Anime

Darling In The Franxx: Characters, Sexualities and Theories

Let me start by saying that I’m not normally into mecha anime and I got a bit burned out with dystopian fiction a few years ago. Mechas are too far removed from normal life and feel a bit like they belong in the past as far as sci-fi goes, as well as being painfully obvious metaphors for coming of age stories. Meanwhile dystopias where the human race is destroyed and children who are coincidentally of an age with the people reading it must save what’s left from some evil adults who are keeping a system because they just like pain and suffering. And there is one, ONE element about the universe that makes it different from every other dystopian fiction. Sometimes two if you’re really lucky and the inexperienced author felt like doing a bit of worldbuilding that day.

The point is that I was on the fence about Darling In The Franxx for a while. The whole of the winter season and a large part of spring too. I thought I wouldn’t really enjoy it. But it became apparent that too many people in the community were enjoying it for me not to. That’s often how these things work. Not always, but if posts were reaching my front page of reddit about it and that really cute pink-haired girl was any indication, apparently it’s a good show. Spoilers for it ahead.

And now, as I caught up in record time and am impatient to find out the end, it’s also a very interesting show, far more than the teen fodder that its wish fulfilment apparent leads and sex mechas would suggest. From sociological, sexual, and other standpoints. The characters are well written and I am working on a theory that each of them represents a different way that typical teenagers approach growing up. An attitude, a place where they fit into society, call it what you will, but from this group of characters, who are not supposed to know how to grow up, it speaks to their individuality in that they all find different ways to challenge the order of things.

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Let’s start with one of the more obvious, Ikuno and her lesbianism. Despite it not being so much of an unusual thing in-universe, where homophobia is clearly not present as a distinct force (rather just amalgamated into a bunch of taboos along with any sex), I was impressed to see Ikuno ‘come out’ to Ichigo in one of the more recent episodes (with a very pleasing response from Ichigo as well). It’s something I’m not used to seeing in anime, and one of the things I’m always keen to see more of, but this is reassuring that Japan’s media is starting to be less conservative. Ikuno’s not the only gay character in anime, but her storyline is entirely about her being so, her desires to use the Franxx without the boys, her dislike of hanging around with the boys, it’s all so wonderfully telegraphed, and it’s also about the struggles she faces coming to terms with feeling different from everyone else, so it’s a very much a coming-of-age arc for a young gay person to follow. It feels like this, this being so prominent in a popular anime, is where more and more start to seep through the cracks until in a few years, it will be entirely normal for anime characters to be gay (and not just traps). And that opens up more storytelling possibilities which, well, anything to cut down on straight brown-haired dense protagonists. In the show, Ikuno represents not just gays, but anyone who is growing up with issues of gender, who questions why gender norms are the way they are and may have to deal with isolation because no one shares her feelings. For LGBT fans of anime, who don’t get as many characters as they need in that category, she is a much-needed bone and shows promising hope for the future.

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Moving on to Futoshi, we come across a much more controversial character. The big part of his storyline has been his unrequited fascination with Kokoro and his subsequent despair when she switched away from him to Mitsuru. And I seem to be in a bit of a minority when I say that I am completely happy that that happened. Futoshi and Kokoro never felt like a natural couple, she was always awkward around him, particularly in that episode where the girls’ clothes got melted off, and her decision to switch was well telegraphed, despite her making a promise in the same episode. I’ll cover why that promise wasn’t a big deal on Kokoro’s bit but now I want to get to Futoshi’s reactions to her. And that’s the description, because he had absolutely no character prior to the partner swap besides being the chubby one and SUPER in love with Kokoro, he was just reacting to what she did and being a background character otherwise. And when he did react to her, he came across, obliviously but still, creepy. The vibe you get when a teenager has a crush, but it’s unrequited, and because they’re still teenagers and still self-absorbed, they think that the world owes them a relationship with that crush. I’ve been there myself, I’m sure many people have. Some rather unbalanced people carry that attitude into adulthood (the so-called ‘nice guys/girls’). In the episodes up to and immediately following the partner swap, I thought Futoshi was pitiful and unlikeable, him being a kid about this notwithstanding. It’s the most recent episodes that have made me realise that yes, he is in the show to represent those kids who have their first love not returned, but he’s also there to instruct people in that position how to deal with it as you reach maturity, by supporting the person he loves, wanting the best for them and their partner, and even going so far as to defend them.  So if you’ve been there and you still think life is unfair, take Futoshi’s eventual attitude as your inspiration, seek the best for those you love, no matter whether they wish to be with you or not.

