Puberty & Robots – A 20 Question Reassessment of Darling in the FranXX (Episode 1-15)

Puberty & Robots: A 20 Question Reassessment of Darling in the FranXX (Episodes 1-15)

Well well well… I never thought I’d see the day you reviewed Darling in the FranXX again! What with all the bluster and hand-wringing and harsh words you threw at it in your previous two reviews? Yes it’s true, I had some ~negative~ comments about the show when I first watched it in the week-to-week format when it first came out.

Uh-huh, that’s the understatement of the century. You were frothing at the mouth you had so much vitriol toward the show. Why are we back reviewing it again? Well I took a two month break from the show after Episode 8, and I’ve been keeping tabs on it on social media and through various blogger’s reviews and I noticed the mood turning on the show, some of the people who were quick to sing its praises were growing cold on the show and I thought this was interesting.

How so? Well I observed a pattern, people were turning off the show because they felt it was focusing too much on the relationships between the characters and not enough on the world-building and sci-fi plot that was the hook for so many people—myself included.

So initially you watched the show because you thought it was going to be a compelling sci-fi/dystopian tale with mild teen-angst & robots. That’s correct.

But what is the show actually about? It’s a compelling coming-of-age story/romance/drama set against a back-drop of dystopian sci-fi & robots.

♪ “Tonight is the night… when two become one…” ♪

Sorry, did you just call this show “compelling”? What happened to the guy who ranted on for over 1000 words using buzz-words like “the patriarchy” and “heteronormative”? Oh I’m still here, I just realised something along the way while reading the messages of all those people who were getting disappointed about what the show was choosing to focus on.

And what’s that? That this show was never meant to be taken seriously, the show was never meant to be viewed as some sort of genre-spanning masterpiece or some sci-fi action extravaganza, it’s just a story about a bunch of kids who live an unusual life trying to navigate the perils of puberty and love and relationships without the help of external influences like parents or teachers or guardians or older siblings to guide them.

Why did you underline that part? What did you think you came up with something revolutionary there? I, uh… well no. I just thought I’d highlight what my mindset was when I decided to re-watch the first 8 episodes—and the subsequent 7 after—that make up for the “first part” of the story.

Okay, fair enough. So this isn’t a review is it, at least not in the traditional sense? No, this is, as the title suggests a ‘reassessment’ I don’t want to get bogged down in covering episode-by-episode plot points, this is purely addressing the criticism I had for this show in my previous reviews and explaining where my opinions are now.

Right… so it’s a retcon of those previous two reviews? If you want to put it like that, sure. But those reviews are still up there to see me in all my hyperbolic rage, I’m not deleting a word of those, just setting the record straight.

Fine. So the ‘rampant sexism’ that you claimed was among the worst you’d seen in an anime. Yup that’d be the hyperbole… you know how when you get worked up about something and you just kind of over-exaggerate your rage and your indignation to prove a point? Well, guilty of that here! When I re-watched the episodes, I felt a very minimal amount of ‘rage’, ‘distaste’ or ‘discomfort’, so minimal that I’d wonder if I’d suffered a brain injury of some kind that made me view the show so differently. In fact, after episode 8 (i.e. the one that made me rage-quit the show in the first-place) the “objectionable content” was almost completely gone.

Okay, sure. But what about the idea that by containing these “immature” and “harmful” elements—your words—that the show was undoing its very own reason for existing. That was when I thought the show was aiming to be high-art, like the first episode of the show is very pretentious in all the ways I like so as you can imagine I was expecting a lot of lofty things from the show and so when it didn’t deliver and instead seemed to regress into this adolescent, almost childish show you can perhaps understand why I was taken off guard.

So the fact the show is actually a coming-of-age romance/drama with emotionally ill-prepared teens excuses the shows short-comings? In a way yeah, it kind of does! Like let’s forget that this show is written by a bunch of 40+ year old men and is financed by a large company and all that ~external~ stuff and look at it as it’s being told. It’s told from the perspective of these kids, they have the majority if not entirety of the ‘voice over’, it’s their story—it just happens to be set against the high-concept back-drop of a dystopian future with moving dome cities and transforming monsters and giant mechs.

This is just window dressing…

I’m still not sure I get your point… Let me put it another way, your life, yes you the reader I’m talking to you directly right now—your life it may be school-based or work-based, it may be in a poor country or a city with a high-crime rate or street or a town with bad infrastructure but that’s not what your story is about, your story is about you and the feelings you feel and the relationships you build—that’s your story and that’s the story of Darling in the FranXX!

There he goes again, underlining his own text like he’s being all profound and shit. Hey! It’s my site, I can do what I want!

That’s true enough. So you’ve done a complete 180 on Darling in the FranXX then and all it took was changing your preconceived notions of the seriesSee I can underline you too, in those rare moments you say something concisely accurate. Feels good doesn’t it?

