With Episode 15 of Darling in the FRANXX, we’ve reached the end of Act 2. My original misgivings about the show’s pacing have gone away with every Saturday since it started airing. What other shows try to do over 24 episodes, FRANXX has already accomplished in two-thirds that time. Every scene feels perfectly placed for moving both the plot and characters forward at a pace that’s snappy, yet unhurried.
For the first third, innuendos and fanservice abounded in slice-of-life segments where budding adults experienced an onslaught of hormones. Yet, in the next third’s continuing metaphor of growing up, it’s not all birds and bees.
FRANXX has captured the uglier side of puberty as characters get into fights, re-asses priorities, and truly look at the world around them. With characters and world firmly established, the second act delves deeper into what makes them both tick.
Roller Coaster of Emotions
What a wild ride this show has been. When it first aired, I wasn’t sure how to feel. Cool designs and fun characters made for an entertaining enough show, but the pacing started off somewhat meandering. However, the slow burn of character and plot development has given viewers ample room to settle into a surprisingly rich narrative.
FRANXX’s first third started off as a raunchy slice-of-life with small bits of world-building and fun action sequences. For a ridiculous premise like FRANXX, it needed this kind of start. Rampant innuendos and fanservice (looking at you, beach episode) made viewers check their expectations at the door.
Fanservice doesn’t necessarily apply to skimpy swimsuits and bathroom shenanigans either. FRANXX has had its fair share of Trigger-brand action where giant-fightin’-robots kick reason to the curb because fuck you it’s cool.
Ultimately, what carries Darling in the FRANXX is its endearing cast of characters. Squad 13 has a nice variety of personalities, each with their own goals, motivations, and flaws. Hiro’s demurely empathetic curiosity, Ichigo’s emotional pettiness, and Zero Two’s dismissive flirtiness have been thoroughly fun to watch.
Even with flashy full-frontal appeal, Trigger and A-1 have succeeded in creating something deeper. Their deliberate pacing has resulted in strong personalities and interesting plot developments that shine because of the innuendos and fanservice, rather than in spite of it.
The show’s more outlandish aspects highlight the dichotomy between Squad 13’s life and dystopian society. Who are the mysterious papal figures behind APE, the governing body behind what remains of humanity? Why are they genetically breeding children? What drives Hiro and the rest of Squad 13 to question the world around them? Act 1 posed these questions; Act 2 has addressed and expanded them further.
A Careful Balancing Act
Where many other shows have stumbled through weaving a grand narrative (Attack on Titan comes to mind), FRANXX has the benefit of knowing the constraints of its story. With 24 episodes, it can’t afford to muck about in smoke and mirrors. Every question that’s been raised has either been resolved through its characters or probed further to drip-feed the audience details.
After the happy-go-lucky Act 1, Act 2 examines the darker side of both the characters and the world they live in. Bridging the years-long gap between the current day and Squad 13’s childhood has filled in holes that left audiences wondering what exactly drives the characters. Episode 13 in particular has explained so much about where the male and female leads come from. Zero Two’s desire to become human and Hiro’s need to belong overlap and intertwine, resulting in emotionally-charged friction that pays off in the best of ways.
The rest of Squad 13 gets ample screentime as well. Ichigo comes to terms with her own feelings and moves past them, as do Goro, Mitsuru, Zorome, and all the other kids. For such a large cast, Trigger and A-1 have expertly continued their juggling act.
Even more impressive is how they’ve managed to develop the world in conjunction with the characters. Episode 10, “The City of Eternity”, gives viewers a peek behind the screen at what exactly the kids are protecting. Let me tell you, it’s not pretty.
One of the kid’s curiosity has him wandering around the city where all of the adults live. Plantation life seemed glamorous from a distance, but Episode 10 gave us a dreary look at how people live their lives. Tones of cyberpunk and dystopia paint a sterile picture of a society that has been engineered for pure utility.
If Act 1 is FRANXX‘s version of A New Hope, then Act 2 fits perfectly as The Empire Strikes Back. With a core cast and unique world firmly established, Act 2 has probed deeper into personal narratives.
This previous Saturday, in lieu of Episode 16, Crunchyroll released a special collection of interviews with the voice actors. Nearly all of the actors spoke on how Act 2 serves as the beginning of a journey for their respective characters. A common theme that popped up was how perceptions of Squad 13 changed as new information arose. These characters have such strong ties to their backstories that it takes a bit of time to properly flesh it out.
While I was initially hesitant, Darling in the FRANXX has only gotten better with each new episode. Episode 15 ties up several character threads and arcs, bringing each personal narrative to a satisfying conclusion. This was an excellent end to Act 2, as it answered many questions while presenting potential answers for others.
With Trigger and A-1’s track record thus far, I have full confidence that they’ll create interesting plot threads and weave them into a story driven wholly by its characters.
Darling in the FRANXX is currently available for streaming on Crunchyroll.com