Caitlin, Peter, and special guest Natasha meet in a hotel room during Otakon 2018 (with witnesses) to deliver a postmortem on the high-profile A-1/TRIGGER co-production DARLING in the FRANXX!
Recorded: Saturday 11th August 2018
Hosts: Caitlin, Peter
0:16:33 Zero Two
0:19:32 Gender and reproductive essentialism
0:26:51 Ichigo and the nice guy double standard
0:32:35 Ikuno / Mitsuru, and queerness
0:36:45 Futoshi, fat jokes, and eating disorders
0:41:41 Nana, puberty, and ableism
0:48:08 Ichigo / Zero Female friendships and gender roles
0:50:56 Logical inconsistencies
0:58:10 Kokoro’s pregnancy, politics, and the psychic baby
PETER: Did we need to clap? Because we’re all sitting here.
CAITLIN: No, we’re literally all here.
PETER: You can just start whenever you like.
[Intro theme plays]
CAITLIN: Hi, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking about Darling in the Franxx, the anime of the first and second cours of 2018 that no one could stop talking about until the show ended and everyone immediately did. But we’re not done talking about it, because there’s a lot to unpack.
My name is Caitlin. I am a staff editor and writer for Anime Feminist, as well as writing for my own website, I Have a Heroine Problem—“heroine” spelled with an E. [chuckles] And I also write regularly for The Daily Dot.
PETER: I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an associate features editor at Crunchyroll and a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist.
NATASHA: I am Natasha. I’m also a writer for the blog Shibireru Darou? Easier word would be “Isn’t It Electrifying?” I also sometimes write feature articles for Crunchyroll.
CAITLIN: So, we are all in the same room together right now.
CAITLIN: We also have two silent participants, so don’t be alarmed if you hear voices.
PETER: Or yelling.
CAITLIN: Or yelling. [chuckles] Hollering.
MICCHY: I’m about to make faces.
NATASHA: Do we want to introduce them, as well?
CAITLIN: Yeah, so that was Micchy just then. And here in the background, we have Steve Jones, both of them from Anime News Network, “This Week in Anime.”
PETER: Oh, I thought you were gonna say they’re from Twitter.
CAITLIN: Also from Twitter.
STEVE: Well, yeah, we’re also there.
NATASHA: [crosstalk] I think we’re all from Twitter.
CAITLIN: We are all from Twitter here.
MICCHY: I live on Twitter.
STEVE: We all like to have fun on Twitter.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Okay. So, as I said, we are talking about Darling in the Franxx because there’s a lot going on in that show, none of it good, really.
NATASHA: Honestly, I’d like to thank you for bringing me back to this podcast and also reminding me that Darling in the Franxx existed, because it completely wiped itself off from my brain.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Why would you thank me for that, though?
NATASHA: Well, you know, we get the opportunity to explore many, many of the issues I think this series presented itself with.
PETER: Yeah, it’s a unique series because I don’t think we normally talk about things that we pretty much all agree were bad and should be probably forgotten. But the reason for that is there’s a lot to unpack, and not in the good way where there’s lots of deep meanings and stuff like that. There’s just so many problematic ideas in it that I feel like we need to discuss why it’s wrong.
CAITLIN: Yeah, absolutely. Like, I can’t not say something about this. I can’t just let this lie.
PETER: Layer cake of concern.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. As opposed to your average titty anime where it’s like, “Well, her boobs are all over the place. Welp, that’s an issue.”
MICCHY: Titty anime’s good!
PETER: Thanks, Micchy.
CAITLIN: Thanks, Micchy.
NATASHA: We’ll save that for another podcast.
CAITLIN: We’ll have a debate podcast; a formal debate.
PETER: Fanservice is a fairly straightforward problem—or maybe not a problem, depending upon your perspective. If you like fanservice, you watch the series; if you don’t like fanservice, you won’t like the series. There’s a lot to talk about in ways that might sexualize certain genders or types of people, but that’s kind of straightforward, and you can talk about that in a more general sense. Darling in the Franxx just is like a spider web.
NATASHA: I’d say it’s more like an onion.
CAITLIN: It’s a shit lasagna.
NATASHA: There’s an outside layer of “Okay, this is pretty bad.” And then you just keep going and it just keeps getting worse. It’s just more insidious layers of problems.
PETER: It’s like that cheese they put into strings and then tie into knots, and they sell you just the knot.
PETER: You know what I’m talking about?
NATASHA: I have no idea.
CAITLIN: [through laughter] I have no idea what you’re talking about.
NATASHA: That’s… all right.
CAITLIN: That sounds amazing.
PETER: I’ll put the name of that cheese in the show notes.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Sure.
NATASHA: I’m sure it probably tastes better than Darling in the Franxx.
PETER: It’s cheese, so it’s delicious.
CAITLIN: And it’s sad because I was at first a little trepidatious about Darling in the Franxx, but I thought it had potential to be good. I thought it had potential to go some really interesting places. And I loved Zero Two because that’s just my kind of hero. People who listen regularly will probably be like, “Yeah, that sounds right.” [chuckles] She’s kind of wild. She doesn’t really care about the rules. And then it turns out it’s just a Taming of the Shrew sort of thing.
PETER: It was very misleading in its quality. That’s a weird thing to say, but I remember they never showed the inside of Zero Two and Hiro’s cockpit for two to three episodes. And after seeing the orientation of the cockpit with all the other characters, you’re just like, “There must be a reason for this.”
So, the whole community had convinced itself that Zero Two was gonna be in the receiving position, I guess. But then they finally show the cockpit and it’s exactly the same as everybody else’s, so you’re just like, “Why did you very specifically not show the inside for so long if you were going to do nothing with it?” I think that, kind of, is a summation of the series.
CAITLIN: It’s such a mess. It’s such a mess of… So much that seems like it’s going to be going to one place and do something different, and then it doesn’t. It just—
PETER: It just drops it.
NATASHA: There are a lot of dropped concepts, I think.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. There were.
NATASHA: And I think that lends itself to a lot of the issues I personally had with Darling in the Franxx. You bring up the idea of potential, which is sometimes a hard word for me to use because it’s like, “Oh, these are ideas I assign to this show without knowing where it’s going to lead,” and sometimes that’s a mistake on my part.
But I feel like Darling in the Franxx very much sets up a lot of interesting ideas, and then it spends time devoting to those ideas and pushing them in interesting places. And then it’s just like a cliff. It’s just like a sheer cliff. It just drops and it’s never brought up again. And I think that really lends to the idea of—not misplaced potential, but lost potential.
PETER: I think you’re definitely right, there. Another reason that that show is really worth talking about is because it did have a lot of potential. From a production standpoint in regards to the animation, the budget, the talent working on it, the character designs…
CAITLIN: It’s a good-looking show.
NATASHA: [crosstalk] Oh, it’s beautiful, yeah.
PETER: It had TRIGGER’s name on it, which means half the anime fandom’s immediately gonna get plugged in.
PETER: And then, they throw this world at you where there’s a dystopian future where they’re obviously wanting to play with some gender and sexual themes with mecha, which has been done very successfully before. So, there’s a lot that they could have said and they could have done with what they had. So, thematically, it was very fertile.
CAITLIN: Very fertile, much like Kokoro!
CAITLIN: Ah, man.
NATASHA: [delighted] Yuck!
PETER: So, yeah, a lot of potential. And then we got what we got.
CAITLIN: Did either of you go to any of the TRIGGER panels this weekend?
