I would taste the kiss of death.

If it was for Zero Two, I would go to the ends of the universe for it too. A powerful character in the history of anime, Zero Two takes this show and puts it into another realm solely by herself. This anime dives into what I consider the most interesting part of anime, exploring the beauty of humanity. And while it gets a little lost in this effort ultimately, and definitely strays into some weird areas, this anime will forever be a fixture because of the one and only Zero Two.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 9

You know I’m gonna say it. There’s too many characters! But is this a bad thing? Categorically, I say that the more characters in a story, the lesser the quality of each character. However, that does not automatically equate to poor quality characters. I’m sure there’s been ample literature on the subject of the ideal number of characters in a story to balance enablers versus mains. Exempli gratia, it’s difficult to manage a story with only main characters (or a single character in some cases) or a story with no main characters and only “supporting” characters. It can be done, but not easily. So where does Darling in the Franxx fit in this spectrum? Very close to having so many characters that it detracts from the individual characters, but just few enough that each character is decently developed.

It’s a pity this was the case at all, because the character that suffers the most from it is Zero Two. She is at the center of everything, and rightly should be. Yet the large number of characters and the writers’ choice to heavily cluster many of these characters around the main plotline detract from her screentime. I’ll speak more of these characters later, as I do believe they are decent characters that add to the tale. But my one great frustration with this show was that there are times when Zero Two takes a back seat to the other characters.

For Zero Two is a main character of main characters! Among any list of animes defined by a single character, such as Tokyo Ghoul, Berserk, Gintama, Dragon Ball Z, etc., she places extremely high. What amazing design and execution! There are times during this show where I cannot take my eyes off her. I’ll forget to read the subtitles. She is astounding, beautiful beyond words in more ways than a mere human can be tell of.

Where should I even begin? That was my first thought when I sat down to outline this review in my mind, and I started thinking about this section on Zero Two. Should I start with her external beauty, the amazing pink hair, those adorable red horns that really shouldn’t be that pretty, the unique green eyes that ferociously display the power of her inexpressible love and her beastly rage, her imposing figure that towers over every other parasite, her form that will cause bodily and mental explosions far worse than any we see in the show, her beautiful fingers and hands, her haughty yet innocent look, or above all, the amazing kisses she shares with Hiro? Or should I dive into her heart, lonely by force, by nature, yet also by choice? Should I speak of the power of that heart, the fire that burns everything it comes into contact with? Should I speak of her pain, the emptiness that she transmits so powerfully to anyone who learns more about her it brings tears to our eyes? Should I speak of her voice, aloof, powerful, angry, passionate, hungry, alive, optimistic, despairing, human? This is the pinnacle of the great Haruka Tomatsu’s (Asuna, SAO, Fortuna, Re:Zero, so many memorable characters) career in my opinion. Should I explore her monstrosity, or her humanity?

The great thing about something that’s truly beautiful is you often can’t focus on any single defining part of the thing’s beauty. Certainly that’s the case with Zero Two. It’s all so great all together that you can’t pick out a part and say “ah ha, that’s why she’s beautiful.” She’s just beautiful, all of it all together. The person named Zero Two is beautiful.

A full essay could be written on why Zero Two and Hiro belong together. Because for one thing, one could easily argue both for and against them falling in love. But also, it would be most exciting to explore why and how Zero Two experiences love. She hasn’t been taught about it, and one could infer that it’s not in her nature as a kyoryuu/klaxosaur. This is the best part of this series in my opinion. It’s extremely subtle, but always lying beneath Zero Two’s character. Everything she does can be viewed through how she expresses and interprets and understands love. She is probably more keenly aware of this sensation than any of the member of Squard 13 once they encounter it, yet she is the most reticent to speak about it. But then she explores it freely. Initially, this is somewhat forced and artificial. The funny scene where she takes everyone’s clothes and a half-clothed Hiro chases after her to retrieve them is a good example. She sets that scenario up simply for the experience.

I have a better example still. Recall the scene where Zero Two and Hiro meet in a beautiful snowy scene near the lake in Ep12. After a tense exchange and Hiro speaking his mind plainly to her, Zero Two forces herself on Hiro, and somewhere between passion and threat, telling him “I’ll show you what happens after kissing.” She’s learned about this somewhere, and she knows somewhere in her being that this is what’s supposed to happen next. It’s almost an automatic response from her. Outwardly it feels a little forced. I love that scene. I think it say so much about Zero Two and her view of the world. I could go on and on about it, but I will leave it to that more detailed examination I alluded to above to go into it further.

