The most recent episode of the bizarre, horny anime Darling in the Franxx has left the fandom in upheaval. The journey of this show from fanservice nonsense to affecting science fiction melodrama has been incredible to watch, even though my heart is broken.
Darling in the Franxx is an anime about teenagers who pilot giant mechs by getting in doggystyle. Yes, you did read that correctly. While the first few episodes really leaned into a gross, leering sexualization of the show’s primary characters, that’s toned down in more recent episodes. Over the course of the 14 episodes that have aired, Franxx has dived into characters’ interpersonal relationships and evolved into a show about the confusion of dating, love, and sex as a teenager and the pressure of society’s expectations regarding them. It’s also been slowly teasing the backstory of its intriguing dystopian society, where the show’s teenagers have been denied basic information like how humans procreate and what kissing is.
A love triangle between three characters has become one of the main driving elements of the plot lately. Essentially, Ichigo, who is the childhood friend of protagonist Hiro, has driven a wedge between Hiro and his love interest, a mysterious girl named Zero Two. The episode prior had built up Hiro and Zero Two’s relationship significantly, revealing that Zero Two had always seen Hiro as her one true love. In the latest episode, Ichigo physically separates them, refusing to let them speak to each other. Eventually she confesses her one-sided love for Hiro and kisses him. It’s an action that she tries to tell her friends is for the good of the group—Zero Two is dangerous and has tried to kill Hiro before—but is actually the result of her jealousy of Zero Two and Hiro. By the episode’s end, Zero Two has left the other teens and Hiro is in tears.
This is some Gossip Girl shit, and I love it, even though the characters’ pain is making me wince sympathetically. In this tangle of unrequited love, Ichigo’s current mech piloting partner Goro, who told Ichigo that he was in love with her and was rebuffed, actually catches a glimpse of Ichigo as she forces a kiss on Hiro. His reaction is extremely relatable: he smiles sadly and then quietly leaves.
Casting interpersonal drama against an end-of-the-world plot was something that was highlighted in the first episode, but I feel like as the show has gone on, it’s made the best of the storytelling opportunities that contrast presents. As the audience learns that the situation these kids are in is even more dire than initially presented, their interpersonal relationships get more and more chaotic. Over the course of the series we’ve learned that the adult city they’re protecting is a sterile, emotionless world where things like romantic relationships are considered an “old custom,” and that the children aren’t expected to become adults themselves. Characters have switched partners, confessed their love to each other, and had their hearts broken. It’s like any good young adult series, where the instability of the world is just a metaphor for growing up. It tracks, then, that Ichigo’s selfishness would cause her to make some rash decisions. She thinks she can force Hiro to be in love with her because she’s in love with him, and that the only thing standing in her way is Zero Two. She doesn’t yet know that you can’t create a relationship when the other person doesn’t feel the same way. She’s a teenage girl with a crush—if Hiro leaves her, then it would actually be the end of the world in her eyes.
Fans of Franxx have been up in arms about Ichigo’s actions, some to the point of saying they’ll drop the show. An animation producer for CloverWorks, one of the studios that’s producing the show, asked fans of the show to “Please make sure to watch next week, no matter what it takes,” on Twitter shortly after the episode aired. The replies to that tweet are full of fans saying that their hearts are broken, that the episode sucked, and most worryingly, a meme image of Zero Two holding a gun. Some fans on Twitter started a hashtag, #bitchigo, where they’ve called for the character’s death. The Darling in the Franxx subreddit had a minor revolt after the episode aired, one user calling it an “anti-Ichigo cult” before everyone calmed down. Still, the evidence of a recently resolved but still very intense argument lingers on the subreddit. The most highly upvoted post is a meme depicting armies defending the honor of both Zero Two and Ichigo fighting each other:
It’s not surprising to me that fans of Franxx would turn on Ichigo after the end of the last episode. Hiro and Zero Two have had a very sweet love story, and she’s acting incredibly selfishly. Still, I wish fans’ ire wasn’t expressed so dramatically at a character just acting in accordance with her characterization. I definitely want to see Hiro and Zero Two get back together, but I also empathize with Ichigo’s frustration and self-centeredness. It’s not easy to watch someone you love fall for someone else. I’m also frustrated by Hiro’s inability to just let Ichigo down gently. Still, not being able to communicate your feelings is something that teenagers struggle with, and if Franxx is about anything, it’s about horny, sad, confused teenagers.