Studio Trigger [株式会社トリガー] is one of my favorite animation studios due to their thought provoking initiatives within their anime. While I have really only seen Kill la Kill [キルラキル] from them since the founders Hiroyuki Imaishi and Masahiko Otsuka left GAINAX [株式会社ガイナックス], I did enjoy their contributions to the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion [新世紀エヴァンゲリオン] and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann [天元突破グレンラガン]. Many enjoyed all three of the anime I have just named and will say all of them are great without much debate to the opposition.
Studio Trigger’s newest anime, DARLING in the FRANXX [ダーリン・イン・ザ・フランキス] has had mixture of love and intense hatred in its reception by the denizens of anime culture, one that is more of a tug-o-war than the titles I have previously mentioned. Neon Genesis is considered a classic of another era, Kill la Kill was praised because of its over the top antics, and Gurren Lagann was incredibly straightforward with the anime’s meaning.. I feel that DARLING in the FRANXX is of the same caliber, but it is for a more mature-thinking audience.
I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion, though, I do not believe most of those who dislike the show get or understand the symbolism depicted within the anime; only being focused on the happenings in the show without taking into account their real-world counterparts and the resemblance it is trying to show through their perspectives. “What does it mean to be human?” This anime showcases that question in the most obvious, yet elusive ways and does so in such a casual fashion I people are not catching the meaning, which is also semblance for how easy it is to ignore the plight of others.
SPOILER ALERT — This article will be covering content that has occurred within the first 18 episodes of DARLING in the FRANX, it is advised you have watched to this point to avoid spoilers.
Am I Good Enough?
One of the main internal struggles introduced thus far is everyone questioning, “am I good enough?”, a constant recurring theme amongst a few of the characters. You have a girl who is focused on becoming human, yet, this could easily stand for wanting to be the same as everyone else. Would [Code 002] Zero Two really want to become human so badly if everyone also had klaxosaur blood running through their veins? What about if [Code 016] Hiro had been the same as she was when she first met him? It all seems to boil down to “fitting in” or “become good enough”, that she as herself is not enough due to being an oddity. [Code 326] Mitsuru wanted to live up to Hiro’s expectations and was constantly comparing himself to his rival while also longing to gain his respect and admiration. Furthermore, we have [Code 214] Futoshi was even willing to begin starving himself in “Episode 16 — Days of Our Lives”, probably because the other’s had lightly teased him about his weight and he could also believe that is the reason that he is not having his feelings reciprocated by [Code 556] Kokoro.
it is very apparent in the show that they use “acting human” as an insult; showing that Zero Two is supposedly lesser because she is something other than what everyone else is. Despite being able to pilot a FRANXX as a lone pistil without the actual need for a stamen, or the superior strength and agility she possesses in comparison to everyone else…she still believes she is not good enough. This is portrayed many times throughout the series thus far, but really comes to a head during “Episode 12 — The Garden Where it All Began”. Zero Two began to break mirrors, grow a distasteful attitude towards everyone, and even was fine with going into “Rampage” mode while piloting Strelizia and not caring whether-or-not Hiro would die from her recklessness.
As an African-American and growing up in an urban environment, I was often teased for being different due to my proper pronunciation and liking things like anime, rock, and novels. I can get what it is like to simply want to fit in with everyone, to the point I even practiced on slang, cursing, and integrated the n-word into my everyday conversations so it felt more natural. I wanted to fit in so bad to the point where I was willing to alter most things about myself because it is possible to feel alone in the world despite being surrounded by people. The internal conflict Zero Two possesses is a true 1:1 of how I once felt; outcasted by being different than everyone around you and wanting so badly to change who you are at your core that the desperation is enough to make you hate your own reflection.
Mitsuru was willing to take an injection which has an extremely low survival rate, all so he could become a parasite and become recognized by his idol, Hiro. With the memories of Code 016 being altered where he did not remember the promise he made, Mitsuru became increasingly angry and had a complex about whether-or-not he was as capable as Hiro while simultaneously vying for his approval all the same. In “Episode 3 — Fighting Puppet”, he wants to ride with Zero Two mainly because Hiro feels the need to do so and has not gained the authorization; “I’ll be fine. Even Hiro here could ride it, so there’s no way I couldn’t”. That statement alone was him attempting to belittle Hiro while showing he was superior, even taking all the risks and [Code 002]’s nickname as “The Partner Killer” into account, Mitsuru was so set on proving he was on even ground with Hiro that he was willing to put himself into harm’s way to try and show that he could also be an exemption to the effects of riding with Iota, but to no avail.
The real world example of this I can think of is trying to show you are better than someone you admire who fails to recognize you as an equal. You will purposely go out of your way in order to gain their approval and show you are worth, blow-for-blow, every bit of praise they have ever received. Not only that, you often times want to show you are BETTER than they are to calm your own fears about being inferior. Placing someone on a pedestal and not gaining their acknowledgment can feel you with scorn and jealousy, this is often felt by us who are writers, dancers, musicians, anything that has a standing where ambition is involved and you have a friend that also shares that, yet they do it better.
