Sunday 14 January 2018

First Impressions: Darling in the Franxx

Darling in the Franxx
Darling in the Franxx is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll

Given that the studio was founded by the people that helped bring Gurren Lagann to life, it's amazing that only now Trigger are creating a full-length mecha anime. Maybe it's just that trying other things were higher up on their priority list, because Darling in the Franxx still isn't a straight production. Instead Trigger have teamed up with A-1 Pictures (The Idolm@ster, Aldnoah.Zero), bringing together a number of notable staff members. The show is directed and co-written by Atsushi Nishigori (The Idolm@ster) with Naotaka Hayashi (Chaos;Head, Steins;Gate and Robotics;Notes) along with action directing by Hiroshi Imaishi (Gurren Lagann, Kill la Kill) and mechanical design by Shigeto Koyama (Star Driver, Captain Earth). That's quite the list of talent straight off the bat.

Code 002 "Zero Two"Code 016 "Hiro"

In a fortress-like 'plantation' located in a barren wasteland, a group of children await their welcoming ceremony to become 'parasites' - pilots of the Franxx, giant robots that protect humanity from giant monsters. Code 016 (aka "Hiro") ponders his future after failing his pilot exam, but a chance encounter with the "teammate killer" Code 002 ("Zero Two") - a vampiric girl with two red horns, takes him on a new path. As a monster attacks the plantation, Hiro steps up to pilot Zero Two's Franxx in the place of her fallen partner - becoming his "darling" and taking one step closer to unlocking his dormant ability.

Sadly those walking into Darling of the Franxx expecting a full-blown Trigger show akin to the likes of Gurren Lagann or Kill la Kill will immediately get those expectations crushed, as the collaborative nature of this show is very clear right from the get-go. While the show certainly has that signficant Trigger touch, the overall presentation often feels far more akin to an A-1 Pictures production - from the character designs to the CGI scenery used during the welcoming ceremony. That isn't to say A-1's resume doesn't feature some pretty polished works, but the overall style is quite different to Trigger's standard visuals so seeing them come together is quite interesting.

Hiro & Zero TwoThe Parasites

Between its barren post-apocalyptic planet, giant monster fighting robots and ounces of in-show terminology there's plenty on offer here to paint a pretty interesting setting. The episode itself doesn't give a whole lot away on a dialogue level, but the visuals say plenty in their place. The greenery of the plantation compared to the wasteland outside gives off some nice dystopian vibes that will be interesting to see going forwards, while the minutia of controlling the Franxx is still a complete mystery. Two-pilot control systems can make for some interesting dynamics when handled well, and the differing jumpsuits for the male and female characters suggests they may play into the control element. There are a whole lot of questions going into the episode and coming out of it, but the batit that it does offer is enough to grab your attention for a while longer at least.

As far as characters go the only real focus here is on Hiro and Zero Two, with everyone else feeling pretty peripheral to the main story. Hiro's got this initial uncertainty thing going on which will inevitably evolve into moments of mecha piloting basassery going forwards, while Zero Two's got this feisty, cocky personality going on that reminds me a whole lot of Eureka Seven's Anemone (though I imagine the pink hair has a lot to do with that). The episode itself dedicates itself to drawing out the similarities between this unlikely match - mostly through expositional means but their contrasting descriptions of the Jian was a nice touch. The only other really notable characters in this episode don't come off particularly well, with Hiro's former partner Naomi being introduced and immediately killed off in a poorly-conceived way to give him motivation while Dr Franxx only really memorable for an out-of place butt groping scene. The setting itself is interesting enough to get invested in the show for the time being, but the characters definitely still have some ways to go.

Dr FranxxHiro & Naomi

The previous point comfortably brings the discussion onto another reason why this doesn't quite feel like a strictly Trigger show. Putting aside how comfortable or uncomfortable you may be with it for a second, when a Trigger (or pre-Trigger Gainax) was fan service heavy it always seemed to tie it back into the plot somehow. Tenuous or not they gave a reason why Yoko was scantily clad, why baring all was the crux to Kill la Kill and why Panty & Stocking had such an outrageous title. With Darling in the Franxx all the fan service just...happens. It's not particularly well-woven into the story and so moments like the aforementioned butt grope or Hiro accidentally picking up Zero Two's underwear just really stick out. Since it's just the first episode this could change going forwards, but it definitely leaves an odd feeling that the show is just lowering the bar when it comes to fanservicey moments.

The episode saves its highs right until the very end though, which is of course where the weekly dose of mecha action decides to kick in. Even if you weren't aware that Shigeto Koyama was leading the mecha design on this series, if you have any familiarity with either Star Driver or Captain Earth you'll see his influence straight off the bat. After going full-flamoyance in Star Driver and bulking it up with Captain Earth, Darling in the Franxx's Steliza sits somewhere comfortably in the middle - bearing the same colour and design cues as its predecessors. The series' remaining Franxx are barely seen in the episode, but preview art has already confirmed that we can expect the same kind of wild design variation that made Star Driver such an off the wall treat. The fight itself however is just pure Trigger goodness, and what took the episode from simply enjoyable to something I felt properly invested in.

A KlaxosaurSteliza in action

Darling in the Franxx has gotten off to a fairly interesting start. While perhaps packing the same punch as a typical Trigger premiere, the episode raises enough questions about its setting to encourage further viewing while offering some great mecha action which draws from a number of different sources. As a collaborative effort the show also makes for some interesting watching, featuring visual hallmarks of both Trigger and A-1 Pictures without truly being defined by either of them. But truth be told, I'm just ecstatic to see Koyama continue his very distinct style of mecha design.

1 comment:

TComicMan said...

There is an amazing episodal review of Darling in the FranXX on: