Short answer: At one point, yes.
Darling in the FranXX made a huge buzz as soon as it started airing for a number of reasons. It could’ve been because the much loved Studio Trigger (known for Kill la Kill and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, amongst others) was in charge of animating it. Or maybe it was because of Zero Two stealing everyone’s heart and making them her ‘daaaaaarling’. But was all the hype justified? Was Darling in the FranXX really as great as its fans thought it was?
Darling in the FranXX
In the distant future, humanity has been driven to near-extinction by giant beasts known as Klaxosaurs, forcing the surviving humans to take refuge in massive fortress cities called Plantations. Children raised here are trained to pilot giant mechas known as FranXX—the only weapons known to be effective against the Klaxosaurs—in boy-girl pairs. Bred for the sole purpose of piloting these machines, these children know nothing of the outside world and are only able to prove their existence by defending their race.
Hiro, an aspiring FranXX pilot, has lost his motivation and self-confidence after failing an aptitude test. Skipping out on his class’ graduation ceremony, Hiro retreats to a forest lake, where he encounters a mysterious girl with two horns growing out of her head. She introduces herself by her codename Zero Two, which is known to belong to an infamous FranXX pilot known as the “Partner Killer.” Before Hiro can digest the encounter, the Plantation is rocked by a sudden Klaxosaur attack. Zero Two engages the creature in her FranXX, but it is heavily damaged in the skirmish and crashes near Hiro. Finding her partner dead, Zero Two invites Hiro to pilot the mecha with her, and the duo easily defeats the Klaxosaur in the ensuing fight. With a new partner by his side, Hiro has been given a chance at redemption for his past failures, but at what cost? (From MyAnimeList)
Pre-DarliFra airing, I was also hyped on the basis it was Trigger, too. After all, Trigger are in charge of my second favourite show ever, and Kiznaiver, which I also held in high regard. Though I claim I’m not a fan of shows that use mechs, I think my track record now contradicts that statement. So I went into the first episode of DarliFra with high hopes and an open mind.
And I suppose, at the start, I didn’t really understand the show. It seemed to be nothing more than the mechs, with the unique selling point being the….compromising positions the pilots needed to be in in order to pilot the FranXX. And I suppose, yeah. In typical Trigger (and A-1, contrary to popular opinion) fashion, the show and the mech fights at least looked pretty good. But there wasn’t anything that really stuck out to me for a long while. In fact, for the first half of the series, it felt a lot like the show was trying to throw out a lot of different storylines and concepts and just hoping that eventually, something would stick.
Luckily, the second cour of the series acted as the saving grace. To me, mecha shows can be good, but can only be great when we get some characterization of the pilots past ‘I need to do this!!’. At around episode 12, we were hit with some seriously great writing involving the then mysterious Zero-Two and her back-story. Not only did this answer a lot of questions that I had been complaining about beforehand, but we finally got some personality to someone who before that point could’ve been written off as ‘standard waifu bait’.
I know I’ve mentioned Gurren Lagann a couple of times in this review already, but with both shows being mech by Trigger, it is difficult not to draw comparisons. However, with the FranXX pilots receiving fleshed-out personalities in the subsequent few episodes (finally!), and the lurking theme of questioning humanity, the show really began to remind me of the latter half of Gurren Lagann. I really thought I was going to experience something great, ‘Trigger have done it again!’ I thought.
And then it just…. I’m not even sure what happened. It seemed like whoever was in charge of writing the plot (since it is an anime original) hadn’t quite planned what was to come after all of this development, and panicked and rushed through a hundred different things in order to reach some kind of ending. And it wasn’t even a good ending! Of course, I won’t spoil what happened for anyone reading who is yet to watch Darling in the FranXX. However, if you still had questions that you weren’t quite sure about, don’t expect full answers. If you were watching the show for the mechs, then you should’ve stopped a while ago, since they’re mostly irrelevant at this point. If you were watching it for the romance, I’d give up on that, too. It’s not like DarliFra got bad, by any stretch of the imagination. But after an above average start, and then a very strong midway point, the ending just felt like a disappointment. Like someone blew up a balloon to a huge size, and rather than letting it pop for the exhilaration, they just let it deflate very quickly in a pretty depressing manner.
Darling in the FranXX could’ve been great. It definitely could’ve been a show to last past the seasonal hype. Unfortunately, due to pacing issues and some sort of identity crisis due to not knowing what type of show it wanted to be, Darling in the FranXX finishes as a show that is better than average, but falls short of its full potential.
At least we got treated to a great opening week after week, though!
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What did you all think of Darling in the FranXX? Were you on the love it or loathe it side? Do you think it was worth the hype? Let me know!
Until next time!