Darling in the FRANXX Episode 17

“Eden”

Saturdays at 12:00 pm EST on Crunchyroll

The Nines return to pay Squad 13 a visit and bring their RADICAL MARXIST SJW agenda with them. Also this week, Zigg returns to the blog and immediately wishes he hadn’t.

Zigg’s Thoughts

I feel like this episode of FRANXX has to be pretty much the apotheosis of the show’s incredibly worrying tendency to think it is making some sort of radical, provocative statement, but instead actually conforming to the very worst cliches of both society and its own hackneyed narrative. We get a triple threat of horrible here in the form of supposedly plot-shattering revelations that are supremely underwhelming, attempted social commentary that is not only laughably simplistic but borders on offensive, and what should be the important culmination of a character arc falling utterly flat due to a complete lack of build-up. It’s a grim look for the show, which isn’t even able to fall back on its traditional robot fight-y strengths to distract from these ghastly failings.

The aforementioned plot-shattering revelations are supposed to be that a) There’s a klaxosaur princess and she looks like a naked little girl (???) and b) the Omniscient Council of Vagueness is in fact not really human after all. Neither of these really land well, though it’s for different reasons. In the former case, it’s because it’s such an abrupt gear change that it’s hard to make sense of. There’s been no indication that the Klaxosaurs are anything other than rampaging beasts, nor that there’s a guiding intelligence behind them that’s capable of the level of technology we see within this sequence. I suppose the you can tenuously justify the princess given the limited hints we’ve been given that the Klaxosaurs are somehow related to humanity (Zero Two, the astonishingly cack-handed episode 15 reveal) but really this all feels very out of nowhere, and not a logical direction to be taking the story. As for the council members, they’ve been such non-factors up to this point that anything related to them is automatically underwhelming because they just don’t really have any character or stakes in the story yet. You miiiiiight have noticed that this is a recurring issue with FRANXX and don’t worry, we’re not done with it yet.

For now though, let’s move on to the second issue, which once again exposes a core issue at the heart of the show, in this case the dichotomy between how socially aware it thinks it is, and how socially aware it actually is. Nine Alpha talks about how human has transcended the petty need for gender and how it’s a pain in the butt that’s only tolerated for the purpose of FRANXX piloting, while Kokoro tries to counter that the reason we have gender is to have children and pass on a part of ourselves to the future. There are so many problems with this entire sequence that it makes my head hurt, but it mostly boils down to the fact that our society as a whole is increasingly recognising that gender is a social construct (best seen in the renewed push for LGBT+ rights in recent years) while the show clearly sides with the aggressively heteronormative approach as being the ‘correct’ one, as it has consistently done throughout its run. This is at best clueless, but at worst it’s deeply offensive, and I certainly leaned more towards the latter interpretation as I was watching.

Even if you don’t share my views on the problematic nature of the scene, the fact is the story and characters have been so overwhelmingly horny throughout that the idea that they live in a sexless, genderless society is utterly laughable, and speaks again to the complete lack of work FRANXX has put in to build a world that’s coherent with the themes it’s trying to present. Speaking of those themes, what exactly is the show trying to say? There have been a lot of nebulous ideas about sex, gender, the human condition etc floating around the story of FRANXX, but they’ve never once come close to coalescing into anything approaching an overarching moral. Is the show trying to tell us that classic gender roles are important? Is it trying to say the opposite of that? Is it (as many initially suspected) a parable about the fall of birthrates in modern Japan? We’ll never know, because there seems to be zero effort to actually craft coherent messages out of the buzzwords flying about. A lack of deeper meaning obviously isn’t the death knell to a piece of entertainment, but in one that’s tried to trade as heavily on having something to say as FRANXX has, it’s disappointing and terminally underwhelming.

The final point I wanted to talk about was the ‘culmination of a character arc’, which of course is a reference to the end of this episode where Mitsuru and Kokoro consummate their relationship and end up having sex. I’ve actually got very few problems with the basic inclusion of this content – despite what Middle America tells you, teenagers actually do have sex a bunch and the Seventh Seal hasn’t broken yet, plus it’s thematically appropriate as the climax (ahem) to the episode. The problem is that it’s (say it with me kids) NOT BEEN BUILT UP TO IN ANY MEANINGFUL WAY. Seriously, Mitsuru and Kokoro have shared maybe ten minutes of screen time before this episode and there’s been zero chemistry, charisma, or really any sort of believable friendship between them, much less a budding romance.

If you’re going to depict sex in non-pornographic media (especially if it’s underage and therefore slightly taboo) then it should be as the ultimate culmination of an emotional arc the characters have gone on. There’s absolutely none of that here, and while it’s tasteful enough that I won’t accuse it of being purely for titillation purposes, it’s instead just kind of stupid and redundant. I guess you could argue it’s just Kokoro so desperate to have her baby she jumps the bones of the first person nearby, but that’s both kind of gross and overly cynical for the tone of the scene. And let’s not get into how this buries the ‘Mitsuru is maybe gay?’ idea in seven graves. There’s even an entire scene dedicated to clarifying how NOT GAY he is now. As I said when the character first emerged, it’s absolutely possible to be bisexual, especially at a young age when you’re still uncertain about your own attraction, but I’m not going to give the show the benefit of the doubt regarding that because it simply hasn’t earned it.

At the end of my episode 15 I noted that the following few episodes would be the last chance for the show to prove it really had anything of substance to offer, and I think this episode comprehensively answered that question in the negative. There’s such a messy slurry of ideas, scenes and concepts here that it’s hard not to feel profoundly tired of it all, when the show isn’t being pretty offensive that is. FRANXX has been nothing but a chore for a while now, but this episode really highlighted the gaping maw between how clever and woke the show thinks it is, and the grim, potboiler reality of what’s actually going on. Bereft even of its attractive sheen, it’s sunk to depressing new depths.

Random Observations

  • I haven’t said anything about Hiro starting to grow horns because…well, what is there to say? I guess it could lead to something intriguing down the line but it’s a pretty underwhelming revelation unless it leads into a banging FLCL crossover.
  • Nothing really highlights how incredibly hypocritical the show has been on gender issues more than the difference between the girls’ bathing scene last week (naked, *hilarious* anime groping) and the boys’ this week (lying still, wearing boxers).
  • Why would a book entitled Your First Childbirth: What’s Best For Your Baby have any information whatsoever on the actual act of sex? Isn’t that kind of a prerequisite to needing the book in the first place?
  • If Papa and the council are so scared of Parasites reproducing, why not have them sterilised at birth? It wouldn’t affect anything other than their ability to have children.
  • I guess the implication here is that Dr. FRANXX has been conducting his weird experiment on Squadron 13 without the knowledge of the Omniscient Council of Vagueness, and consequently he might actually be trying to return humanity to its ‘natural’ state.
  • Thanks to Gee for covering while I was away on vacation last week.

Gee’s Thoughts

I feel like every week, FRANXX jumps the shark in the worst way possible, and somehow, every week it still always manages to impress me how bad it can get. I almost can’t deal with this anymore. Guys, we’re talking about the kind of lows mecha anime hits maybe once a decade. I sit here struggling to even recall what happened because my brain is trying so hard to forget it. Basically the crux of this episode is the culmination of Kokoro’s discovery of the babymaking book she found all the way back during the beach episode. The Nines discover this and confront Squad 13 about the heretical nature of the knowledge they’ve been exposed to, leading to a whole lot of hand wringing about human nature, the difference between genders, and all the kind of predictable drivel you might expect from a show trying to “say something” about human relationships. Suffice to say, it falls totally flat because this show has already shown on multiple occasions that the FRANXX pilots still feel things like sexual attraction and shame. If this supposedly sexless society was as sexless as the Nines claim this week, we wouldn’t have had episodes about ogling the girls in swimsuits or walking in on them in the bath. It’s an inherent failing of FRANXX to commit to its base premise as a dystopia where humanity has socially neutered itself.

Also, the conveniently nubile humanoid leader of the Klaxosaurs says something about our protagonists being fake humans so I imagine that’ll probably go in some highly predictable directions that Urobuchi totally didn’t already do with Gargantia like 5 years ago. And Hiro is growing horns like Zero-Two? So all the deviantart fanart of FRANXX that’s been circulating for weeks will finally be canon. Nana seems to be suffering from some repressed flashbacks implying she was brainwashed like Hiro and Zero-Two? If this show was slightly more interesting, these might almost be things I care about.

And really there isn’t much else to say this week. So little of note happens that honestly, the probable biggest thing this week is just the all-but-spelled out culmination of Mitsuru and Kokoro’s relationship with them having sex. I guarantee you, that screencap is going to be the most singularly shitposted scene in anime fandom for the next few years. People will be making bad photoshops and Loss edits for years to come with it, because it’s basically a short summation of all FRANXX is good for; quick visual shock value with no actual substance to back it up. There’s probably something to be said about the normalization of Hiro and Zero-Two’s relationship at this point. I have to admit, it’s kind of refreshing to see a boy and a girl just spending time together and kissing as if it’s not that big of a deal. There’s a weird sincere sweetness to it I wish the rest of the show was willing to have more of. If the show can’t be interesting, it could at least be sincere. It’s just a shame it’s a relationship between two characters I struggle every week to care about. But what else is new? Also, where the hell are the goddamn robots?

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