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We step back in time…not that far actually, to see the origins of the mysterious Doctor Franxx, while in the present the Parasites complain a lot but don’t actually do anything.
Flashback episodes are meant to exist to provide context for ongoing mysteries in the plot of a show. At their best they can serve as powerful revelatory moments, completely reshaping an audience’s understanding of the story and the motivations within. At the very least they should provide valuable exposition about the reason the way things are in the present. That this episode of FRANXX fails to do either is barely a surprise, given the overall competence we’ve seen from the show thus far, but it’s still striking how many levels it fails on.
The first mistake of this episode is centering the flashback around Dr Franxx, a character we know nothing about, have no empathy for and, as it turns out, does not have a particularly interesting story to be told. I know I bang on and on about FRANXX‘s seeming inability to build up its characters so that their actions have any weight at all, but it’s a problem expressed twofold here. The things we know about Dr Franxx going into this episode are literally 1) He created the robots 2) He was at least partially responsible for the creation of 02 and 3) He’s been conducting some freaky experiment on Squadron 13. That’s literally it. We know nothing about his character, motivation, attitude or even really his personality, and that doesn’t make him mysterious, it makes him a character I barely care about.
It doesn’t help that once the episode proper gets going, we find out that, well, he doesn’t really have a personality. Dr Frank (see what they did there?) is that most horrible and inexplicably popular of anime stereotypes, the detached jerk who kind of just lets himself be carried along by events, displaying almost no passion or emotion at all, except for one specific instance we’ll get to. What’s fascinatingly bizarre about this is that everything we see Frank do makes him seem like an absolute bastard – he’s involved in human cloning experiments, mindlessly helps APE with their world domination, treats his girlfriend/wife like utter trash and is just generally a creep. Yet the show clearly wants us to sympathise with him, treating him like some tragic figure desperately searching for purpose and identity. It’s another example of how the show thinks you can make characters interesting by just having stuff happen to them, rather than giving us any insight into their actual personalities. Frank, like all the other characters, exists merely to fulfil a purpose, to be the factor which gets us from A to supremely stupid B.
Speaking of getting from A to B, it seems FRANXX can’t even do that properly, as this episode, despite being a much awaited flashback to pre-Colony human society, succeeds in telling us almost nothing we didn’t know already. Furthermore, it’s so rammed with plotholes that the story actually makes less sense than it did when we started. So apparently APE not only existed pre-Colony (how?) but they also discovered a theoretically infinite source of power (how?). This ‘magma energy’ also somehow has the ability to grant humanity eternal life (how?) but at the cost of loss of reproduction capability (why?). Also its continued mining has caused the Earth to rapidly undergo desertification (why?) and caused Klaxosuars to appear (where from?). The only way to fight these Klaxosaurs is with giant robot FRANXXs (why?) and the only way these FRANXXs work is if you have two reproductively capable pilots of opposite sexes piloting them (WHY?).
I’m being facetious of course, and I’m not suggesting any story should spill all of its secrets in one go, but there are simply too many insane leaps of logic here to excuse. The mystery of why the FRANXX robots require their partnered pilots has been a driving force of the story all along and here it’s revealed the answer is basically ‘because that’s how it is’, with no further elaboration. Likewise, I can believe the idea that APE managed to find a mysterious unlimited power source, but the concept that the power source would ALSO be the key to human immortality is stretching my suspension of disbelief to breaking point. There’s also something seriously off with the time scale here – the flashback starts in 2025, and since Dr Frank explicitly identifies that he has not taken the immortality treatment, he can be at best say a hundred years old. That means that humanity basically went from present-day normal to sheltered emotionless future vegetables in about 70 or so years, a laughably short period of time for any sort of societal shift to take place, let alone something on this scale.
What’s more, why would losing your reproductive ability also cause you to lose any emotional attachment to people? Is the idea that losing the ability to have children robs you of the things which make you human? That seems to be the highly offensive implication that’s being presented here, and that’s not the only Problematic™ thing about this episode (something I feel like I’ve been saying every post for a while now). The observation that the Klaxosaurs seem to share the same XX chromosomes as human females not only shows a staggering misunderstanding of how genetics works but seems to imply a very VERY tired and shitty ‘femininity is a monster!’ storyline, while Frank’s obsession with the Klaxosaurs and particularly with their nubile, extremely underage looking queen is a whole level of ick I don’t want to go into at all,
This episode is also peppered with a number of jumps back to the present, none of which achieve anything except to disrupt the flow of the flashback. They’re mostly less than a minute long and peppered with the banal, wooden dialogue that has become the show’s trademark. About the only one of substance is the episode ending, where APE are on the receiving end of a number of laughably ‘heartfelt’ protests from our mannequin protagonists (but only the male ones) and proceed to allow themselves to be cowed by a bunch of teenagers in short trousers. I guess it’s meant to be a great cathartic moment when the Parasites finally realise how little they mean to the adults they’ve been serving all along. I was kind of just hoping APE would kill them there and then and spare us any more of this unbearable show. Alas, it was not to be.
- I haven’t said anything about Dr Frank’s girlfriend/wife because she contributes nothing to the plot aside from being pointlessly killed, theoretically to give him motivation (to do what though?), but in reality because that’s what Evangelion did and by god we’re going to do it too.
