A couple of months ago I finally watched Darling in the FranXX (DitF). Why would I do such a thing when aware of the furor it raised among anime fans worldwide? Well, I wanted to see for myself what all of the fuss was about! But instead of the awful experience that I had mentally prepared myself for, the experience that I did have with DitF was remarkably, well, fine. Good at times, even…
I loved the majority of the relationships (romantic or otherwise) between DitF’s characters. I also found the dystopian society within which the show took place to be truly fascinating. Granted, the show was faaar from perfect. Personally speaking, I found many of the interactions that took place between Hiro and Zero Two to be kind of nausea inducing and to call the “aliens-were-our-true-enemy-all-along” twist an ass pull would be a generous understatement!
However, the controversy that DitF generated wasn’t over cheesy characters or poorly thought-out plot twists, but the messages that it seemed to convey. Messages such as: the ability to procreate is what makes us human and being part of a traditional nuclear family represents supreme happiness. Caitlin Moore of Anime Feminist wrote a fascinating post in which she unpacked just how she believed DitF implied these things. I’d encourage you to check it out for yourself, since she did a better job explaining this viewpoint than I ever could!
I don’t need to explain how messages like these could court controversy. Nobody wants to hear that their way of life is wrong, even less so that it makes them inhuman. On a personal note, I’ve often wondered if I ought to have kids with my husband. I’m speaking for nobody but myself here, but what with my poor mental health, fluctuating finances, and the world already being overpopulated enough as it is I’ve often wondered if it would even be ethical for me to have kids. Does that makes me any less of a human? Or a woman? Of course not. But I don’t think that this is the message that DitF was trying to convey.
What I took away from DitF was that marriage, between a man and a woman, and subsequent procreation are but two of many viable options for one’s life. What do I base this opinion on? Well, first of all, all sorts of relationships were featured in the show. Hiro and Zero Two, for instance, were of two different species. That meant that kiddos were definitely off the cards! Whilst Zero Two (briefly) lamented her inability to bear Hiro’s children, the contentment that they took in one another’s presence was evident for all to see. Additionally, their romance was made out to be no less, well, romantic or pivotal to the show as a result of their inability to procreate. Moreover, whilst the Nines (who were genderless) suffered a less than fortunate fate, Ikuno was able to find happiness with Hiro’s former copilot, Naomi.
I also don’t think that DitF implies that heterosexuality is optimal. In terms of piloting the FranXX, it is suggested that same-sex couples are possible, providing that the pilots are compatible with each other, Zero Two is able to pilot a FranXX alone (at least on a short-term basis), the Nines are able to pilot just as well as the other parasites, and many opposite-sex couples prove to be incompatible and unsuccessful. So it is not the case that just opposite-sex pistils and stamens are making themselves useful and saving the world, while other types of couple sit forgotten on the sidelines.
Finally, I really and truly think that the overarching message of DitF wasn’t that this (this being marriage and child-rearing) is how you should live your life, but, rather, that you have the right to choose how to live your life. The context in which the show is set is one in which the children have no say in anything, from what they wear, to what they eat. They are not permitted names, knowledge of the outside world, or to grow up as “normal” children. It is not simply the knowledge and “privilege” of procreation that is withheld from them and it is not simply this that they fight for. Sure, that might have been the case for Kokoro and Mitsuru, but Hiro and Zero Two simply desired to be together, Zorome simply desired to become an adult… All desired to protect each other and all desired to live in peace… Add to this the fact that all of the children experienced setbacks and persecution as a result of these forbidden wishes. Kokoro and Mitsuru were, by no means, the sole tragic (and, ergo, romanticised) couple of the show.
This is just my interpretation anyway… If you’ve another perspective, or another reason to dislike DitF, I’d be glad to hear it! But let’s be civil! Discussing anime together is only fun so long as we’re all respectful towards each other.