In the far-distant future, owing to the ruination of the land by beasts known as the Klaxosaurs, the remnants of humanity have established mobile fort cities known as Plantations. Children within the Plantations are raised and trained in boy-girl pairs to pilot giant mechas known as Franxx, the only weapons known to be effective against the Klaxosaurs. Bred solely for combat, these kids know nothing of the outside world, dedicating their whole lives to battle. Hiro, an aspiring pilot, has lost all confidence and motivation after failing an aptitude test, until he meets a mysterious girl with two horns protruding from her head, who introduces herself as Zero Two. Despite her reputation as the ‘Partner Killer’, Hiro is soon thrust into a battle with Zero Two when the Plantation is attacked, with the duo easily dispatching the Klaxosaur in the ensuing fight. With a new partner by his side, Hiro is given a chance to redeem himself, but what will be the ultimate cost?
Love it or hate it, Darling in the Franxx was all but inescapable in the first few months of 2018. Be it for the actual series itself, the controversial subject matter it touched upon, the unending parade of Zero Two memes that somehow still persist to this day or the rather infamous trainwreck of an ending, Franxx made an impact that year like few others. Now, as the show makes its UK home video debut via Manga Entertainment, I’ll be taking a look at what made the first half of this anime so compelling to so many people.
Way back when, in the year 2016, the fledgling studio Trigger put out their third full-length anime Kiznaiver. Although imperfect, the Mari Okada-penned series definitely had its moments, and the concepts presented seemed ripe for expansion, which feels like exactly what Trigger ended up doing here. Although it lacks Okada behind the script, in many ways Franxx is somewhat of a spiritual evolution of the ideas first seen in Kiznaiver, as we see a group of teens coming of age and depending on their connections with one another for survival. Although there are definitely similarities, I’d argue that Franxx, at least in its first half, ends up the better executed of the two. Having all of the characters in pairs as part of the plot is a great move right from the off, as it doesn’t leave any of the cast feeling out of place or with little to do, with each pairing having their own unique dynamic. The characters themselves also feel fairly varied, even if none of them are that unique, and the portrayal of the teens seems at least somewhat based in reality, with most people probably being able to relate to the angst of teen romance, even if you probably can’t relate to fighting monsters inside of giant robots.
The only real issue I have on the character front is the lead, Hiro. He definitely falls on the bland end of the spectrum, even if he isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen, which is rather unfortunate but a common pitfall many anime seem to run into. Having Zero Two come out of nowhere and essentially fix all of his issues comes very close to the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope common in a lot of Western cinema, as she essentially seems to devote her entire existence to Hiro, almost entirely on a dime, within minutes of meeting him. This is somewhat justified in the series’ second half, which I watched while it was simulcasting, but that doesn’t make their relationship here any less jarring.
As you might expect with comparisons to something like Kiznaiver, the story in Darling in the Franxx definitely takes a back seat to the characters. Granted, it isn’t non-existent, and you do get a fair amount of well animated action thrown into just about every episode, but it clearly isn’t the focus. Instead, Franxx opts for subtle world building in its early episodes, slowly revealing more about humanity’s past in small ways, and sowing the seeds for the things to come in the second half. Honestly, I didn’t mind this at all, despite the fact it feels a little bit slow in places; the way it builds the lore of this universe is incredibly well done, so I can’t really fault it much at all.
A collaboration between anime studios Trigger (Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia, Space Patrol Luluco) and Cloverworks (Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, The Promised Neverland, Persona 5: The Animation) Darling in the Franxx is a halfway house between the two studios’ styles. Stylistically, it does at least look like a Trigger production, and with director Atsushi Nishigori at the helm, it comes as no surprise, as he worked on both Kill la Kill and When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace, as well as a number of Gainax shows too. However I found the animation to be lacking the fluidity and charm that in-house Trigger series have, which I can only put down to the involvement of Cloverworks. It isn’t bad by any stretch, but anyone wanting something that feels like a Trigger anime might just be out of luck.
Darling in the Franxx Part 1 comes with both the original Japanese audio track as well as a dub produced by Funimation, and, as per usual, while nothing amazing, the dub cast do more than a good enough job, with a cast largely consisting of staples of the Funimation voice actor stable. Among the voice actors are Matt Shipman (Gosick, My Hero Academia), Tia Ballard (Fairy Tail, Little Busters), Brittany Lauda (Made in Abyss, Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody) and Austin Tindle (Assassination Classroom, My Love Story). The score is provided by Asami Tachibana, which much like the dub cast, does its job, even if it isn’t anything outstanding, much unlike the acclaimed opening of the show, ‘Kiss of Death’ by Mika Nakashmia and Hyde of X Japan fame, which is just as excellent as people would have you believe.
With a rather excellent cast of realistic characters, quality world building and a good helping of mecha action to boot, Darling in the Franxx feels as if it could be something great in this excellent first bunch of episodes.