Darling in the FranXX generated quite a bit of buzz, even prior to celebrities drawing fashion inspiration from it. Many hoped it would take the Mecha genre by storm and be noted in time as one of the greats like Neon Genesis Evangelion, or even Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
On paper—it should have.
The original animated series follows a group of children bred and raised for the sole purpose of piloting mechas to defend humanity from beasts called Klaxosaurs. It was co-produced by A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online, Your Lie in April, Erased), its subsidiary studio, CloverWorks (Persona 5 the Animation, Slow Start), and Studio Trigger (Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia, Inferno Cop).
Director Atsushi Nishigori (IDOLM@STER) was tasked with bringing the vision to life. He was joined by series composer Naotaka Hayashi (Chaos;Child). The two worked very closely with script writer Masahiko Otsuka (Little Witch Academia, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt) to produce the screenplay, while Masayoshi Tanaka (High School of the Dead, your name) handled character design, Shoji Hata (Ancient Magus’ Bride, Fairy Tail, Log Horizon) mastered sound design, and Asami Tachibana (Haikyu!!) produced the music.
Given some of the names and studios involved in the production, it’s easy to see why expectations were high. Unfortunately, Darling in the FranXX stands as a case in which the whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts.
The primary fault is the narrative itself. In the podcast, Shawn mentioned that he read A-1, CloverWorks, and Trigger simply could not agree on what kind of series DarliFra was to be. That is exactly how it feels watching events unfold. One week, Darling in the FranXX feels like a dystopian sci-fi mecha thriller with themes of mystery and sex. The next, it’s a teen romance drama about kids learning to interact with one another in the absence of parental support. Each ideology carries its own distinct tone and mode of storytelling, but rather than complement each other, the two compete in a metaphorical tug-of-war. The final act then transitions to an interstellar war story with spiritual overtones.
DarliFra does have a couple of things going for it. Namely, the audio and visual components. The music/sound design is pretty good overall, and while there may be some small changes in model consistency throughout the series, it’s pretty well-animated regardless of which studio produces any given episode; I think the battle scenes are particularly stunning.
Much like with Record of Grancrest War, DarliFra benefits from a rating scale that grants all four categories equal weight. Still, the AV production quality isn’t enough to save this show from its poor narrative execution. Maybe it was too ambitious a vision. Maybe it never should have been a multi-studio co-production. Whatever the reason, I have a hard time recommending it to anyone who isn’t desperate for another mech series and/or really into (literally) horny girls.
Story/Characters – 5
Art/Animation – 8
Music/Sound Design – 7.5
Enjoyment – 5.5
Overall – 6.5/10
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