Genre(s): Action, Drama, Mecha, Romance, Sci-Fi
Age-Appropriateness: 14+ (Violence, Blood, profanity, partial nudity)
Platforms: Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation
TheAwersome Rating: 9.2 / 10 (Solid, stellar piece)
Premise: Humanity has been driven nearly to extinction by giant beasts known as Klaxosaurs. Children are raised and trained to pilot giant mechas known as FranXX -the only weapons effective against Klaxosaurs- in boy-girl pairs. Hiro, an aspiring FranXX pilot, has lost his motivation and self-confidence after failing multiple aptitude tests. Skipping his class graduation ceremony, he encounters a mysterious girl with two horns growing out of her head. She introduces herself by her codename Zero Two, an infamous FranXX pilot known as the “Partner Killer.” In a sudden Klaxosaur attack, Zero Two’s partner is killed while piloting, so she invites Hiro to pilot the mecha with her and the duo easily defeat the Klaxosaur in the ensuing fight. With a new partner by his side, Hiro has been given a chance at redemptio, but at what cost?
TheAwersome’s Thoughts: This is a powerful, emotional ride from start to finish. It is also my favorite dystopian story that I’ve come across. Darling in the FranXX maintains a constant sense of desperation for survival alongside intense emotional discovery and development. Each question that gets answered about the world these kids live in brings with it several more unsettling questions. It dives deep into the questions of the Human Condition, what makes life worth living, and the importance of human connection and relationships, as well as coming-of-age themes. These are all woven excellently with thrilling and gorgeously animated battle sequences. Characters have great development and depth, letting you get very attached to each of them and share in their joys, frustrations, and pain.
TLDR: Beautiful, emotional ride that will keep you gripped and on the edge of your seat.
Considering how this show came to be it’s really a surprise that it’s as good as it was. The leads at Studios Trigger and A-1 got together and said “Hey, what are each of us good at?” And it was concluded that they had an artist/animator that was excellent at giant robots, Trigger was great at action sequences, and A-1 was really good with personal relationships. So they said “Let’s make a show that mashes together everything we’re good at. We’ll figure it out.” If you don’t know, that’s usually a recipe for a horrible Frankenstein(‘s monster, nur nur nur) of a piece where it doesn’t mesh together nor have a soul. But if there’s anything Darling in the FranXX has a lot of, it’s heart and soul that’s gone into it.
There were many nights that I had a hard time getting to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about this piece and how invested I’d become. It really resonates on a millennial level where the “adults” won’t throw you a bone, rarely give you the time of day, and yet expect you to shoulder the fate of humanity while they live in comfort and look on in condescension. Prescribing your single, solitary purpose in life and then mocking you for trying to fulfill that purpose in a way that gives you any meaning and enjoyment out of the process. Simultaneously holding you in admiration for your drive and sacrifice in fulfilling the role heaped upon you, but wanting nothing to do with you or your interests along the way. And yet in spite of it all we make it work somehow.
Here’s the show intro which won “Best OP (Opening song/animation) of 2018.”
Now if you follow the anime scene, anime twitter, watch YouTube review videos, etc., you’ve likely heard about this piece. The consensus of the weeb hive-mind is “This show was over-hyped. This show was just an Evangelion rip-off. This show wasn’t Evangelion enough,” etc. which basically all boils down to the modern fandom anthem of “I had very specific expectations of what I wanted this to be and it didn’t fit it perfectly.”
Edit: The complaints about the final four episodes have some merit in abrupt change of pace, but I do just feel that the Mecha genre has the Seinfeld curse.
I’m sure that it does copy a lot from Evangelion, but from what I understand, so does any and every mecha anime, and it’s a formula that works so what’s the problem? We can also complain that Fantasy RPGs are all based on either D&D or Tolkein, or that all JRPGS are based on Final Fantasy. Doesn’t mean it ain’t good. Granted, I haven’t seen Evangelion yet because I didn’t become a full weeb until a year ago and it’s been out of print for 10+ years and is only making its streaming debut next week on Netflix.
So I guess what I’m saying is: Like what you like, and maybe watch this before Evangelion? I find it can often be disappointing to come to the inspiration material of a beloved medium long after its debut; a lot of people have this experience with Zelda, Ocarina of Time. It’s hailed as the pinnacle birthing point of 3D Zelda and 3D adventure games in general, but if you played the games that came after it first (Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, Wind Waker, etc.) and then after having played those play OoT, the reaction is often “Wait, really? This isn’t as good as the others and the others were all just a slight repackaging of this getting hashed over and over.”
So who knows, maybe after watching Evangelion my opinion on Darling will change, but until then I thoroughly loved and enjoyed every moment of this show and it’s in my top ten for the year.