DARLING in the FRANXX Ep. 1: Same-same, but different

Maybe it’s because I haven’t sat down and forced myself to watch a mecha anime in years. Maybe it’s because up until last September I had taken a two-year break from anime and blogging altogether. Either way, I’m excited for this anime. It feels so old and familiar — like an old, out-of-style coat I used to wear in college — and yet I’ve missed it so. People who’ve continued to frequent Moe Sucks despite all my hiatuses might say that I’ve gotten really sentimental in my old age. I suppose some of the edge has worn off. After all, I cringed when the old man sexually assaulted that woman, but I didn’t bat an eyelash at our hero — aptly named Hiro — seeing Zero-Two naked for their first ever encounter. To be sure, the guy is always safe and bland. And yet, hidden beneath that vanilla shell of his lies infinite potential. Naturally, the girl is mysterious and exotic, a horned demon with klaxosaur blood running through her veins. She’s wild and untamed; her partners can barely survive an encounter with her. But our bog standard hero can. Of course he can. And together, they will accomplish something special.

When a serious threat shows up at the designated time — some black and blue mechanical-looking beast known as a klaxosaur — and threatens to wreak havoc at the opening ceremony, Zero-Two casts aside her used up partner to continue going at it solo. For the poor sap, the mind is willing but the flesh is weak. Besides, the girl claims that she’s used to being alone. Seizing the opportunity that will never come again in a million years, Hiro steps into his destiny and offers himself up to the notorious “Partner Killer.” Finding a kindred soul in the boy, Zero-Two is all too willing to pull him into her cockpit. What happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors for now. In a disembodied voice, Hiro confesses later that he can’t even remember what happened after he and Zero-Two shared a kiss. But we can assume. After the Faustian bargain has been consummated, the FranXX unlocks its true form as Strelizia. Even a foreboding track full of ethereal chanting kicks in to herald our Iron Maiden’s entrance. Every single story beat thus far has been lifted right out of the tried-and-tested mecha anime handbook. It’s all terribly trite, isn’t it?

You can wrap it all up in a shiny Trigger shell, throw in a dash of A-1 Pictures’ production values, but a mecha anime is still a mecha anime. It’s a different animal, but the same beast. And yet, I’ve missed this feeling. I’m looking forward to the next episode.

Notes & observations:

— These mechas require both male and female pilots in order to operate them. That’s oddly traditional for 2018. The whole thing with the Jian, a bird that only has one eye and one wing, is kinda pretentious, but I can’t help but chuckle at it. It’s like if they somehow link this to Chinese mythology, it’ll lend weight to the show’s premise.

— I don’t know what’s going on here, but it looks cool as hell. For this scene, our heroine appears to have long horns, red skin, and blue blood. Maybe this is her true form. We later see her with shorter horns and a relatively normal appearance. I wonder how far we’ll have to get into the series before her true form shows up again.

— The dialogue is tinged with sex. Zero-Two’s current partner isn’t just bruised and battered. He’s “drained.” That’s not how you typically describe an injured person.

— Plantation 13, huh? I wonder how many Plantations there are. Where are they, anyway? Is it a different planet? Has Earth been destroyed or discarded?

— Zero-Two hates how she tastes. Is it because she’s in need of a bath? Or is it because her partner can’t keep up with her and she still feels lonely.

— These man-made biomes seem lush enough. But it’s clear that this is a prison. The bird’s instinct is to fly free, but it can only hurt itself. This is decent visual storytelling. As an aside, I wouldn’t think flying into a window would shed that much blood…

— “Oh, found one.” Her potential new partner… or the ocean that she was previously asking for? Probably the latter, but I can’t help but wonder if it might be the former. When they later meet, it doesn’t feel as though she’s surprised by his sudden appearance.

— Those are some odd socks.

