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DARLING in the FRANXX Part One UK Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read
…it’s been a while since I’ve been that guy, but yep, time to be that guy about a popular series…

© Darling In The Franxx Production Committee
…it’s been a while since I’ve been that guy, but yep, time to be that guy about a popular series…

What They Say:
In a battle against the klaxosaurs only the children, classified as parasites, are humanity’s hope in this dying world. Fighting in mechanised suits known as FRANXX, parasites are grouped up in male and female pairs to face the monstrous creatures. Hiro was once a prodigy FRANXX pilot. But when he gives up the fight, he meets Zero Two, the girl with the horns, and finds a new reason to keep going.

The Review:
The audio has an English 5.1 Dolby Surround track and a Japanese 2.0 one which is the standard in most non-movie releases – with a pretty good dub and sub track, the sound is genuinely of a high quality with no problems synching with the subtitles as watched disc 1 in English and disc 2 in Japanese. The music is excellent with cementing with the opening and ending songs being firm favourites and the combination of mecha style music with more emotional tracks putting it quite high in quality with no problems with it synching with the subtitles.

Similar with the audio, the video is set in full-screen format (but can also be showcased in wide screen format) via NTSC transfer to PAL format with the show combining animation with a bit of CGI albeit not as noticeable as shows like Overlord or Magus Bride (you see in the extras a lot of how the traditional animation is still worked upon and used) – there were no real problems with the subtitles, the sound synching in either language, no pause lag or in general, it is a quality release, especially considering how vibrant the colours are with the rather unique mecha designs and the colours used – sometimes it feels like an older KyoAni release with the human moments (I was reminded of K-ON of all series for some reason) – being an original series though you can tell a lot of love was made upon it.

There was no packing for this test release.

The menu is very standard – the first disc has Hiro and Zero 2 on the background, whilst disc 2 has Hiro and Ichigo with the selections on a red bar below of Play All, Episodes, Set Up and Extras on both discs – easily select your popup menu from the show (bar extras) and no delays in selection so a standard Blu-Ray menu.

There are quite a few extras on this release – the first disc has a dub commentary of episode 6 with Austin Tindle (Goro), Brittany Lauda (Ichigo), Matt Shipman (Hiro), Tia Ballard (002) and Bryn Apprill (Miku) – with this being the episode that focuses on Hiro returning to the team we get a lot of bromance talk and how the characters react (Ichigo in particular)- a lot of ins and outs of the shows are talked about with the animation and cinematography (though Bryn jokingly doesn’t realize it is a mecha show at first with the relationship side) – talking of the design of the mechs and that the show focuses a lot on topics that aren’t usually touched upon, being more a focus episode on the show rather than themselves or their characters for this commentary.

The second disc has a video commentary for episode 12 with Clifford Chapin (ADR Director) with Tia and Matt returning for this one. With this episode bringing The Garden into play there is focus on the episode itself (it alternates with the show on the bottom right and then the actors on the bottom right with the show being full screen). This one is a bit more character focused especially with 02 as Tia explains how she found her character, some of the things she did to get into character and how she was very enthusiastic about the show when learned about it. The actors seem to just enjoy watching the episode and commentating on it, but it is mostly a character focus on 02.

We have the web previews (next episode previews which aren’t in the main show, a trend noticeably happening more now) and the textless opening as standard extras, but the other main extra is the Pre-Broadcast Special – a 3 part behind the scenes look on the making on Darling just prior to airing in Japan. They talk about it being an original anime with a lot of behind the scenes talk with the director Atsushi Nishigori with some talk with a lot of the animators and workers behind the scenes, we get the uncut promotional video with it to explain the story, some stuff on the design of the mechas with some big companies behind it (A1 Pictures, TRIGGER) so get with some design meetings (mention the robots had an IDOLMASTER feel to them), explaining what AD correction is (with a demonstration of a sketch of 02), and a little behind the scenes with the Japanese actors of Hiro, 02 and Ichigo, as well as a little on the music. It’s not overall that long but gives you a taste of what the Japanese felt before this aired.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Darling in the Franxx is one of the newest anime to come out in the UK, airing originally January 2018 and being an original series to boot, with some big names behind it in A1 Pictures and Studio Trigger, it certainly had a lot of hype around it – being a mecha show with Gurrenn Lagaan designs mixed with child psychology to bring back the days of Evangelion, a lot of my friends loved it and Japan was definitely very high on it when it came out.

And yet, when watching the 1st half of the season, all I really was wondering was…where is it? Where is that spark…the hype…the thing that made this such a well talked about series? I found myself thinking that throughout as the characters really didn’t engage me, the battles were good but at times confusing, and the plot really wasn’t going anywhere. The funny thing is that usually I would see if the 2nd half would answer a lot of questions, but going from my friends, the 2nd half is actually even more confusing so that really doesn’t help me. Combined with some uncomfortable implications with the underage fan service and I wonder if it is just me out of touch with what is popular….

It isn’t quite Evangelion in terms of the children/mecha as we get 2 people on their robots known as the Franxx, and they have to be boy and girl…with the way it is piloted being rather…er…interesting. We meet our female main protagonist early, simply known as 02 who are in development of a new Franxx. We then meet our male lead, Hiro who recently failed his test with his partner and meets up with 02 by chance. Interestingly, she has horns which he doesn’t seem repulsed by, but during their meeting an attack happens by the giant monster known as the Klaxosaur. 02 goes to fight it but her partner gets nearly killed so Hiro volunteers to help and after an intimidate way to connect, the mecha, Streliza, becomes super powerful which defeats the Klaxosaur….which is then revealed that 02 is actually half human, half Klaxosaur who has a reputation for killing her partners.

