“Stargazers” & “Darling in the FRANXX”
Saturdays at 12:00 pm EST on Crunchyroll
Some time after the previous episode, the Parasites struggle to survive on a newly adult-less(?) Earth. That is until Hiro discovers where Zero Two has gone and the crew head off into SPACE.
We’re into the endgame now with FRANXX, and what an endgame it is! Sadly, my incredulity is not meant to be taken as an endorsement, but rather shock that the show continues to pile a myriad of bad choices onto its already shockingly bad story. A combination of tedious writing, laughable characterisation and rather too much cribbing from much better, more well established shows conspires to make these episodes some of the most frustrating yet, the exact opposite of the climax it should be building to.
To start with, let’s talk about pacing. While FRANXX has done its best to excel in awfulness in pretty much all areas, the story has largely unraveled a a solid speed up to this point, bar a few odd bumps. That all goes out of the window here due to some baffling leaps in time and place which really give the impression that this part of the narrative was crammed together extremely hastily, rough edges be damned.
Probably the biggest example of this is the beginning of episode 22, which inexplicably starts with all of the Klaxosaurs blasting off into space, completely undermining the dramatic ending of the last episode and providing one of the biggest anticlimaxes I can remember in anime. It kills any and all momentum we’d built from the climax of last week, and essentially puts the show in a holding pattern for a full episode. Even leaving aside the obvious structural problems, this also doesn’t make much sense from a storyline perspective. Wasn’t the entire point of the plot up to this point that the Klaxosaurs had devolved into mindless beasts? Isn’t that why they needed the Klaxosaur princess to activate the Star Entity? Yet we’re suddenly meant to believe that this bestial race not only has the smarts to pilot themselves into space to battle an armada, but they’re also aware enough of everything that’s going on that they’d leave a ship conveniently loaded with FRANXX-sized goodies for our heroes to jump aboard.
Speaking of that fact, it has to be forcibly exposited to us since, unbelievably, episode 23 decides to skip any sort of build-up, uncertainty or tension in favour of just dumping us right in the middle of a giant space battle with little-to-no explanation of what exactly is happening. Of course it’s possible to extrapolate from what we’ve previously learnt, but it’s still pretty jarring to see all of the FRANXX’s suddenly flying alongside an enormous battleship with no immediate justification. The show does try to cram in some via the heavy-handed commentary of Nana and Hachi and a largely ineffectual flashback, but it’s plainly obvious that there was a severe compromise for time here, and that’s a bad sign for the upcoming finale.
Really though all this talk of pacing is largely a nitpick compared to the main problem with these episodes, and the main problem FRANXX has had all along – the absolutely rancid characterisation. All along I’ve repeatedly expressed the sentiment that no matter what happens in the show it’s tough to care because the characters are at best anonymous and increasingly often actively dislikable. Across these two episodes the show tries to bring multiple character arcs to their conclusion and mostly succeeds in just making itself look totally laughable.
Let’s start with the big one – Hiro and Zero Two. Having Zero Two be reduced to a comatose vegetable initially sounds like a decent step up in her character arc, but it’s soon revealed it’s merely so Hiro can agonise over her in the most ham-fisted way possible. It’s the most irritatingly shallow and base characterisation possible under the circumstances, and it’s worth pointing out that despite her much hyped sadism, Zero Two’s ultimate role has predictably been reduced to ‘girl who must be rescued by boring protagonist with the power of love’.
The show then promptly exacerbates this problem with the confrontation with Goro, which has to be one of the most cack-handed attempts at a dramatic confrontation since…well since a few episodes ago actually. Regardless, all this showdown does is make both of them look like totally unlikeable assholes – Goro for his inability to understand why Hiro might want to chase after the girl who he’s repeatedly described as his true love, and Hiro for his unbelievably whiny, immature inability to understand why his friends might not want him to go gallivanting off into space when they’re in a tight spot. What’s even worse about this is that the story itself renders the point moot – VIRM openly declared that they were going to return so really the Parasites have no choice but to go into space anyway. Yet the writing will not lend its characters even a modicum of common sense, instead choosing to wallow in melodrama and bad dialogue.
Even once we finally manage to reunite the lovebirds there’s no respite. Zero Two’s revelation that she’s been deliberately keeping herself away from Hiro left me utterly incredulous, and it’s an absolute contradiction to everything we’ve seen of their relationship up to this point. How many times have they talked about how they’re going to stay together forever? How many times have they sickeningly promised that they would chase after each other no matter what? Hell, Zero Two risked life and limb to reunite with Hiro just a couple of episodes ago, so the idea that she’s now decided that they can’t be together is completely out of nowhere. It’s just the show falling back on the only piece of characterisation that it’s ever really established about this relationship, namely Zero Two’s reluctance to embrace her humanity. The fact that Hiro talks her out of it in about thirty seconds just makes the entire thing even dumber. At least it’s kind of visually interesting I guess?