So what of Hiro? The shamelessly anglicized name aside, he’s definitely the co-main character. He’s the frustrating type of MC that can’t seem to find his way, struggling at every turn to overcome some new obstacle. But as stereotypical as he may seem, I like what this character does for the story. While the idea of monster versus human gets bandied about a lot in this tale, Hiro is unquestionably the prototypical human. The incessant struggles are one aspect of this. His curiosity, the desire to question everything around him where no one else does, is another sign of this. His exploration of what it means to love is different than Zero Two’s, but they both tread this path (and arrive at the same destination in the end). But above all, the most defining trait of Hiro’s humanness is his ability to give names to others.

Without diving in too deeply, humans are the only things in our world known to give names to anything and anybody. For the sake of argument here, let’s call this a uniquely human trait. Thus it leaves us no doubt that Hiro represents the quintessential humanity. He has this most human ability to give a name to those around him. This is again very subtle in the story, but quite powerful. Contrast this with everything around him. The organization that rules over this dystopian world is known by an acronym. The rulers themselves have no names that we know of (I think they have animal names, which is weird, but indisputably non-human). All of the humans that are born into this world are given codes to identify themselves. Hiro is the only one to introduce actual names to anything or anyone.

Interestingly, he usually uses the codes as the basis for these names. Their caretaker he calls “Nana,” from her code 007 (an interesting choice for obvious reasons…another story for another day). Of course Ichigo is code 015. Zero Two is one of the first people he names, choosing the English words for her code, 002. You could say Hiro is either very imaginative or very unimaginative in choosing these names. They simply utilize the codes, which are very stark and inhuman. But on the other hand, it’s all he really has to go on. The only immediate differentiation between the children is their codes. So he latches on to this single individualistic part of the people around him. As we see him later in his life with Naomi, his names have begun to diverge from the code basis. Her code is 703. While you can say it has the “na” part of the Japanese word for the number 7 there, the rest of the name doesn’t follow that pattern (“san” being the word for the number 3). So as he ages he isn’t strictly using the codes as the basis for his names, which makes sense, because as he ages he can discern more individual differences among the people around him.

An extension of this human feature of naming is language itself. This doesn’t play as big a role as the naming in this series, but think about Zero Two again, and her first encounter with Hiro. She can’t speak human language until she meets him. She sets out to learn human language after she hears several key words from Hiro. She hears her name that he gives her, Zero Two. She hears the pronoun he uses for himself, “boku.” It is remarkable watching every episode up to that point and hearing Zero Two constantly refer to herself as if she were a young boy. Once you learn why she does this, the subtle thread of Hiro’s light in her life starts to glimmer faintly in our view. What was the third word she learned? Hold on to your heart.

“Da-rin!”

The basis of everything she has lived for from the time she met Hiro to now is this mispronounced English word, “darling.” It embodies her view of love. It embodies her search for humanity. It embodies her entire life. And it comes from Hiro, centers on Hiro, and is only meant for Hiro. Without Hiro and his utter humanness, Zero Two would be nothing but a monster.

Between these two characters, you have an epic romance that all hinges on this humanness, and their search for the meaning of love. It’s heartfelt enough to watch during the show, but when you dig down into it and learn all these details, it’s amazing. Hiro’s ordinary humanness and Zero Two’s epic monstrosity meet and combine and become something extraordinary. I will cease to apply words to it here, and simply say that these two are everything to this series. They are a epic success in the history of anime.

zero two fangs
Fangs for sucking the life from those who dare to try to take the place of her darling!
I love the matchboxing here.