NATASHA: I did. But they were mainly for Little Witch Academia.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I went to the Little Witch Academia one. I was just wondering, because it’s been such a topic of debate, how much TRIGGER was involved in the production. There’s that flowchart that someone made. It’s like: “Was TRIGGER involved in this part of the anime? Did you like it?” “Yes.” “TRIGGER was involved.” “Did you like it?” “No.” “TRIGGER was not involved.”
PETER: I think that was LossThief.
MICCHY: That was LossThief.
CAITLIN: Was that Loss—? Okay.
PETER: But I know Evan Minto. I think he’s actually written an article on the subject. If not, you could probably just search Twitter with his handle and “Darling in the Franxx.”
NATASHA: I’m sure he’s written about it.
PETER: I know he’s spoken with the people who work at TRIGGER at length regarding their involvement in the project. They were definitely around for a lot of the groundwork, the preproduction stuff where they’re designing the world, the setting, the mechs. They were around for character designs. As far as concept, I think he said that… I can’t remember who the main writer was, but that was somebody at A-1.
NATASHA: Atsushi Nishigori?
CAITLIN: Nishigori. That’s it.
PETER: Yeah, it’s Nishigori. And then TRIGGER was around after that, but I think it was mainly Nishigori’s brainchild.
NATASHA: I feel like there are a lot of fingerprints of TRIGGER in the sense of the setting, the character designs, and the scope of the world.
CAITLIN: There are action sequences that are definitely like “Oh, that’s Imaishi right there.”
PETER: It had the classic TRIGGER “There’s an enemy. Oh, it turns out that’s not the enemy. Let’s do a final battle in space” formula.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Or transformation, like when the Strelizia transform in the first episode. When I see TRIGGER and I see transformation, I think Imaishi.
PETER: Yeah. Imaishi personally animated parts of it. But yeah, TRIGGER was involved, but it’s really hard to say how much of the writing was them. Apparently, this is very common stuff for Nishigori, so you could look at Nishigori’s past work and maybe make that assertion.
CAITLIN: Mm, I think I’d rather not.
NATASHA: [chuckles] I think at a safe standpoint, it’s fair to say that animation-wise, technical-wise, the show looks gorgeous. That’s probably the most consistent thing about the show, is that from start to end, it looks really nice. Very great action scenes, great character animation, great designs, great settings, great layouts, et cetera. But—
PETER: Sterling production.
CAITLIN: The one visual thing that drove me crazy was they used the dramatic widescreen, the dramatic letterboxing.
NATASHA: I kind of like that. [laughs]
CAITLIN: I liked it at first, but then they use it every episode. [chuckles]
NATASHA: I’m such a sucker for visual drama—very romantic, overdramatic scenes—so for me, I didn’t personally mind it. I do think it was very funny that was the only stylistic visual direction element they really added. They never used any filters. They were just like, “Oh, let’s just add that.”
PETER: It is worth saying that they definitely did crib a lot of visuals from other popular mecha shows… like Evangelion.
NATASHA: Steve is smirking in the background.
STEVE: Just a little.
PETER: If you’ve watched any other very popular mecha anime in the past—
CAITLIN: Psychosexual mecha series.
PETER: —you will see extremely familiar shots.
NATASHA: I mean, I think that’s a first reaction the community got. A lot of people watched the first episode of Darling in the Franxx and they were like, “It seems very inspired by a lot of very famous mech shows.” Which, there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that’s great.
PETER: Yeah, copying stuff is not really looked down upon in anime.
PETER: That’s usually an homage, and straightforward because they don’t want to hide the fact that it’s homage.
NATASHA: Right. But I think what happens… and correct me if I’m wrong, but one thing that ends up going on is that when you’re inspired by something so significant, so influential, but you don’t build upon it, it ends up feeling like a wasted reference.
PETER: Well, I think we’ve talked about a lot of the production, so we should probably get into the themes.
CAITLIN: So, going back to the wasted ideas and, Peter, I think it was your example that Hiro and Zero Two in the cockpit… Heh-heh, cockpit.
NATASHA: We’re gonna have a lot of sexual jokes in here, I guess.
CAITLIN: Ohh, no, I’ll try to keep it classy. No, I won’t. Let’s be real. [laughs]
NATASHA: It’s Darling in the Franxx. Let’s be real.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] That’s a really good example of something where it looks like they are leading to something interesting, leading to something different, leading to really setting up, making it look like they are going to mess around with gender expectations and gender roles in some way.
CAITLIN: And then they just revert right back to the default. And it was so insulting because it was just “Oh, he just wasn’t confident enough! Oh, now he’s doing it!” and he’s like, “Oh, it feels so good! Oh! It feels so amazing!” It’s just like, “Oh, my God…”
PETER: [crosstalk] Ah, yeah, the erectile dysfunction jokes when he couldn’t pilot.
NATASHA: I feel like, if we’re going to tackle gender tropes as a concept across the whole show, there’s a lot of examples of that. There’s obviously Hiro and Zero Two. Then there’s some of the side characters.
CAITLIN: Right, like Mitsuru.
NATASHA: Mitsuru, right? Mitsuru’s a really good example. Then there’s the lesbian girl.
NATASHA: Ikuno. Honestly, I feel like the only good example of a very solid heterosexual relationship was between… What’s her name? What’s the girl with the red hair?
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Miku.
CAITLIN: Miku and Zorome.
NATASHA: Zorome. They were actually a solid couple!
CAITLIN: Yeah, they were probably the most functional couple in the series, even though he says rude shit about her, like, “Oh, she’s cute when she’s not talking.”
NATASHA: And then she would call him out, and she’d be like, “Man, you’re a piece of shit.” [chuckles]
PETER: Well, to be honest, I really liked Hiro and Zero Two at the start.
CAITLIN: Yeah, me too.
PETER: Even deep into the series, at this certain point, they passed from being a really charming couple into this weird… They’re the most “in love” people could possibly be, so they just statically stick next to each other and talk about how great each other are, with as much physical contact as possible.
When they’re going up the elevator, they’re just like, “Are you gonna love me forever?” and he’s like, “Of course.” “If I were to leave, would you come get me?” “Yes.” “Me too.”
And that was the content of all of their conversations. And there was just nothing left. I think the last time I really thought, “Damn, why are they still a cute couple? This sucks,” was when she had that flower thing in her hair and he was staring at her, and she said, “Stop staring at me,” and he goes, “Oh, but you’re so pretty,” and she goes, “Okay, you can stare.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, that is cute.
PETER: I was like, “Shit, that’s cute.”
PETER: But yeah, at a certain point, even they just faded.
CAITLIN: It’s such an adolescent idea of what love is: when you’re in love, all you want to do is sit there and talk about how in love you are. And that’s not how it is, but that’s such a teenage relationship thing, and if they had not presented it as “No, this is actually the—” And again, it’s like, “Maybe they’ll do something with this,” because it’s obviously such a shallow relationship. But no, it really is the greatest and truest love, where all they do is sit there and talk about how much they love each other.
NATASHA: I think you bring up a really good point. I actually discussed this a little bit previously with Emily, AJRand— TheRand—
PETER: AJTheFourth on Twitter.
NATASHA: AJTheFourth. Emily Rand on Twitter. And she was mentioning how it’s kind of ironic how Hiro and Zero Two end up in such an unhealthy codependent relationship and how that’s actually a lot of people’s first love or first relationships and teenage relationships, because you believe you’ve found your soulmate and they’re everything that completes you. And in this really weird, ironic way, Darling in the Franxx portrays and shows that extremely unhealthy codependency between the two in the latter half of the show.