— Hiro’s backstory isn’t too extensive. These kids are plucked from an orphanage to become parasites, and they’ve been given the “honor” of becoming soldiers. Per anime convention, only kids can protect us from evil. Unfortunately, Hiro and his partner Naomi failed their last test, so they can’t become pilots. Even though he’s allowed to stick around, he insists on eventually leaving the Plantation. In the meantime, he’s isolated himself from his friends. Ichigo calls him an idiot, so she’s probably the childhood best friend who gets to lose out to Zero-Two. Well, she’s partnered with someone else anyway, so what does it matter?

This reminds me of something organic, but I can’t quite recall it… Regardless, maintenance must be a bitch. But this is the future, so everything’s probably automated.

— “…that test case…” They’d never tell us what they’re talking about in the first episode. At least this anime doesn’t feel as deliberately opaque as some of its predecessors.

— Never once have I nonchalantly picked up a pair of a stranger’s panties. Never once have I seen someone swimming so casually then automatically assumed that they’re drowning after just five seconds of them disappearing from eyesight. But how else would we get this shot?

— I’m sure that’s all that is alluring about her.

— Poor fish gets bitten then thrown back into the lake.

— Zero-Two: “And here I thought you were dead.” Huh, why would she think that?

— Oceans don’t seem to exist anymore. They seem to be things you can only read about, hence the line about oceans being salty.

— It’s anime. We are all. Even the audience.

— I thought she was going to point at his erection or something, but I forget that boys don’t get erections in anime.

— I don’t love Zero-Two’s character yet or anything, but I’m thankful for the fact that she didn’t blush, scream and slap the guy for seeing her naked. In fact, she’s quite friendly. Typically, you’d get a stand-offish and arrogant character who looks down on everyone. Maybe it’s because she’s lonely, but Zero-Two seems willing to take charge and go for what she wants. She isn’t some tsunderekko stammering at the hero because this situation is just so embarrassing~. No need to tackle the guy and lick him randomly, but I suppose it could’ve been much worse.

— Referring to a kiss, she says, “Oh, you guys don’t know, huh? It’s a very special thing.” Do people not commonly kiss anymore in the future?

— Boku, boku, boku.

— She makes a big deal about the fact that her horns don’t scare him, but really, they’re so tiny, I wouldn’t have really paid any attention to them had she not pointed them out.

— His ability lies dormant, huh? But she can unlock them? And she has horns? Why do I feel like he’s making a Faustian bargain?

— Zero-Two’s injured partner: “She’s not the kind of pistil that just anyone can handle.” Clearly not you.

— Hiro: “Kimi no namae wa?” That reminds me I still need to polish up that post.

— Apparently, these kids are born and raised without name. So where did Hiro’s name come from?

— Hiro: “I’m all too aware that a flightless bird has nowhere to go.” Yeah, suck it penguins. Suck it, ostriches. Suck it–…

— The CGI here sticks out too much.

— “Look at all those adults.” “Yeah, they’re all here to see us.” I wonder if there are children in the audience. I can’t even tell if there are both men and women in the audience. Are children rare in this world? Are they created in some unnatural fashion?

— Is this guy “Papa”?

— Hiro: “Children that aren’t fit for that purpose have no value.” So what happens to them? Kids apparently disappear from the orphanage all the time. What are they doing to these kids? Harvesting their organs? Turning them into food? How does society maintain itself without children to become adults? Or have they perhaps unlocked the secrets to immortality?

— Hiro chooses to leave even though this seems to imply certain death. We’re told that parasites never return home. It doesn’t appear Naomi was offered to stay like Hiro, because she would’ve stayed if she was. She accuses him of always trying to run away. This accusation includes her. Did they fail their test because he rejected her as his partner on some level?

— Naomi: “You know, I really like this name you gave me.” Huh, he names them. And he decided to call himself the hero?

— Why are the kids parasites if the rest of humanity depends on them for survival?

— Oh no, they flickered. Are they even real?

— Rest in peace, Naomi. We hardly knew ye…

— If there’s one thing I’m not excited about, it’s the klaxosaur. There’s nothing particularly cool or interesting about them… yet. For now, the anime’s biggest threat lacks much of a personality. I don’t know who’s the primary antagonist is going to be, but I bet it’s not these guys.

