I’m not sure what I expected from Darling in the FranXX. With its very typical-looking male lead and the impossible-to-ignore Zero Two, maybe I just expected another wish-fulfillment fantasy that’s so popular in anime. Guy becomes the hero, gets the girl, and then “for as long as we both shall live.”
But as I delved into the first episode, what I got was a bleak future where children, known only by their code numbers, are raised to pilot giant mecha, the show’s titular “FranXX,” to protect humanity from the threat of mysterious creatures known as klaxosaurs. Hiro is one of these children, despondent over the fact that he cannot properly pair with a female pilot—a requirement to make the FranXX function. Without the ability to do the one thing he was raised to do, Hiro struggles to cope. That is until he encounters the enigmatic Zero Two, a fierce FranXX pilot that skirts the boundary of humanity as she greets people by licking them for their taste and otherwise obliterates what one would consider proper manners. Rumors say that no pilot can survive more than three sorties with her, and Hiro sees this firsthand as Zero Two battles a massive klaxosaur without a partner.
Her FranXX is nimble and bestial as we watch her fight. The klaxosaur is alien and frightening, immediately casting an ominous shadow as we stare death in the face. But Zero Two cannot defeat it alone. Despite his past failures, despite Zero Two’s fearsome reputation, Hiro volunteers to pilot with her. Sealing this pact with a kiss, Zero Two pilots with her “darling,” and we see the true form of the FranXX as it transforms…into a shapely, saucer-eyed battle bot.
Okay, okay, so far we’ve pretty much set up the exact plot line I expected, but as Darling continues on, it passes through phases of high school comedy, monster-of-the-week spectacular, fanservice vehicle, post-apocalyptic drama, sci-fi conspiracy epic, and well beyond. Just like the visual clash of the monstrous leonine FranXX and its girlish true form, the show is surprising and mercurial. At times, it’s as if Darling in the FranXX is never quite sure what show it wants to be. But yet, as we follow along with the adventures of Squad 13, all of these permutations, nigh haphazard as they are, fit perfectly with the show’s central theme. Darling is an exploration of what it means to grow up and all of the baggage of uncertainty that entails. Faced with a world that has largely left emotion and individuality behind, the kids are put at an even further disadvantage as they explore not just what it means to become an adult, but what it means to be human. (Even the rather…provocative…poses the pilots take in their FranXX is more than just cheap fanservice, but an overt metaphor for the relationships humanity has left behind.)
“What it means to be human” is a topic I put forth as a central tenet of anime in the “Telling Anime Stories” section of OVA, so it’s not exactly surprising to see it here. Yet Darling goes further than that. What does it mean to be an adult, when you’ve been told nothing about your future? What does it mean to love, when you don’t even know what a kiss is? What does it mean to be alive, when all you’ve been told how to do is fight…and die? Our heroes grapple with this and more as they strive to make a place for themselves in, and even save, this world. They have to define what they mean to each other, and what it means to mean something to each other, as they wrestle with love and unrequited love and what future they can hope for themselves beyond the culling of Klaxosaurs.
These questions are difficult enough for the show’s young protagonists, but take on new nuances when applied to Zero Two. Being born from Klaxosaur blood, she is immediately “othered” despite her unparalleled ability to fight the Klaxosaurs themselves. Like Squad 13, she is valued for this prowess alone, but carries the extra burden of being a quote-unquote monster. As she strives along a course that she believes will bring her closer to being human, the real question becomes less “What does it mean to be human?” and more “what makes it so easy to define a thing we don’t understand as monstrous?”
And as the characters become more confident, discover not the “right” answer to these questions but the answer they have discovered for themselves, Darling in the FranXX too matures into a show quite unlike its beginnings. This rapid evolution in the last third or so of the series was understandably divisive among fans, and you’ll see a great many discourses on how the show plummets once it reaches its endgame. But in the end, FranXX becoming something you didn’t expect—finding for itself its own definition of what it should be—is as good a metaphor for adulthood as anything. And even as the show rushes forth to this conclusion, abandoning the shackles of its youth with such speed that it stumbles over countless hurdles of exposition and casts aside almost entirely the world-building it has spent so much time developing on its way to the stars…
I found myself enjoying it until the very end despite its flaws. Or maybe because of them. Anime is funny that way.
Darling in the FranXX and OVA
One of the most central concepts one has to cover when trying to run Darling in the Franxx is the unique way the FranXX themselves are piloted. Though the particulars of why aren’t explored until later in the series, it’s a given fact that special children known as parasites, one male (the stamen) and one female (the pistil), are required for the FranXX to even function at all. There are exceptions, with the parasites of the Nines unit able to switch roles at will regardless of sex, but this is nonetheless the typical piloting situation.
Once two Parasites have suited up and assumed their positions within their FranXX, they must sync up and receive their Paracapacity score. This number represents the compatibility the pair achieve and ultimately affects how effectively they can pilot the FranXX.
By default, each Parasite rolls two dice, but this can be modified by several factors listed below
- -1 — Emotionally Upset
- -1 — Rift with Partner
- -1 — Incompatibility with Partner
- -1 — Injury/Fatigue
- +1 — Natural Compatibility
- +1 — Amicable Relationship with Partner
- +2 — In Love with Partner
- +2 — Klaxosaur Blood
While often both parasites will receive the same bonuses and Penalties, it is also possible for them to have completely opposite ones depending on their emotional state and (potentially unrequited) feelings for each other.
Once you’ve determined the appropriate number of dice, both Players roll. But instead of finding results individually, they combine their dice together before calculating the highest die and multiples.
- 5 or Less — Failed Paracapacity. FranXX does not start.
- 6–8 — Low Paracapacity. –1 Piloting Effectiveness.
- 10–12 — Acceptable Paracapacity. No Bonuses or Penalties
- Greater than 12 — Exceptional Paracapacity. +1 Piloting Effectiveness
Piloting the FranXX
While ostensibly it is the stamen that pilots the FranXX, true effectiveness in battle requires open communication and compatibility between both FranXX pilots. Much like determining the Paracapacity score, both Players roll their Pilot dice when taking actions with the FranXX and determine their results as a combination of their dice. Either Player can choose the FranXX’s action for the turn, but in the case of disagreement, the stamen’s preference always takes precedence.
Well, almost always takes precedence. It is possible for the pistil to take control of the FranXX by entering Stampede Mode. The stamen no longer makes rolls, and the FranXX itself takes on a wilder, more bestial appearance. For each round spent this way, the pistil receives a loss of 20 Endurance. Obviously, this will impact the pistil’s health very quickly. Stampede Mode can also be entered when the stamen has become incapacitated or is otherwise unable or unwilling to pilot.
Zero Two, and perhaps any pilot with Klaxosaur blood, can pilot in Stampede Mode indefinitely without this Endurance drain. However, without the stamen’s Pilot dice, the FranXX is still demonstratively less effective.
When the FranXX is damaged, it will also be felt by the pistil who will receive similar injuries. This happens on a 1 for 1 basis, despite the difference in scale. Consequently, if the pistil takes enough damage to lose consciousness, the connection to the FranXX will be severed, regardless of how much Health or Endurance the FranXX itself may have left. While the stamen is spared this transference, they are also unable to individually pilot the FranXX in any way, unlike the pistil.
And that’s it for Darling in the Franxx! How did you feel about the show’s opinion-inducing finale? Who’s clearly the “best girl” (or “best guy” for that matter?) Feel free to tell me in the comments below!