This is the primary reason I don’t like the heavy involvement of all the other characters. As nice as some things are about those characters, they take the spotlight away from Hiro and Zero Two. The depressing storyline around Mitsuru and Kokoro (another fun name from Hiro, referencing the words for her code, 556, but also, as we know, meaning “heart”) is heartfelt and adds to the humanity theme, but for better or worse it brings those two very much into the forefront of the story. And they’re not the only ones. I know, the Rejection Squad got a new member with poor Ichigo. But her interaction with Zero Two and Hiro’s story is so frustrating to me at times I feel angry towards Ichigo. I struggle to sympathize with her, though I do intentionally struggle to do so. I remind myself that she knew Hiro first. Since Zero Two’s arrival so effectively nullifies Ichigo’s claims to Hiro, I guess this says a lot about why Zero Two and Hiro really belong together. Again, I will leave that for another forum and time. I think it would be really exciting to write about!

One of the negatives I occasionally hear about Ichigo is her voice acting. I personally don’t have a problem with it, but I am not fluent enough in Japanese, either by speech or hearing, to comment authoritatively on whether Kana Ichinose does a bad job or not. Her voice is very even throughout, but also very clear and emotional. If you look her up you’ll see that Darling in the Franxx is said to be her first VA role. In limited research, I’m unable to confirm the details of this. Surely she did voiceover for something before A-1 Pictures decided to cast her in a major supporting role! So I don’t know, maybe she does murder the script in a way I cannot discern at this point. But I personally don’t have any objection to what I hear. In fact, for a first role, I can’t imagine how it could be better!

The rage that knows no resolve.

Speaking of voice acting, it’s interesting to take note of Zorome. His voice is super annoying, and it’s meant to be. He’s such a weak and needy personality, hiding his own insecurity beneath a shroud of boisterousness and disregard, all while elevating this “Papa” character to disgusting levels of undeserved reverence. So why on earth did A-1 choose a female seiyuu for him? We probably know Mutsumi Tamura best as Kobayashi in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Okay so she had the particular voice they wanted? You look up Zorome on your expensive device, you’ll notice a Ryan Reynolds does his English voiceover. Omg you think, really? Delve in a littler further, you find that not only is this not our favorite merc with a mouth, but actually it’s another female VA! So quite obviously A-1 wanted this part done by a female. I cannot even begin to speculate why this is the case. Nor do I really want to. And Tamura-san does a fine job, that’s not it (I cannot comment on Ms. Reynolds since I have not heard her speak, as I avoid English dubs like the plague). It just that even more things like this take away from Hiro and Zero Two. Zorome doesn’t play a major role, but as much of a supporting character as he is, even the amount of thought that went into him seems unnecessary, as if even that works to detract from Zero Two.

Gender plays an important role in this story. The most notable example of this is Ikuno. I wonder both why her yuri love is introduced and why so little is done with it. Perhaps this is simply an attempt to tap into the theme of humanness again. But it appears so briefly, then subsides just as rapidly, it’s distracting. Suddenly a dragon courses past your window but you never see it again! It’s rather bizarre. After rewatching this show recently, I can understand how her character behaves up to her outburst with Ichigo, and how that fits in with this aspect of her character. But the first time though, you have no indication of what she’s thinking, and her character just seems uselessly in the background, being tossed between partners who she pretty obviously doesn’t care much about. So it’s a little sad that she gets neglected, given all the other attention that’s cast about in the series.

You messed with the wrong klaxosaur.

I should finish up with individual characters with a eulogy for Futoshi. First of all, while names work so well for everyone else in this anime, I look at this name every time and I think “fujoshi.” Maybe I’ve just been in too deep for too long. Anyway! This is probably the nicest character in the show, but if the writers didn’t go out of their way to make things work out nicely for him in the end, this poor guy would get nothing. He probably has the purest understanding of love of any of the characters, and he expresses it without hesitation towards Kokoro. Then, also without hesitation, she not only doesn’t reciprocate it, but doesn’t even seem to recognize his feelings at all. And to top it all off, she falls in love with someone else! It’s so madly disappointing! You wouldn’t have been surprised if Fujoshi jumped in the lake at all this. Yet he bears it, innocently wishing for Kokoro’s happiness no matter what. So I didn’t want to neglect him too. I wanted to make a note of his goodness here, recognizing the unhappiness he goes through.

