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‘Darling in the Franxx’ Check-in: Ending With a Whimper

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Spoilers for Darling in the Franxx below

Franxx has been many things throughout its run, from a campy metaphor for puberty to an endearing character-driven coming-of-age story. What I never expected it to be, however, was disappointing.

I don’t normally use that word to describe media, as I often temper my expectations going in. Darling in the Franxx is a different story. I would be willing to be more forgiving of how the show ended were it not for how much I enjoyed the first two thirds.

What went wrong? How did Trigger and A-1 set their show up for success and botch it completely?

Fuck It, We’re Going to Space

People point to Episode 19 as the moment when the series truly starts to nosedive, and I’m inclined to agree. As with many problems that the last segment of Franxx had, they were merely indicative of a larger issue.

Escalation for the sake of escalation works depending on the context, but Trigger consistently drops the ball in the home stretch. This is a problem that’s plagued so many of Trigger’s shows before Franxx. The final buildup and climax amounted to nothing more than “We have to stop the aliens”.

That’s not to say it’s bad. Gurren Lagann, regardless of its own issues, worked fantastically with its over-the-top space fights and physics-defying action. It was par for the course for how characters and narrative had been developing. It made sense.

Franxx does anything but. There lies a severe disconnect between the first two thirds and the last. By making the antagonists a Borg-like alien species out to subjugate all life under their control, the show removed agency from Squad 13.

Fans had long speculated that the last act of the series would involve a rebellion arc. The kids would realize that they had the power to change their lives and rise up against the adults. However, the sudden invasion of ancient space aliens completely ruined that prospect.

No longer were the kids dictating the story’s tempo. All of their actions were simply reactionary, resulting in a frustratingly floaty and non-committal narrative. Nothing exemplifies this better than how the final battle gets resolved. By linking hands and sending Hiro and Zero Two their spirit energy, Squad 13 saves the day with the power of friendship.

I wish I were kidding.

This is Not My Beautiful Waifu

Zero Two, easily one of the best aspects of Franxx, had her character completely neutered by the end of the series. Although her’s and Hiro’s relationship had served as the driving force behind the show, it distilled down to an aggravatingly shallow level.

After 21 episodes of growing attached, the audience never again sees the sweet and sassy dino-girl who gave her scenes so much life. By the series’ end, Zero Two had devolved into generic waifu-bait material. Gone was Hiro’s energetic foil and a genuinely endearing relationship. She simply smiles and expresses her love for Hiro and their friends. We’re left with a cliched set of romantic platitudes that resolves in the worst way possible: reincarnation.

Unless you take the time to properly set it up, reincarnation is never a good plot device. It’s cheap, lazy, and only serves to undermine whatever sacrifices your characters endured. In Hiro and Zero Two’s case, it’s even worse because of how it’s done.

We never see them go through an excitingly choreographed fight where they’re perfectly in sync. No, instead what we’re subjected to is watching them slowly blow up and float back to earth as space ghosts, ending up reincarnated hundreds of years later as kids who magically cross paths.

Yeah.

What a Fine Mess We Have

Aliens and character assassination are just symptoms of a larger problem that plagues Franxx: sloppy storytelling. All of these elements work well enough in a vacuum, or even in another show. The issue with how they’re used in Franxx is that the buildup is completely divorced from the narrative’s eventual direction.

If you set your story up with a set of rules and expectations, you better damn well stick to them. Franxx was a fun show to get into because of its characters, use of fanservice, and over-the-top style. After Episode 16, that distinct flavor gradually wore off, leaving us with a bland, milquetoast show. No more suggestive metaphors, grand worldbuilding, or dynamic characters.

That’s the most frustrating part of it all. I don’t hate this show. At one point, I even loved it. Darling in the Franxx started off as something, fun, fresh, and exciting. Yet, by the end of the series it had eschewed everything that made it great and settled for the easy way out. I’m disappointed in what this show chose to be, not what it could have been.

Rumors have circulated that Franxx’s production experienced some trouble, including rushed deadlines and cut episodes. Supposedly, the manga is taking a different direction from the anime by reordering scenes and including missing content. As a direct collaboration between the series creator and the manga artist, it may yet give the kids the ending they deserve.

Kyle grew up with a controller in one hand and a book in the other. He would've put something else in a third hand, but science isn't quite there yet. In the meantime, he makes do with watching things like television, film, and anime. He can be found posting ramblings on liketherogue.tumblr.com or trying to hop on the social media bandwagon @LikeTheRogue

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Steve

    September 21, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    The title for this is Reddit Post is, “Why the ending of Darling in the Franxx feels right to me, even though it’s not what I wanted.”

