This post has been edited for title corrections
The written form of the essay is below. (with less jokes)
What the heck is a Franxx
Hello everyone, this is going to be our first time throwing something like this out, so we’d very much like to hear what you think, we’ve worked on this a lot more than we thought we would and decided to go with this format instead of our usual discussion style podcasts. And now, without further ado, here’s our feature on Darling in the Franxx.
A friend once said ‘a bad idea done well is better than a good idea done badly,’ that statement can certainly be agreed upon by many of those who watched Darling in the Franxx. A recently finished anime by A1 Pictures and Trigger, a pair of anime studios that when put together, sounds like a dream marriage. Featuring giant robots fighting strange beasts, teen drama, and a mysterious dystopian world. Some would say it’s basically Evangelion but well, we would say a lot of mecha anime was trying to be like Evangelion. What we’re after today would be the big ideas that people may have missed while watching the show. What we found were strong expressions for freedom, individualism, and how to handle them in our lives..
Also, much like Wisecrack, be warned, spoilers ahead..
Ry and I have been bouncing ideas off each other trying to figure out what this show has been trying to say. We ended up agreeing on most points but on opposite poles on others, which is not much of a surprise considering he plays League and I play Dota. I mean, what’s more surprising is we’ve managed to stay friends. Maybe hating on bad anime helped foster the friendship but I digress.
One thing we generally agreed on was that the series had some trip ups with it’s portrayal of the story. One particular thing was the lopsided focus on 02 and Hiro when the rest of the cast had a good share of their own stories to tell. Except maybe Miku and Zorome, but not only are they the best pair but they serve a different purpose in the story. Then there’s how the pacing tripped up pretty badly on its final arc. We think it’s because of A1 and Trigger just having completely different strengths and tried to focus on them, which might have been fine if they had maybe more episodes but that’s not the case. Instead, I think we saw how they can be incompatible in some measures and it started bursting at the seams along the end. But still, there’s considerably good animation quality through the series and we believe that it stuck consistently with its themes. So what would those be?
What is the Series Trying to Say
A constant framing device we see throughout the series would be the use of pairing up or marriage. The series opens up with the Chinese Myth of the ‘Jian,’ birds that only have one wing and need to lean on another to fly. Pilots also have to partner up as ‘pistil and stamen’ to operate a robot. Squad 13 holds a wedding ceremony for a pair of friends, and even 02 turns into a giant bride marching through space by the end of the series. Why is there a strong focus on this concept? Are they telling us we should all get married and make babies? Probably not, we think there’s a more fundamental take on the concept of individualism, freedom, and how that can be a basis of a lasting society.
They first do this by showing a fully functioning society operating on very different ideas. In APE society, humans have become immortal, but at the cost of their ability to reproduce. Everything is provided for them, they don’t have to do anything, in fact it was revealed that they don’t do anything. When Zorome finally ran into an adult, something he aspired to be, he found out that many of them just spend time indulging in virtual fantasies and hardly even talk. Talking was so rare, in fact, that the granny he spoke to got quite exhausted after a bit of chatting. Zorome was very surprised to discover all these things and wanted to know more because APE society simply didn’t want them find out. They were after all, disposable soldiers never meant to reach adulthood. This society guaranteed the safety and security of the human race who were having many of their own problems, including the problem of mortality. What they asked for in return is complete control over your life, your role, standing, lifestyle, knowledge and lifespan. All this is basically in the hands of APE society and it’s ruler, Papa.
However, despite this iron-grip control over every conceivable dimension of human life, it didn’t look like this despotic governance could solve all the problems they ran into. Their reliance on ‘magma energy’ for everything was bound to run out, on top of that, harvesting it awakened the wrath of weird monsters called Klaxosaurs attacking their colonies. Conventional methods were either ineffective or excessive and eventually came up with robots based on the klaxosaurs themselves. Where they discovered that they needed a male-female pair to make the system work. Not even the greatest scientist of that time, Dr. Franxx, could find a way around it. Having no more humans that can do that, they had to resort to cloning completely new ones that had their genitals intact, which eventually resulted in our protagonists, Squad 13. If APE society could, they really wouldn’t have resorted to doing this and instead relied on what their current society had. This was most strongly expressed by Nine-Alpha when he mocked Kokoro for her opinions on reproduction, openly stating that gender is just a pain to have with existence and would be better off not existing at all.
At this point we believe it’s safe to say that APE society doesn’t really recognize humans as individuals but as interchangeable, replaceable parts that are all meant to serve the greater whole. Purpose is given to everyone by those at the very top and deviation from their directive is not allowed.
Something Untouchable within an Individual
However, Dr. Franxx wanted to make an experiment that allowed Hiro, Ichigo, Goro, and the rest of Squad 13 to be more independent by making the system that controlled them be more lenient with handling their behavior. Heck, they even had customized robots for themselves. Without being told or against the wishes of authority, Squad 13 had created names for themselves adapted from their numerical codes, Mitsuru and Ikuno developed feelings for people not prescribed by their society, and 02 even managed to recall her ‘darling,’ continuing to pursue him even when APE wiped their memories.
A huge development in the story came after a major battle that rendered their service complete. They were awarded medals, and then basically abandoned after. Taking in what Miku and Zorome discovered; that they were just there to replace a previous Squad 13, and that there’s nothing in it for them to live as an adult, if they even manage to survive to that point, they recognized the absurdities of the society they live in and then decided that they can’t accept the conclusion APE society had in store for them. To keep fighting until they are killed in battle or die off due to their deliberately shortened lifespan.
