Let’s talk about DARLING in the FRANXX for a minute.
It’s a weird original mecha series produced by Studio Trigger and A-1 Pictures that features work from a lot of ex-Gainax staff.
Director Atsushi Nishigori, character designer Masayoshi Tanaka, and action director Hiroyuki Imaishi worked together on Gurren Lagann, which you can clearly see influenced DARLING in the FRANXX, albeit with less humor.
Oh, and the story is written by Naotaka Hayashi. You might know him for creating Steins;Gate and Plastic Memories, which were absolute tear jerkers.
The staff is hype, but we’ll have to see if they live up to expectations later down the road. For now, we can praise them for creating one of the most exciting opening episodes this season.
The two lead characters were introduced in a simple, yet effective fashion. Hiro has failed to live up to expectations and can’t form a connection with a “Darling.” Zero Two always kills her partners, has a haughty attitude, and licks everything. We are given just enough insight into the duo’s personalities and personal goals to form a connection with them – plus can you really hate Zero Two?
It’s a classic Japanese “Red Oni, Blue Oni” story setup, which features opposite personalities working towards a similar goal. Here, our couple wants to form a successful connection with a partner.
DARLING in the FRANXX also does a great job dangling world building without diving too much into exposition. We know humanity is threatened by gigantic beasts, teens pilot mechas in male-female pairs, and adults wear funny hats.
It’s just vague enough to be interesting without falling into the info-dump trap. Unfortunately, none of the side characters make a big first impression, but they’ll get their time to shine in the future.
Of course, DARLING in the FRANXX also looks stunning. Tanaka’s simple character designs always translate perfectly to animation, and Imaishi’s eye for action is sharp.
Now, DARLING in the FRANXX isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s not totally original and falls back on common mecha tropes. Since the 70’s we’ve seen series with giant aliens, pervy old scientists, teenage mecha soldiers, and a self-loathing male who meets a girl with the opposite personality that leads him to pilot a mech. You can easily boil the premiere down as a mix of Eureka 7 and Evangelion, so fans may feel a bit of story deja-vu.
However, DARLING in the FRANXX executes the tropes perfectly in its premiere with impressive visual flair. Sometimes it’s not about being 100% original, but having stellar execution. Plus, who can hate Zero Two?