— It’s a moho-class, whatever that means.

— Man, Ichigo would’ve eaten it if Zero-Two hadn’t stepped in. That would’ve been an unceremonious end for the childhood friend.

— “What an ugly sight. Did she devour her stamen again?” Huh? I imagine the “ugly sight” comment refers to the FranXX’s beast-like form. And because she doesn’t appear to have a good affinity with her current partner, she has to “devour” him in some form or fashion? There are rumors floating out there about how she drinks her partners’ blood. Maybe she’s a vampire demon thingamajig.

— Zero-Two wouldn’t try to go it alone if you absolutely can’t pilot a FranXX solo. She’s reckless but not stupid. It can clearly be done even if it’s not optimal.

— Zero-Two: “It’s been a long time since I last saw a human cry.” I don’t know if that means she rarely hangs out with emotional people, or that humanity is just no longer emotional in general.

— The FranXX unlocks its true form once both pilots’ hearts become one. The show almost seems to suggest that we remain beast-like until we join each other in matrimonious union. Considering Japan’s recent troubles, this wouldn’t be a far-fetched interpretation. It is, however, decidedly conservative. A more charitable reading might suggest that humans are social creatures, and as such, we require each other to unlock our true potential. Without each other, we are no different from beasts. But if that’s the case, then you should have the possibility to have more than two pilots in every mecha. No, these mechas only take two pilots, and both male and female factors are required. Again, it’s decidedly conservative, and this is the one aspect of the anime that gives me qualms.

— The action is cool and well animated, but the finishing blow looked like she was pumping gas into her car.

— Blue blood everywhere. Blue blood is often associated with nobility, though. Does that mean anything here?

9 thoughts on “DARLING in the FRANXX Ep. 1: Same-same, but different

  1. Anonymous

    The names come from their numbers. Hiro’s number is 016 iirc, so presumably that’s hi (“hito”, one) + ro (“roku”, six). Naomi is 703, which is na (“nana”, seven), o (presumably 0), and mi (three). There’s also Ichigo, who is presumably ichi (one) + go (five).

  2. Something

    I just assumed it used blue “blood” spurting out of the mechanical looking beasts so it wouldn’t seem like more of an evangelion rip off than it already was. This season is really killing me with these awful main characters. I wish I could be excited for this one since I am a fan of mecha but it felt like a dozen other series(star driver, eva, diebuster…), but with a lamer cast and a not much hook. Zero Two is the most intriguing so far, but looking at the large cast of generic kids I dread the amount of drama time it will waste on them before going anywhere interesting. I guess I was hoping it would be a high energy show like kill la kill only to get a lot of pretentious monologues. Oh those socks suck, too.

  3. sonicsenryaku

    I agree; you have mellowed out over the years but I find that to be a good thing :). According to psychology theories, you’re supposed to develop more perspective and sentimentality as you get older; but yea, getting on topic about the episode. I found it to be an innocuous premiere (which isn’t a bad thing); aside from the stellar animation on display, I can’t really say I care too much about what this series has to offer. The directing, unlike something like violet evergarden, is not disciplined enough to elevate the same, tired mecha tropes that are being used here (Sometimes people underestimate how important directing is to a visual narrative; It’s not that far off from writing in terms of importance); I find it to be just competent.

    I’m an advocate for relying on tropes so as long as they are used to elevate the storytelling, but nothing from this premiere gives me the indication that this will be the case. I need something to satiate my sci-fi mecha fix for this season but you know what, I have no problems waiting two months to get it in the form of Bones’ A.I.C.O (it looks interesting from what the trailers have presented). Ehh, I don’t know; this premiere certainly wasn’t bad but i couldn’t help but feel like there was so many missed opportunities, you know; like the conflict between Hiro and Naomi. There was something interesting brewing there but this premiere played that conflict so straight and bare-boned

  4. Pierre

    I guess someone decided that the heroine had to be horny, but didn’t they exaggerate a bit? ;-)
    Anyway, she sure is the most interesting part of a show that gave me an annoyingly constant sense of deja-vu.


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