They began seeking ways first to survive on their own, and then later attempted to create a culture where they can leave a legacy behind as suggested by Kokoro. Realizing that not only was this possible, but something they genuinely wanted over what Papa had planned for them. So when Papa had come back for them, they wanted to break free.
At this point, Ry and I had some opposing ideas on the ideas that the above events may have illustrated.
Ry believed that this was a strong reflection of the philosophy of existentialism, where they first exist and had their consciousness and ideas shaped by APE society. However, when they realized how much the ideas of that society was twisted against them, and at the same time, getting exposed to new ideas that are potentially better for them, began to reject what they had initially been given in order to adopt more acceptable ideas and values.
To a point I would like to agree to the ideas above, but it states that existence precedes conscience. Meaning humans can be considered as completely empty vessels when born, absorbing anything as true. Then comes a point where their minds mature and realize that whatever they were taught might not be in their best interest, and then adopt new ideas that suit these people in their place.
Where I would take issue with that is that there should be a point where they learn to value themselves over whatever they have been taught. Sure, we can say this really started when they lived on their own, but as before discussed, they were already being independent from very early on. They started naming themselves before they were sent to a plantation without anyone telling them, and they reacted in a way much different to how Nine-Aplha did when Kokoro told them about reproduction. Even before that, they reacted with curiosity for 02’s demonstration of kissing rather than disgust, like how Nine-Alpha would have. What I believe this conveys is that no matter how much you try to standardize and control a person, there’ll be some piece of them that you won’t be able to directly hold. This would be the way a person values oneself. Perhaps you can manipulate, influence or trick it, but in the end a person continues to carry a will of its own. If you violate that or don’t recognize it, a conflict between you and that individual will eventually follow.
Freedom of Will and Burden of Responsibility
The series presented different outcomes for the set of stories happening within Squad 13, which when compared to each other, appear to be resonating the same theme.
Though perhaps an exception might be Zorome and Miku? I can’t seem to draw much from them as they didn’t have much of a conclusion to their story. It was more like they played out being the audience surrogate. They journey with the audience making the major discoveries that alter everyone’s perception of the world they live in. So perhaps their stories had already concluded by that point where they simply continued to watch over everyone else.
Ikuno and Futoshi, dealt with circumstances that were tough in their own right. One had to let go of the partner they’ve grown comfortable with and the other professed her feelings to be a little more than friends for Ichigo. Now, let’s recognize that at those points in their lives, they really would have prefered that things go differently, like in a way they would like. But instead, it went the opposite direction. The important thing to take would be what they did in response to that. Futoshi ran a bit of a tantrum when Kokoro wanted to switch partners and he could’ve stayed that way. We’ve probably encountered that one person who couldn’t get over a breakup for a very long time. But that’s not the case for this round boy, it wasn’t easy for him, but he eventually got over it, rather than blaming his unfortunate fate on Mitsuru and Kokoro. Ikuno similarly didn’t get the relationship she had initially wanted, but was able to grow out of her issues and had finally become more comfortable with herself and the others.
Mitsuru had a perfectly good reason to run away from the responsibility that he and Kokoro had taken on pre-mindwipe. Kokoro wasn’t going to force him either, but he chose to do it of his own will, which made the soon to be mother, very happy.
When we talk about freedom, we initially take it as the idea to be able to do anything we want without having to be persecuted for it. That’s generally a good thing, and in a sense, that’s what all the characters are trying to practice. But if we pay attention to the details of their actions, they all represent taking on a noble endeavor. They don’t simply exercise their free will to give in to their impulses. They take responsibility over their own lives, and to some extent, the lives of those around them. All the while, learning to respect the wills of their peers in the process. They stumble, fight and struggle through the process, but they don’t lose sight of what they truly value and continue to grow alongside each other.
This freedom to take responsibility is best demonstrated by the maturity of the relationship of 02 and Hiro, who had initially used each other for selfish reasons, came to care for each other so deeply that they’d seek to be with their loved one even at their own peril. This bond was symbolized by their battle against WURM, where 02 literally turned into a giant bride as if marching to a wedding, ultimately resulting into the future that the rest of squad 13 get to live in.
In the end, 02 and Hiro act out the ideal of a bond made out of free will. Individuals join to become one without losing their sense of self. Just like the two X’s in the title logo, they connect to become a bigger whole but don’t completely overlap and retain who they are. The rest of Squad 13 built their new society out of this idea.
One will need the other.
By relying on one another, we form a society.
By recognizing individuals, we give each other freedom.
By choosing to take on responsibilities in our society, we make that freedom meaningful.
Sure, it’s a lot easier to watch a bad idea done well than a good idea done badly. But sometimes you want to be able to challenge yourself, look past what you immediately see and dig deeper to see if all that there’s to really be had are the jokes made when it aired. I saw something more in the series than what people say they did, so it made me want to seek out what it was really trying to say.
Every bit I was able to uncover showed me a little bit more to follow up on. It ended up having several podcast attempts and changes in interpretation, we finally arrive here. Maybe it was a bit confusing, maybe it was a bit of a mess. But it definitely showed a lot of great ideas. It was also fun.
If you made it to this point of the essay let me just say thank you, I hope you enjoyed this exploration of Darling in the Franxx. To be honest, I think there’s more to talk about but I’ve already gone on long enough. Do tell us what you think of this video as it’s our first crack at doing anything new for a while now.
And that’s it for now, I look forward to geeking out with all of you again.