With the impending release of Part One of Darling in the Franxx on DVD this May, it was a good time for me to sit down and revisit one of the biggest hits from last year’s anime offerings. This was a divisive show in many circles. On one hand, it has some of the best character interactions to come out of a mecha anime in recent years, a phenomenal voice cast that brings these characters to life, and beautiful animation, both in the fluid, chaotic battles and the tender, muted moments inbetween. There is so much good in this show and so many reasons to sing its praises.
On the other hand, it can be hard to focus on the good when the whole show is less subtle with its sexual imagery than an 80s slasher flick. In order to pilot the mechs (the titular Franxx), male and female teenagers must pair up and “sync up”.
So far, so normal.
Then the female pilot mounts the controls like a racing motorcycle while the male sits behind her in a chair.
Okay. Bit on the nose but whatever. I’m no prude and I’ve got the browser history to prove it.
And then handles come out of the female’s hips that the male uses to steer the mecha.
Fun note: If you are watching this while at home, this is the moment that your parents will inevitably walk in. Even if you don’t live with them anymore. Its like a law or something. ( Lewd anime paranoia. I still get it too! - Ed)
So as we covered in the past, Darling in the Franxx isn’t exactly subtle with its imagery and can be a bit cringey at times, but that becomes something the writers and producers clearly embraced during its run. Obvious jokes about a mech falling over and the pilot “not able to get it back up” are made for cheap laughs and to relieve the tension from the peril the team is often in. Director Clifford Chapin deserves a lot of praise for keeping the tone of the show on the right side of ridiculous while still allowing the cast to have the fun needed to make a show like this work.
Last year, Darling in the Franxx received a lot of praise for the characters within the show, in particular the team of mech pilots and their interactions. There are love triangles abound, including one in which four people are involved, which I think technically makes it a love square (Love Polygon? Love Quadrilateral? - Ed). The show touches on serious topics as the young people at the centre of all the drama try to discover their own sexuality and identity when those concepts are never explicitly explained to them. They even have to discover their own names for themselves, which results in some fantastic puns on Japanese numbers and words, such as someone turning a six sideways and pronouncing it as “no”, which was a touch I only caught on this viewing as my Japanese has improved.
Where the show falls down is the plot. A great number of mysteries are promised to us. What are the Klaxosaurs who threaten the world? Where are the adults? Why is no one talking about how obviously evil Papa is? The episodes on this two-disc set ask a lot of questions, setting up the viewer for the answers to come in the second half of the series. Whether the payoff for that mystery is worth it is a personal opinion, but its hard to deny that the plot is a weakness here.
The DVD has a couple of good special features that are worth checking out. I’m a sucker for commentary tracks with voice actors personally, and getting that little bit of insight into the nuances they put into performances and even just their takes on how their characters behave can be so interesting. Finding out that Matt Shipman, the voice of Hiro, listened to certain take of Tia Ballard’s Zero Two in order to match the rhythm of her delivery is a fun note that helps explain why their characters seem to match up so perfectly. So much work goes into making the dub of shows like this feel seamless and effortless, so its great to find out a little bit more about how hard the cast works to make it happen.
In all, this DVD set is definitely worth a pre-order if you were a fan of the show when it aired last year or if you’re interested in finding out what the hype is all about. If you can get past the obvious and blatant sexual overtures and a plot that doesn’t pay off for all the promises it makes, you’re left with a show about a group of young people building relationships for the first time in an endearing and engaging way. Fans of action will love the fights. Fans of romance will love the moments inbetween the fights.
Just maybe lock the door when you watch it...