And one of the best things about Darling in the Franxx—probably the only good thing I’m gonna say about Darling in the Franxx other than the animation—is a really good segment at the very end where Goro specifically calls out Hiro being extremely selfish and just thinking of Zero Two all the time when clearly all of his friends are having a really rough time in that period of the anime. And he’s like, “This is all you think about. You think about Zero Two and that’s your entire life.” And I thought that was such a good callout.
CAITLIN: But then they walk it back!
NATASHA: But then they walk it back! [chuckles]
PETER: They always walk it back. Yeah, that was another aspect of their relationship that I really disliked. I guess the relationship was fine, but Zero Two was an extremely inconsistent character.
NATASHA: Oh, absolutely.
PETER: Especially when it came to this out-of-nowhere desire to become human, which was introduced around the halfway point.
CAITLIN: If you remember, that was her whole motivation forever, was she wanted to be human for him.
PETER: Literally didn’t care. I was actually hoping they would lean into something where she’s like, “Hey, you want to run away?” or something like that. I mean, why would she say that if she said, “If I kill enough Klaxosaurs, I’ll become human”? Had she given up? Never explained.
At a certain point, she pushed Hiro away because she thought she was a monster. And then they reconcile. And then she does it again. And then they reconcile. And then in the last episode, when she turns into a mech, she does it again and leaves her body behind because she wants him to be safe. And then he has to chase her into space and they just reconcile again.
CAITLIN: And eventually he’ll just become a vestigial little nerve center like the Klaxosaurs did underground.
PETER: But I remember when she started freaking out, it just seemed so crazy that she was suddenly doing that out of nowhere because that was right after they found out the childhood connection, and then suddenly she starts self-harming. Or no, that happened just before that.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It was before.
PETER: I just remembered she was happy with Hiro. She said, “Oh, cool, I’m happy where I am.” And then she starts self-harming. It repeated, so even if that wasn’t before the childhood thing, that was literally the same pattern before and after.
And then she suddenly decides that “I’m gonna be a monster, so this isn’t going to work” or something like that. There was no evidence of that beforehand. It was in direct conflict with her characterization at the end of the last episode. I don’t know. It just… that kind of shit all the time.
CAITLIN: Yeah. She’s super inconsistent. It just felt like such a low-level Taming of the Shrew sort of thing.
NATASHA: I would say a high-level Taming of the Shrew.
CAITLIN: Well, I say low-level because… Taming of the Shrew, he tames her through beating the shit out of her, whereas Hiro tames her by… I don’t know…
NATASHA: Being kind to her.
CAITLIN: Being kind and kind of boring because Hiro has never been anything but boring. And then he took his boring disease and he infected her with it.
PETER: [crosstalk] He was like a vacuum.
CAITLIN: If boring were an STD, he gave it to her.
NATASHA: It implies a lot, right? It implies, first of all, that women… and especially through the symbols of the stamen and pistil, it’s like, “Women are supposed to be very submissive. That’s the natural relationship of any romantic relationship.” Which is just an absolute no. The second thing is Zero Two is… Her nature of being wild, of being eccentric, of being someone who—
CAITLIN: It’s because she doesn’t have a good man.
NATASHA: Yes. First of all, it was an aspect of being a demon or being part-Klaxosaur. But like you said, it’s something that needs to be cured.
CAITLIN: Right. Every wild woman just needs a good man to cure her.
PETER: Also, they tie that to humanity—and I think we should probably loop around to the idea of gender essentialism through that, because the idea of being human was necessarily being a man or a woman and reproducing.
CAITLIN: And making babies. Which was so dumb to me because making babies is not what makes us human. The desire to reproduce is what makes us just like every single other animal out there.
NATASHA: It makes you alive.
CAITLIN: Right. It makes you alive. Humans are the exception because we have so much more advanced concepts than just the drive to reproduce. And that’s what makes us different from the animals. Being able to look at reproduction and decide, “No, I don’t want that,” is what makes us different from the other animals. Making babies is not what keeps our humanity.
PETER: And even within the context of the show, it really couldn’t tell us why that was important, beyond just: “That’s how it works right now, right?” They show you the people, where Zorome falls and meets that one woman, and obviously, her and her husband have this sense of ennui. But there’s no explanation for why they would be that way. They don’t really tie their happiness to the fact that they were man or woman before or that they had children or that they could reproduce before. It’s just, they don’t have that anymore and therefore sad.
CAITLIN: Right, which is a very common theme in stories where people are immortal. It’s like, “Oh, being immortal actually sucks because you get bored.” That’s a very common thing. Why tie it to babies?
PETER: I think the idea was to tie it to babies. You just literally can’t actually quantify why, so it just comes across as empty and vapid.
NATASHA: I think it also… And I’m not too qualified to talk about this in depth. Maybe you guys could probably lend a hand, but my understanding was that it’s probably some political or social commentary on the dwindling population of Japan.
PETER: There was a joke that the anime had been commissioned by Abe to help with their declining population.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Every so often, you see just a picture of Kokoro with an image of Abe superimposed over her.
PETER: She got the symbol of the Liberal Democratic Party. [chuckles] Yeah, but even within the context of the show, it does not self-explain this, because the show, in its own way… and we’re gonna get to how bad this was later on, but I think the show thinks that it was treating Ikuno well—
NATASHA: That’s cute.
PETER: —despite the fact that she was gay, which in the context of the show basically meant that she was inhuman.
NATASHA: Oh, yeah. And ill.
PETER: Yeah. How can you explain that?
NATASHA: Unlike Zero Two, who is heterosexual, her illness can’t be cured because she’s a lesbian.
PETER: Yeah. But they don’t treat her any differently. And she’s not portrayed as being any less capable of happiness than the rest of them. I think they try to give her a happy ending despite the fact that by the internal logic of the show, she should be incapable of happiness—and, by extension, every single gay person or even somebody who just is sterile or for some biological reason can’t reproduce. All of them should be incapable of happiness according to the internal logic of this show. But it can never display it.
CAITLIN: This show doesn’t have a lot of internal logic, to be fair.
PETER: Yeah. Even at its own convenience, it defied that. We were talking about the stamen–pistil situation, and they were saying women can’t be stamens because… who knows? But then the Nines later on, the women are stamens, and they don’t bother explaining it. I mean, it’s implied that they’re kind of different, but not in such a way that any of that matters.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Well, they’re clones of Zero Two (which is not how cloning works). They’re different genders than her and they look different than her, but—
PETER: They’re supposed to be more androgynous, right?
CAITLIN: Yeah, and they specifically give a speech that’s like, “Oh, you want to go back to gender stuff? Man, it’s so much better without that.” And you’re supposed to disagree with them, and I’m just like, “Yeah, it is better without gender roles.” But you’re supposed to agree with Kokoro, who’s like, “No! Men and women are different! And we should celebrate being different because that means we can make babies!”
PETER: But even if you really look at their situation, though, it looks like they and most of the children are discouraged from showing any sort of gendered behavior. They’re basically supposed to be as non-gendered as possible, even though the fact that they are boys or girls is the defining aspect that lets them pilot the mechs that they’re using. So, it’s like, “We’re really good at this because we were genetically designed to be androgynous,” even though the only thing that allows people to pilot mechs is being man and woman and pairing up.
