Darling In The FranXX Part 1 (Episodes 1-12) (Cert 15)

2 Discs DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 290 minutes approx

Release Date: May 27th       

A post-apocalyptic world is under threat from invading aliens and the only line of defence is a fleet of Mecha piloted by a group of plucky teens. And the opening credits of this show boast the legend “Original story by…”

Making things even worse is the fact these mecha work best when piloted by duos with one of each gender, their ability to connect with one another providing the mecha with its core strength and power. Oh, and did I mention that the female pilot assumes the position of being on all fours whilst the male is sat directly behind her?

Probably the biggest problem with Darling In The FranXX, an original anime series made by a coalition of top tier talent – is its basic premise and tawdry ingredients make it a hard sell for anyone tired of the same old Mecha plot or the unnecessary sexualisation of a popular genre to gain a wider audience, because look beneath the surface of this rot and there is actually an astute and deep coming-of-age sci-fi drama to be found.

In the distant future, attacks from alien beings called Klaxosaurs have forced humankind to hide inside fortified mobile cities called Plantations. Fending off the Klaxosaurs are giant Mecha robots called Franxx, named after their creator. As procreation is a long forgotten practice, children known as Parasites are genetically created to become Franxx pilots, the males known as Stamens and the girls as Pistils.

One young lad named Hiro aka Code 016 plans on leaving the training academy when he cannot connect with his co-pilot Naomi thought she knows better and sacrifices her spot for him. Hiro then meets a young girl with horns on her head swimming in the lake. She pounces on Hiro and immediately feels a spark between them, declaring to make him her “Darling”.

As it turns out, this girl is Code 002”, known hereafter as Zero Two, the famed Partner Killer – a skilled Franxx pilot with Klaxosaur blood who is so powerful no male has ever lasted more than three mission as her partner. Yet there is a frisson between Hiro and Zero Two that is more natural – and with Hiro’s memory wiped as a child, something about Zero Two ignites long dormant flashes of his past.

Written by director Atsushi Nishigori and Naotaka Hayashi, who spearheaded this joint co-production with Studio Trigger and CloverWorks, the story gradually reveals itself as a tale of sexual awakening amongst pubescent teens but not in the traditional sense. There is a tragedy surrounding the kids as they are know their sole purpose is to protect the earth and are expected to die trying, robbing them of the opportunity of living a full life like the adults who control them.

Because of this, they have been raised not to ask too many questions and in being kept away from the comfortable existence of the adults, have nothing but their own lives on the Plantations as their sole take on life. This suggests a narrative that isn’t new to sci-fi anime with a dystopian theme in reflecting the state of modern Japanese youth and their fears for the future in a stagnant nation, and indeed, an uncertain world.

Generally the kids are cheerful enough and take pride in being defenders of the Earth but like all children they are inquisitive and the arrival of Zero Two and her capricious and outrageous behaviour, especially openly flirting with Hiro, exacerbates the curiosity within them and soon their feelings of love, lust, a fate begin to bubble within them.

At the moment, they are just concepts they’ve heard of read about but only adults know, leaving to question why it is they are being denied the right to grow up. But it starts to become real and as troublesome as she is, Zero Two is the catalyst for turning these young kamikaze pilots into emotionally rounded young adults who wish to hold onto their lives.

The seeds of a romantic melodrama have already been planted early – Hiro is adored by a girl named Ichigo but they don’t connect in their Mecha which leads to jealousy when Zero Two arrives. Meanwhile, Ichigo’s co-pilot Goro has been in love with her for many years staying quite because of her love for Hiro. It sounds trite, but in fact, it is handled with maturity, bringing out the best in the characters and makes for a compelling subplot.

Plenty of bawdy comedy with needless fan service is supplied for those who don’t like their drama too schmaltzy, though the sexual metaphors attendant during the piloting scenes do feel gratuitous and not as clever as they might think they are. It is this odd dichotomy of sleaze and sentimentality that has made this a polarising series mostly to its detriment in starting off with the former before evolving into the latter.  

Like any other Mecha series, obvious Evangelion reference points pop up regularly, from Zero Two’s red outfit to the basic storyline premise itself, but Nishigori adds enough of his own ideas to avoid being dismissed as the latest EVA clone. One distinct area is in the mecha designs which, because of Nishigori’s history with music Idol shows, take on a feminine form, complete with expressive girly faces and moving mouths for the dialogue exchanges.

With two studios handling the production, there is a distinct difference between the detailed backgrounds and the slightly loose character designs, though it’s easy to acclimatise to this aesthetic. The battle sequences, mostly perfunctory and transitional in keeping the story moving, are frenetic and scrappy but never dull.

Darling In The FranXX volume one ends on a cliffhanger note teasing a reveal about the truth about Zero Two and Hiro. It is advised to bear with the awkward first few episodes as it redeems itself as it progresses, making the wait for part two surprisingly frustrating for a show that should have failed from the start.

 

Extras:

English Language 5.1 True HD

Japanese Language 2.0 True HD

English Subtitles

Disc 1:

Episode 6 Commentary

Disc 2:

Episode 12 Video Commentary

Web Previews

Textless Opening Song – “KISS OF DEATH”

Pre-broadcast Special Parts 1-3

 

Rating – *** ½  

Man In Black

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