Darling in the Franxx tells the story of Hiro and Zero Two, two young soldiers who pilot mechs in order to protect humanity from a hostile robot-dinosaur army, called Klaxosaurs. The show is rich with religious allegory in a dystopian human future where gender, identity, and free thought is lost. These two, as part of an experimental unit, defend humanity through the pain of love, lies, promises, and war.
None of our characters actually have names. Each of the featured characters are what the show calls “parasites”. Society has decided that the soldiers that defend cities do not need names, but instead will be given codes. Hiro, otherwise known as Code 016, decided that he was going to name all of the other children when they were younger. The only parasites that use names instead of code are those of Squadron 13, where all of our main characters are from. This is not an exhaustive list of characters because I like to save some for you to explore on your own, but these were some of my favorites.
Before anything else is said, you have to know that the Franxx Mechas are a metaphor for sex. They just are. The jokes are about them “finishing [the neural connection] quickly”, the girls lay bent over in front of the guys, and the guys’ controls come out from the girls’ hips. All pairings are male-to-female and they are referred to as a pistol and stamen positions. Side note for those who forgot their botany, those are the sex organs of a flower. I’ve read a lot of takes about Darling in the Franxx but I am consistently surprised by people not understanding the sexual references… it’s pretty clear for anyone familiar with the implications.
Hiro (Code 016) is considered a genius by parasite standards. The lower the code is, the more aptitude they have for piloting the Franxx. Hiro is originally partnered with a girl named Naomi. Despite Hiro’s low code, Hiro and Naomi can’t quite… get it going… and are therefore expelled from the parasite program. Hiro, for some reason, is granted special permission to stay and he does after a brief encounter with Zero Two. Hiro and Zero Two connect instantly and they are granted temporary status as partners. While Hiro was an emotional leader in the younger days of Squadron 13, his inability to connect to Naomi made him very quiet and pliant. Hiro feels really generic in the beginning. His personality boils down to loyalty, trustworthiness, caring, empathy, and acceptance. He plays a needed foil to Zero Two’s active character.
Zero Two (Code 002) is a pistol, and not just the sexual kind. Zero Two is actually half human and half Klaxosaurs. She consistently “rides” her partners out of their ability to pilot the Franxx. Rumors around her character swirl, aided by the armed procession around her at almost all times. Zero Two takes a particular liking to Hiro and dubs him her “Darling.” Being half human, she struggles to fit in with the rest of the cast when she moves in with them. Beyond that fact that she has little red horns (yes, more Christian iconography), she does not understand the pubescent emotions that fly around Mistilteinn (the parasite home) and struggles with the battle between the human and beast parts of her. For as sexualized as she is in the community, her character is easily the deepest in the show. Her possessiveness of Hiro, trust issues, and outright defiance of authority make her a really fun character so I hope you enjoyed her as much as I did. This is yet another pink haired character that I liked so before anyone tells me this I am well aware that I have a “type”, in anime at least.
Ichigo (Code 015) has blue hair. Any seasoned anime watcher knows what that means: she loses the love competition for the main character. While that joke isn’t always true, it is here. Ichigo is in love with Hiro. It feels like a shame that he looks past her too. She is the Squadron leader, caring, compassionate, responsible, and always willing to help the team. She and Hiro synergize perfectly on the field and she is constantly running overwatch on Zero Two to make sure that Hiro is being treated well. While a lot of her character revolves around Hiro, a deeper look sees a girl who struggled with an identity and loves the man who encouraged her to develop one she could be proud of. Her selfless nature is constantly at war with her personal feelings and a lot of the growth that she sees is sadly in her repressing her own wants for the good of others. While I am not sold on this, I do wonder if she is the show’s icon for women who often place others above themselves, a common and sadly true reality for many women around the world.
Okay, so let’s talk about Kokoro (Code 556). I will hear NO SLANDER about Kokoro. For far too long before watching this show, I had seen memes and posts disparaging this wonderful girl. Seeing all of this, I suspected that she would be guilty of some terrible betrayal, some monumental blunder, literally anything other than her breaking an immature promise, that she clearly didn’t want to make anyways. I can’t help but wonder if the nature of her breaking her promise reflects how a certain subset of males in the community feel disenfranchised by women, not that toxic ideas ever come out in meme form in the anime community hahaha…ha…ha… shit. On a more serious note, I think Kokoro is supposed to be a standard view of femininity given human form. She is regarded as beautiful by all the characters, has long blonde/white hair, and has quite a bit more mature body than the other girls. Her docile nature makes her likable but not remarkable at first. She is the first girl to become interested in having kids, which provides for an interesting subplot that develops the characters quite a bit. Kokoro grows into an interesting character that pushes humanity into a new way of thinking and to ignore the vital role she plays would be a mistake, so keep an eye out for her.
There are several points in peoples’ lives where something is so important to them that it stunts their ability to actually say what they feel. All words feel hollow compared to the pure emotional energy that we wish we could just give someone. Welcome to how I feel about this anime.
I walked into this show wanting to avoid all spoilers. All I knew was that my friend told me that the ending was bad, the anime community online hated Kokoro, and they loved to sexualize Zero Two.
