Darling in the FranXX feels more like a novel than an anime; it’s surreal how the story unfolds and how the exposition is handled, making it highly unique to most anime, especially true of the mecha genre.
This beautiful show is a collaboration project between studios A-1 Pictures and TRIGGER, which are both highly accomplished studios who lean more towards 2D animation and keep CG effects to a minimum, opting for a more hand-drawn aesthetic.
The overall idea in episode one is made fairly clear of humanity being on some sort of backpedal and in danger, but nothing specific is shown. Episode one starts off very peculiar with a girl in a forest surrounded by monsters, resembling an old Japanese horror story from the Shogun. This is followed up by a long metaphor involving birds and codependency, whereafter we meet Hiro, a boy wandering a small forest deep in thought.
Nothing about Hiro is made clear except for the fact that he is an outsider of the group he belonged to. Meeting new characters continues in a brief fashion with no clear direction of who means what in the story until Zero Two breaks away from her entourage in search of a swim, and meets Hiro. There is a big focus on indirect storytelling in regards to building characters and only within episode two and three do we see development involving certain events happening.
Slowly, we as an audience begin to understand that there is a very specific power structure in humanity surviving this world, not only from what’s presented visually but the language used. Pilots are called parasites, the mechs are called FranXX, and facilities are often referred to as bird cages or nests linking back to the initial metaphor of the bird. In episode two, we see the leader of this new society is referred to as “Papa” and it shows a huge portion of how the dynamic plays out, specifically how the language impacts the first impressions of the story.
Episode two is purely focused on showing off characters; everything from relationships currently to hinting and teasing at past interactions. We also see a very interesting view of two ideas clashing through characters, some favouring the safety of authority and submitting to this authority as payment, while others opt for much higher personal risk in exchange for freedom. Hiro is interesting because as much as he wants to submit to authority through so many variables that seem almost like fate, he just can’t manage as if he is being pushed towards the freedom route by the universe. Characters become uneasy as one gets the sense that things are tense between them all for many reasons, specifically of past interactions that have all built up to now centering around Hiro, and it can become fairly heavy-handed quite quickly.
Episode three further builds on the idea of the previous episode being character-centric, but now that we have a rough idea of who everyone is to some extent, episode three becomes more introspective. It shows nearly how each character’s stance is towards Hiro so that later interactions towards the end of the episode make far more sense. It’s actually incredibly clever because, over the course of episode one, we are alien to these past interactions and are trying to figure things out, but as dramatic irony plays out, we very quickly become privy to information that characters aren’t.
Episode three also expands a bit more on the threat standing against humanity in regards to what triggers it, but not the origin, so there is still so much left to be explained.
One pet peeve I had was the linking system to pilot the mech. I think it’s highly absurd and so eye-rolling, reminding me of an episode of Abenobashi Shopping Arcade, but one gets over it as the anime doesn’t dwell too much on it. The idea is one that almost gives the mech the ability to move and because the pilots are linked, the remaining pilot handles the maneuvering.
Overall, Darling in the FranXX is shaping up to by my season favourite. It’s not the best of the season because Violet Evergarden is simply going to kill ratings, but this has a special place in my heart thus far.
It's only later that I realised why I love anime and games. It's just how many ways one can express an idea.
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