The distant future: Humanity established the mobile fort city, Plantation, upon the ruined wasteland. Within the city were pilot quarters, Mistilteinn, otherwise known as the “Birdcage.” That is where the children live… Their only mission in life was the fight. Their enemies are the mysterious giant organisms known as Kyoryu. The children operate robots known as FRANXX in order to face these still unseen enemies. Among them was a boy who was once called a child prodigy: Code number 016, Hiro. One day, a mysterious girl called Zero Two appears in front of Hiro. “I’ve found you, my Darling.” -Crunchyroll
I have so many concerns, right now? But unlike the Beatless review, I’ll save most of them for later. We’ll call it the goodwill I have for the likes of Studio Trigger. And A-1 Pictures isn’t bad, I guess. Still, I’ve made no secret of my disdain for Mecha anime. Me and this genre just do not have a very amicable history. And so far this anime has done absolutely nothing to convince me it’s going in even a slightly different direction from others of its ilk. But that’s more or less why I’m leaving my issues with the genre out, for now. Because unlike the Beatless case, where the stories in that sub-genre tend to all be beat-for-beat the same, the Mecha sub-genre’s problems tend to be less about repetitive storytelling, and more about other things that wouldn’t really be fair to lay into as an overall criticism.
On its own merits, this first episode of DARLING in the FRANXX was basically awesome. It opens on this bizarre narration about a kind of bird that needs to work with another of its kind in order to fly. It seems like a fairly straightforward analogy of the two lead characters needing to work together in order to succeed. Though this was one of my concerns. It more or less establishes the tone immediately, which now seems like it’s going to be a bit on the heavyhanded side. Sure enough, the episode does linger around that tone for quite a while, with the exception of some levity provided by one of the leads, Zero Two. And speaking of, I like her, but I’d like to know a little more about her. What they’ve established so far is certainly interesting – the reason behind the horns and fangs, as well as her response to the main character not caring about them. She’s been set up fairly well. And the same goes for our other lead, who I’m just gonna call 16.
The world they’ve established is your typical “post-apocalyptic, humans live in huge dome cities” setup. The caveat is that their civilization is… frankly one of those twisted-logic societies I grow weary of seeing. Complete with what I can only assume is corrupt leadership, appallingly stupid societal norms and practices, and trite class system that I guess functions as some sort of meritocracy? Considering that children aren’t recognized unless they regularly throw themselves in front of giant monsters. And, mind you, it’s established that adults can pilot these robots. So their society’s just f–‘d up. If I sound like I’m criticizing it, I’m not. I’m just not painting a pretty picture because it’s not painting a pretty picture. It’s fairly intent on making things seem incredibly bleak. I’m not overly fond of the setup, but it certainly can work and lead to some interesting stories.
The only thing that genuinely annoyed me about the episode was exactly how predictable the scenario leading to the big action set piece was. 16 is a failure, but he’s been given special permission to stay because he used to be a prodigy or something. But he opts to leave, anyway. His partner winds up getting kicked out as well. Of course, this is basically a death sentence. And wouldn’t you know it? That death happens on-screen as the minute her transport leaves the dock, it’s crushed to bits by a giant monster. Thing is, everything about that scene just made me roll my eyes because of how painfully obvious it was. For once it isn’t even the fact that the girl died pointlessly that bothered me. It was that I saw it coming a mile away, and it’s been done better in countless other stories. Also, can I just say that 16 momentarily comes down with a case of “too dumb to live“? There’s a giant robot in front of you. RUN, you idiot!
Anyway, after that, circumstances lead to him getting in the mech with Zero Two, and then… a whole lot of Studio Trigger-ing. Because that action scene, brief as it was, was awesome. If there is one thing I will always trust Studio Trigger with, it’s delivering friggin’ amazing animation, particularly in action scenes.
Though I’m getting a little ahead of myself. When Zero Two and 16 first meet… eh. The scene was fine. I get the impression Zero Two is inspired by Oni. The horns, the obsession with the “taste” of things, the seeming association with the color red, it’s pretty telling. Regardless, the meeting was serviceable. 16 thinks she might be drowning, so he tries to help her. But she’s fine. He proceeds to get all bent out of sorts that she isn’t wearing anything. You know. As one would expect. It’s a fairly stock scene, carried mostly by Zero Two’s quirky response to it all. Generally, in a scene like this, I expect one of two things. Either the girl in question get’s furious, or they absolutely do not care, at all. This one plays to the latter. In very Bakemonogatari fashion, no less, but taken a step or two further. And, honestly, Zero Two needed to respond the way she did in order for the scene to not be eye-roll material. So good call.
As for everything else, I quite like the visual style of the series, not that this is a surprise. The mecha designs are awesome, of course. The monsters look like they’re going to look incredible. Even the designs of individual, lesser characters are pretty cool. There’s this one scientist guy who’s a cyborg, or something, it’s sweet.
Overall, this was a solid first episode. I’m gonna hold off on calling it amazing. It didn’t really surpass any expectations. But it was really friggin’ good, even though I might not sound like it impressed me much. It did. I’m just being incredibly skeptical and cautious with what optimism I have for it. I adore Studio Trigger, but this genre just makes me worry. We’ll see. The animation’s incredible, the style is unmistakable, the leads seem to work well, together, and the world, though bleak, has the potential to not tell a totally pretentious and obnoxious story. All in all, this was one Super Effective first outing. Check it out. Or, if you like your robots more… human-sized, check out my first review of Beatless.
Ironically, my levels of nervousness regarding both shows completely swapped places upon seeing their first episodes. So this season is going to be pretty interesting. Oh, but if you do wanna see some classic giant mech throwdowns, DARLING in the FRANXX is Simulcast on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 12:00pm EST.