So what of all this? These are all really good characters individually. They all get different amounts of attention and development. And because of this, and because of how many there are, it detracts just enough from everybody overall that I can’t give these characters a perfect rating. My overall impression is that there’s too many details about too many characters. Say what you want about the quality of those details–and I’ll be right there with you defending that quality–it’s still all a bit too much. And above all, it takes away from the most epic character in this series and her lover. This series is about Zero Two. She is everything to it. If the writers had succeeded in making a second equally epic character and placed that character into this series, I would still complain that it detracts from Zero Two’s screentime. That’s how highly I think of her character. And the two things I will remember about the characters in this anime are first Zero Two herself, but second, I’ll remember that there are a lot of other characters that, at times, get in her way. I guess that’s the other edge of a double-edged sword that a great main character can be.

Artwork

Rating: 9

This is A-1 Pictures at its finest once again! Large areas of solid coloring and unique, simple facial designs are hallmarks of this studio’s artwork. Simple, but uniquely beautiful. I so fondly remember the beauty of popular shows like Sword Art Online and lesser known shows like Sound of the Sky when I recall these designs. And as ineffably beautiful as so many characters are from those and other A-1 series, sitting atop this heap of indescribably beautiful characters is the astounding, gorgeous, and monstrously lovely Zero Two.

Recall foremost that this show was not published in any paper form before the anime was created. No, this story and these characters, and above all the artwork, were all created solely for the anime. A-1 did everything from the ground up. So Zero Two’s pink hair, red horns, the fangs she claims to hate but which I adore, ocean-green eyes, fantastic red military uniform, and unique eye-outlines from the red accents at the corners to those three crucial triangles on her lower lid, are all created by A-1 without any manga or light novel original as a basis. And it is a feat of anime art! Leave it to these guys, who already so amazingly capture this fantastically human-yet-not-human beauty, to create such an amazing design from scratch. I can’t think of any characters who are so uniquely designed as Zero Two. Lots of characters have great individualistic features, or magnificently typify a certain kind of character design, but few stand out as original like she does. To borrow an American phrase, they knocked it out of the park with this one. You can’t ask for more from an anime character than what Zero Two’s appearance brings to the table.

Don’t cry.

So I haven’t mentioned this is mecha yet. While I’m not an authority on mecha, between the designs and the battles featuring the Franxx mechs, I would give this an average rating. The mechs are big and bulky and impractical, all predictably mecha. They’re very feminine in design, which might be a little rarer, but doesn’t particularly make this iteration of mechs stand out. The battle sequences are good but not remarkable. I guess the faces that are meant to mimic the faces of the girls powering each mech are kind of an interesting feature, but it isn’t particularly striking. Even Strelizia doesn’t particularly reflect the unique beauty of Zero Two. I guess the Delphinium face and Ichigo’s are the most similar, but probably more for the hair over the eye than anything else. What’s up with the flower names too? And whatever you do, don’t get me started about Strelizia’s final form, the aberration.

Yamero, onegai.

As far as drawing goes, this show is exceptional, as I’ve come to expect of A-1 Pictures. It’s a 10 out of 10. But artwork in anime is more than just the drawings themselves. There’s lots of intangibles. Here, in Darling in the Franxx, one of those intangibles is the decision to overly sexualize the pistil-stamen thing with the Franxx partners. It’s this huge and messy thing that hangs over this show, and ultimately detracts from it. And, in my opinion, it is one of two big things that prevent this show from becoming an epic fixture in the world of anime.

I’ll touch on this again in the story section below. While I can understand the decision from the perspective of what it does for the story (even if I dislike it), how it works out before our eyes is another thing. It’s so overt it’s alarming, especially at the beginning of the series. You feel like this show is about to go in a direction where anime becomes that thing I shall not name that starts with an H. And I’m not talking about Zero Two and the 97% nudity at the beginning. I actually think that introduces her very powerfully, think what you want about that artistic decision otherwise. I’m talking mostly about the positioning of the partners within the Franxx. It’s borderline demeaning to the girls. Yes they’re ultimately the reason the Franxx run, and thus their role is more important than the boys’ role in many ways, but the decision to orient them in such a manner is gross to me. We are talking about adolescents here, after all. And while they’re in the mechs, the art should focus on the battles. It ends up doing that most of the time regardless, hence it’s odd to me why the artists designed this part of the Franxx this way. Sex is sex and war is war, and I don’t think the two need to mix any more than they have to, if at all. That’s my opinion. Feel free to persuade me otherwise.

I know you’ve seen it.