NATASHA: Yeah. It’s a lot of conflicting ideas. And it results in a very large confusion of what the show is trying to say—if it’s trying to say anything at all—which is why when these episodes happened, I was like, “I don’t understand what your stance on sexuality is. I don’t understand your stance on… You keep swapping sides, and in being noncommittal, you’re basically saying, ‘Well, it is what it is, and we’re just gonna stick with what we know, a.k.a. gender basics, so I guess that’s our stance.’” And you’re just like, “Well, why bring up a counterargument in the first place?”
CAITLIN: Right. And it’s such a very basic idea. The way that they depict gendered behavior, it very much assumes that the way things are now is the natural order. I wrote this article about the episode with the boys-versus-girls thing. It’s like, if they’re being raised and they have no concept of sex, why would the girls be embarrassed at the [guys] seeing them?
PETER: Oh, yeah, that was another problem. So they were both supposed to be an experiment where they were allowed to express gender, but also it had said that they were denied knowledge of so many things. But also—
CAITLIN: [wryly romantic] Like love!
PETER: —they were clearly expressing those concepts all the time as if they had been enculturated in the modern day. They were just like, “The difference between boys and girls, you know! That’s just how it is.” You were told that by somebody! Come on, where’d you get that idea from?
CAITLIN: Right. This stuff is learned, and girls learn to feel ashamed when people see them naked. Boys learn that women’s bodies are inherently sexual in all contexts. This is not something that is natural. This is not something that is gonna spring fully formed with a bunch of kids who have no concept of sex, who don’t have as much of a concept of gender roles. But they present it as this. It’s insulting. Honestly, it’s really insulting.
PETER: I didn’t write this on the show notes, but I guess it might be worth talking about Ichigo. Did she end up getting together with Goro?
CAITLIN and NATASHA: Yes.
PETER: [in a whisper] That fucking pisses me off.
CAITLIN: She was pregnant at the end.
NATASHA: Oh, that’s right, she was!
CAITLIN: ‘Cause babies! ‘Cause everyone had to get together and make babies!
PETER: I knew that was gonna happen, and I was so pissed off at that idea because basically it was showing a double standard, as well. And specifically, there was even a negative fan reaction to this because episode 14, where Ichigo was pretty sure that Zero Two was gonna rip Hiro’s head off, so she was trying to keep her away from him.
CAITLIN: Oh, right. And people were saying horrible things.
PETER: Like “Kill Ichigo” or “Kill the creators,” shit like that. Yeah, they were getting death threats. So, there’s probably a lot to unpack there, but I will keep it to the show.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Don’t need to go into the fandom.
PETER: Basically, a lot of those arguments came down to the idea that Hiro didn’t owe Ichigo anything because… He was obviously in love with Zero Two. He’d made his decision; she just needed to live with it.
But on the same coin… or the other side of the— I don’t know how that saying goes. Whatever. However the saying works, Goro was constantly at Ichigo’s side and supporting her and stuff, and people said, “Well, he’s been there the whole time. He’s helping you out. Why don’t you just love him because he’s a good guy?”
So, it’s basically exactly the same dynamic Ichigo has to Hiro, Goro has to Ichigo. But for some reason, Goro has earned Ichigo’s love, whereas Ichigo needs to accept that Hiro does not love her.
CAITLIN: Well, that’s because they can sympathize with Goro, but not with Ichigo.
CAITLIN: ‘Cause girls are icky.
NATASHA: I have complicated feelings on Ichigo because, on one hand, I think she possibly is the best result of a lot of the quirks and personalities that Zero Two ended up losing. She’s willing to fight for what she believes in. She rebels against the rules eventually. So, I think she does embody a lot of interesting aspects.
But once again, because her arc is solely devoted to being the third wheel or the love interest—or not the love interest, but that Hiro is the love interest for her—and it’s just focused on that aspect, none of those other aspects are explored.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, her arc is entirely defined by her relationship with the boys around her.
PETER: I would say she’s narratively the most interesting character. But yeah, pretty much all of her subplots are undermined at some point.
Her struggle to be a leader was probably the biggest emotional conflict that any of them had, because this was a constant struggle for her. And that was a cool feature of her character until you learned that Hiro used to be the leader and it just came naturally to him because people followed him, so she was struggling to do something that Hiro could do literally without any effort at all.
CAITLIN: Right. And, God, like when they’re like, “Oh, Hiro is such a natural leader and he’s so charismatic. Everyone just wants to…” I’m like, “Really? That boring [laughs] sack of…?”
PETER: And pretty much every single relationship, it connected back to their childhood because somebody had done something for somebody else. That’s a larger theme in anime that I’m really not very comfortable with. It seems like love almost always results from a favor or “Someone did this great thing for me, and at that moment I loved them.”
I don’t like that sort of transactional love that is very common in anime. But in this series, it was literally like, if somebody liked somebody, you could trust that there would be a flashback to when they were kids and that person did something for that person.
NATASHA: I think it’s complicated because I understand that sentiment. Once again, at least from an Indian perspective, one thing I’ve always empathized with very deeply in anime is the bonds of familial love. Now whether that’s separated into romantic love or platonic love is something that’s very different.
But I think it’s less of “favors” and it’s more of “none of these children”—which, once again, I don’t think Darling in the Franxx explained very well, but it’s just something I always acknowledge—which is that a lot of these kids didn’t have families; they only had each other. So, something I wish Darling in the Franxx could have explored is this interconnective relationship of family.
It’s kind of glossed over. They’re like, “Oh, we’re just best friends. All we have is each other.” But in a show like Nagi no Asukara, there is a similar relationship between all of these people, who are also trying to find romantic relationships or they find that they like someone who they consider a part of their family for a very long time. But one thing I really like about Nagi-Asu that Darling in the Franxx never does is that there’s—
CAITLIN: Just since not every site uses the Japanese title—
NATASHA: Oh, yes, sorry.
CAITLIN: —do you want to give the English title?
NATASHA: I think it’s called A Lull in the Sea?
NATASHA: Okay. Which you can watch on Crunchyroll. [chuckles]
PETER: Thank you.
NATASHA: One of the things I really like about that show is that it balances the idea of romantic relationships with familial relationships. You can have both. Whereas Darling in the Franxx is like, “Well, if this girl is paired with this guy, then this guy has to be paired with this girl. And I guess the lesbian doesn’t really get anyone because there’s no one left.”
CAITLIN: The lesbian gets with the fat kid.
NATASHA: Yeah. And it’s just like, “No. You can have both.” And once again, that’s something I wish was explored more in Darling in the Franxx.
PETER: Maybe it’s worth talking about… Well, there’s two gay characters, actually.
NATASHA: Oh, yes. Oh, yeah.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Oh, yeah.
NATASHA: Oh, man, yeah.
PETER: Mitsuru, yeah. And just—
NATASHA: Boy, did that piss me off.
PETER: I don’t really know if there was a resolution to Mitsuru. I know he very obviously loves Hiro, and then…
NATASHA: And then just vanished.
CAITLIN: And then—
PETER: I literally don’t know what happened. He just—
NATASHA: He found the right woman.
PETER: Kokoro kept saying “I love you” until he just decided that maybe he should be straight, is what happened?
NATASHA: You know how we just mentioned that Zero Two is someone that needed a man to be cured. Literally the same for…
PETER: The perfect man.
NATASHA: Yeah. It’s just for homosexuality, right?
CAITLIN: Right. And I can see that being another case where they just don’t realize the implications of what they’re saying. I don’t think they specifically went out to be like—and this does not excuse it—I don’t think they went out and were like, “Well, Mitsuru’s gay, and then he and Kokoro get together and he’s cured.” But they set up this system of symbols and they didn’t think about the implications of it.
