Since it premiered three weeks ago there have been a lot of posts about the Trigger/A-1 project, Darling in the Franxx. It seems this show got a lot of people talking, even if they were simply explaining why they won’t be watching it. Hardly surprising given despite the seemingly innocuous story of robots fighting the anime is filled with a plethora of sexual references and imagery around sexuality and it isn’t being subtle about it in the least. It was clearly not caring if it rubbed people the wrong way when it decided to position the female pilot bending over in front of her male partner who controls the robot with handsets that are literally connected to the girls’ flight suits (which for added fun are literally sprayed onto their body in a fan service laden scene).
That said, let me be clear in that while I like seeing female characters getting a range of decent roles, I don’t object to every representation of female characters in subservient roles on principle. Nor do I particularly object to this, though I can certainly see why it might annoy some. For me Darling in the Franxx represents a flawed futuristic society and one I’m kind of hoping ends up in flames by the end of the series, so for me it isn’t exactly promoting this kind of treatment of women as something that should be acceptable because the whole system is so crazy it is clearly designed to be rejected. And yes, there are issues of normalised sexuality in the way they are all paired off boy-girl but again, given the system itself here isn’t exactly something we would be leaping to adopt, I’m pretty sure the show isn’t asking us to accept that this is the actual norm that we should be aspiring to.
Moving on. A lot of the talk has focused on the partners such as Ichigo and Goro who clearly represent the normal dynamic within the world (even if that dynamic is clearly restrictive and largely insane in terms of operational efficiency for any kind of robot – okay, I am not letting go of the fact that whoever built these machines should have been fired and their funding given to someone who actually understands that technology should work all the time and not just when adolescents manage to make some sort of emotional connection). And while I haven’t disliked these discussions the more interesting character in the story seems to be the one who is getting the least attention.
And that is Zero-Two.
Admittedly, a lot about Zero-Two is an enigma which leaves us with a lot of speculation and very little in the way of fact, but Zero-Two is exactly the kind of female character who manages to always leave me just a little bit concerned. Yes, in an anime about female characters being literally driven by their male partners I’m concerned about the one who seems somewhat free of the otherwise incredibly restrictive system. However, that is because of the precedent set in literature for how these sorts of characters are ultimately dealt with by narrative and while I’d love to believe that Zero-Two would avoid these pit-falls and give us a strong and independent female character, there’s already more than enough evidence to suggest that isn’t true.
So far Zero-Two has demonstrated that she is nothing more than another representation of the archetypal character the man-devouring woman. The show isn’t even subtle about setting her up that way (though, it isn’t subtle about anything else so why would it try to hide this).
In almost every culture, mythology throws up this character. The monstrous woman unbound by societal norms who either lures men to their deaths through beguiling them or essentially hunts them down and quite literally devours them. As we came to more modern literature this character took a new form and became the social outcast or, if slightly more empowered, the femme fatale. What really didn’t change was the fate of these characters. In mythology they were almost always ultimately hunted down and defeated (chained, trapped or killed) by a heroic male who represented all that was good with society and in modern stories they either tragically conform to social norms, are sent away or forced into hiding, or in the case where they refuse to conform they are killed off.
How does Zero-Two fit this pattern? Well, she’s literally part monster and this is represented through both her hair colour and horns. She’s different from others in appearance so even if she were to bow her head and behave in the same meek manner that seems to be expected of the others when in the presence of adults, she still would not fit in with the others. But then there are her brash mannerisms and her wilful nature defying control and normal standards. But, you know, the most obvious clue would be that she quite literally devours those who pilot with her, killing them in three rides.
One of the things I find interesting is that Zero-Two is a character who presents herself as free from a fairly oppressive system and yet ultimately doesn’t go directly against her orders. While she might speak harshly and not play nice, she hasn’t defied the system in any meaningful capacity. She’s actually fairly comparable to Ichigo in that she has asserted herself and her claim over Hiro but is toeing a fairly fine line between assertion and disobedience. Even episode three when she helped Hiro pass through a security screen was more of a prank than an act of defiance. The audience therefore is given a false notion that she’s somewhat empowered when in fact she’s every bit as bound by aspects of the system as everyone else.
Basically, other than the point that Zero-Two devours her male partners (which we still aren’t sure if it is intentional or not though events at the end of episode 3 certainly suggest she has some control over it) she is ultimately just another victim of a system that no sane person is going to look at and think is okay. She’s being used because she is useful and her attitude tolerated because she knows what the line that she shouldn’t cross is.
And this leads me to my concerns for where they take this character. Ultimately I think we all know Zero-Two and Hiro will partner up and when they do, the question is whether they continue to work within the system or whether together they decide on defiance. Either way it probably won’t end well. Given there are only a few real options and none of them don’t really sit well no matter how they try and spin it.
Hiro may indeed be the perfect partner for Zero-Two and bring an end to her man-devouring ways. In which case we get the mythical story of the man taming the beast/woman, or a modern day version of the Taming of the Shrew. Which seems like a fairly lame ending for a character who has made as much of a splash in the early episodes as Zero-Two.
Hiro may be the perfect partner for Zero-Two and essentially gives her leave to do as she likes in order to save the others in some crisis down the line leaving him as the noble sacrifice and her once again as the useful beast. Double whammy if they also knock her off after the fact.
The two may confront the system head-on and end up royally burned with both of them going down in flames (after either bringing the system down or failing to do so). They might survive but I’m not getting a survivor kind of vibe from this show.
Alternatively, Hiro may ultimately reject Zero-Two after he gets a glimpse of her true face. That would be the truly tragic end for this show.
In the nature of optimism and because I don’t like being too wrong with predictions, maybe they are a match made in heaven, perfectly compliment each other’s weaknesses and end up being the best team ever and fight all the bad monsters living happily ever after without ever questioning or challenging the system that governs their reality.
I think that covers all bases really.
I should probably point out, I’m actually really enjoying Darling in the Franxx so far. While it isn’t my favourite show ever and I’m not the biggest mecha fan out there, it has so far been serviceable enough and entertaining enough at setting itself up. And certainly the side conversations about female characters and sexuality in anime have been an interesting byproduct of this anime airing.
Turning it over to you and your thoughts on Zero-Two so far, leave us a comment below and get the conversation going.
Thanks for reading.
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