    (Reddit isn’t working, so I’m going to copy this word for word with the cell phone pictures I snapped of his post, I would very much appreciate anyone with a sour taste about this ending to read this reddit post here or on Reddit. It may broaden your perspective a bit, like mine.)

    -Why the ending of Darling in the Franxx feels right to me, even though it’s not what I wanted-

    “After spending the last few weeks dreading that Hiro and Zero Two will have a bittersweet ending, I was surprisingly relieved that the ending happened the way it did. It took some time for me to reflect and understand. Here is my attempt to explain why –

    So no, they didn’t reunite with Squad 13 during their lifetimes, and no, they didn’t get to have dinobabies and live together as Klaxo hybrids. I truly believed that the main characters deserved living the rest of their lives in happiness giving the ordeal they were put through. However, it is clear that the story of Hiro and Zero Two is about more than a happy ending for their worldly lives, it’s about true beauty, and specifically Japanese aesthetics and the idea of “wabi-sabi”.

    Wabi-Sabi is the world view and aesthetic that beauty is found in things that are flawed, imperfect, incomplete, asymmetric, transient, ephemeral, and the impermanence and the fleeting moments of life and everything in general.

    This is hinted at many times in the story. Here are a few –
    – Each individual Jian bird is flawed, yet the idea that they can fly if they join together as a pair is a metaphor for marriage and illustrates the beauty of how we can compliment each other and do things we cannot do on our own.
    – Cherry blossoms are a recurring theme within the show. – Plantation 13 is named Cerasus and lined with Sakura trees, Zero Two’s hair is the colour of Sakura flowers in bloom. Cherry blossoms are a traditional Japanese symbol of the transience of life, rebirth and the beauty of the cycle. The prevalence of the flower imagery also show the theme of transience and rebirth of life.
    – Mistletoe is also a traditional symbol of rebirth as it is an evergreen parasite that lives on deciduous trees which shed their greenery in winter. When spring comes around, the fresh leaves sprout among the green mistletoe, as if it was the mistletoe stored the vitality through winter. However, mistletoe is actually a parasite, living off of it’s host.
    – The Parasites themselves – They were created ‘imperfect’ unlike the adults, which represents ‘wabi’ where the imperfection is deliberately introduced; how we see them age represents ‘sabi’ where the signs of wear and use shows.
    -Heraclitus’s quote of “No man ever steps in the same river twice (for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man)” shows the concept of constant flux and impermanence, despite appearances.
    – Norse mythology, which feature prominently in the show, revolves around the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. The sailing of Hringhorni starts Ragnarok – “Twilight of the Gods” – which describes both the destruction of the world, and it’s rebirth.

    Not just the ending of the show, but the reason for the plot of the entire final arc becomes clear with this in mind.

    Ape and VIRM represents the extreme opposite to this idea. Instead of the natural cycle, they promote the idea of permanence, a perpetual existence with no death, and hence, no rebirth. In Ep10, we were shown the old woman’s partner in his pleasure chamber, experiencing perpetual bliss but with no meaning. Dr. Franxx even asked in his flashback – Where is the beauty in this type of existence.

    So in the ending where these two world views collide in the final battle, Hiro and Zero Two completed their thematic arc in a literal sense. With death, the cycle begins anew. All the souls that VIRM adsorbed are released back to the natural state for rebirth.

    Yet, the idea of a perpetual existence is something that Kings and men throughout the ages have always craved, to live as immortal, as or among gods. This is the reason why VIRM declared they will never die. The idea that they represent cannot be killed.

    The final clue is that when Zero Two’s stone body crumbled, what was revealed was a sapling. This grew into the Sakura tree that our reincarnated main characters ended up meeting under. After wandering space for a countless number of years, they came back to the home that Squad 13 and the parasites built for them and were reborn, with both Hiro/Zero Two and Squad 13 fulfilling the promises they made to each other. This is inline with the idea of ‘enso’, or circle and indicates that our protagonist’s story is complete.

    Hence, it’s not the perfect ending, it’s not the fairy tale ending we wanted, and it’s not what we thought the characters deserved. But that’s OK. It was the right ending, and a beautiful story as everything came full circle with a new beginning.” – End Quote

    NB – Hind sight is still 20/20. I would have rather seen them live together as klaxo sapien hybrids. I would have rather had seen them reunite with Squad 13 and live happily ever after. I would have definitely rather of had the 3rd Act given the right amount of time to development. And I would have rather had a different plot device help our MCs in that final battle, instead of ‘the pOwEr Of FrIeNdShIp!’.

    That all being said, after reading this user’s Reddit Post, I can say with a full heart that I’m happy with the way it ended. With a better understanding of Franxx’s thematic concepts, the idea of ‘wabi-sabi’ and ‘enso’; the ending makes perfect sense and isn’t out of line with the rest of the story, if not just a bit rushed.

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