This intrigue is what drives the first half, and it does give it some interest. Quite early on you can tell there is going to be a love triangle with 02, Hiro and the leader of the squad where the focus is in Ichigo, who also is a childhood friend trope. 02 being all clingy really doesn’t help so when they see if Hiro can pilot again, Ichigo volunteers to be his partner but despite trying the same thing with 02 (kissing), he fails with both getting frustrated. However, Hiro’s group does begin to do some work, however are still not strong enough when they are surrounded by a horde of Klaxosaurs. 02 goes to try and help but one of the other pilots Mitsuru pairs up with her instead as he’s a bit arrogant and says he is better, especially as his own partner Ikuno can’t connect with him (there is a potential reason for that which is interesting later on) so they win the fight, but Mitsuru is mentally and physically wounded, suggesting only Hiro can handle being her partner. 02 is actually nearly forced to leave but Hiro asks her to be his partner when a Klaxosaur attacks – she disobeys her orders and teams with Hiro despite the ‘curse’ of 02 hanging over him…

His other friend and partner of Ichigo (and clearly has a crush on her) Goro notices Hiro has a tumour on his chest thinking this is the curse, and with 02 being stubborn about her beliefs that Hiro is her ‘darling’ – despite nearly dying, seeing her fight on makes him have the strength to fight and he breaks the curse to be her partner, leading to 02 being part of the squad permanently. It is here that the show takes a break from the drama and battle and focus more on the relationships when we get a beach episode, and the fact the gang don’t know what a kiss/love are, one of the girls Kokoro for example finds a book on sex (and with Mitsuru and her partner Futoshi clearly crushing on her) and it does see if you wonder if Ichigo or 02 would be Hiro’s romantic option…which is hilarious as the next episode has a guys/girls split after the boys perv a bit too much (though 02 ignores all of it) – and whilst it seems comical, this and the beach episode do have a point as we learn of civilization prior to their existence and life before the Plantations and the battles, as well as a previous squad prior to them. And when Goro gets nearly killed in an episode with Ichigo saving him, he confesses to her…but no answer is given. Even the comic relief duo, Miku and Zorome get their moments with Zorome trying to learn what an adult life is like and Miku being the main antagonist of the girls/boys split but you wonder whether this will have more effect in the future…

The half ends with 02 seemingly becoming more Klaxosaur like (Ichigo even overhears a conversation that may also affect Hiro too), and a lot of visions of Hiro in the past may suggest that the two had met beforehand – just as we see her attack him…it actually cuts off at the most interesting part of the story so despite my trepidation of the series the 2nd half still definitely has some interest for me…

….because as of right now, it feels like the show is trying to mix the complexity of a show like Evangelion with some of the hijinks and wackiness of Lagaan, and not necessarily in a good way. The good stuff is that there is definitely some good character development (albeit takes a while) – whilst the romance square is a common trope (add the childhood friends trope for good measure) the hints that 02 has known Hiro in the past may make her calling him ‘darling’ a lot more sensical as well. Ichigo as well seems helpless as the loser of this, hence why Goro has been added into the mix but the fact that the underrated Ikuno has a secret of her own (from one of 02’ comments, and her wanting to partner with Ichigo combined with her lack of compatibility with Mitsuru gives a good indication that she may also like Ichigo as well) means at least development has been given to the cast as we learn more of Hiro’s past – granted the others not so much (albeit a little bit with two of the guys most likely interested in Kokoro) but it is getting there. The battles are well done and the tension and drama is definitely there – Goro nearly getting killed in one which led to the trust of his squad and specifically his partner Ichigo, and also 02’s declining humanity…is she truly in love with Hiro or not?

Which is also a bit on the negative. I have trouble really adapting to 02s character for the most part. She is the dreaded selfish character who is also the ace, and pretty much her whims are catered to which to be honest makes quite an annoying character who if it wasn’t for the last episode I would wonder if she wasn’t just using Hiro. It’s rare that a male protagonist is the better character but here, he is and Hiro (and Goro as well) are much more likeable as male leads, and whilst Ichigo is more selfless, she definitely has her moments as well. Even then, Hiro feeling inadequate due to not being able to partner with anyone else doesn’t help, and is the ‘love’ between him and 02 pure or toxic? Hopefully the future episodes will develop that more because for the moment, the developments are saving the show for me.

The plot on the other hand is a little confusing and not as development – building on quite inconsistent when the past is revealed, it cuts and goes to another battle. Not sure if it wanted to be a teen angst drama like Evangelion or an over the top comedy battle mecha like Lagaan. Seeing the kids not knowing things like kissing and love as well is part of their development but it doesn’t explain the best (yet) WHY they are so sheltered. Also despite good development, characters like Ikuno, Zorome and Miku haven’t had much impact yet in the story despite being more interesting than the others at times. And there is definitely more to 02 to be seen as the past links her with Hiro, but for the time being, that ship hasn’t sailed yet.

There is plenty to look forward to here and definitely much more to be discovered – Hiro and 02’s relationship definitely feels like there is more than meets the eye, and with other groups and divisions combined with the past being opened up, there is a much bigger discovery and world to be opened here. It is just, for the moment, the hype bubble hasn’t blown up enough yet for me to really get into why this was so popular. Certainly not bad by any means, but certainly not something I would say is absolute must watch material.

Darling in the Franxx was one of the big series of 2018 in Japan….but for me, I wonder if there is something that will grab me to their level of enjoyment. Whilst some of the characters are developing well, the history is slowly being delved into and the battles are well animated and have genuine tension, the confusing plotline, the fact characters are pushed to the waste side and the unlikeability of some of them means at times this was a chore to get through. I hope that I am wrong as there is potential here, but for the moment it doesn’t know where it wants to be Eva, Lagaan or both.

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A-

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: May 27th, 2019
MSRP: £29.99
Running Time: 290 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
PlayStation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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