- The images of APE wearing their dumb masks and robes in the modern day is unintentionally hilarious. For what it’s worth, this does also seem to confirm that they were ‘normal’ humans at one point too.
- For all its boring pontification, the episode still doesn’t actually tell us where the Parasites come from. Are they clones of existing adults? Are they completely artificial humans? Who knows?
- The two child Parasites we get a closeup on are quite clearly Nana and Hachi
- It’s strongly implied Zero Two is a clone of the Klaxosaur queen, but the weird embryo in a tube pops up multiple times in the episode before she’s even introduced, so maybe that’s just a small part of Dr Frank’s weird attempt to grow himself a waifu?
- Related – ‘Zero One’ is almost certainly the Klaxosaur queen herself.
- Dr Frank. Kind of like Dr Frankenstein huh? HUH?
Oh boy, another flashback episode! This time, we get some insight into the enigmatic Dr. Franxx…and it’s not great. Just to get it out of the way, the young Dr. Franxx replying to the accusations of heretical cloning research with, “Well I’m an atheist,” has got to be one of the funniest lines I’ve heard in anime all year. I was fucking howling like a demon. Just what a fantastic little encapsulation of FRANXX’s writing. And you know what, that’s this episode in a nutshell. It is a buffet in how goddamn awful it is. There are just so many things you could pick at and dismantle, the choices are endless. We could be here all night and still not had our fill of dunking on the show, but like hitting up a Chinese buffet after a night of drinking, exercising a degree of moderation is probably for the best.
Still, man oh man. You have the aforementioned line from the good doctor, you have the line mentioning society taxing childbirth, the sudden and barely shown collapse of modern society, the weightless introduction of a new female character who solely exists to die in a flashback to provide motivation for Dr. Franxx, the explanation of the Klaxosaurs as remnants of an ancient civilization, and the baffling incompetence of APE leadership that somehow manages to be even more transparently shitty than even your most flatly written YA dystopian novel villain. This show just punishes me so much every week and I just can’t help but fill my plate up every time and ask for more. I’m sitting here listening to Tatsuro Yamashita’s 1982 pop album, For You, while I write this. It’s perhaps one of the most singularly pleasant 35 minutes of audio ever recorded, and I’m still just barely holding onto a semblance of composure here.
One thing at a time. There are probably some individually interesting aspects of Dr. Franxx’s backstory and the explanation of what happened to humanity. There’s a potentially compelling dystopia to be told about the repercussions of artificial immortality and what they mean for society, especially within the context of Japan’s highly youth-centric pop culture. A country whose culture has revolved around the glorification of youth might have some interesting stories to tell about the concept of immortality and the stifling of entropy in the name of capturing…something. But well, sorry, this is Darling in the FRANXX we’re talking about, so the show’s most interesting bits are obviously shoved into a back corner somewhere because you know what’s really hot? Prepubescent looking girls tearing us limb from limb.
Let’s talk about the Klaxosaurs a bit. This episode makes the claim they’re part of a long lost civilization who have remained in hiding under the Earth’s surface and have been awakened by man’s hubris in its extraction of magma energy. I’m sorry. What? FRANXX, you aren’t even biting from Evangelion’s playbook at this point, your main villains are literally the Dinosaur Empire from Getter Robo. Except the Dinosaur Empire were fucking rad as hell because, you know, evil robot dinosaurs. (See below)
I feel I should talk about the unceremonious introduction and removal of Karina, Dr. Franxx’s love interest, but also I’m just so tired of FRANXX’s bad writing that I just really don’t have it in me anymore. Hey anime, please stop introducing female characters who exist for the sole purpose of dying to motivate the men in their lives. Please? There are much better ways to motivate your characters. At the very least do it to characters who have had time on-screen. Or hell, let them do something rad as hell. Like sacrificing themselves to blow up a bunch of evil robot dinosaurs. (See above)
Anyway, we finally arrive at yet another example of APE’s hilariously dystopian incompetence. The kids ask that APE reverse Mitsuru and Kokoro’s brainwashing, and not only do they refuse, but they tacitly admit that the kids literally exist for no reason but to die for their masters. I’m not even joking. These villains are so bad at their jobs, they can’t even try to feed the kids a sweet lie about dying for the sake of humanity or eventually becoming adults. Everyone knows authoritarian governments are evil, but at least in most fiction, they make a modicum of effort to try and mask that with a good PR campaign, snappy uniforms, or broad but essentially empty rhetoric. Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a show that is literally airing this same season, makes the prudent observation that the reason autocracy often works is because it falsely presents itself as the “easy” choice. APE not only doesn’t even try, they basically spell out the kids’ fates right to their faces, and then don’t even try to imprison, brainwash, or punish them. Even Gendo Ikari had the self awareness to curry Shinji’s loyalty with hot women and the illusion of parental approval. APE doesn’t even bother with that much. It’s actually kind of astounding how incompetent they are, even after multiple instances of this.
And maybe all of this just gets to the core of it in the end. It’s not enough that Darling in the FRANXX is badly written or contains extremely questionable politics, it’s also fucking lazy. Like it already knows how this is all going to end and that the moments in between are just obligatory checkboxes to fill on the way there. Tragic backstory? Check. Apocalyptic downfall? Check. Authoritarian government that was evil all along? Check. It’s like the show knows these are the basic things a story needs to do and that so long as it does them, how it’s actually executed doesn’t matter. And finally to echo last week. Where are the damn robots?