Protected: DARLING in the FRANXX Episode 5: Choices and Consequences

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Protected: DARLING in the FRANXX Episode 4: Does Anyone Else Wonder Why Zero-Two Has Security Clearance?

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Friday’s Feature: On The Man-Devouring Woman in Darling in the FRANXX

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Karandi James

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DARLING in the FRANXX Episode 2: Logically, No Machine Would Ever Be Designed To Operate This Way

Review:

Just thinking about how these machines operate, or don’t operate, it just seems so incredibly illogical in terms of design and operation. I’m hoping there’s some explanation given later as to why you would set the system up this way, but really there isn’t going to be any satisfying explanation other than a flimsy rationalisation for why we’ve got a girl bent over with a guy behind her in the cockpit.

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That isn’t actually a criticism of the show, because the show has actually been pretty fun, but it is a criticism of the world building and concept behind the show. Basically, this show needs to keep the pretty and shiny happening or we all might start questioning what they are asking us to swallow with this story and that might just leave it looking more than a little bit off.

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That said, it isn’t as though the show is going out of its way to be subtle. While Ichigo might act confused about knowing what a kiss is, we get endless dialogue that is almost too blunt to even consider a double entendre.

What I did like this episode was that we got to know the rest of the squad a bit and their personalities, that and we pretty much confirm that Hiro is going to be partnered with Zero Two because otherwise he’s not going to have much purpose in the show. His attempt at partnering with Ichigo ends pretty pathetically, though it is through the practice match that we learn a bit more about how things work.

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All and all, this is working for what it is. There are quite a few parallels between this and Evangelion (as well as a few other shows) and yet this definitely has its own kind of feel and tone. Whether that ends up being a good tone I guess will depend on where the story decides to go now.

Final note: This was voted as the show to be reviewed for patrons only so all future episode reviews of DARLING in the FRANXX will be password protected with the password provided to patrons. If you wish to become a patron, it is only $1 a month (unless you choose to provide more support). All other episode reviews from other shows this season will remain freely accessible.


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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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DARLING in the FRANXX Episode 1: This Season’s Entry Into Teens Piloting Robots

Overview:

The distant future: Humanity established the mobile fort city, Plantation, upon the ruined wasteland. Within the city were pilot quarters, Mistilteinn, otherwise known as the “Birdcage.” That is where the children live. Their only mission in life was the fight. Their enemies are the mysterious giant organisms known as Kyoryu. The children operate robots known as FRANXX in order to face these still unseen enemies.

– From Crunchyroll

Review:

Well DARLING in the FRANXX doesn’t really do subtle and it isn’t really trying to hide the many other shows that have clearly had an influence. Yet being heavily influenced by predecessors isn’t so much an issue if you can still tell a decent story and the set up in this first episode is decent enough. Though the pair symbolism with first birds and then flowers really was a little bit excessive and hammered over and over as if the audience was likely to forget it.

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While I’m not totally sold on the look of the characters here, overall it is pleasant enough to look at and the enemy and robots kind of look cool.

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And of course the main character, Hiro has failed at the start of the series and is about to leave when all of this happens. The plot here is pretty straight forward and I’m pretty sure most people could have written out the events of this episode without a lot of prompting. Again, predictability isn’t that much of an issue. The execution is done well enough and the pace of this episode works well. There’s not much to surprise you but all the elements of a reasonable story are here and I’m actually a little interested in the two leads because while we’ve seen both these types before they managed to pull it off fairly well here.

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So I’m adding this to my watch list. It isn’t my favourite genre or anything like that but I haven’t watched a mecha since Iron Blooded Orphans so I was probably ready for another series to come along.


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Karandi James.

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