Darling in the FRANXX, the first collaboration between Studio Trigger and A-1 Pictures, carries out a tricky balancing act. On the one hand, you have Trigger, who brings a healthy amount of camp and action to the show. On the other is A-1, whose repertoire consists of character-driven slice-of-life moe series. After a bumpy start, the first third of FRANXX has proven to be an entertainingly unique blend of both studios.
Take You For a Ride
In the distant future, humanity resides in mobile city-fortresses due to fear of attack from savage beasts known as “klaxosaurs”. The show follows Squad 13, a group of child soldiers that must defend their home by piloting giant mecha called “FRANXX”. In order to use the FRANXX effectively, each pilot pairs up with another of the opposite gender.
What immediately sticks out upon first viewing are the rampant sexual innuendos. The show throws around terms like “pistils” and “stamens” and has pilots assume incredibly suggestive positions to operate their mech. In true Trigger fashion, this show is far from subtle. However, rather than being sexual for the sake of being sexual, FRANXX does a fantastic job of weaving its fan service into the larger narrative.
Like Chris wrote in his article on Bayonetta, context is absolutely crucial for properly interpreting media. Taken at face value, Darling in the FRANXX looks like a cash-grab at the horny male demographic. While FRANXX has fan service and monster-fightin’ robots, it frames them within the context of awkward adolescence and a surprisingly fleshed-out world.
When Studios Collide
The premise is already fun enough: teenage mecha pilots figure out puberty. However, rather than go in the direction of shows like Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann, FRANXX takes a more grounded approach. All the hallmarks of Trigger’s signature flair are there: blunt metaphors, hyperbolic rhetoric, and fluid action. Yet, it’s how the show presents these to the audience that separates it from series that are a little more on-the-nose.
A-1’s slower paced storytelling starts off somewhat at odds with the ridiculous content. Instead of pushing it further to break into the campiness (a la Kill la Kill), FRANXX’s narrative moves more ponderously. It explores a ridiculous premise through developing character relationships and quiet moments of meditation. While the series does abide by certain tropes (*cough* beach episode *cough*), it executes them in interesting enough ways that you quickly grow attached to the characters.
Beyond the excellent characters, FRANXX‘s writing shines in less obvious ways. Trigger and A-1 have done a wonderful job of throwing in small bits of world-building. Small inklings of space cults and questionable science peek through from the background. Because the story primarily follows Squad 13, you slowly piece together what exactly is happening beyond their daily lives.
The show is, ostensibly, one giant metaphor for puberty. But rather than relying on it solely for comedy and fan service, FRANXX humanizes what many would shy away from. Beneath the action-packed layer of lewd robot fights lies a story of human connections. Discovering our sense of individual sexuality is a process that everyone goes through, and FRANXX allows its characters to explore that awkward period of life together.