the (absent) Zero Two and yet less than a minute later he’s piloting with Ichigo. I know it’s meant to be allegorical, but the timing really is pretty stupid.
- Once again Goro proves that he is the only person in the show with a) A shred of human empathy and b) more than a single brain cell.
- Honestly, Strelizia’s powerup is super lame. It just turns red and that’s it, and it doesn’t even look good in red!
If last week’s episode sunk my opinion of Darling in the FRANXX, this week’s episode reveals the inherent tragedy of its very existence. Make no mistake, this episode is maybe one of the most keenly directed visual spectacles I have seen in years. Leave it to A-1 and Trigger to know how to turn up the heat when it really matters. The action is frantic and meaty in all the right ways. The bit where Zero-Two and Ichigo square off is straight out of Imaishi’s playbook. And it is that exact visual spectacle and the undeniable talent and hard work that went into it that makes FRANXX all the more a tragic waste of time and resources. Despite the amazing things that were being presented in front of me, there was zero emotional investment in its actual events. Like the last time FRANXX dealt in flashy spectacle, I still don’t care for any of the characters. In fact, I might care even less than I did the last time it happened.
As if to make matters worse, the “bombshells” FRANXX decides to drop on us this week are some of the most laughably predictable twists you could imagine a show that is desperately trying to ape Evangelion would try. The first one of course is Nine Alpha and his team piloting their FRANXX units reverse style, with the man in the traditionally female position of the cockpit. Maybe it’s intended to shock the viewer, to show how “unnatural” they are compared to our protagonists, but that’s a laughable concept when the show has done nothing interesting with its “distinct” piloting system at all up til now. Having served as literally nothing but cheap titillation up to this point, expecting us to take away anything meaningful from that reveal doesn’t give us any insight into anything but maybe how up his own ass the writer is.
Then there’s the “twist” that the KLAXOSAURS ARE PEOPLE (or something, there are definitely some weird human shapes coming out of them though). Again, as if this is meant to shock us. As if Urobuchi had not literally tried the exact same “twist” a few years earlier with Gargantia to equal mockery. But at least Urobuchi had the decency to build up to it with the occasional hint or bit of foreshadowing. Meanwhile, FRANXX expects us to be shocked and impressed by this twist despite having done none of the work.
I suppose the last “twist” would be that Papa and the ruling class are secretly huge assholes who are most definitely evil, but if you hadn’t figured that out yet by this point, I suggest you stop consuming media entirely and start over from the basics. Perhaps Clifford The Big Red Dog or The Berenstain Bears might be more appropriate for your level? No, that would be insulting to those, which at least contain cohesive narratives and characters with believable motivations.
Hell, I could probably talk for another few paragraphs (but I won’t because this is already going on for longer than FRANXX deserves) about how Zero Two is the absolute worst case of anime wanting to have it cake and eat it too. I’m supposed to believe that Zero Two is somehow both an intensely sexual seductress vamp and that she’s a pure vulnerable waifu that just needs the love that only our generic protagonist can give her? Fuck off with that shit anime.
And so, despite episode 15 of Darling in the FRANXX containing some of the best anime visual spectacle I’ve seen since the days of Kill la Kill and Gurren Lagann, it leaves me totally empty inside. My brain can recognize that Zero Two and Hiro reuniting and blowing up the bad guy while the OP plays is supposed to be a tremendous moment, but my heart feels nothing. Compare it to Renton and Eureka reuniting after a long and difficult time separated from each other. Or Simon overcoming the death of Kamina and forging his own path. Or Noriko’s impassioned plea to Kazumi to fight on for the man she loves. It’s obvious this episode is meant to be a gratifying catharsis, but by trying to create that without having laid any of the groundwork for it, Darling in the FRANXX is instead just a fantastic demo reel. A testament to the skill and passion of its creators without any of the emotion.