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Zorome is the first character where it’s not going to be so much about sex. And it seemed like it was going to be so so much more at the beginning, when there was that image of him in the Franxx, and he was presented as a rival to Hiro in some ways. In many ways now, he is the most innocent of the entire squad. His arc has revolved around him being the most loyal to the ideals that they were brought up with, trusting in Papa always, even when it’s obvious to the audience that this will eventually be a detriment to him. In many ways this puts him to representing naivety. And that is just as important as someone who knows what’s going on in the realm of discovering yourself, perhaps even more so, naive kids are the ones with the most misconceptions. There is almost certainly more to be revealed about Zorome in the final few episodes, his number, 666, his relationship with Miku that’s been relatively untouched. For now, it’s not all about sex, and to learn with Zorome as we come of age with him we must be careful and observant of the world around us, watching for those that mean to use us. And of course, he represents that brash teenage bravado that looks so stupid to those of us who are mature but makes sense to him.

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Miku is the character I feel I know the least about at this relatively late stage. She hasn’t really had any episodes to fully explore her character (if we don’t count leading the girls in the boys vs girls episode) and has swung wildly in her emotions, as all tsunderes do, but without it really impacting on the plot.

What gives me hope and certainty that there will be more to do with her soon is partially that at this point she’s standing out hugely as the member of the squad with the least development and a few episodes ago she found a white hair. That has to be a key to discovering why the children cannot become adults, will thrust her into the limelight the way the last few episodes did so for Kokoro and Mitsuru, and may well tie into a predicted Zorome/Miku moment. Perhaps in the worst case it will target Miku and horribly damage her. As regards to where she stands on the puberty representation squad, at this stage she’s the female counterpart of Zorome, the girl whom everyone assumes has had sex and knows it all but is really inexperienced.

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In episode 2, I was hoping very hard that Mitsuru would die, so this anime would be confirmed to be a deadly anime and I would have more excitement, plus he was a prick anyway. Not very long after that, he became my favourite non-02 character. I have interesting opinions on people who are clearly intelligent and superior-sounding, because in my opinion, if you have the balls to not care what others think of you, the charisma to do so with class and enough of an intellect to be able to back up your abrasiveness with sound reasoning, you are an interesting person to be around and I’ll like you. Such it is with Mitsuru, and such it is that Kokoro began falling for him. So I like him because of his aloof position within the group (something that I always imagine myself as doing if I were in a work of fiction, even though my personality isn’t particularly like that), and how he gets broken down by Kokoro into enjoying his time with the group, because like many people like this with a cold exterior, it’s a front for his vulnerabilities. It remains to be seen how his personality will recover from having his memories wiped, but he has so far represented those among young people who nihilistically think that the whole construct of socialising and human relationships is a waste of time. The edgelords, in other words. Ironic then that he’s the first to rebel against that ideal when he cares about someone, but then so do many of those in real life when they find that rare person they also like.

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Kokoro is I feel a misunderstood character. The obvious part of what she represents is pretty easy, to the group among sexualities and approaches to growing up, is she is the person who is fascinated with the concept of making new life and will be a parent early on in her life, perhaps before she is ready for it. Of course, this being Japan, she’s also in there to really encourage the younger generation to make babies because damnit if they don’t the Japanese will die out and that’s one major point the show is almost certainly making. I expect to see positive attitudes to having a family more and more in anime until the trend is reversed.

Some of the issue with Kokoro is the way she has gone about her relationships with the group. She isn’t the best at communication, abandoning Futoshi for Mitsuru after she promised him the same day that she’d be his partner, though it’s not like it wasn’t telegraphed, you could tell she was a bit uncomfortable in earlier episodes, and later, keeping her interest in babymaking hidden from everyone except Mitsuru. Fundamentally, she’s a shy character who is learning to build her self-esteem. That’s why she agreed to Futoshi’s rather… overbearing request (after all, not knowing there was a possibility to switch and saying anything other than the affirmative probably distracting Futoshi in a battle situation, which could have very easily caused their numbers to fall even further, what else could she say?), but when later confronted with an option she didn’t know she had, took the opportunity to improve things for herself. It may have been a bit improper but plenty of rude things have been committed by anxious people not knowing how to handle situations. Plus she’s a kid who had never dealt with a complicated situation like that before, I don’t blame her for not getting it entirely right. To her, it makes sense, Mitsuru and Ikuno weren’t getting along, she didn’t want to get any closer to Futoshi, a swap should benefit all parties (which it did). Futoshi grew from it and learned something, she became closer to Mitsuru and it’s an adorable relationship that I’m angered that APE destroyed. As I should be, and that’s why this show remains fantastic. It completely fits with her character, her aforementioned parental instinct, to not be interested in someone who wants to worship her, but be interested in someone she can help make better.
Like with Mitsuru, I hope that she retains some of her development even after the memory loss but that hasn’t been shown fully yet. If the show handles that well, it’ll be fine.

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Goro is the character that everyone should aspire to be. Partially. His maturity sets him apart from the rest of the characters, in that his easy-going nature and ability to grasp situations means that he has appeared very likeable. His confession to Ichigo is an inspiring way on how to deal with unrequited love, no pressure to the other party, just letting them know about your feelings. So he seems to be already almost adult in his mannerisms. Maybe that’ll come back to bite him if the children can’t grow up.

