Great visuals, but “Darling in the FranXX” falls short with its weak story

“Darling in the FranXX” emerged as the biggest letdown from the 2018 winter anime season. Now, before you accuse me of exaggerating, let me delve into the details: it’s not the worst show of the season; that dubious honor belongs to “Ito Junji: Collection.” However, considering the immense hype generated by the collaboration between two renowned anime studios, A-1 Pictures and Trigger, “Darling in the FranXX” falls drastically short. Granted, this article may appear prematurely critical since there are still five episodes remaining, and the story has reached a turning point of sorts. But the intention of this critique isn’t solely to dissect the recent episodes’ issues. Rest assured, we will address those later. The focal point here lies in the stark absence of several elements that made its predecessors exceptional.

To be fair, I have minimal qualms about the first episode of “Darling in the FranXX”; in fact, it sets up a promising foundation. We are treated to a captivating monologue from Hiro and Zero Two, effectively introducing the poignant “bird that shares its wings” analogy, which gains significance as the series progresses. Moreover, the initial episode acquaints us with the central plotline—the relationship between Hiro and Zero Two—and showcases the impressive animation quality that lends a cinematic flair, particularly evident in the widescreen shots with letterboxing. At this stage, the world and scale of “Darling” remain ambiguous, which is forgivable for a pilot episode as it aims to preserve the mystery and awe of the new world we’re thrown into—or so we presume. Unfortunately, this vagueness doesn’t foreshadow a forthcoming elaborate plot but rather signifies the lack of direction and coherence that plagues the series.

As the story unfolds and we glean fragments of knowledge about the world, we are left with more questions than answers. What cataclysmic event befell Earth, leaving it in its current state? Why are children compelled to engage in combat as parasites? Who are the enigmatic 9’s? What ultimate purpose does this series aim to achieve? One could argue that “Darling in the FranXX” is intentionally keeping its cards close to its chest, but that is simply not the case. We already know that parasites are conditioned and indoctrinated to pilot FranXX units. We are aware that Zero Two and the 9’s are manufactured in a laboratory. It has been abundantly clear that these characters are nothing more than disposable pawns manipulated by a hidden cabal, presumably Papa. Withholding vital contextual information serves no purpose other than to frustrate the audience, preventing them from fully immersing themselves in the narrative unfolding on screen.

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Before anyone cites the massive exposition dump in episode 19 as a defense for the series, it’s crucial to emphasize that my point still stands. Instead of being kept in the dark and having all the information suddenly thrust upon us, a gradual revelation of tidbits and incremental assembly of plot points would have been far more satisfying.

Speaking of which, “Darling in the FranXX” struggles to construct a cohesive narrative, often neglecting or entirely forgetting certain plot elements for multiple episodes. One prime example is Hiro’s mysterious ailment, which manifests after his initial ride with Zero Two in Strelitzia. Initially, Hiro is warned that no one has survived riding with Zero Two more than three times, yet he defies this ominous prognosis. However, when we seek an explanation for Hiro’s unique condition, the clarity begins to wane. It is implied that Hiro and Zero Two’s bond transcends the norm, rendering their situation different, yet this remains unconfirmed. Consequently, this, like many other plot points in the series, only serves to generate more questions than answers. Additionally, let’s not forget that Zero Two has been draining Hiro’s life force until episode 13, which could explain his ailment. However, episode 17 reveals that even after the cessation of this draining process, Hiro’s affliction not only persists but also intensifies, resulting in the growth of horns. The lack of sufficient foreshadowing or buildup to these developments makes them confusing and difficult to follow. I’m not advocating for spoon-fed narratives; all I desire is a story that doesn’t inundate me with randomly introduced elements.

While I could delve further into the problematic plot of “Darling in the FranXX” or highlight the incredulity of Hiro and Zero Two’s relationship and the disastrous Kokoro love triangle subplot, for brevity’s sake, let’s shift our focus to another crucial factor that contributed to its downfall: the action sequences.

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Surprisingly, the main issue with the action in “Darling in the FranXX” does not stem from lackluster animation. The fights are visually fluid, and it never feels like the show’s budget constrained the animators from delivering quality visuals. Furthermore, the soundtrack impeccably complements the action, exemplified by Strelitzia’s soaring flight in episode 15. However, despite these technical strengths, there is one glaring flaw that hampers these scenes, with a few exceptions—they are devoid of excitement. Never did I imagine that I would find myself bored while watching action sequences from the same studio responsible for “Kill la Kill” and “Gurren Lagann.” Yet, regrettably, “Darling in the FranXX” defied expectations in the worst possible manner.

The primary reason these action sequences feel akin to exquisitely crafted but lifeless figurines lies in the lack of emotional investment and stakes associated with them. Throughout the series, I never felt a genuine sense of peril or believed that any character faced a real risk of death. The closest the show came to generating tension was in episode 9, where the entire episode revolved around the potential demise of Goro. However, my skepticism during that episode proved justified when “Darling in the FranXX” lacked the courage to eliminate anyone of significant importance. Goro’s death could have evoked a similar impact to Kamina’s demise in “Gurren Lagann,” injecting stakes and a reminder of the characters’ mortality. Instead, the decision to save Goro had the opposite effect, confirming the existence of plot armor shielding our protagonists and negating any expectation of compelling or satisfying deaths.

This lack of emotional investment and attachment stems from the most glaring issue plaguing “Darling in the FranXX”: its roster of one-dimensional characters devoid of growth. By episode 19, every character in the series remains largely unchanged from their initial introduction, with the exception of Mitsuru and Kokoro, whose supposed character development is more akin to brainwashing. However, it’s not merely the absence of character progression that renders these individuals challenging to connect with; it’s the overwhelming sense of their one-dimensionality. Beyond Zero Two’s desire to be with Hiro and Kokoro’s aspiration to conceive a child, these characters lack depth and personal ambitions. Their lack of multifaceted motivations and aspirations is ultimately the downfall of “Darling in the FranXX.” The series boasts likable characters and a solid premise, but it lacks the ambition to take them anywhere. This ensemble of pilots, much like the show itself, stagnates, existing without evolving or venturing into uncharted territories.

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Undoubtedly, “Darling in the FranXX” is an immensely flawed show, yet it remains far from the worst anime I have ever encountered. I can personally attest to finding a few scenes within it that I genuinely enjoyed, for the series undeniably brims with potential. However, as the episodes progressed, the narrative became increasingly convoluted, the characters regrettably static, and the overall experience unfulfilling. It’s a show that ultimately fell short of its lofty ambitions and the potential inherent in its initial setup. Perhaps with a longer runtime and more coherent storytelling, “Darling in the FranXX” could have risen above its shortcomings and fulfilled its promise. Alas, in its current form, it stands as a cautionary tale, a reminder that the collaboration of two esteemed studios does not guarantee a masterpiece.

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Hiro,Vice Chairman,Zorome,Ichigo,Ikuno

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