Sex, Symbolism, and the FranXX

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A lot of people are going cringe at, disregard, and dare I say, “criticize” Darling in the FranXX for entirely obvious reasons. Its bombastic symbolism is going to do more than roll eyes for jaded audiences because of its excessive nature. Like a cartoonish-ly oversized boxing glove with the letters “S-E-X” printed on the cushion over the knuckles, this tremendous left hook is certain to land a direct blow to anyone watching—but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Yes, many will be quick to label this anime “tasteless” and “immature” due to the tricky grounds of exploitation that FranXX treads. Yet, ironically, I would actually consider it far more immature to write off the show for such reasons, given the context of the show so far (4 episodes). Quite…*snickers at own joke*…FranXX-ly (hahahaha), there’s truly a lot to read from this show aside from just how female characters are positioned in their mechs. Many questions are being posed in non-direct, non-spoken ways, and to the average anime viewer, these things might be overlooked when focusing solely on the backside of a girl in a skin-tight outfit straddling an “optimally designed” pilot seat.

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Darling in the FranXX is about sex, and the appropriateness of the mech piloting system of which the show utilizes is completely irrelevant. Such composition—or body positioning—offers a very clear suggestion, but the deeper meaning behind the use of such overt symbolism is still yet to be fully uncovered. We don’t know why it has to be like this. We couldn’t possibly know. The show hasn’t ended yet. But of course, there is one easy answer that many will cling to.

Fanservice. A term I often try to avoid using because I find it messily defined, argumentative in nature, and based in ideology rather than theory. I won’t get into it now (unless you want me to in the comments), but basically, people are going to turn away from an anime that, I believe, is actually quite clever and deliberate, not to mention promising beyond belief. And so, when I see some articles and conversations online about one particular thing FranXX “has to offer”, I can’t help but feel that this might just be an intellectually immature approach to subject matter that one finds upsetting, or worse: offensive.

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Yes, Darling in the FranXX presents a lot of questions, and some of those questions might be uncomfortable to contend with—but in life, I (at least) find it necessary rise to a challenge in the search for truth, rather than attach myself to any reason that justifies backing away. Yet who’s to say that, when completed, this anime will reward me with such answers? No one but the creators could know, perhaps even after the series finishes airing. And although I wouldn’t take solace in this fact alone, and don’t even really agree with the sentiments…it is almost a “safe bet” when it comes to Studio Trigger.

The studio that brought us Kill la Kill is not a studio to be taken lightly. And no, I’m not joking. With a similar, “excessive” style, Kill la Kill delivered a tightly threaded narrative that made use of most every aspect it decided to introduce—most notably, showing lots and lots of skin. That decision ended up being intrinsically tied to the entire central plot and theme of the show, wrapping up the hilarious and unexpected allegory—a brilliant punchline to a thoroughly misconstrue-able setup.

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Of course, a studio name alone shouldn’t be enough to suddenly put one’s faith into a project, with hopes that it’ll certainly turn out to be “good”. For one thing, Darling in the FranXX doesn’t have the same director as Kill la Kill, nor any other leading staff members. Even if there was, there’s no such thing as a “safe bet” in storytelling, no matter where the story comes from, because it all comes down to the scrutiny of an individual. It’s all subjective, and only you can decide whether a story is of worth—though it is likely that the soundness of your judgement will increase if you stick around till the end. Of course, there are good signs to be found along the way that could indicate value at the end of the journey, such as symbolism and foreshadowing. And it just so happens that FranXX is incredibly rich in those two aspects.

The setting, for starters, is a great indicator for the (possible) grand theme of the show. These children live in a moving pod-fortress, and live to carry out orders from some god-like figures that can’t be bothered to visit them in person. The children’s existence, as far is they know, is meant for only fighting off the beasts that wish to harm them. To pair up and pilot mechs, and run straight into battle with colossi: this is all that they live for, and their bonds with each other are, more than anything else, obligatory. And for some reason, the system of which they live in couples them strictly in male-female duos.

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An interesting matchup for what, in a normal setting, would essentially be arranging marriages for high school students. This is, however, not a normal setting, and so what we would define as a “relationship” does not seem to apply. These characters don’t go through much romantic drama (except for one…or should I say, one…five *snickers again*), and they hardly feel any excitement outside of the battlefield. No anxiety. No passion. No love. Or rather—or more importantly, no understanding of those concepts. Zero Two is the one to bring into their world the “kiss”, introducing the action to Hiro inside their mech.

Hiro, along with Ichigo, do not understand the meaning behind it—nothing beyond the mechanical description of pushing one’s lips to another. The ignorance of basic human emotion, and bewilderment to the expression of that particular emotion, creates a powerfully stark contrast with the clearly sexual position they find themselves in when piloting the FranXX. An absolute separation of mind and body—a complete void of lust and love.