At first glance, Goro’s issue would seem to be the same as Futoshi, unrequited love. Goro’s ideals however lie somewhere different. He’s self-sacrificial to a fault and while that’s good in his current relationship with Ichigo where everyone knows where they are with each other, it almost got him killed in his focus episode and if this show is going to kill off characters at all (something I do doubt) then it may yet kill him by the end. He’s in the show to provide that rare ideal for a teenager, for someone to look up to as another way to deal with your hormones. He represents, and encourages, you to get over your fear of admitting your love to the person that you do, even if it doesn’t turn out the way you expect. It hit me hard because otherwise, though I enjoy Mitsuru as a character more, I hope I’m not being too brash when I say Goro is the member of the team most like myself, not wanting to rock the boat if things seem fine for most people, always wanting the people I love to be happy more than anything else, even if it is above my own happiness. And I recognise that isn’t entirely a positive thing if it puts yourself in danger, maybe Goro still has that to learn.

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Though having said that I also see a lot of myself in Ichigo, particularly whenever I’ve taken a leadership role in almost anything. She struggles with the burden of leadership and also struggles with her own feelings of love being unrequited and those are really relatable problems to help. No wonder she’s the tritagonist. She’s at times been a little standoffish to the rest of the group when she hasn’t known how to deal with the situation in front of her, including cutting Zero Two out of the group at one high stakes point, but where it’s mattered, she’s come through for Hiro and the rest, to the point where she directly helped Hiro connect in a proper relationship with her love rival, Zero Two. That already makes her almost as self-sacrificial as Goro and maybe that will mean a wonderful Ichigo x Goro couple by the end? I’m not putting money on that, by the way, I think my money is actually on Hiro x Ichigo with 02 removed from the equation somehow.

Ichigo is the girl who, well, I’m not sure exactly how you might categorise her, but she’s probably many people who are at least halfway attractive in looks and personality, they are caught in an onward chain of love and end up in a confused mess of teenage feelings despite their wish to appear as a serious mature person, their youth betrays them. Sums up a lot of the cast, and as I keep saying, this has been a very instructive show for the inexperienced with love, as many of us will screw up love at some point or other. I recommend it to all teenagers.

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Particularly because of this loser. I mean, character. I mean, hero. Hero. See, Hiro is the person who 90% of at least the people attracted to women, if not the others as well, watching this will want to be, because even if you have character traits that make you identify with the others more, like I do, you’ll get teenage nostalgia from the experiences that Hiro goes through, like the excitement at the idea of someone being into you in the way that Zero Two is (at first) inexplicably into Hiro. So Hiro represents the person we all think we are, he’s our inner thoughts, and unlike many self-insert protagonists, he also develops hidden strengths later on in the series that justify him actually being amazing. He’s not the BEST main character by a long shot, but he’s a good way away from being the worst. You can see why Zero Two would want to call him her ‘darling’, he’s considerate, he treats her like she’s a human. Things not particularly common among the teenage lot. Hiro is mythical. Or in other words, he’s the natural leader that puts on a front of confidence but only if he’s in the right frame of mind to, otherwise he’s useless.

So Hiro is the person we wish we were, the good, inspiring person that cares for their darling and keeps them safe. Which finally leads us to…

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The breakout star of this anime, the breakout star of 2018. Zero Two has become inescapable in the last few months and it’s not hard to see why. She’s brimming with personality, she’s cute, devilish, strong and deeply characterised, while most characters only get one of those! She initially appeared like just a typical wish fulfillment character to pair with Hiro’s bland MC appearance but the development they’ve gone through in the past few episodes has been astonishingly detailed and given me a really fun backstory for the power couple of the year so far. She’s awesome to watch on screen, whatever her mood, from playful to angry to loving, and she’s easily my favourite character. Obviously. Who wouldn’t have Zero Two as their favourite character? because she’s designed to be people’s favourite character. Perhaps. I’m just being cynical.

The thing about 02’s character development that most impressed me is that after all of the drama of episode 15, after all this time of being standoffish with the rest of the group, Zero Two turned into this completely normal girl, with a personality that gets along with everyone and you could expect to find in every group of characters. That tells me that she was just acting out, that she was trying to push people away because she was scared of them making fun of her differences, that until she found Hiro who didn’t care what her differences were, that she was a loner because she thought people couldn’t truly love her for who she was.

That is such a great character moment and a fine allegory for the irrationalities of discrimination. She is a normal person, she just looks fearsome because of her horns and her initial brusqueness to anyone she’s not interested in. When met with hostility, she responds with hostility, when met with kindness, she responds in kind. More than anyone else, she represents not just the fantasy girl I thought she was at first, but the perils of being noticeably different in a time when you and your peers are going through so many hormonal and emotional changes, how that can lead to you being ostracised from your group, and how you can be brought back with the right amount of support.

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Well, now I’ve outed myself as a fan who overthinks way too much about this anime after starting it less than a month ago, I look forward to the final few episodes. I may post an update to this if anything fundamental changes about it.

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