Another intangible, one I really like, is the panelling that we see periodically. It appears by “necessity” when the characters speak to each other from inside the FRANXX, but also it appears in effective split screens (in contrast to ineffective, where you have a split screen but the backgrounds blend together and you’re not actually sure you’re seeing a split screen) or simple picture-in-picture format. I like when anime does this, as it always draws on the effect of the original work (manga, light novel, etc.). But right now you’re thinking, this show wasn’t originally manga or light novel! All the more, I like the decision to include these features. I guess it’s more of an homage to those media forms in this show, but whatever the reason, I think it’s noticeable and it really works. I like it.

All together, very stimulating (in many ways) to look at and very beautiful overall. A-1 Pictures continues to get extremely high marks for their artistry. And for this to have no original to draw from, it makes it that much greater. I can say without any doubt that there will never be another like Zero Two. There might be comparable characters, but they’ll be different of course, and it will be a very high bar to reach. She is at the pinnacle of female anime characters, a place occupied by a very select few. She makes everything in this show totally worth your time.

Story

Rating: 4

It’s not often I’ll get to the fourth episode of a show and say to myself, says I, “If this show ended right there, I’d say it was an epic series.” It’s not often I get to the middle of a season (thirteenth or fourteenth episode) and say to myself, says I, “If this show ended right here, I’d still say it’s an epic series.” But I did that, at both of those points, while rewatching Darling in the Franxx recently. Unfortunately, there’s this thing called hindsight that the human race has a love-hate relationship with, and that’s what was prompting these thoughts in my head during those moments. Because I knew where this was going, having lived through it once already.

This show is truly great through the first several episodes. You have the immensely powerful introduction of Zero Two and her endearing attachment to Hiro. You have Hiro finding his place and attaching himself firmly to Zero Two. You have some of the most beautiful kisses ever shared in anime. And while you know it can’t really end there, if it had, I would still say it was great. This show does so much in the first few episodes, you almost aren’t surprised when they run out of ammunition by the time they hit episode 20 or so. Not that firing all your shots in the first few episodes is a bad thing. As noted, it definitely establishes this anime firmly in your mind, engaging your attention and drawing you into the series. You’re eager to see what comes next, eager to spend more time with Hiro and Zero Two.

And even through the middle of the show, it does not disappoint. Zero Two’s moody episodes culminating in that scene I mentioned above where she almost makes a man out of Hiro is really good. I have a big objection to how suddenly Hiro was just another stamen for her to suck the life out of, after all the initial setup. I know they wanted to show us a depressed and somewhat deranged Zero Two through all this, but it makes the initial setup seem so empty. However, it does resolve fairly quickly, with us seeing quickly into their backstory, and both of them becoming aware of the truth of the matter quickly. So it doesn’t add a ton of stress, but it still seems a little clunky, like maybe the writers didn’t have all this planned out ahead of time and simply went this route out of convenience. Still, it’s a powerful set of episodes. You will cry you eyes out when little red Code 002 shares a few precious minutes with Code 016 in the snowy woods outside the evil of the laboratory.

The raging heart striving for humanity.

Speaking of that, if anything characterizes the monstrous in this show, it’s the evil of VIRM and its minions. What horrors they put these children through! Most of those horrors are implied, but we get to witness the abominable experiments that Dr. Franxx puts Zero Two through when she was a child. All of that adds to his character, giving us a good reason to at least suspect why he’s chosen to take the approach he currently has with the experimental Squad 13 and Zero Two herself. He finds some redemption as a character in these subsequent choices he’s made.

But I stray. So we’re halfway through the show, and it looks like Zero Two and Hiro are going to find their path regardless of what gets thrown at them. And this does end up happening. But two things happen in the midst of it all that are unexpected and frustrating. The one is the heavy involvement of the other characters from Squad 13, which, as I already mentioned, push Zero Two and Hiro’s story aside for a while. While I don’t mind these sets of storylines, it unavoidably distracts from the main characters. But I already went over all that. The other thing that goes awry, and is the second of those two big detractors I mentioned above, is how this show devolves into bigger, badder, and uglier.

Strelizia evolves, beyond any explanation (out of thin air, as Shakespeare says), into this behemoth of a thing that fires giant ass lasers from its head. Yay, the enemy is repelled. The enemy? Oh yeah, VIRM is actually the power behind APE (ape?) and has sent gabillions of spaceships to Earth to quell the rising tide of klaxosaurs. Nani?? Spaceships?