And so, it doesn’t matter whether it was intentional or not. They implied that Mitsuru was gay and he was cured by the love of a woman. [melodramatically] Love, the only word they weren’t allowed to learn.
PETER: I mean, the series strongly associates them piloting with sex, right?
CAITLIN: Right. Yeah, exactly.
PETER: And he wanted to pilot with Hiro, so it speaks for itself, just like Ikuno wanted to pilot with Ichigo.
NATASHA: Well, it’s interesting you bring that up because wasn’t there a whole situation where he had this promise with Hiro about piloting?
PETER: Yeah. They’d pilot together.
NATASHA: And then it’s just magically forgotten.
PETER: Well, no, I think the way they played it off was like it was a naive promise made among kids. Hiro didn’t remember because he gets brainwiped.
NATASHA: [crosstalk] Oh, yeah, that’s right. He gets brainwiped.
PETER: But Mitsuru didn’t remember that, and he should have realized that it was impossible from the beginning and it’s not really Hiro’s fault because [unintelligible due to crosstalk].
NATASHA: [crosstalk] Of course, yeah. But once again, it’s that whole… revolving around Hiro as the love—
PETER: Because everything revolves around him.
NATASHA: It’s around him.
PETER: Once again, the blandest character’s the main one. But even that, I think, Ikuno’s… [sighs] ‘Cause she got a scene, right? [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Right, yeah. She gets that scene with Ichigo. And Ichigo’s like—
NATASHA: [crosstalk] Aw, man!
PETER: That’s the angriest I’ve ever been at the series, I think.
NATASHA: [crosstalk] Oh, God! That scene.
CAITLIN: [Sarcastically] Oh, yeah. Having an unrequited crush on a guy who already has a girlfriend is totally the same as being in love and—
PETER: It’s exactly the same as being a lesbian in a world that doesn’t recognize homosexuality at all.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. Exactly the same.
NATASHA: And then they never bring it up again, and they’re just like, “Okay.”
PETER: And her heart is cured by Ichigo’s empathy, I guess—
NATASHA: Oh, yes!
PETER: —for her situation. She’s just like, “I know how you’re suffering.” And literally that’s, I guess, all Ikuno really needed, was to know that somebody understood that she wasn’t having a nice time.
NATASHA: Oh, but it’s not enough to save her, because she’s terminally ill and…
PETER: Oh, well, that was different, but yeah.
CAITLIN: But she gets to be in love with her nurse.
PETER: I guess that’s more of a Bury Your Gays thing, right?
NATASHA: Quote! Quote! Maybe.
PETER: That was just a way to get rid of her so they wouldn’t have to address the fact that she was gonna live for the rest of her life without love.
NATASHA: Yeah. But I think it ties into this concept: a girl cannot be rebellious or quirky or—
NATASHA: —different, unless she’s cured by having a normal man in her life. A boy cannot be in a relationship with another boy because that’s just wrong, and he needs to be cured by having a very motherly figure in his life because that’s what woman should be. And then a lesbian just can’t be cured, period. And fuck that. Good luck.
NATASHA: Guess you’re fucked.
CAITLIN: But it’s okay because she got to be helpful by sacrificing herself for Kokoro.
NATASHA: [sighs] Exactly.
PETER: That was the worst part. Directly afterwards, she just became super genki and wanted to help everybody and [be] a contributing member of the group, just because Ichigo said, “Oh, yeah, I understand you.” [chuckles] That fixes—
CAITLIN: We’re not so different, you and I. [gasps] “Now I see! I’m like everyone else!”
PETER: That fixes an entire childhood of feeling emotionally isolated from everyone you know and love. Cool.
CAITLIN: Should we talk about poor Futoshi?
PETER: Oh, yeah.
CAITLIN: Oh, man.
PETER: It really just hits… I’m struggling to find ways that it wasn’t… [chuckles]
CAITLIN: It was just so— And listen, I don’t want to be like, “How could Kokoro leave him?” She can make her own choices. Whatever.
PETER: Yeah. That, by itself, is fine.
CAITLIN: She is not obligated to be with him.
PETER: And if he’d done that to Mitsuru or something like that, that would have been cool. But the fact that it was Futoshi, the fat guy who was the butt of every single joke, it made it look like yet another situation where it’s just like, “He’s fat, so he’s not a real person. So, let’s have it happen to him because nobody empathizes with Futoshi.
NATASHA: [crosstalk] Yeah, he’s just a funny guy.
PETER: That way, we can focus on Kokoro’s drama.
CAITLIN: And it was so cruel to him, the writing, over and over. Making him be the priest at their wedding. [chuckles]
NATASHA: Oh, shit, yeah!
NATASHA: Like why?
CAITLIN: Why would you do that?
PETER: I yelled at my computer screen. I was like…
MICCHY: Does he deliver their baby? [chuckles]
NATASHA: I don’t actually remember.
PETER: He becomes their priest, right?
NATASHA: No, he definitely becomes their priest.
CAITLIN: And he’s like, “I’m gonna do this!”
PETER: Maybe he delivered the baby. Yeah, he wanted to officiate their wedding because he wanted to do that for Kokoro, at least, or something.
NATASHA: Well, first, they kind of dehumanize him by making him incredibly possessive of Kokoro, like “Oh, don’t touch my Kokoro-chan. You better not do anything to her.” I was like, “First of all, hands off. First of all. Second of all, get your shit together.” And then, they give him an eating disorder, which…
CAITLIN: Which just kinda disappears.
PETER: Yeah. Gah, I was wondering for a moment there if they actually planned to do something because that was an intense scene. They showed some scenes where he was acting weird, and then somebody noticed that he just wasn’t eating at the dinner table. And I think he even tries to eat, but he can’t keep it down, so he just throws up literally in the middle of the group.
And somebody outs him, says, “You’re not eating.” And he basically implies, says, “The reason Kokoro didn’t love me is because I’m fat. And all you guys make fun of me because I’m fat. So why would I want to be fat? I’m not gonna eat.”
CAITLIN: And then they just keep making fun of him for being fat.
PETER: It was like a fade to black with all of them looking at Futoshi puking onto the ground and crying.
CAITLIN: It was so cringe.
PETER: Then, the next scene, everyone’s acting normally again and they completely forgot that that happened. That’s so weird because it shows to me that they had a mental awareness of how they had dehumanized Futoshi and wanted to show that they were aware that they had dehumanized him, but they didn’t actually want to do anything with it.
CAITLIN: Right! It’s so strange.
PETER: Is he the only one besides Ikuno that doesn’t have, like, a girlfriend in the end, too?
CAITLIN: No, he gets married. He has like five babies.
NATASHA: He gets married to a girl we’ve never seen before.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And he grows a really bad moustache. [laughs]
NATASHA: Oh, God. Yeah, that moustache is fucking awful.
STEVE: He turned into Paul Blart.
PETER: That’s right. He’s Paul Blart.
NATASHA: It’s pretty shitty.
CAITLIN: I really liked Gabby’s response when she saw. She’s like, “Futoshi, wipe your fucking face!” [laughs]
PETER: I guess they at least gave him that, but just the whole story treated him like shit. He was always the butt of every joke. And it was transparently because he was fat. They literally said in the story that he was the butt of every joke because he’s fat. And they said that among the characters and also by implication, narratively, that all of the jokes that we’ve put into this series, he was the butt of them because he’s fat, as well. And then they’re like, “Just so you know.”
NATASHA: Well, there is that scene—
PETER: “Also, that can have horrible psychological…”
NATASHA: Oh, yeah.