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And the rich symbolism doesn’t stop there. The moment when Hiro and Zero Two first meet is intriguing to say the least, if not, as I suspect, utterly profound. Hiro is found to be insufficient in piloting the FranXX, which is the only meaning those of his ilk can grasp in life. Without it, Hiro is nothing. He finds himself in a forest, or rather, a garden, lamenting over the demoralizing conundrum he finds himself in. And as a nice, extra touch of symbolism, he finds a bird with a broken wing.

After making his way through to a spring, of sorts, he meets Zero Two, completely naked with a live fish caught in her mouth. The first thing to take away from this is the imagery of the captured prey, signaling to us that Zero Two is a predator. Secondly, and less obviously, this whole scene is, to some degree, in reference to Genesis: The story of Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden.

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Probably the most famous biblical tale to ever exist, this story is known to be the moment when man began to understand itself. As the story goes (and I won’t explain in its entirety), the snake pressures Eve to pressure Adam to eat the forbidden fruit—the only thing in the entire garden God forbade. Only after having taken a bite from the fruit did they, for the first time, see that they were naked—meaning that for the first time in their lives, they realized they were vulnerable.

While Hiro doesn’t (yet) take a bite of any forbidden nectar, he does come to some revelations of his own in regard to how he feels for Zero Two. He only strives for meaning in his life, but surely that quest will take him to darker places, places that will only reveal to him more of his vulnerabilities. By chasing after Zero Two, he is disobeying the orders of the gods above him, and it couldn’t possibly be coincidentally for her to be the one to lead him on. The question is: Who is Zero Two? Is she Eve? Or is she the snake—the devil with two horns?

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When we think about the naming convention of the anime, things start to make even more sense. Her name is Zero Two. 0-2. And in terms of factory production, which seems to be the guiding structure for which these children come into existence, she would be the second human (sort of human) to ever be born. In Genesis, Adam and Eve are the first two humans, Eve being the second, created to satiate the loneliness within Adam. Then there’s the FranXX. XX. As in the biological representation of the female chromosomes, aptly used in the naming scheme for feminine robots.

I still don’t know what Fran stands for. In fact, I’m not certain about anything, yet. This is just my speculation, so far, and so, the only thing I can truly be sure of is that FranXX must lead somewhere. The soil is too rich for a plant not to grow from it. And while it’s too early to tell whether it’ll turn out to be a mighty oak or a middling bush, I certainly believe it’s worth continuing and studying. It’s up to you, whether you find the posing of fictional, animated characters excessive, and therefore “bad” or “wrong”. But I would recommend not shying away yet, because Darling in the FranXX is just too intriguing not to explore further.

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Anyway, that’s just what I’ve been watching and thinking about lately. Right now, however, I need to focus my sights on the panel I’ll be hosting next week at Anime Milwaukee. This post took much longer than expected to write, and it’ll be another fairly long wait before I post again here because of my panel that I’m still preparing for. Hopefully, if all goes well, I’ll be able to post that panel here for those interested in why I think Your Name would be a better TV series than a feature length film. Until then, thanks for reading! See you all after a week or so.

8 thoughts on “Sex, Symbolism, and the FranXX

  1. The series has definite potential and I’m kind of interested in where it will go, though I kind of wish some of the symbolism was a little bit more subtle because everything is very in your face even if the viewer isn’t yet sure what it all adds up to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I kinda love Trigger’s “in your face” style, especially since they always take the style in creative, new ways. I would feel very differently if it were just using tired harem tropes to express sexuality in its characters. There just seems to be a narrative purpose here, and so I guess I’m pretty excited about that.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, narrative purpose is really what splits the in-your-face and obnoxious to in-your-face and meaningful argument. I’ll put up with a lot more if it seems to serve a narrative purpose rather than just being there for the sake of enticing a particular audience.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. sharatgaur says:

    This is a great article, and especially relevant now that the season (or series) has come to an end. You were spot on in many cases.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on how a lot of this played out, or other symbolic themes you identified now that it’s over.

    Liked by 1 person

      • sharatgaur says:

        Looking forward to it! I really enjoyed this show despite the deep narrative flaws in the second half, but there are still several layers to pick apart, which has kept me entertained despite its somewhat disappointing ending.

        A lot of the symbolism in this show has been seen as overly ostentatious to western audiences. But there’s a lot of chinese/japanese symbolism that has been interesting to explore as well — the Jian, and the red/blue oni. I found your page while trying to learn more about that, and enjoyed reading your thoughts on this series.


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