The Startling Implications of Darling in the Franxx

As a surprising collaboration effort, production studios Trigger and A-1 Pictures have come together in order to create Darling in the Franxx, an original 24-episode mecha anime set in a post-apocalyptic future. Given its release earlier this year, only seven episodes have released in total with the rest to air on a weekly basis to the end of June.

To provide a sense of context, this is the official description of Darling in the Franxx:

“The series takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has been driven to endangerment by giant beasts known as klaxosaurs. The remainder of humanity soon establishes a military city known as Plantation, where children are bred to be partnered in boy-girl pairs called Parasites and pilot giant mecha known as Franxx (フランクス Furankusu). One of these children, Hiro, is initially viewed as a prodigy, but after failing one of his tests, his resulting emotional stress leaves him unable to pilot a Franxx, making him lose any desire he had in life. While skipping out on his class’s graduation ceremony, Hiro encounters Zero Two, an infamous Franxx pilot who is a member of a race of humans with klaxosaur blood, leaving her with red horns on her head. After Zero Two’s partner is killed in a klaxosaur attack, she convinces Hiro to become her new partner, or “darling” as she puts it.

Nevertheless, I initially held reservations about the direction the show would take. From a glance, it looks like a strange amalgamation of  Neon Genesis Evangelion and Guilty Crown based on its art direction and general premise, but its tone was initially unknown to me.

However, it became abundantly clear that Darling in the Franxx had other intentions…

For those wondering, the show is filled to the absolute brim with sexual innuendos and undertones, from the way in which the children pilot Franxx to their labels as “stamen” and “pistil” for gender designation. While it never becomes overly explicit enough to bother someone significantly, it nevertheless may not be one’s cup of tea. Immediately, one might dismiss the show as one manufactured for the sole purpose of fanservice for its audience. However, watching seven episodes of Darling in the Franxx, I feel confident that underneath its surface, the show is thematically rich and ironically subtle.

And that is large in part to the frequent insinuations sprinkled across the runtime of each episode that seems to be implying circumstances that are far more ominous, and frankly terrifying (pun completely intended). In this post, we’ll be looking at the details that contribute to worldbuilding and ultimately attempt to craft a better vision of the post-apocalyptic world that Darling in the Franxx appears to features. Looking ahead, I am nearly positive that there will be a multitude of sections to keep everything coherent.

The Foundation (of Chromosomes)

For some reason, nearly everything within this show has to be classified by gender in some capacity, and the references are quite abundant. Let’s check out the logo for example:

darlingling

On the surface, it appears to be nothing more than two “X” put together, but even then it holds significance. XX is the common chromosomal combination required to be biologically considered a female. Yet I would also pay a little closer attention to the red X. If so, one might also be able to make out the shape of a lowercase Y embedded within it, of course designating a chromosome exclusive to males. It’s a clean and clever logo that successfully conveys the themes that Darling in the Franxx hopes to encompass.

But alas, there isn’t anything startling about a simple logo with chromosomal references is there? Not inherently, but I would then appoint your attention to this image and look at the red crests on the uniforms:

That’s right: the uniforms find a way to designate the males and females by chromosomes, even if they have to invert them to do so.

And you know whats even worse about this? The children, or “parasites”, have absolutely no clue about any of this, amongst so many other things, yet the adults of the world are content with pulling the wool over their eyes. Such instances are what I want to explore based on my viewing experience of the series thus far (particularly two). Here, the hierarchy has shifted nearly exclusively in the favor of the adults, living comfortable lives while their offspring, deprived of knowledge about the basic human psyche, fight off against the threat of the klaxosaurs.

How is this evident? In short, I can boil it down into two broad categories that encompass the intricacies of the meticulous society crafted in the universe of Darling in the Franxx: sex and love.

The Repression of Sexuality

If there’s anything that Trigger and A-1 Pictures want to nail in the head to its viewers, it is the fact that it doesn’t care how overtly it displays is content and has confidence in the material it wishes to present (kind of gives me Kill la Kill vibes). This holds especially true in regards to its sexual content, which not graphic in nature, clearly derives inspiration from its related acts. Pretty much, if you’ve ever been through a sexual education class, the innuendos should not only be crystal clear, but somewhat astonishing given the oblivion the children are subject to.

As a quick demonstration, I alluded to the fact that the parasites pilot Franxx in a strange manner…

piloting franxx.png

All Franxx are believed to be piloted in this same fashion, and it involves the male and female counterparts “synergizing” in order to generate the power necessary for the mecha to function. It’s nearly too blatant to be dismissed as the product of our dirty minds, and the setup is clearly intentional on the part of the architects and designers who constructed the Franxx. However, its inclusion is not meant to be played off as a gag for recurring episodes but instead serves as a vessel of dramatic irony on the behalf of the viewer.

When I first viewed this, I couldn’t help but chuckle at first. Yet, as I thought about it more deeply, it prompted some questions in my head:

  1. The adults are responsible for the designs of these mechas. What in the world was going through their minds?
  2. Were the intentions of these adults truly pure and scientific? Or do they find their work comedic?

Now consider this: a normal twelve-year-old child would probably recognize the general position put on display in the image for sexual intercourse. The parasites in Darling in the Franxx, on the contrary, go along with the flow, unbeknownst to that knowledge. A basic human need suppressed within the back of their minds, remaining a primal instinct akin to that of a child. Given the potential explanations that exist, I do find one to be particularly sensible.

