Review for DARLING in the FRANXX - Part One
I never saw the series of Darling in the Franxx when it was streamed, but I did see the key art, albeit without any text proclaiming what show it was from. I saw a girl who looked a little like Haruko, a boy who looked like a grown up Naota and a robot that looked a little like Canti, and decided that I was looking at an image from the FLCL sequel. It turns out that it’s not as much of a stretch as you might think, as one of the production companies behind Darling in the Franxx is Studio Trigger, who was born from Studio Gainax who produced FLCL. I’m going into this show relatively blind, but I hope someone gets clouted over the head with an electric guitar.
It’s the future, the world is a desolate wasteland, and the survivors of humanity live in mobile sealed cities called Plantations. The causes of this devastation are the Klaxosaurs, vast and varied creatures that attack the cities in order to feed off the magma energy that is humanity’s primary power source. To fight the Klaxosaurs, mankind has the Franxx robots, machines that are piloted by children, girls and boys in tandem, selected and trained for their psychological compatibility.
As this story commences, one prospective pilot, Hiro is due to be washed out of his team after failing to connect with his co-pilot. But then a special Franxx and its pilots arrive in Plantation 13. The Strelitizia girl pilot is Zero Two, and she has a reputation of rampaging on the battlefield, and sucking her male co-pilots dry after just a handful of missions. A Klaxosaur attack leads to Hiro serving as co-pilot on an emergency mission, and it turns out that he might just be compatible with Zero Two; he might just be her darling.
The first twelve episodes of Darling in the Franxx are presented across two Blu-rays from Manga Entertainment.
1. Alone and Lonesome
2. What it Means to Connect
3. Fighting Puppet
4. Flip Flap
5. Your Thorn, My Badge
6. DARLING in the FRANXX
7. Shooting Star Moratorium
8. Boys X Girls
9. Triangle Bomb
10. The City of Eternity
11. Partner Shuffle
12. The Garden Where It All Began
Darling in the Franxx gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. The image is clear and sharp, the animation comes across smoothly and digital banding is kept to a minimum. I know Studio Trigger for Kill La Kill, Kiznaiver, and When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace, although I have more experience with Gainax, from who Trigger was begat. I expect wild and free-spirited animation from them, but Darling in the Franxx is somewhat restrained in comparison to something like Kill la Kill. The character designs are familiar (I’ve mentioned the FLCL similarity), well designed and memorable, and the world design is detailed, although the giant robots are a little on the bizarre side. The action sequences can be intense, but the Klaxosaurs have a sense of uniformity to them, in terms of colour and style, if not in design. The show looks good, and the Blu-rays do a decent job in bringing it across.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Japanese with subtitles and signs locked during playback. I was happy with the Japanese audio and didn’t try the dub this time. The dialogue is clear, the subtitles accurately timed and free of typos, and there are no problems with glitches and the like, The stereo is good enough to bring across the action sequences with sufficient impact, and the music drives the emotion of the story well.
The discs present the content with static menus.
Disc 1 autoplays a trailer for Funimation NOW, and the first episode gets a translated English credit reel after the episode ends.
There is an audio commentary on episode 6 with Austin Tindle (Goro), Brittany Lauda (Ichigo), Matt Shipman (Hiro), Tia Ballard (Zero Two), and Bryn Apprill (Miku).
Disc 2 offers a video commentary on episode 12, a picture in picture affair with ADR Director Clifford Chapin, Tia Ballard and Matt Shipman.
You get 6:20 of web previews for the show, the textless opening with player locked lyric subtitles, and most to my taste, some Japanese extra features in the form of the three Pre-Broadcast Specials. These run to a total of 24:04.
The usual response to a new anime in a well populated genre is to ask just why it was made. Now in the world of teenagers piloting giant robots in post-apocalyptic scenarios, Darling in the Franxx is hardly breaking any new ground. It’s very obviously playing in Neon Genesis Evangelion’s playpen; its tandem pilots in each robot harks back to Aquarion, and the coolness of the robot designs; anthropomorphised faces reflecting the pilots’ emotions is highly reminiscent of Gurren Lagann. But the thing of it is, Darling in the Franxx is very good at what it does, is watchable and entertaining, and if it gets it right over its run, might be memorable enough to be a future classic.
It’s the future, mankind started harnessing magma energy, and with that came the Klaxosaurs, attacking humanity for the energy. So it is that man retreated to mobile cities called Plantations, sealed off from the world, but focussed targets for the Klaxosaurs. To defend against the gargantuan beasts, children are recruited to pilot the Franxx robots in battle against them. Trained from a young age in crèches, they are raised according to their ability to attune to each other and the Franxxes. For the robots can only be piloted by male and female pilots working in tandem, the girls linked to the robots, and the boys directing the battle.
At the start of this collection, Hiro is about to wash out of his squad when he encounters the oddball maverick pilot Zero Two. She’s violent and rampant during the battles, gives no quarter, and has a reputation of killing her male co-pilots, leaving them drained of their life-force. Her appearance is odd too, with elongated canines and a pair of horns on her head. Against all expectations, Hiro is able to pilot with her and stay alive; indeed retain his awareness to actually work in partnership with her instead of just getting lost in her bloodlust.
They should be a perfect match, were it not for Hiro’s squad. Let’s face it, Darling in the Franxx is all about sex. It’s not even a euphemism or metaphor in this story. The piloting position can crassly be described as ‘doggy style’, with the girls lying prone, face down, plugged into the robot, with the robot joysticks extending from their hips, requiring the male pilot to get up close and personal. Hiro’s squad is an experimental unit at that, where the adults are trying to increase efficiency by promoting and encouraging relationships between teenagers all going through puberty, instead of trying to limit emotional conflict for more uniform responses as in the other squads.
Piloting the robots then coincides with first love, and as with most young teens, not everyone pairs up with their perfect significant other. There is conflict and jealousy, antagonism and angst galore, and plenty of opportunity for fans to ‘ship’ their favourite pairings. Apparently this was some cause for controversy when the show aired and the creators went a different way to fan expectations. The characters are well written, interesting and the show’s set up makes it easy to invest in them.
On top of all this, there is the world of Darling in the Franxx, which is unrecognisable from our own. The delineation between adult and child is much different, and there are secrets withheld from the children that point to dark conspiracies, not helped by the veiled APE group controlling them from the shadows, a group I’ve taken to calling NOT-NERV as to the obvious parallels to Evangelion. There are some revelations as we get to the midpoint of the series which adds dimension and shade to the story in a very interesting way, and it makes me look forward to what Part 2 will bring us.