So we lapse into an ancient-enemy story out of nowhere. And we have this monstrous Stelizia now. It flies off into space to do battle with VIRM above the Earth. Actually, above Mars, to be exact. What? Oh and by the way, Zero Two and Hiro both disembark from it, after many trials to get it to that point, and it sort of pilots itself out there. They stay on Earth. Or Hiro does. Zero Two’s body remains on Earth, while her consciousness is mostly on the giant Strelizia. Her body exhibits the damage the giant Strelizia is taking during the battle in space as it sits there doing absolutely nothing. So she’s linked to it, I get it. No I don’t!!!

Then the creme de la creme happens. Of course we have to all go up there in our Franxx and get Hiro onto the giant Strelizia. Of course our Franxx can pilot in space! The klaxosaurs left us all this technology that we can magically and instantly plug into our existing Franxx and now they can operate in space. Right….

I thought this was bad. I hadn’t seen nothing yet!

But then it gets worse. We get everyone up there, Zero Two and Hiro overcome the weird shit going on inside the giant Strelizia, and Zero Two joins him there and they happily annihilate the enemy and return to Earth to get married and make our hearts happy and rebuild humanity…hell no that’s not what happens!!! Zero Two departs the Earth, leaving behind an inexplicable stony statue of herself instead, and becomes one with Hiro by fully assuming Strelizia. And that’s the nadir for me. Strelizia’s face really becomes Zero Two’s face, and its torso assumes Zero Two’s form, right down to breasts and navel. Thus Hiro and Strelizia join forces with the klaxosaur spaceships and fight off the enemy around Mars. Then, oh joy, there’s a warp gate for them to go through. Will they return to the Earth?

Nope. They go through the gate, travel incessantly for several Earth-years, at times encountering the enemy and wiping them out, until they arrive at VIRM’s homeworld, whereupon they defeat everyone there and so they live happily ever…nope, wrong again!! They appear to deal a decisive blow to VIRM, but VIRM’s familiar two voices travel away on those floating faces, threateningly promising to return one day. Hiro and Zero Two “disappear,” amid some ludicrous idea that somehow they’ll return to Earth eventually. They never do, unless you count the reincarnations we’re shown at the very end.

It’s very weak, and borderline stupid. Losing the character Zero Two to that colossus of a Franxx thing is dumb, dumb, dumb. All the wheels come off this show and it goes into crazyland. All the powerful work done up to that point is almost completely undermined by this silly display. I cannot stand how this story ends. It’s nice that people get things going in the right direction on Earth, and we see the former Squad 13 members succeeding and prospering and living idyllic lives. But other than that, the ending is dumb and underwhelming. And that ultimately prevents this show from entering the upper stratosphere of animedom. This show goes from a top 10-20 show to just another top 100 (or so) show all time. That’s very disappointing.

Enough of that. What about themes? Themes are a big part of this show. Themes can be overt and cause distraction. But they can also fit appropriately. And most of the themes in this show do a good job at being good themes. The major theme is monstrosity, and what it means to be human. This theme is probably the most heavily utilized theme in all of modern literature, and often is handled poorly as a result. But it is at times handled beautifully, and this show does a good job with it. Particularly, it more or less equates humanness and love, which is a powerful philosophical idea. Creativity, love, life, are all mixed together in the big pot of humanity in this series, and it’s nicely contrasted with the mechanical and (usually) oppressive monsters. I could go into the minutia of how marriage relates to all this, how gender fits into the mix, how the human and the monstrous can be either starkly differentiated or alarmingly similar, so on and so on, but that would both take too many words and take me far out of the purely anime realm. I leave it to minds more inclined to discuss those topics in relation to this show.

You read through all that and we finally get to the part you were waiting for: why is this show so overtly sexual? Certainly the operation of a Franxx is predicated on the reproductive abilities of the humans piloting them. Certainly we’re visually left no room for doubt that the stamen-pistil relationship is extremely sexual. What goes on in the the Franxx stays in the Franxx! Nasty dialogue moments! “I’m going deeper inside you!” WAIT!!! This is not supposed to be hen….!!