Futoshi never really reflected on whether-or-not it was a bad thing to be heavier than the others, even if they did light teasing. However, as he realized that Kokoro was probably lying about staying by his side forever, he realized that it could be a weight issue and attempted to starve himself by barely eating or throwing it up whenever he actually did eat (Zorome actually says that he caught him in Episode 16). Sometimes we only begin to really question ourselves when we wonder what would make us good enough in the eyes of others to reciprocate what we give without a second thought.
Living with Rejection
This series addresses something we all have to get use to, something we all fear with every new venture or relationship we come across, and something that lurks in the back of our mind and rears its ugly head when we are on our darkest days; rejection.
Rejection is a completely natural part of life, you will not always succeed and you will not always get the person you so desperately long for. However, living through those heartaches and not allowing that to hinder your progress as a person is what life is all about, to take those chances with optimism as there is no reward without risk. We find this most through Ichigo, Goro, and Futoshi.
Ichigo has loved Hiro for a very long time, and may be the first to really understand what romantic feelings actually are from how she reacts to him. You can tell how badly it hurt to refer to Hiro as merely a “sibling” in the self-titled “Episode 6 — DARLING in the FRANXX”, since Ichigo realized that he felt the same way about Zero Two as she felt about him. Even with confessing her love to him in “Episode 14 — Punishment and Confession”, she still had to willingly transport him to Zero Two in Episode 15 and hear their declarations of love for each other over the shared communication system within their squad’s Franxx. Despite the emotions that swelled within her, and the tearing of her soul from realizing that her beloved had been taken by another, she has tried to be mature about it by welcoming Zero Two back within their ranks and even attempted to console her after her and Hiro’s reuniting.
Think about how this affects most of us. Sometimes we hold someone so dear an we have them snatched from us by someone who we had not known even existed until a bit ago; that the feelings you want to share are only one-sided and you are forced to do what is in the best interest of the person you love rather than yourself. Even beyond that, you have to watch their antics and be around that person knowing full well they are the reason you do not get what you want, that they are the reason that you have unrequited feelings that will never be reciprocated. It is a sad reality, but many of us have been through this and will have to watch them be happier with someone who is not us.
Goro I feel bad for, only because he knew that there was nothing he could do to change how things were. While he was not fully aware of his own feelings, he was able to tell Ichigo’s for Hiro without a second thought. Even confessing after being saved back in “Episode 9 — Triangle Bomb”, Goro knew that he was telling Ichigo his feelings merely for himself while knowing full-well that her heart belonged to only Hiro. Worse than this, he had to hear Ichigo’s confession to Hiro firsthand when he walked outside of their living quarters as Zero Two was to depart with the 9’s, including watching them kiss (though he did not know it was the second time they had done so). Though, he could easily be biding his time to try once again since Ichigo has to give up her feelings since Hiro and Zero Two are an item who have pronounced feelings for one another.
Many of us surely understand this scenario, of someone you like definitely having feelings for someone else before you even get a chance to say anything. Hell, to the point where you may have developed liking them only after they had already been in love with someone else for a period of time. Goro may have not garnered such a strong reaction as Ichigo merely because he already understood his place, Ichigo’s feelings, and what would happen if he let his emotions cloud his better judgment. I have had this happen on a number of occasions where I have liked someone only for them to end up liking my best friend and me not saying anything, or me letting my feelings be known knowing I would not have a chance until only after they realized it was futile to chase the person they were going for. Life is a bit harsh sometimes, but in these scenarios there is nothing you can do but wait and hope that the odds land within your favor.
Futoshi like Kokoro, anyone in squad 13 can tell you that readily. In fact, out of everyone his feelings were probably the most transparent with how he acted, maybe coming in 2nd only behind Zero Two referring to Hiro as “Darling”, but that seem more out of promiscuity rather than genuine feelings (at least initially). During “Episode 11 — Partner Shuffle”, Futoshi said to Kokoro “H-Hey, I’ll keep working to be the best partner you could have…So…could you promise to be my partner forever?!” to which she replied “Sure. I promise”. However, when they asked if anyone would want to try using a different partner, she was the first one to raise her hand so she could become Mitsuru’s pistil for a bit (while originally this seemed like it was so she could help out Mitsuru who had failing synchronization numbers, it turns out it might have been because of romantic feelings instead) and hurt the feelings of Futoshi. Not to mention he had to witness the marriage of Kokoro and Mitsuru, knowing that she had given her heart to someone (and she even slept with Mitsuru the previous night which means she may even be pregnant at this point) and settled on the role of the priest for their ceremony.
