Episode 6 – “Darling in the FranXX”
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, “DarliFra is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” And, faithful to the truism, our Aesopian sextravaganza continues to defy expectations and flip-flop its tonality episode by episode. The shuffling of staff members, some Trigger, some A1, and the revolving door of writers have, so-far, caused significant quality fluctuations. Nishigori demonstrates an inability to maintain thematic consistency, and, as a result, the show careens from storying-telling peaks to valleys. Despite the narrative chaos, the show can rest on its visual laurels, powering the sixth episode through by way of magnificent mecha madness.
DarliFra appears to have de-sexed its storehouse of metaphors but hasn’t tempered its liberal fanservice dolloping–Ichigo’s bathing disguised as a pre-battle psyche-up, the conveniently-angled, boobified exchange between Kokoro and her Pistil sisters, Ichigo grinding her defined buttocks into her FranXX’s crotch-throne, or Zero Two’s ever-quivering erogenous zones). While its primary demographic (lonely, male otaku) may gobble up the up-close compromising of their potential waifus, the pandering delegitimizes the show’s already mangled message, diluting any hopes of authentic allegory by continually demonstrating the production’s willingness to troll ratings through cheap thrills.
The writers do, however, continue to round out Ichigo’s character. Yet their attempts to empower Ichigo (by pitting her as a Pistil unwilling to betray her emotional instincts) only manage to line her up as the next potential member of Hiro’s harem. Rather than building off her botched training session revelations (and her declaration that Hiro is “terrible” in the sack), Ichigo has since only demonstrated her resolve to follow Hiro around and grovel at his feet regardless of his indifference. DarliFra squanders an opportunity to champion its female characters and critique Seele’s psycho-manipulation. Ichigo’s sabotaged confession, redirected into “I’ve always thought of you as a friend,” only serves to keep the Ichigo/Hiro/Zero Two love triangle primed and raring to go.
Episode five’s table-setting for the upcoming klaxxosaur war kept the audience’s tensions ratcheted and episode six follows through. The battle kicks off with fire and fury, establishing the Plantation 26 Parasites as calculated veterans and the 13s as floundering noobs. The numerous action sequences never seem to waver in momentum, and the animation maintains its fidelity throughout. Yet nothing prepares us for the chaotic splendor Strelizia ushers in as she eviscerates packs of baddies with sweeping destruction. The DarliFra artists portray the mechanical carnage with draw-dropping choreography. The virtuosity of the studios’ veteran animators stands front-and-center as the FranXX wreak havoc with an elegance and bombast rarely seen in episodic anime.
Unfortunately, behind the visual facade lies a narrative wasteland. Besides Hiro’s near-death experience in which he must live out every lover’s worst nightmare (having all your exes in one room), the whole script remains defiantly skin-deep. Nishigori enables DarliFra’s tonal inconsistencies by crafting episodes either loaded with metaphors or devoid of symbolism altogether. Zero Two perfectly encapsulates the sixth episode’s newfound shirking of allegory, responding to Hiro’s goody-two-shoes worldview with a simple “that’s lame.”
The plot rests limply over the Altar of Mecha Debauchery–a sensationalized Angel, I mean, klaxxosaur fight in which Strelizia uses its Spear of Longinus, I mean, lance and pierces the enemy’s core (writers didn’t bother masking that convention). Of course, Strelizia will prevail, Hiro’s blue growth will vanish as arbitrarily as it appeared, and the Stamen/Pistil pair will achieve Jiandom—these self-fulfilling plot-points do little more than elicit collective eye-rolls. Hiro’s episode-ending schmaltz, that couples need only to “lean on each other” to succeed, diffuses the electricity that the previous episode charged up around Zero Two’s inner-darkness and murky motives. The writers spare only a tidbit of compelling characterization for the horned one, unveiling her previously unknown struggle with pain and torment inside Strelizia’s cockpit. Unphased by Nishigori’s desperate attempts to ruin her, Zero Two remains compelling–her nebulous origins and layered personality give the production a healthy dose of cliffhangery. One only hopes that Hiro doesn’t grant “Zero Two’s wish” through a contrived reversal of the couple’s power-dynamic.
Episode five exposed the show’s potential—stellar visuals, strengthened by an ability to mediate its metaphorical ambitions and the sex-obsessed charm without losing its focus on character development. Episode six discards such ambitions, attempting to make up for its lack of substance with style. One almost longs for a throwback to DarliFra 1.0–a reclamation of the euphemisms and humor it once spouted. The grandiose path the show once followed did the show more favors than its new trajectory towards mediocrity. Yet DarliFra‘s penchant for inconsistency leaves me hopeful that the show may soon (perhaps next week) rediscover its mojo. Either way, Zero Two continues to magnetize and the animators continue to exercise their mastery over the craft. Despite its flaws, this Eva Clone deserves attention.
And, please remember:
~ Don’t Shoot the Messenger