The Sexual Storytelling of Darling in the Franxx

There better not be any “modern masterpiece” memes surrounding this.

Are any of you guys familiar with that era of anime when everybody was trying to recapture the success of Neon Genesis Evangelion, leading to a lot of angsty mecha shows that tended to overdo the religious/sexual imagery? Well a friend of mine once said that Evangelion isn’t as influential as it once was with the recent lack of said shows (or mecha in general) being a contributing factor to his opinion, but I think a few recent big anime have proven that he and anyone who agrees with him is wrong. Darling in the Franxx is one of said anime. It’s unabashedly an Evangelion clone with its weird sexual imagery and angsty child soldiers, and has become one of the more popular anime of the Winter 2018 season for the Trigger animation, robot action, and lots of booty booty butt cheeks.

Yeah, whoever conceived this anime is obviously an ass-man who loves watching Keijo and that one scene in Prison School when the males were being questioned whether tits and ass were better over and over. From the various excuses to have the girls wave their bums in our faces to the robot controls themselves looking like assDarling in the Franxx is definitely not subtle in how it favors the sexual side of Evangelion’s fucked-up nature. But that’s not inherently a bad thing. Just because Devadasy did it really badly (if you don’t know what that anime is…don’t bother) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try discussing sex with robots as long as you know what you’re doing. Yeah that pitch alone is weird and could be interpreted multiple ways, but anime in general is a weird medium, so you might as well be open about it.

Now whether or not Darling in the Franxx knows what it’s doing is a different story altogether. Let’s take a look at what we know of the show so far based on its first two episodes. Most of us already know what the premise of the show is: it’s a post-apocalyptic world and what remains of civilization is raising child soldiers to pilot female robots in order to fight off giant beasts called klaxosaur. It’s yet to be explained why the pilots need to be kids or what these klaxosaur even are, but most people who aren’t automatically turned off by Trigger being, well, Trigger have noticed the large amounts of sexuality contained with the narrative, and the anime hasn’t exactly been subtle regarding why it’s doing this. When you have female robots that can only be piloted by a male/female pair (and incidentally, no I’m not expecting the gay community to get represented in this series), there isn’t much room for interpretation regarding your end goal. So why not have the robot controls look like female butts and have the students wear school uniforms where there’s a clear X on the females and a clear (upside-down) Y on the males?

Having said all that, it is somewhat admirable how seriously Darling in the Franxx takes its sexual symbolism, even if it’s not above resorting to fanservice cliches that are clearly meant to be throwaway eye candy, because why not? Now I’m no stranger to sex being an important part of the narrative in anime, but Darling in the Franxx is the only one I can think of that treats the actual act, rather than just the setup and consequences, as a complicated process whilst having it be a core part of the story. If we believe that the entirety, or at least the majority, of the show is all about portraying sex in virginal teens, than you can pretty much understand what’s really going on underneath the mecha text.

Sexuality is not just about the physical act, but also about orientation, inclination, exposure, interest, healthy and unhealthy relationships, and overall sexual health. Sexual health includes a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and relationships and emphasizes that potential sexual interactions should be safe and pleasurable. Teenagers need to explore sexuality as an abstract concept, as well as how it applies to them and how they will interact with others. Consideration of this topic does not exist in a void, but is subject to the views and expectations of their family, friends, and community. – Eleanor Wood

Let’s summarize Darling in the Franxx from the beginning except with our sex goggles on. We start off with our main lead Hiro, who is initially thought to be some prodigious metaphorical lover; but he fails to connect well with his first female partner and thus loses his metaphorical sex drive. However, he soon runs into a mysterious devil woman known as Zero Two, who is completely different from any other female he’s come across because she’s so open and free and has “experience” – descriptions that can’t be applied to any of Hiro’s inexperienced female classmates. While fanservice is obviously a factor, that’s also probably the reason why she’s naked when they first meet as well as why the opening favors her wearing a coat and nothing underneath said coat: to symbolize her wild girl side along with making it clear that Hiro’s preferences lean in that direction.

Of course, said woman has never “been with a man” more than three times because they tended to die afterwards, but Hiro quickly discovers that this woman is just his type in the first episode’s mecha fight. Now it’s a little unclear whether Hiro or Zero Two was being the dominant person in that action scene, but the two obviously need each other to transform the robot from a beast to a woman. What that’s supposed to symbolize, I’m not really sure. And any theory I come up with is too sexist to say out loud, so I’d rather keep that to myself.

Starting off on the second episode, we see that thanks to the “amazing sex” that either everyone saw or has become public knowledge, Hiro and Zero Two now have more attention on them – most of it good, but some of it bad. You’ve got annoying shits like Zorome who deny Hiro losing his virginity and wants it known that he can perform better, even hitting on Zero Two himself (and getting shut down). You’ve got the nice responsible girl who secretly craves lead male cock named Ichigo, who’s jealous that Hiro performed successfully with another girl, even though she’s very compatible with another dude who seems to be a nice guy. And throughout all this attention, Hiro wants to experience “being one” with Zero Two again because it makes him feel alive. Unfortunately, the adults are having none of that, which leads to Hiro being partnered with Ichigo for “practice”.