I walked out of Darling in the Franxx feeling emotionally full. I love religious iconography, thematic elements, stories told by other stories, and the feeling of being lost in a story. I was given everything that I love. The characters are so deep, the world is expansive, the pain so real, the love is tangible, the metaphors so on the nose. I felt like you are exploring the world alongside the characters. You are discovering the characters as they discover themselves. This show was so good that what I normally break up into two or three watch sessions, I did in one day. My dogs got mad at me because I forgot to feed them twice and forced them to wait until the end of the episode. This show made me forget to feed my dogs, twice. Let that sink in. 6/6
I cannot discuss any of the wonderful ideas in the show without spoilers. If you are interested in watching this show without spoilers, know that I gave it a 6/6 for ideas and ignore this section.
Low hanging fruit as far as the ideas go, but I love the Franxx for being a metaphor for sex, compatability, and sexuality. Over the course of the entire show, Squadron 13 routinely tests what is acceptable for humans to do. Why is it okay to connect through the Franxx but not on a physical or emotional level? Why are all of the Franxx pistol-to-stamen connections? Do people have simple aptitudes for compatibility, or can the right pairing bring out the best in someone? These are questions that we have been asking for a while as a society but are revisited in terms of humanity starting from a point of zero emotional maturity. So while the questions themselves may not seem new, seeing them asked “for the first time” in the show is intriguing.
Adam and Eve is where humanity started. One man willing to follow and one woman willing to disobey. Given humanity is already established and advanced so far, I can see someone disputing the analogy, but we need to think about humanity differently. Is a society with no community human? Is a society that no longer reproduces human? Is a society that gets all of their emotions and vitality from chemicals injected into their bodies human? If we establish that the society no longer consists of humans, Zero Two and Hiro are the two leading the real humanity (Squadron 13) out into the world, leaving the garden. Both literally out of the place they were born, The Garden, and from comfort that the false humanity afforded them, into a more tumultuous life. This mirrors the story of the Garden of Eden. If we add the fact that Hiro and Zero Two have hair colors matching the popular gender denominations, I feel pretty safe in saying that these two are supposed to represent Adam and Eve for a new humanity.
So I mentioned that Zero Two was half Klaxosaurs and half human, as well as that she is the Eve of the new generation. It only makes sense that our new Eve would struggle with “the beast” even if it is inside her. I don’t have a sincere, deep, analysis on this but the connection made me so excited that I had to talk about it. When thought about in a Christian context, how all people struggle with sin, it feels like such a nice touch to have a character literally struggle with being part beast.
My atheist friend, Lucas, told me that the end of Darling in the Franxx was terrible. He would be right, if this show was made for atheists. But it’s not, so that sucks for him! The ending is actually a perfect analogy for Christ dying on the cross. Bear with me for a second. Zero Two and Hiro become one being, occupying a giant mecha that was created as the ultimate weapon. They fly into space to kill the final enemies, sacrificing themselves for the rebirth of humanity to be completed. The beauty of how the mech played this role, as well as the emotional value of both characters giving up their ability to exist in an earthy manner, was so reminiscent of Christ dying for the sins of man that I was close to having tears in my eyes. Not only does the act have a profound value for me as a Christian, but the emotional value that the story gains by sacrificing its two most loved characters for the importance of humanity’s rebirth amplifies all of the emotions that were built up over the course of the show. 6/6
Darling in the Franxx has to do a lot of things. They are telling a story on a metaphorical level, they are developing a deep cast, they are trying to tell a surface-level story about what is happening to our characters, and they are trying to tell a grander story of human politics. If a random writer mailed me a script and said they were trying to do all of these, I would roll my eyes and pour a glass of wine far too tall before I even consider reading it. Darling in the Franxx did it flawlessly. Every point in the show felt important to the story while being unique and attention-grabbing. The show avoids all the common pitfalls of shoving too much lore into the mouths of viewers, having too much political dialog without actions that result, and character interactions that mean nothing later in the show. By avoiding the pitfalls, there became clear points in which I was able to see the themes and ideas of the show. By episode three I was snickering to myself about the Franxx being a metaphor for sex. By episode ten I was pretty certain that Mistilteinn was supposed to be the Garden of Eden. By the last episode I was jumping up and down certain that all of my religious wonderings were in fact true. Seeing the pieces fall into place was like watching a skilled painter create a masterpiece stroke by stroke until you step back and realize the whole piece came together right before your very eyes. 4/4
Darling in the Franxx gave off two subtly different styles of animation. First, there is the over the top, bright, and flashy style that comes when mechs fight the attacking Klaxosaurs. While the mecha genre doesn’t speak to me personally, the style settles in nicely next to the other scenes. The mechs looked and felt less like robots fighting zombie robot dinosaurs and more like humanistic beings flashing across the screen and lighting up the skyline with explosions. The colors and style of mechs feel like we fired up the good old time traveling Delorean, took a quick stop in the late nineties, grabbed a color palette from Home Depot and came back to make an anime with it. Yet, it works. Compared to the barren wasteland that is the world, these colors pop well and prove interesting.