PETER: “…which can lead to eating disorders, just so you know, but we are not going to do anything with that. We just want you to know.”
NATASHA: Zorome— That’s the thing, though. Zorome, there’s a point in the scene where Zorome’s like, “You shouldn’t harm yourself, because you don’t deserve that.”
PETER: I think he kinda said, “That’s bullshit,” or something and…
NATASHA: Yeah. It’s a poignant scene because Zorome is the scene who is always making those jokes. I was like, “Oh, shit, this is gonna go somewhere. Zorome’s gonna fucking grow up and not make these stupid jokes.” No, it never happens! He’s like, “All right, I guess you’re right.”
CAITLIN: And this is the point where it sinks in that Darling in the Franxx is never gonna do anything interesting.
PETER: Was that the moment that was supposed to cure Futoshi right there, with Zorome going, “You really shouldn’t do that. It’s bad for you.” And he’s like, “Oh, shit. It is bad for me.”
CAITLIN: “I’m cured!” [chuckles]
NATASHA: “I’m cured.”
PETER: “Guess I’ll stay fat and continue being the butt of every joke, and everyone’s not gonna treat me differently anyway, even after they’ve seen literally the negative psychological effects of their years of abuse…”
NATASHA: “But I will get to make babies, so…”
CAITLIN: A bunch of babies.
PETER: [crosstalk] “But I get a girlfriend in the end. And we’ve established narratively that that’s the important thing in life.”
CAITLIN: And then he does become a baker.
NATASHA: Yeah. [chuckles]
PETER: Well, he loves bread. They’ve reminded us of that a lot.
One small thing. I didn’t see too many people bring this up, but this scene just pissed me off so bad, when Nana comes back. And her disappearance was… Oh, my God!
PETER: Literally, her concern for the children— Okay, first of all, she’s in her mid-20s, something like that? Extremely prominent secondary sexual characteristics, right? Hourglass figure, all that. And her concern for the children caused her to spontaneously enter puberty? Which, I don’t know why that’s a thing.
PETER: Well, I guess there were former pilots, right? But puberty’s the time, typically, when you start getting that hourglass figure, right? That’s when all the secondary sexual characteristics develop. So, if she’s going through puberty, I don’t know what she would look like afterward, because she’s near six foot tall and—
CAITLIN: The girls in this show are already very clearly going through puberty.
NATASHA: Well, my understanding was that she used to be a pilot.
PETER: And she was, I think, from a more standard squad, where they do whatever they do to inhibit your gendered… I’m assuming that’s what the reason was, but at this point, she’s been through puberty. [laughs] Physically, she’s been through puberty.
NATASHA: Is it less of restricting gender in terms of biological, sexual… The girls develop boobs. They’re pretty sexual.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, the girls have boobs.
NATASHA: It’s the emotional. They restrict gender tropes, but they don’t restrict sexual characteristics.
PETER: By necessity, the kids have to be able to reproduce. But they don’t socialize them with gender, except maybe the main characters. That was actually not established. Implied—
CAITLIN: It’s like the experimental group.
PETER: Implied, but then also directly contradicted.
PETER: She was from a normal squad, so she would need to be not inhibited biologically, just socially.
NATASHA: Right. But then there’s that thing where “Once you reach puberty or an age, we wipe off your emotions,” I believe?
CAITLIN: Yeah, Hachi’s like, [assumes a deep monotonous voice] “Oh, I don’t have any emotions…”
NATASHA: Emotions, right?
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; monotonous] “If I had emotions, I would care…”
PETER: [crosstalk] Maybe they give them the procedure so that they are incapable of reproducing.
NATASHA: Exactly. So, they’re inhibited sexually, they’re inhibited emotionally.
PETER: So what the fuck is spontaneous puberty?
NATASHA: What I think the concept of this was: is that, by interacting with children who are—
PETER: Brought out her natural maternal urges, which are natural and the only reason to live.
NATASHA: Yes. And also, because they are in their sexual stage of puberty, that somehow triggers her getting emotions, which— Okay, I kind of understand.
PETER: Maybe that’s what they call puberty now. Or I don’t know. It was a throwaway line that made absolutely no sense.
CAITLIN: There we go.
PETER: I was like, “I’ve never been so confident that a character had gone through puberty already.”
NATASHA: It’s confusing, because Darling in the Franxx confuses emotions for sexuality, and they intertwine but then they don’t, and it’s like, “I don’t know what you’re trying to say. Are you trying to say that we can’t have emotions without being sexual? Are you saying that we can be sexual but not have emotions? I don’t understand where you’re going with this.” And I feel like she is the perfect representation of that confusion because, like you said, she comes back—
PETER: Yeah, that might be very telling about— I mean, I don’t want to imply anything about the understanding of that kind of stuff by the writers. But it does raise some questions.
NATASHA: [chuckles] No shit. There’s that part where she’s in a wheelchair, but we have no fucking clue what happened there.
PETER: Yeah, they locked her in a jail for gender crimes. and when she finally gets out, she’s in a wheelchair. So that’s the part I was getting to. [unintelligible due to crosstalk]
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] But then she can get out of the wheelchair. [laughs]
NATASHA: Well, then she gets out of the wheelchair!
CAITLIN: It’s because there’s a small child!
PETER: So she’s in a wheelchair for that episode. They don’t bother explaining why she’s in a wheelchair. But then she sees a crying child and finds the strength to get out of her wheelchair.
NATASHA: Maternal instincts, right?
PETER: I assume it’s just like, “Anybody in a wheelchair, it’s just a lack of motivation is what it really is.” And it seemed like such a throwaway moment. Literally could have not been in the series at all. Probably could have spent some more time showing us mech battles or something like that. Don’t know why she got that character moment. Don’t even know, really, why they brought her back, because she didn’t really do too much.
CAITLIN: She didn’t do anything! She was there to be moved.
PETER: They specifically brought her back and gave her three minutes of screen time so they could be ableist, it seemed like.
NATASHA: Well, I think it brings us back to that maternal point. We’ve established that the Darling in the Franxx kids, once again, restrictive on gender tropes, not restrictive on sexual budding and then not restrictive on emotional budding, as well.
And then you have this character who has been depleted or stripped of having sexual feelings, but being with kids evokes this motherly response because that’s what woman should be. That’s the proper figure of woman, is to be a mother. So, it once again takes ten steps back. It’s like, “Well, I guess if you understand your position in society and firmly work with gender tropes as being a mom in society, yeah, sure you can get emotions back.”
PETER: She finally finished her puberty.
NATASHA: She finally finished her puberty and she’s a mom.
CAITLIN: I just want to say that that conception, the idea that women are naturally maternal, that we are naturally good at being kids—
NATASHA: [scoffs] No. Definitely not.
CAITLIN: —at taking care of kids… that pisses me off so bad because that is a major part of what is keeping my profession—teaching preschool, teaching toddlers—that is what keeps it from being more of a respected position, because it’s like, “Why would we consider this skilled labor? Why would we consider this a difficult job that you need training and that you need specific knowledge to do, if it’s just something that comes naturally to you as a woman?”
And it’s so frustrating because it is a job that requires a lot of specialized knowledge. And I’m pretty sure the situation with daycare teachers and elementary school teachers in Japan has a lot of parallels to that attitude as well as in the US.
