In the distant future the land is ruined and humanity establishes the mobile fort city Plantation. Pilots produced inside Plantation live in Mistilteinn, also know as the “birdcage.” Children live there knowing nothing of the outside world or the freedom of the sky. Their lives consist of battling to carry out missions. Their enemies are mysterious giant lifeforms known as Kyōryū, and the children pilot robots called Franxx to face off against them. For the children, riding the Franxx proves their existence. A boy named Hiro is called Code:016, and he was once known as a prodigy. However, he has fallen behind, and his existence seems unnecessary. Not piloting a Franxx is the same as ceasing to exist. One day, a mysterious girl known as “Zero Two” appears before him. Two horns grow out of her head.
Darling in the Franxx is a show that’s very aware of its own influences. The tone, premise, and subject matter all echo aspects of classic Gainax mecha anime, especially Evangelion and Gurren Lagann. Those two shows may be polar opposites, but aspects of both are reflected in Franxx and work well together. The basic world-humans are under attack by mysterious mechs and only special mechs piloted by children can fight them-isn’t particularly unique among mecha, but the first episode was more concerned with introducing the characters than the world itself. Hiro doesn’t have a lot of personality, although his guilt over the yet-unexplained incident with Naomi leaves him with a lot of potential for growth. The general impression he gives is that he’s lost without his ability to pilot the Franxx, something heavily reminiscent of Evangelion. On the opposite side, the creative mech designs and energetically animated battles lean far more towards Gurren Lagann’s lighter tone. Although Hiro is the main character, the real standout is Zero-Two. She gives off an odd mix of confidence, sadness, and naiveté that makes her a refreshingly original character. She seems confident in her own skills, but doesn’t seem to completely understand human interaction, which might point to an isolated upbringing. At the same time, she also gives off a sense of loneliness except when Hiro’s around. Their interactions are brief, but consistently enjoyable. Hiro has the expected reaction when he sees her naked, but Zero-Two teases him about his embarrassment rather than getting embarrassed herself. It’s a refreshing choice that turns an overused gag into a funny character moment for both. Between Hiro and Zero-Two’s partnership and the pretty obvious metaphor about the birds that can only fly as a pair, it’s obvious that Franxx is going to make some sort of statement about gender and people completing each other. What that statement is, I don’t know, but it’s going to be interesting either way. With such a strong setup and Trigger’s traditionally expressive animation, Franxx is going to be a show to keep an eye on.