Of course, I can’t mention the sexual storytelling of Darling in the Franxx without calling attention to how these female bots are piloted in the first place. The girl has to lean forward with her butt thrusting towards the boy’s dick, while the boy sits down and handles the controls which happen to be attached to those cheeks, which causes sexual feelings to occur in the girl as a result of handling, and the final pose resembles a certain male-dominant position that also shares the same name as a style of swimming you should never do. Also the male pilot is called a stamen (the male fertilizing organ of a flower) while the female is called a pistil (the female organs, including ovaries, of a flower). Then of course there’s how if the partners aren’t in perfect sync, you can’t pilot the mecha, and all the double entrende dialogue that results from “connecting” in the first place. Seriously, you might as well have excluded the mecha setting and made this show a very well-produced hentai at this point. Although if that happened, you’d have to be Netflix-exclusive at the very least.

Knowing all this lends a lot of weight to the practice run at the end of the second episode, which is basically Ichigo trying to force herself to believe that she and Hiro are a good match whilst Hiro is trying to force himself to believe he can achieve a second orgasm with another woman. Obviously this fails, because Hiro just can’t forget his first time with the devil woman, and Ichigo trying to raise their bond by kissing him doesn’t help in making him a better sex partner (on a side note, the kids don’t know what kissing actually is because they were never taught about that sort of emotional stuff growing up, but they can feel how embarrassing it is when they attempt it). Thankfully, Zorome’s arrogance causes him to fall out of sync with his own partner as well, so it’s not a total loss. Nevertheless, Ichigo goes mad from the revelation that she and Hiro aren’t a good match, and takes it out on everyone within her vicinity – including herself and Hiro. As for Hiro himself, he’s all mopey again now that he realizes he’s nothing without a wild girl.

If the first episode is dedicated to portraying “losing your virginity” and “the perfect match”, this second episode is dedicated to portraying the consequences of these actions and what can happen when you try to force your emotions on others, especially when you’re in denial. These are all real issues that teenagers go through to a degree, and even adults can have these problems. And while “Trigger’s magic touch” is obviously a contributing factor, I think the symbolic storytelling is the true strength that differentiates something like Darling in the Franxx from, say, Masou Gakuen HxH. We’re always going to be rolling our eyes at barely legal (if at all) animated pornography, but if you have a good and fitting context, you can at least make us take it seriously. Sure there are a number of people who unabashedly love Keijo and Highschool DxD, but very few of that fanbase actually takes those shows seriously. While there are already plenty of memes coming from Darling in the Franxx, I don’t see any of them being ironic.

No it’s not the rampant sexuality and blatant fetishism that’s causing me to lose patience with this Trigger/A-1 collaboration like I’m sure a lot of people have already expressed their displeasure with. It’s how the show has the same problems most Evangelion copycats had in the old days in that it doesn’t seem to have any idea where to take them. The sexual themes are coming off as incredibly heavy-handed to me because there doesn’t seem to be any end goal beyond “this is how complicated teenage sexuality can be”, plus I find it a little weird that these teens can have feelings of romance and lust for the opposite sex, but they don’t know what kissing is. And it doesn’t help that these are incredibly obvious observations that any teen would at least be aware of, even though they wouldn’t truly understand it until they experienced it for themselves.

Also compounding problems is that with the exception of Zero Two, none of the characters have any real development or context for the themes they’re supposed to represent. We don’t know why Ichigo has feelings for Hiro other than the show telling us. And Hiro himself doesn’t seem to have any real personality beyond satisfying his frustrated libido, which isn’t exactly what I’d call suitable for someone whose name is supposed to be symbolic for the word “hero”.

It’s somewhat cute to point out all the euphemisms and somewhat-accurate depictions of teen sexuality displayed through these naive virgin soldiers, but eventually the show is going to have to do something with these metaphors other than say “this is a thing”. I’m worried that Darling in the Franxx is going to fall under the same trap most shows do when they go on for longer than three months and just use it as an excuse to artificially lengthen the story rather than because the creators needed that length to deliver all they want to say. The surface plot itself is pretty unclear. We haven’t been given any explanation or indication as to what the Klaxosaur actually are, and I have no idea how they factor into the sexual storytelling besides being obvious end goals to defeat once metaphorical orgasm is achieved. Given how they’re the main reason these robots exist in the first place, that’s a pretty distracting hole the writers left in their plot.

Ironically, Darling in the Franxx’s eventual quality is also like the sex messages it’s imparted so far: everything needs to be in sync to work correctly, but if something is off, what could be pleasure instead becomes pain. Also, you might get sick or catch a permanent disease if you overdo it. Trigger and A-1 seem to be a good match at the start, but there’s a high probability this partnership just isn’t meant to last. I mean it’s a pairing between the aggressive dominatrix of studios and the plain one whose attempts to be different have mostly been catastrophic…

…wait a fucking minute!

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