DARLING in the FRANXX takes place in a cold and impersonal world. All we know of this world so far is what its children know and its children only know that they are tools. They are ripped from their parents at an early age and never reunited with their true family. They are told they must fight for strangers and raised in a place that’s literally referred to as a “birdcage.” They are even denied icons of humanity as simple as names, instead being referred to by their code numbers. In every way it can, Franxx’s setting attempts to dehumanize both its cast and its very world, stripping warmth and intimacy from all their actions.
Yet, intimacy survives. So far, one of the most compelling elements of FRANXX to me has been how well it illustrates the conflict between the sterility of the world the adults have created and the humanity our heroes bring to it. In the ways they internalize their caretakers’ lessons, as well as in the ways they fight back against them, DARLING in the FRANXX’s protagonists stand defiant, demonstrating the impossibility of truly removing the human element. Today on Why It Works, I’d like to explore that push and pull, the inherent conflict of finding personal meaning in an impersonal world.
FRANXX’s overarching setting works very successfully to emphasize the sterile ethos of its overseers, as well as their total control over the protagonists’ lives. In design terms, this is partially conjured through the imposing vastness of the heroes’ home, reflecting their intimidating lack of experience, control, and possibly even value in this world. On top of that, the chambers and hallways of their home don’t reflect the messiness of a lived-in place; they’re all pure white walls and starched uniforms, like a hospital wing crossed with an elite boarding school.
Separated from their parents and raised in this passionless place, the young pilots are forced to create their own terms of humanity and intimacy. Though Hiro is intrigued by Zero Two’s promise of escape, his first act of rebellion against the world occurred long ago, when he reappropriated his teammates’ numbers and turned them into actual names. Hiro’s choice to humanize their code numbers reflects how in this place, the children are forced to make due with what they’ve been taught, while still being able to turn these things they’ve been taught into more personal expressions of endearment. This trick is echoed in how they refer to each other as “siblings” and their controller as “papa” - this world may want people to stand apart, but humans always find a way to create their own families.
Zero Two has likely suffered the worst from this world’s framing. While characters like Mitsuru seem to have happily internalized the utilitarian values of this society, Zero Two’s nature as a "monster" means she’ll never be truly welcome here. In light of that, Zero Two seems to embrace her monstrous nature, and revel in playing the unhappy part she’s been assigned. Her acceptance of the way this world devalues her is made most clear in her conversations with Hiro, where she declines the offer of a true name with “once we die, we’ll only be a statistic. It won’t matter what we’re called.” Continuously referred to as “samples” or “parasites,” it’s no surprise many of these kids have chosen to embrace their replaceability.
Yet, in spite of all their leaders’ efforts to take the intimate, human element out of life, the nature of the FRANXX ultimately points to the necessity of human intimacy. Though the adults use the flower-pollination terms of female “pistil” and male “stamen” in order to add some clinical distance, it’s clear that piloting the FRANXX represents an intimate and outright sexual union. As their failures in the second and third episodes demonstrated, the Franxx simply don’t move unless their pilots possess a genuine, reciprocal emotional bond. The necessity of that bond underlines the importance of the second half of FRANXX’s title, one more small act of rebellion from Zero Two. While the adults speak in terms of samples and pilots, Zero Two dashes their obfuscation away - she wants to ride with her darling, a term of human endearment that cannot be made impersonal or remote. Just like Hiro and his names, Zero Two and her “darling” stand as an emphatic counterpoint to this world, demanding humanity in the face of a faceless world order. I don’t know where DARLING in the FRANXX will go, but I can’t imagine this sterile birdcage can hold these kids forever.