The other major character arc the show attempts to cap off in these two episodes is the Mitsuru/Kokoro relationship, and once again it’s done in the most ham-handed, clumsy way possible. They confirm Kokoro’s pregnancy which disqualifies her from piloting a FRANXX because….actually they never bother to explain that. This means she’s relegated to staying on Earth and Mitsuru decides to stay with her, even though the last time we saw him he was ice-cold towards her. There’s actually the germ of a good idea here – if Mitsuru had had to come to terms with the idea that his past self, a completely different person, had fathered a child and now he was going to have to be responsible for it, that’s an intriguing and potentially provocative story. The problem is, there’s simply no time for that, nor is the show interested in exploring it, so instead we get the two seemingly falling back in love within the span of a few days, culminating in a squirm-inducingly embarrassing confession in the rain scene. The show doesn’t even make it clear if their brainwashing has actually worn off, instead just treating it as a brand new proposal. Even if you buy this frankly ludicrous turn, what then was the point of the brainwashing in the first place, other than do drag out an already badly written and unlikable romantic subplot.
Everywhere else in these two episodes the show continues to try to inject pathos into characters we simply don’t care about, because we’ve never been given a reason to. The Nines are dying (why?) so suddenly they’re all chummy with our crew and get to go along on the grand space exhibition. Even before it happens they’re so transparently there to die in return for moments of supposed pathos that when it happens it barely elicited any reaction from me at all. Nine Alpha uses his final words to talk about how Squad 13 “helped me learn a little about being human”, a statement which ASTONISHED me since the character’s entire screentime has been dedicated to taunting and talking down to the main team. It’s a fine example of the dissonance between FRANXX‘s grand ideas and the more prosaic reality. Nine Alpha says something like that because, well, it’s what rivals turned allies tend to do, spout a moment of reflection before death,. But the show has never done the legwork, never shown us the development necessary for the character to earn that epiphany. It’s a hollow mockery of something it’s seen far better shows do and it does it just because that’s what you do, not because it has been built up to or is natural for the character.
The same thing is true for Nana and Hachi, who this pair of episodes tries to reframe as the guiding adult figures to our newly liberated children, when in fact they’ve been collaborators all along. In fact, right after deciding they’re the guiding adults in the lives of these children, they bugger off into space, because of course nobody but our precious main characters mean anything in this world. Again, there’s potentially something to be done with the idea that they were former parasites who were caught up in the cycle of exploitation, but the show lacks the nuance and subtlety to take that idea and run with it. Instead we have boilerplate speeches about how the kids have ‘chosen their path’ delivered by two people who have been close to total nonentities throughout the run of the show. Once again, I’ll talk about FRANXX‘s desire to draw emotion out of us when it’s given us no reason to be invested in these characters, no real opportunity to love and hate the, They just exist as cogs in the machine that gets us from A to B.
I’ve deliberately saved the most breathtaking moment of idiocy in these episodes for last, as episode 23 ends with Strelizia transforming into a GIANT ZERO TWO IN SPACE. Oh and it also looks like she’s wearing an enormous robotic wedding dress…for some reason. It’s an incredibly bizarre visual which comes out of absolutely nowhere, and feels totally at odds with the established tone of the show. FRANXX has always been the very softest of soft sci-fi, but it’s never ventured into the full on super-robot realm of ‘this is literally magic’ and yet suddenly here we are. Was this the designer’s idea of an amazing ultimate form to conduct the final battle with? If so they’re in space themselves, further away from humanity than even Hiro and Zero Two are about to be. Oh and incidentally, they’re going to do it alone, since obviously we have to have our perfect battle couple take the glory, and leave every other character in the dust where, if we’re being honest, they’ve been all along. Next week we’ll make it to the final battle/wedding/whatever and our long nightmare will hopefully be over.
- It’s somehow not clear if VIRM actually did absorb the souls of all the adults. If they did, why didn’t they take the two Nanas and Hachi? And why did Dr FRANXX apparently keep a complete database of their memories kicking about?
- On the same note, it’s not really clear why APE felt the need to keep all the rejected Parasites in cold storage.
- Aside from now having white hair, Ikuno seems absolutely fine.
- What’s even stupider about Kokoro not being able to pilot while pregnant is the plot point a few episodes back about how FRANXX pilots have to be reproductively capable. You can’t get much more capable than being pregnant!
- The entire plot about the dead soil and Mistelteinn seems like complete filler, which is odd when other major aspects clearly need more time. The beach episode also showed earth is clearly capable of supporting considerable vegetation in the right area.
- Giant space Zero Two even has makeup!
- Both of these episodes are pretty visually underwhelming, which is in stark contrast to some of the other major battles we’ve seen, and doesn’t bode well for the finale. The occasional framerate drops are particularly nasty.
- While I’ve regularly knocked FRANXX for its obvious riffs on Evangelion, here it’s Gurren Lagann and Gunbuster/Diebuster which are being blatantly cribbed from.