After an incredible midseason finale, Darling in the Franxx kept going strong while taking things a bit slower to focus on the character drama. This part of the story has always been the most engaging throughout the entire program, and my hopes were high for the second cour of this fairly divisive show.
Sadly as it reached the conclusion, I became conflicted about the direction the show took. I waited patiently, knowing I wouldn’t have a solid grasp on my feeling towards the show until it was completed. Now that it is, I can safely say that Darling in the Franxx did not live up to the lofty promises that detractors would argue never bore fruit in the first place.
Of course, I will heartily defend the first cour of Darling as a flawed but intriguing character study. Watching the characters discover themselves amidst a world trying to repress and punish the experimentation that comes from adolescence was heartfelt and relatable, while also giving way into unnerving implications as the world was further developed.
The first three episodes after the show’s midseason finale led me to believe that the show was pulling out all the stops in this regard. After the battle in episode 15, the main characters find themselves alone, with limited supplies and barely any contact from the adults. A breeding ground perfect for the type of self-discoveries that both help the cast while putting them in danger with the society they live in. It was Darling at its best.
Front and center was the romance between Mitsuru and Kokoro, an arc which was the vehicle for some pretty scary revelations. The rest of the cast had instances of similarly intriguing development. Futoshi, despite mostly being A) cucked and B) characterized by his weight, was actually given a potentially intriguing bit of characterization in the form of an eating disorder. Sadly, like Ikuno’s coming to terms with her sexuality, not a lot is done with it past the episodes where it is revealed.
Hiro and Zero Two are still a sweet power couple and the storybook plot thread following their relationship, as Zero Two fears her and Hiro’s fate together will end in suffering. Not only that, but Hiro begins slowly undergoing a transformation in line with that prophetic book Zero Two loves and fears so much. It only gets more interesting when hints of Zero Two’s connection to the main villain, the Klaxosaur princess, become evident.
Acting as the chief aggressors to our heroes at this time are the Nines, a group of male pilots who take on the typically female role of Pistil while riding the mechs. I neglected to mention them in my mid-season checkup and power-bottom jokes aside, they at once seemed to be the answer to my questions about the shows sexual themes.
Amidst Kokoro’s discovery of childbirth and the rampant sexual tension throughout the cast, they offered a very collectivist, almost Darwinian view of sexuality. This got my mind racing about the thematic possibilities, not to mention the narrative ones for how the cast would combat such a dystopian treatment of individuality. Sadly, this is where Darling in the Franxx begins to lose me.
Firstly, there was an episode dedicated to explaining Earth’s progression from what we know today into the dystopia seen in Darling and my god it is underwhelming. It is entirely the fault of the episode’s pacing. The whole episode is so densely packed with little time to actually learn about the characters that it hardly stuck in my memory. I suppose I did enjoy Dr. Franks a bit more as a character afterward, but the missed opportunities are too numerous in that episode regardless.
Sadly, all that is nothing compared to what came after, I’m afraid. At the end of episode 20, with only four episodes remaining in the series, Darling reveals a twist that shifts the focus, rather abruptly. A new villain with almost no time to develop and gain any depth is introduced. This summarily robs the previous villain, the Klaxosaur princess, of any chance to have a worthwhile place in the story.
Darling already put itself at a disadvantage when it took until episode 15 to be “half” done. By the time the twist was revealed, they had four episodes remaining! Darling in the Franxx should have been longer or at least paced better. Perhaps as an OVA, this story could have been fleshed out more, but as it is, Darling’s final four episodes are a jumbled mess that doesn’t deliver the themes they could have.
Anyone who read my Mid-season checkup for Darling knows that I saw a lot of similarities to Evangelion. Mostly, how both shows make grand, dark implications towards the show’s more complex themes, and hide it behind a fairly fun first half. However, now it is clear that Trigger seems to emulate Gurren Lagann more so than Eva. They even both had 15 episodes making up their first halves, respectively.
The shift in antagonists is eerily similar to the same change in Lagann’s second half, but Lagann had 11 episodes after the initial 15 to develop the villains, further develop the characters and practically start from scratch after a big time jump in the story. Darling had FOUR and that’s after four episodes already! There was no way we were gonna get a satisfying conclusion to every character arc in the same way that Lagann did.
Granted, the final episode of Darling did impress me on visuals, music and seeing how all of the character drama back on earth wrapped up. I’m also a sucker for seeing the characters after they have aged because their character designs were tight. But then again, Lagann did that too. It’s a shame because I really do like these characters, but the mech action portion of the show just doesn’t live up to its potential.
I don’t think I can readily recommend Darling in the Franxx to anyone who has not already started watching it. If you have, you might find some enjoyment in watching the characters learn to mature and find love, but I don’t recommend this show because it is a lesser product compared to the other shows that do these things better.
The action can be described as Gurren Lagann-lite. Apart from some great designs and visuals towards the end, the action and how it all animates never thrilled me the same way Lagann did. As I’ve stated in previous posts about this show, the mech designs are rather dull in my eyes. Finally, the music is unmemorable and attempts to capture the energy of Hiroyuki Sawano, to no avail.
See, when I watch an Anime like Batman Ninja, I may criticize the missed potential in the narrative or the ridiculousness straining my suspension of disbelief but at least in that film, I was treated to a sensory ride that pleased in all matters technical. As an art piece, not only did it compensate for my qualms, but the animation felt like a step forward for the medium. When I watch Darling, not only does the narrative not deliver, but it is not technically impressive either.
Perhaps that is a bit harsh. I do love the character designs and the way they animate is frequently impressive throughout, but this is a small part of the larger product. As a mech show, Darling has always been wanting and the visual direction that I enjoy was clearly not put to use where it mattered most.
I’d hate to think that Darling’s only thematic drive was to be a subliminal ad for procreation in Japan, but with how little sexuality plays in the main conflict, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure that without the twist, Darling may have potentially turned into a story that we have seen before. I hardly think that a detriment, however. I prefer a derivative that is complete and perhaps thematically so as well, over a work that is unfulfilling and uninspired, all in the name of subversion.
So if you are looking for an inspiring action show that continuously escalates to a galactic scale with a cast of colorful characters, watch Gurren Lagann. If you want to see a bunch of teenage mech pilots suffer and deal with their mental issues while being tortured by the world, watch Evangelion. If you aren’t interested in thematics or dramatic scaling and mainly like character-dynamics with consistently well-animated action, watch Star Driver. After that, if you want to watch likable characters tackle puberty in a dystopian society, and not much else, Darling will be the show to watch.
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Well, I wasn’t expecting to be so negative in this review, but I can’t fight the feeling that we could have had something so much more succinct. Regardless of whether you have been watching with me or following the series from a distance, I hope you enjoyed this review. I’m hoping to put out new posts at least once every other week this summer. Look for a Megalo Box Review as well as my final RWBY review in the coming future. Thanks for reading, and as always, see you next time!