Charting Trigger's Path to DARLING in the FRANXX

Today let's take a look at the unique history of DARLING in the FRANXX's Studio Trigger!

Hey all, and welcome to Why It Works! With the fall season on its last legs, it feels like time to look forward to what this winter has to offer. Among the coming season’s diverse potential highlights, one show definitely stands out: DARLING in the FRANXX, a new original series produced by the much-vaunted Studio Trigger (co-produced with A-1 Pictures). But why are Studio Trigger so acclaimed, and what might that mean for Darling in the FRANXX? Today I’d like to explore the studio’s history a bit, cataloging their hits and misses as we lead in to their newest release!


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Like Hideaki Anno's Studio Khara, Studio Trigger was formed by a group of ex-Gainax superstars – directors and animators renowned on their work for titles like FLCL, Diebuster, and Gurren Lagann. Hiroyuki Imaishi (who we covered earlier this week) is likely the best-known of these creators, having directed both Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking while at Gainax. But Imaishi was accompanied in his departure by a number of equally talented creators who were indispensable in bringing Gainax’s fluid, exaggerated, character acting-heavy productions to life. Brilliant animators like Sushio had already contributed to defining Gainax’s 2000s-era style by the time they left with Imaishi, setting the terms of cool, expressive animation for an entire generation of western fans.


Trigger’s first major work actually wasn’t even one of their own shows – it was handling the production of The Idolmaster’s seventeenth episode, supporting a show that became an unexpected swan song for the Gainax golden age. The Idolmaster’s own bountiful animation and terrific character acting would in some ways set the terms for what to hope for from Trigger productions, but in the wake of that collaboration, the studio focused more on its comedy chops than its animation prowess. Short productions like Inferno Cop and Turning Girls demonstrated a savage comic sensibility seemingly influenced by madcap western comedies on platforms like Adult Swim. Turning Girls in particular is a bit of an underrated gem; centered on a group of young adult women on the verge of their thirtieth birthdays, it presents a sobering vision of adult living that is without parallel in anime.


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But while Studio Trigger’s shorts demonstrated their uniquely abrasive comedy, it was 2013’s Kill la Kill that positioned them as the true successor to late-era Gainax. Directed by Imaishi himself, the same man who brought Gainax’s Gurren Lagann to life, Kill la Kill was essentially a gender-swapped revision of the Gainax classic, offering hot-blooded energy, vividly dynamic visuals, and a whole lot of scantily-clad action. For those who were worried Imaishi might have lost his passion or singular vision, shows like Kill la Kill and later shorts like Sex & Violence With Machspeed would demonstrate he was still the hot-headed horndog he’d always been.


While Trigger’s old guard made statements of purpose like Kill la Kill, the studio’s talented younger creators were hard at work on Little Witch Academia, a short film created in order to foster young animation talent for the Anime Mirai project. Little Witch Academia presented a joyous vision of a magical world that was as beautiful in its execution as it was charming in its storytelling. The short film was so well-received that it inspired both a follow-up film and an eventual television series. For my money, I think Little Witch Academia may be Trigger’s best production yet – a beautifully conceived story so upbeat and joyful that it’s hard not to love, and also a perfect venue for Trigger’s imaginative animation team.


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Since their conception and first major products, Studio Trigger have plugged away on a variety of other productions, offering unique platforms for talented creators all the while. 2015’s When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace livened a fairly routine premise through the studio’s standout animated comedy, while 2016’s Kiznaiver felt almost like a formal debut of its phenomenal director Hiroshi Kobayashi. And now with DARLING in the FRANXX, the studio are going back to their roots, with Idolmaster’s director, Atsushi Nishigori, taking his turn at the wheel and Idolmaster studio A-1 Pictures sharing production duties. It’s been a strange ride for Studio Trigger, but whatever comes next, I’m sure it’ll be different from anything else out there. I hope you’re all looking forward to DARLING in the FRANXX!

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Nick Creamer has been writing about cartoons for too many years now, and is always ready to cry about Madoka. You can find more of his work at his blog Wrong Every Time, or follow him on Twitter.

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