The likely intentions of the adults in this world are to harness the unadulterated energy of human connection as an efficient means of piloting mecha without the need for additional resources (i.e. electricity), but require that energy to be wholly pure for proper functioning. Imagine how awkward and uncomfortable it would be for the parasites to use Franxx had they held a semblance of awareness about the implicit representation of sexual intercourse they were participating in.

And something like this actually does occur in the second episode, where our main protagonist Hiro partners with squad captain Ichigo. Overcome with some degree of embarrassment, they are unable to pilot the Franxx properly not only due to a lack of compatibility but a degree of fluster amplified when Hiro suggests that a kiss may solve the issue (he has no clue what a kiss entails, but Zero Two kissed him in the first episode out of the blue)

Regardless of practicality, the fact that these teenagers are essentially repressed by the adults of any education surrounding sexuality remains disturbing despite its application and extends itself to other thoughts and feelings on their part.

Hell, in the latest episode Zorome (codename 666) (right of next image) had a moment where he was staring at a female teammate in a swimsuit from the ocean. While he remarked that she was “50% cuter” than usual, he wasn’t able to identify the exact reason why that was so. It’s utterly shocking and warrants concerns about potential ulterior motives.

binocular boy.png
Talk about stunted development…

 

The Oblivion of Love

From everything I have gathered, there doesn’t seem to be any protocol explicitly prohibiting the development of romantic feelings towards other people. However, it’s clear that there are no foundations for the parasites to even foster those connections because they are deprived of any means of expressing related feelings towards peers. Besides the obvious state I have mentioned, there are several metaphors and details reinforcing such blissful restrictions.

For one, the place in which they reside is literally called a “birdcage”. In most media, a birdcage is symbolic of the loss of freedom and severed connection from the outside world. In a sense, these parasites have been stripped of their livelihoods and bred for the sole purpose of defending the adults and their paradise, without much consideration for their social development (although they finally catch a break in the latest episode).

And it would be a major omission not to mention the opening scenes of the show, which display several birds flying across the screen resembling that of a dove, otherwise known as a universal symbol of love. Then later in the episode we see that bird on the ground, tainted in blood as if it was hunted down

While the parasites clearly walk an invisible line concerning their boundaries between their home and the outside world, their prematurity unknowingly holds them back from uncovering their deeper feelings, let alone understand the complexities of love as an integral portion of the human psyche.

In order to demonstrate the anime’s notion of sheer unawareness around romance, we only need to look towards a couple examples:

For one, I already stated that in the series thus far, the purpose and meaning behind a kiss has been discussed and put on display, first when Zero Two kisses Hiro, and then Hiro kisses Ichigo in the oblivious hope that it will magically boot up the Franxx

But keep in mind that Hiro and Ichigo have no understanding of the weight that a kiss carries in the context of human society. They do have the characteristic reactions of such intimacy (embarrassment, blushing), but they cannot articulate the logic behind their biological and psychological responses.

Zero Two, on the other hand, does have a clue, but on a similar baseline along the lines of a cute vocabulary term. To quote her directly:

“A kiss is something you share with your special someone”

And not only can she comprehend these abstract concepts on a surface level, she will happily express them on that same surface level. In the first episode, Hiro and Zero Two’s fateful encounter culminated in Zero Two referring to Hiro as ‘her darling’.

And hence her infatuation with Hiro begins as quickly as the next episode, where she confidently sits in the same chair as him, feeds him food plastered in honey (probably another hidden play-on for “honey” and bees), and engage in several flirtatious acts.

Most of us would take these signs as the manifestation of Zero Two’s adoration for Hiro, but such perceptions we take for granted simply do not transfer over into the show.

In fact, the biggest reaction that the rest of the parasites in the room express has nothing to do with her actions, but rather the contemplation of what the word “darling” means.

I guess words can really mean more than actions in some cases 🙂

 

All in All…

Anyways, Zero Two is quickly escorted out sometime later and taken down an elevator, where we actually catch a glimpse of the lifestyle that the adults indulge in.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 9.56.13 PM.png

Dominated by technological advancement and golden shine, it can be quickly assumed that the adults are not only living comfortably to some extent but have access to a wealth of funds for spending and development. They need not have fear about their impending moment of death or eventual sacrifice to maintain their status, as they can just employ the children as “parasites” to do their bidding, pulling the wool over their eyes to prolong their dominance.

I can just imagine a conversation between the adults laughing or mocking the Franxx, fully aware of the means necessary to pilot them and trivializing the risk born upon the children. Just the thought of it is sickening in its own right, but not impossible given what information is available for interpretation.

Even Zero Two finds dissatisfaction with this place. When riding down that same elevator ride, she stares out at the city looming above her and asserts that she’s “gonna suffocate in here”.

 

Conclusion

I have seen quite a bit of criticism levied at Darling in the Franxx due to its ambiguity in its overall theming, and I can certainly understand the viewpoint, given that I agree with it to some extent. Currently, viewers have borne witness to a sleuth of sexual innuendos and subtle jokes that might not appear to be anything but pure fanservice in many people’s eyes. I find myself somewhat worried that the show will exploit its ideas around sexuality in a demeaning manner that becomes trivial in the long run.

Nonetheless, there are still seventeen more episodes remaining in Darling in the Franxx before we can come to a penultimate consensus. And even then I find the show has made some aspects of its narrative clear: the adults in the world willingly harness the budding sexuality of children to engage in war with an impending threat, knowingly stunting their development psychologically to accomplish this.

That in itself is a compelling premise, and with several other aspects of the show to reinforce my enjoyment with it thus far, it’s safe to say I won’t be jumping off the railroad that Darling in the Franxx intends to ride to the very end.

 

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