NATASHA: I think you can even extend that mentality to— We were discussing before about how Zero Two becomes less interesting of a character, or many of the things that made her more so appealing or interesting are just slowly stripped away. And I think a lot of it is… I wouldn’t say she’s maternal, but a lot of those characteristics are emulative of “Oh, I’ll take care of you. Oh, we’ll complete this together. Who’s gonna be there for Hiro if not me?”
CAITLIN: Like angry women are just there because they’re selfish, and they need to learn to not be selfish, and then they’ll be happy, and then they’ll be tamed.
NATASHA: Right. And her relationship with the cast, which, once again, is actually not an issue I have. I like that. I like that at first she couldn’t get along with the cast, and then her getting along with Ichigo is actually one of the coolest things I actually like about this show, is Ichigo being like, “Outside of Hiro and whatever the fuck you have with him, I can respect you as a colleague,” which I wish was something they could have explored a little further in, but whatever. But once she does get to know the cast, she’s also tamed.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s like when she starts chilling out being with Hiro, then instantly she connects with the girls so much more strongly. All of a sudden, she is there with them doing each other’s hair. Before, she couldn’t connect them. And it’s just like, “Oh, well, girls like—”
NATASHA: It would almost appear as if being a human as a girl means being a motherly or empathetic figure.
CAITLIN: Right. It’s very complicated with the whole “I’m not like other girls” thing. But at the same time, growing up being a nerdy girl, being a weird girl, there were a lot of times where I would be in groups of normie girls, and I would have a lot of trouble connecting to them because they talked about a lot of stuff that I didn’t really have interest in. It’s not just a matter of “I’m not like other girls.” It’s like, I do not share interests with the mainstream feminine interests.
And so, when she’s not able to connect to the other girls, not because she’s not like them, but just because she doesn’t have common ground with them, I could connect to that. But, like I said, the moment that she settles her issues with Hiro and realizes that—
NATASHA: She’s cured.
CAITLIN: —then she totally gets along with the other girls.
NATASHA: She cured.
CAITLIN: [scoffs in disgust]
PETER: Did you ever think about the fact, though, that her entire narrative also conflicts with the general message of the story? Because the only way you’re able to be happy is by reproducing, which she’s incapable of. And she’s also on her quest to become human, and it frames becoming human as being part of the community, not reproducing. So, she effectively becomes human, they say, despite the fact that she can’t do the things that are fundamentally considered to be what comprises a human.
NATASHA: You bring up a really good point, which I actually didn’t think about. So, like you said, she’s kind of doomed in that sense. And I don’t know if you know this, but at the very end of the last episode, she and Hiro figuratively die, but because they love each other so much, they are reincarnated on Earth as human beings.
PETER: Yeah, but—
NATASHA: So, she does get her happy ending because she’s going to be a human.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, she gets to be human…
NATASHA: And she gets to reproduce!
CAITLIN: There’s a few more steps in the process!
PETER: The thing was, there was nothing to imply that she would not have been happy had it not been the fact that she needed to fight some sort of intergalactic threat and die.
PETER: If that hadn’t happened, she was now—although they could always walk it back a fifth time—perfectly happy with this community of pilots, and she felt like she was part of them, and there was no problem. In fact, they loved each other more than anybody else did, despite the fact that they couldn’t reproduce. So, had not she needed to fight the VIRM, then she never would have died and they probably would have lived happily ever after anyway.
NATASHA: Well, I think we firmly established that I think Darling in the Franxx has a consistency of being inconsistent with its follow-ups.
PETER: [crosstalk] That’s also true of the Klaxosaurs because they were considered to be more human than the humans are now.
NATASHA: [crosstalk] Oh, I don’t really know what the Klaxosaurs was about.
CAITLIN: Well, I mentioned this earlier: there are parallels between what Hiro and Zero Two become with the giant woman robot thing and him piloting her off into space, and the Klaxosaurs going underground and the females becoming these big monster things and the males are the nerve center, basically.
PETER: Like the part that lights up on the anglerfish that used to be the male fish.
CAITLIN: No, that didn’t used to be the male fish. That’s like their stick to the gonads. It’s crazy. Anglerfish are weird. It is very anglerfish, though.
PETER: Sorry for misrepresenting anglerfish biology.
But it’s kind of a catch-22 because you’d like a story to have internal consistency, but if the message is that you fundamentally cannot be happy unless you want to reproduce and that if you are a woman or a man, you have specific roles that cannot be impinged upon, it’s also okay that the writing’s not good, because the worse [they] are at trying to justify that sort of logic, probably the better. So, in that way, I definitely have mixed feelings about the writing.
CAITLIN: Hey, guys. This doesn’t have to do with gender stuff, but another dropped plotline is “Oh, what about Ikuno’s whole crisis about ‘The pilots before us died’”? It looked like they were going to do something with that, and Zero Two’s like, “Uh… they’re all doomed. They’re all gonna die.”
NATASHA: So, my reading of that was… And once again, I am so bad at remembering names. Okay, the woman who was being a motherly figure to the children.
NATASHA: Nana. So, my understanding—
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, 007.
CAITLIN: [quietly sings part of the “James Bond Theme”]
NATASHA: She was an exception to the rule in the sense that if the kids aren’t successful, they are either killed off or they are stripped of their sexual reproductive issues and also their feelings for each other, and that’s why they…
CAITLIN: And they’re refrigerated.
NATASHA: Yeah, they’re basically refrigerated.
PETER: Yeah. I think the idea is when they’re about to hit puberty, they’re just like, “Okay, we’re done with you now. You can either become a—” Oh, my God. It’s just like The Promised Neverland.
NATASHA: Spoiler alert! [chuckles]
PETER: You can either be killed or become a parent.
NATASHA: You can be an old woman that lives her dreams by… virtual reality? I don’t know what the hell that was.
CAITLIN: I don’t think it was even virtual reality. I think that it was just stimulating the pleasure centers of the brain.
PETER: Oh, yeah, the happiness machine?
PETER: And they still qualify that that’s bad, as well.
PETER: Yeah. Nothing wrong with that. [assumes a haughty voice] “But you’re not living life.”
NATASHA: That episode was so confusing.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Just a lot of half-baked ideas…
NATASHA: …that just deflate. [chuckles] They’re baked halfway to completion and then deflate again.
CAITLIN: They fall like a bad soufflé.
PETER: I’d like to believe that the writing’s bad because there’s literally no good way to write that because it is in fact incorrect and bad and there’s no way to justify that line of thinking.
NATASHA: Well, I’m going off of very hard assumptions because I haven’t really kept a track of the production process of Darling in the Franxx. But going on the very legitimate Wikipedia page, I see multiple writers for Darling in the Franxx, and I’m not sure if that might be a contributing issue to why it felt so uneven. But it definitely felt at points like different people were writing different parts of a story.
PETER: I mean, that’s pretty common in anime, though.
NATASHA: Yeah, it might be. I’m not sure.
CAITLIN: Is it multiple people doing series composition, or is it multiple people doing scripts?
NATASHA: I believe, if I go back, it is written by—and the list follows—Atsushi Nishigori, Naotaka Hayashi, Masahiko Otsuka, Rino Yamazaki, and Hiroshi Seko. So, I don’t know if these are—
PETER: Listed as primary writers?
CAITLIN: I would probably go to ANN for that because they’re specifically list the—they’re more specific in the listings. Because I believe Nishigori was doing series composition, which is basically the flow of the series.
PETER: That is the one who is supposed to keep it all together. [laughs]
CAITLIN: Yeah. And listen, if that’s the case, if he’s the one, then it’s on him. But anime is a collaborative medium. [tiredly] Da-da-da.