The second style takes a hammer to the windshield of that same Delorean, puts on their black suit with a slim white tie, slicks back their hair and hops on their Macbook. The wide panning shots are replaced with close and medium shots of faces, emotions, and cinematic views of what they call “the birdcage.” Then, like a foul ball smacking that one girl texting from a baseball game, the show goes into ultra-cinematic mode. Black bars sandwich the screen and you feel like you are somewhere between a James Bond movie and the steamy floor sex scene in The Notebook. These scenes really take the cake, the icing, and the sprinkles that no one asked for. I remember vividly a scene where Zero Two and Hiro are walking together under the cherry blossoms, and as the bars encroach the screen, I am right there with them. No hungry dog staring at me or low battery notification could tear me away from this moment. While the detailing in Darling in the Franxx is never great, the coloring and the facial expressions rope you in further than faster than you realize.
Now I have to justify my score. While I loved the closer cinematic shots, the medium shots lacked detail. Normally I can look past these issues, but I loved this show so much that when I saw these imperfect shots, I was disappointed. I even mentioned to a friend that if I could change anything about the show, I would have them go back and add more detail to the medium shots. Fingers crossed that this is in a remastered version that will come out on the tenth anniversary. 3/4
Darling in the Franxx has secured the easiest three points I have ever given for worldbuilding. The show smartly and slyly gives the view of a barren world, the walking cities called “Plantations,” and Mistilteinn as our main characters are introduced.
Anyone who has read articles of mine before knows that when I see a boring landscape, I simply sigh, pull out my review pistol, and casually shoot the world score in the head. This world is not boring — it is intentionally barren. If you think of the Grand Canyon and then expand it over the entire world, that is what we are dealing with. “Marshal, how could that possibly be interesting? It sounds like a cop out.” Oh, you would certainly think that, my dear reader. Yet, you are wrong. The world has decayed to provide contrast for later scenes, to set the stage for the explanation of how humanity ruined the ecosystem, and how they ended up in walking cities.
Our characters live in a section of Plantation 13 called Mistilteinn. These cities are cold, industrial, and feel largely uninhabited. They feel lifeless because they are. Crazy how that works, huh? Humanity has progressed past the point for hustle and bustle. Transportation has reached a peak, food consumption has reached a peak, and entertainment has been reduced to hormone injections. How could a city feel alive when the sounds, sights, and smells have all been optimized away.
Mistilteinn is like a cross between a co-ed boarding school, summer camp, and military barracks. All of the parasites in Squad 13 live here. What is striking about this area is how different it is than any other area. There is grass everywhere, there are cherry blossom trees, and there is fresh water. Mistilteinn lives up to its nickname, the Birdcage, because it feels like a separate world. It truly has a magic of its own that I cannot describe to you.
The Garden, for those following the religious theme, is no Eden. This is a lab where all the parasites are raised, dehumanized, and weeded out. The Garden feels like the source of all the emotional evil in the world of our characters. We revisit The Garden several times to explore the origin of how the people in charge manipulate memories, train humans to be genderless, and dispose of parasites that fail their tests. What is religiously referred to as the home of God and the most sacred place in history is portrayed in a twisted parody.
The depth of the locations combined with the tones that they provided and how they played into the religious allegories really solidified Darling In The Franxx in the upper tier of worldbuilding. 3/3
I am going to tell you something very personal and secret: this is my least favorite section to write. I had a class at my university titled “History of Jazz.” Me, being an orchestra person for all of two years, though to myself, “Oh, history. You can do that.” No, I could not. We had to identify instruments, describe syncopations and rhythms, and classify them by era. Every time I get to this section, I get shivers and sunspots in my eyes from my former professor’s bald head. Now that you know the pain I endure during this section, let me attempt to apply anything I learned from that class.
Like pretty much anything else in Darling in the Franxx, the music is thematic. Hiro and Zero Two walking through the forest talking? Cheery piano and what sounds like a harp. General dialog? Slap on some soft piano and violin. The creepy senate guys on the screen? All of a sudden you feel like you are back in 2007 playing Halo 3 the way those indistinguishable vocals are singing in the background. Finally, hype scenes with those classic drums and synth-laden strings and horns are thrown in there for special bad guys.
Overall, I liked the music a lot. Everything felt purposeful. The show knew how it wanted you to feel and it had music to make you feel that way. I could see this score being played as a concert piece at my local performance hall. It added to every mood and every situation.
The only complaint I had is the opening song. It just felt… lame. Normally you get a super exciting opener for a show like this, but the mood was so mellow that it really clashed with the feeling of the show for me. When we get to a point that we are this picky, however, we know we have a solid show. 2/3
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||6||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||6||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||6||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||4||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||3||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||3||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||2||3|
Darling in the Franxx is on a short list of must watch anime. I care so deeply about this anime, that I would dare not watch it with anyone else for fear of their disapproval hurting our relationship. The characters and the ideas that they represent, cinematic scenes and fantastic colors, rich idea base and Christian symbolism, and immaculate pacing all just exemplify what quality anime can and should be. This show has earned the highest rating to date and has done so deservingly.