Hide the kids.

I get why this works in the story. VIRM, behind everything and right under humanity’s nose, brought about a condition where they would be the rulers and their subjects would not be able to reproduce, whereby assuring their dependence and hence their inability to overthrow them. Yet VIRM discovers that the only way to combat this (possibly unforeseen) obstacle that arises, in the form of the ancient klaxosaurs, is to create machines that can only be piloted by those who still have reproductive abilities; i.e., are still “human.” So humanness can equate to procreation which equates to creation which equates to life. Very nice. Mix in their romance and love, you have a very beautiful, human picture.

Trouble is, only certain people are allowed these reproductive abilities. Then those people are discarded after they outlive their usefulness. They either are put away (initially we’re led to believe they’re killed or modified into the “adults,” thereby losing their reproductive ability, but I think the authors second-guessed this idea and simply had them all stored underground, as we see at the end of the show) or they die in battle. All the while, they exist in this psuedosexual relationship with their Franxx partner. Yeah it kind of makes sense. But it also feels really weird. During the first parts of this show, you get a lot of this. Then it subsides and mostly disappears, culminating in Kokoro’s true romantic and sexual experience. So I feel like it wasn’t ever very necessary to the show to begin with, or at least highlighting it as they chose to do wasn’t very necessary. It feels like it’s there for shock value only. This is a major negative on the story, and the show as a whole.

But if it weren’t for those two big detractors, I would be very satisfied with this story. It sets up powerfully, shows us right away that there’s a lot of backstory waiting to unfold, and effectively instills a feeling of despair on the viewers. Hope ebbs and flows throughout. And say what I will about the negatives, it all ends up tying together. Zero Two and Hiro will always love each other, and regardless of all the other clutter in this show, that’s what this is about.

Overall: 8

You could compare this show to two different anime for two different reasons. One is Tokyo Ghoul, and only because that is the ultimate monster tale in animedom. There you have another devolution situation, a more common theme in monster tales. Darling in the Franxx is the other of the two kinds of monster tales, where we have a monster that seeks to become human. We have a whole mess of Disney movies we can reference for that (the Beauty and the Beast similarity is highlighted overtly in Zero Two’s picture book). Even though they’re different kinds of monster stories, it might be enlightening to see where Zero Two and Kaneki Ken share commonalities, both in their initial setup and in their (d)evolved states. The other show is Violet Evergarden. You’re probably thinking, yeah that makes sense, because both Zero Two, and pretty much everybody on Squad 13, are discovering what it means to love someone, which is Violet Evergarden’s explicitly stated goal. I’ve written enough in this review, but that might be food for thought for some of you. Those two jumped out at me right away as relatable to this show.

Can there be a second season of Darling in the Franxx? Of course there could be. It’s kind of a silly question, as any number of ways could be found to mix in a side story or a full second season, regardless of the final outcome of the first season. But does it really make sense for this to have a second season? Unhappily I believe not. Zero Two and Hiro’s story is complete. It doesn’t end in the heartwarming way we’d like it to, but it is over. A-1 Pictures could use the reincarnated versions of these two for a subsequent story, or they could do a Steins;Gate thing and plug a second season into the middle of the events from S1. The former would be unsatisfactory. There can be only one Zero Two, which is partly why the reincarnation thing here doesn’t really work well for me. The latter could work, while noting that it only works really well in Steins;Gate because we know Rintaro lives through innumerable timelines throughout his efforts which would be impossible to go through in the first season. Still, that possibility remains. Of course they could just make up something crazy and bring back Hiro and Zero Two alive, and as happy as that would make me, it would take us into places in crazyland where, as they say famously elsewhere, no man has gone before.

Even if it doesn’t get another season, I don’t mind that. As goofy as it ends, this show stands well enough by itself. And Darling in the Franxx will always be synonymous with the great Zero Two. She, like the anime, can stand alone well enough. But if all those who care about her and love her stand with her, she can stand more powerfully than she could ever imagine. As long as Zero Two stands, Darling in the Franxx will always be remembered and esteemed and loved by its fans. We will always remember Zero Two, red blood now coursing her veins in place of the blue, standing at the hatch of Strelizia, Hiro at her side, and the kisses she shares with him all the way to the end. She is amazing.

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