PETER: I’m gonna say I believe what Evan says. I have no reason to believe he’s lying. But the one thing he really emphasized there was that Nishigori was the primary creative force behind the anime.
NATASHA: I mean, we could probably speculate on this.
PETER: Not to just go like, “It’s your fault” or anything like that, but, yeah, it’s hard to say.
NATASHA: We can speculate on this all we want, but I think that the end result, which feels very affirmative for all of us, is that this show felt extremely uneven, to the point where I felt there was an immediate conflict of interests and ideas across the entire show.
CAITLIN: Yeah, absolutely.
So, I think it’s pretty much time for us to wrap up.
PETER: Did we miss anything?
CAITLIN: Did we miss anything? Is there anything you want to—
NATASHA: I feel like we scratched the surface of this.
NATASHA: There’s so much!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I know. But we could do this all day long.
NATASHA: [crosstalk] We could talk about this for hours!
PETER: I think I got all the main themes I wanted to discuss. I mean, of course, I feel like in an hour there’s only so much you could do. You could definitely go by an episode-by-episode or event-by-event sort of description on…
CAITLIN: God, no. Please, no. Please, no.
NATASHA: [crosstalk] I think the only thing I’d want to talk about, lastly, is Kokoro’s pregnancy. Like, the whole— So, for example—
PETER: [chuckles] The whole thing!
CAITLIN and NATASHA: The whole thing!
NATASHA: The whole idea that she can’t pilot the Franxx when she’s pregnant.
CAITLIN: [frustrated] Even though she does!
NATASHA: Even though she does. She also has a kid whom she names after Ai.
CAITLIN: Ai. [in a ditzy voice] Love!
NATASHA: Which she was never taught.
CAITLIN: [in a ditzy voice] The word we were never taught!
NATASHA: Right. And the baby then has the ability to mentally link itself with God-knows-what. I don’t even know. I’m not even gonna pretend like I understand the deep lore of Darling in the Franxx, but—
PETER: [in a solemn voice] The first baby born in 1,000 years.
NATASHA: Oh, yes.
NATASHA: But just the implications of “Wow, it’s amazing. This is a miracle.”
PETER: “What a miracle child.
NATASHA: “This is a miracle.”
CAITLIN: And positioning something that is absolutely the power establishment’s… what they want you to do and taking that and presenting it as something that is subversive and rebellious is shitty.
PETER: Yeah, that’s something we didn’t really talk about. They basically talked about… The power of the status quo is like the rebel faction.
CAITLIN: Right. And I’m working on an article about that.
NATASHA: Mind you, this is after Mitsuru and Kokoro have been brainwashed and don’t have any feelings for each other, but they reach emotional conclusion by having a child.
PETER: You can’t stop love.
CAITLIN: Of course.
PETER: You can’t stop it.
NATASHA: This isn’t The Princess Bride, which is by far a much better movie.
CAITLIN: He collapses when he finds out. He’s like, “What am I gonna do?” It’s like: (A) How do you know it’s yours? (B) Why are you acting like a 16-year-old who found out his high school girlfriend is pregnant instead of like a 14-year-old who has no concept of parenthood?
NATASHA: Also, how did they learn—
CAITLIN: Kokoro finds a book.
NATASHA: Does that really teach them how to fuck? Because let’s be real. He was just like, “Oh, let’s just do it.”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, no, it looked like—
PETER: You know what it is? It was instinct because all people have a natural understanding as to how to do that.
NATASHA: [crosstalk; deadpan] Oh, that’s right, yeah, sorry. Yeah.
NATASHA: That was also something I was very confused about. So, you guys don’t know what love is, but you two guys managed to have sex. I don’t really understand how that works out, but sure, okay.
CAITLIN: So, yeah, Kokoro’s pregnancy is going into the politics of childbirth. The decision of whether or not to have a child is… Unfortunately, that is one of those things that should be politically neutral but is not. Because nothing is politically neutral. [chuckles] And it’s like, “It’s so brave to have a baby when no one says you should have a baby. Isn’t teen pregnancy swell, guys?”
NATASHA: [chuckles] It’s just fantastic all around.
PETER: Feel good for that baby, being the first one born in so many… it’s not 1,000 years.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Nobody’s gonna know how to handle the fucking baby.
PETER: [laughs] “Why is it screaming so much? I don’t know what to do.” Well, I guess, they raise genetic babies. But even then, there’s no— Is the baby being psychic supposed to mean that a baby born naturally just has superpowers that a baby made in a test tube could not possibly [laughs] approach? They didn’t have the strength of real humans, fighting off these aliens?
NATASHA: Well, I just love that, of all the people that we spent the time with in this show, it’s a baby, and not the entire cast that we literally spent 24 episodes establishing friendship relationships with, is the one that’s like, “Oh, Hiro and Zero Two are in trouble, and we need to save them. And we should just all hold hands and tell them to come back.”
CAITLIN: And clap if you believe in fairies. [chuckles]
NATASHA: [chuckles] I think that’s probably the most unsatisfying thing. Okay, you brought forth this miracle into the world, and now they’re just going to be a giant plot device just to get Hiro and Zero Two to fight one more time.
PETER: Your OTP.
NATASHA: Yeah. But that’s basically the only thing I felt like needed to be addressed.
CAITLIN: I ship Darling in the Franxx with neural pruning.
NATASHA: I wouldn’t disagree.
CAITLIN: [laughs] It seems like you’re already working on that one.
NATASHA: I know. Like I said, I completely forgot— I came back from AX. I was exhausted and I was like, “Man, what’s one show I can just knock out of the park before next season starts?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, Darling in the Franxx had a final episode.” And I watched it. I finished it. I was like, “That was great.” And I went to bed. [laughs]
PETER: It is worth mentioning… This series has a ton of defenders.
NATASHA: Oh, yeah.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. We’re gonna—
PETER: And it was mega-popular. But I think near the end even the most ardent fans were having trouble justifying the—
CAITLIN: Yeah, the insane plot twists.
PETER: Yeah, you could see that its popularity was falling off, although it remained controversial and got a ton of extra comments and stuff.
CAITLIN: The article I wrote about it earlier in the first season, there’s only like one or two comments that got through because on our site, we got a ton of comments on it, but most of them were abusive.
PETER: Yeah. I mean, you could see that shit on ANN, too. I think Jake even tweeted that you could tell comparatively popularity probably by just the amount of reads, where Tokyo Ghoul completely blew Darling in the Franxx out of the water, but Darling in the Franxx had 800 times more comments. So…
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s a show designed for discourse.
NATASHA: But hey, you know, it’s done and…
PETER: We’ll see how those BD sales go, I guess.
NATASHA: Oh, yeah.
CAITLIN: Okay. All right. Shall I play us out?
PETER: Let’s do it.
CAITLIN: Thank you for listening to our podcast episode about Darling in the Franxx. If you haven’t already been there, our website is— Of course, I almost forgot. Thank you to Natasha for joining us.
NATASHA: Oh, thank you for bringing me on board.
CAITLIN: So, if you don’t already know about it somehow, our website is animefeminist.com.
And we also have a Patreon, patreon.com/AnimeFeminist. If you can donate even $1 a month, that is super helpful to the site. It has made it possible for us to break even, to pay all of the writers and the editors, and there’s still so many things that we want to do. We want to make the site more accessible. We want to be able to travel to conventions and be able to bring you guest interviews. Whatever you can give, even $1 a month, it adds up and is super helpful in making Anime Feminist even better.
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And I think that concludes our episode. Thanks for listening, AniFam!