Imagine, doing EVERYTHING you can because of someone and for someone, only to have them go to someone else. She knew he liked her, would do anything for her, and was overly emotional…and still she chose Mitsuru. True, Mitsuru did come to the garden she tended from time-to-time, he was still always cold to her up until a certain point and did not show nearly the amount of interest that Futoshi showed on a regular basis. Since Kokoro loved to tend to flowers and watch them grow, perhaps she saw Mitsuru as a flower that needed the proper amount of water, sunlight, and love to properly flourish and in the process she became drawn to him. I have seen many women in my day go for guys who are incomplete and uninterested rather than someone who would willingly through their life away for the other’s benefit. Though, to avoid drama sometimes we throw away our own feelings even still and consider the person who we felt did not give us a fair shot, all so that they could have the gift of happiness we will never be able to receive from them. I have been here many times, and I am currently within this own situation myself…but it is of my own doings and I never should have left the girl in the first place or I would have certainly been married to her right now.
What’s Wrong with Me?
Sometimes we feel ostracized from those around us due to thinking we are abnormal. Sometimes it is simply that we feel like we are different, but not in terms of “fitting in” rather that we were made as a square trying to fit into a circle molding…it simply was never supposed to be in the first place. We find that mainly through Kokoro and Ikuno; though we could easily say this as well about Hiro and Zero Two, he was fine with asking questions and Zero Two was only worried about being good enough for her darling.
Kokoro has always wanted something more than what she had, and this could be explained about why she has wanted a baby in “Episode 17 — Eden”. We know that Kokoro has had something on her mind since she found that book in “Episode 7 — Shooting Star Moratorium”, but it really came to a head in Episode 17 and 18. When confronted by the 9’s, Kokoro seemed to breakdown and when Mitsuru found her she was apologizing and stating that she was wrong about everything. The entire time she was carrying a burden that they were meant for something beyond what Papa had intended, and realized that those thoughts probably were the cause of her unhappiness as far as feeling fulfilled in life. Though she was happy in “Episode 18 — When the Sakura Blooms”, she quickly had a look of shock when she heard about being perceived as “dangerous” by Papa and the others. The whole time she has had an internal struggle which seemed to never let up.
This is one that reflects so many things about so many people; wanting more than what you are given and not being satisfied merely by what you have been offered. Sometimes it may feel weird or foreign simply because everyone around you seems as though they are perfectly fine living in their current environments without asking questions or seeking greater ambitions. It takes a profound amount of courage to speak out against the crowd and to even suggest something that defies the status quo, especially when no one else seemed to ever have an inkling about meaning beyond that in front of them. When finding new information and new light arises, most people simply disregard the information or stay down the beaten path without worrying about where their curiosity can lead them and if it will be better than the road already taken.
Ikuno is the true meat of this meal however, as she is the first homosexual we have seen within DARLING in the FRANXX. Confessing her love for Ichigo in Episode 18, Ikuno says “I’m a creep, aren’t I? I get insanely jealous of boys who get to stand beside you just because they’re boys. I want to keep you all to myself. That’s so selfish, right? It’s a pain, isn’t it? Why am I like this? I hate being like this!”. While this could easily be interpreted as her being the same as Ichigo and Goro and not knowing what “love” is, Ichigo made the comment about boys which lets her know that it appears abnormal for a girl to feel this way about another girl, and she wonders why she is “like this”.
Obviously the real world counterpart to this are people who turn out to be homosexual, sometimes wondering why they are attracted to the same sex. In the modern day, I find it to be more accepting of those who love the same sex than it was in previous decades due to the the LBGTQ (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transexual, Questioning) community, gay pride, and more awareness spreading around. However, in a world such as theirs, it makes sense that she has no idea what it means to be gay; she has never heard of pairings outside of male and female, stamens and pistils. One of my best friends, who is like a brother to me, came out as gay a few years ago. While we all knew it, you could tell he had a fear building up within him and was afraid to admit anything… and one person (who is no longer my friend) was very religious who knew him, immediately judged him and gave him absolute hell for his decision. There have been reports to many gay people committing suicide from being found out or confessing and having themselves become ridiculed, or simply maintain an image of heterosexuality while secretly indulging who they really are…hurting everyone, including themselves, in the process.
It would take me a lot more sections to list everything that DARLING in the FRANXX is covering, but I believe you got the gist of what I am trying to convey. Life has many twists and turns and is different for us all. Coming from the same place with the same upbringing can still produce a universe of difference between the individuals who grew up there, each one with their own trials and tribulations to overcome. It is very easy to dismiss things that we do not know or will not affect us directly, but sometimes it is worth looking into the pain of others as you will find tiny traces of yourself within them.
DARLING in the FRANXX does a good job of highlighting interpersonal relationships thus far, displaying how emotions can greatly alter individuals as far as their thinking, decision making, and perspective of themselves and the world around them. Also, it does a good job of asking exactly what is it to be human, what exactly is the definition of humanity, and that it is okay to be incomplete and flawed rather than seeking perfection through conforming uniformity. Often they mention that the bird known as “Jian” is born with only one wing, and it requires another to take flight. This is a perfect symbolism of how we need one another to be elevated higher, but even more than that we have to be in rhythm with the same goals in mind.
I am greatly looking forward to how this series plays out, and whether-or-not we see more things as we draw closer to the finale of the most compelling anime I have currently watched this season. Only time will tell whether there are more lessons to be learned and the solutions that the problems they face yield.