Feels good man.

Hmpf, it doesn’t feel bad, if that’s what you’re getting at… Geez, you’re such a tsun…

Don’t call me that! Ahem… so anything else you want to add before we end this reappraisal? Well if we’re going to go into specifics for a second I personally think Episodes 11-15 are of such a high-quality emotional story-telling that I could scarcely believe I was watching the same show. Before that point it was still a well-animated, deeply character driven but nonetheless entertaining show (post reassessment opinion) but those episodes were ~exactly~ the kind of thing I was expecting and wanting from this show!

The feels!

If you’ll allow me to interject for just a second. You did complain in your initial reviews that you wished the show would focus on story and world-building instead of character. Now I know since you decided to approach the show from a different perspective your ‘needs’ for the show have changed, but do you still want for the show to explore the deeper “secrets” and lore behind the dystopian world it’s built. I do, and I believe it will, it’s just all that stuff is taking a back-seat to the coming-of-age romance it’s wanting to tell instead. And while I understand how that can be frustrating for people who just want that aspect of the show, I’m perfectly content for it to be the garnish to this delicious character-driven buffet.

So uh… how do we wrap this up? Umm… okay, what would you say to the disillusioned people who have dropped the show, or are barely hanging on, or who find themselves frustrated with the various ‘decisions’ this show has made. By all means do as I did and drop the show, take a month or more even to distance yourself from it, but come back and watch it with all I’ve said in mind… I’m not saying that having this point-of-view when watching Darling in the FranXX fixes inherent problems in the show itself, however I absolutely think it helps in understanding what this show wants to be! And taking all that into account can help one truly appreciate this show for what it is; a show about Puberty & Robots.

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“Dying For Nothing” A 20 Question Anime Essay About The Importance of Meaningful Character Deaths

“Dying For Nothing” A 20 Question Anime Essay About The Importance of Meaningful Character Deaths

This post contains some spoilers for Magical Girl Raising Project, Made In Abyss and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.

So, a 20 Question Anime Essay? Huh… Branching out are we? I felt like talking about a subject rather than just one anime.

Fair enough, what are we talking about today? Death in entertainment, specifically how character deaths hold a different meaning to the viewer depending on the circumstances around their death.

Heavy. What got you thinking about this? Well I recently finished ‘Magical Girl Raising Project’ and a lot of characters die in it, 14 out of the 16 main and supporting cast in-fact.

Yikes! Getting all Game of Thrones up in here! And the thing that struck me the most was how for a lot of these deaths my main emotion watching them was annoyance. In fact with the exception of a couple of the deaths I wasn’t ever sad—like the show wanted me to be—I was just ticked off. I found myself with my arms crossed, sitting there going, “really, another one?” This didn’t start happening until about episode 4 but continued until episode 10, when finally the narrative revealed the all important ‘thing’ I had been waiting for all along—a reason!

A reason for what? A reason why all these characters were dying, yes the show gave the characters reason to want to kill each other, it was literally a survival of the fittest, a battle royale. But there wasn’t a narrative reason for them to be killing each other and so what started out as a dark(er) take on the magical girl genre ended up feeling like it was just indulging itself in a self-satisfying excuse to kill off cute girls all for the edgy spectacle of it.

But it was fine once the narrative gave purpose to their death match? Pretty much. It validated the character deaths that had come before as not just being for the sake of the audience and rather that they served a point to the narrative. I fully admit that not realising there was actually going to be a ‘larger picture’ sooner was a failing in me the viewer, but a part of that was due to my emotional reaction and dare I say “being triggered” by the sight of so many adorable and nice characters die without an explicit reason given.

And why do you think that is? That you got triggered I mean, and aside from the surface level reaction of not liking cute things having harm done to them. I blame Hollywood.

Oh? Care to elaborate? Even if you haven’t watched that many Hollywood produced films, or even network television dramas, you should at least have seen a typical ‘Hollywood’ death. Regardless of the genre, they more or less play out the same way, a character we’ve come to know over a period of time is killed, usually while in the service of the hero, probably doing something heroic. And it’s always a ~big~ moment in the film that’s supposed to either serve as inspiration for the hero, or set them on a path of revenge or simply highlight the importance of their character in having risked their life for the greater good. In Hollywood, more often than not, death has a purpose.

But that’s seldom the case in real life. Oh, I’m well aware of this, I’m under no illusions that 99.9% of people—myself included—will die for nothing. Hollywood knows this too but they’re not in the business of selling reality, they’re in the business of selling dreams.

So what point are you trying to make here? Are you annoyed that an anime had initially betrayed your expectations in regard to how death’s are supposed to serve a purpose in the story? But as you said they did end up serving a narrative purpose towards the final episodes, where’s the issue? I’m more interested in my reaction, maybe it’s nothing noteworthy but I nonetheless found my growing disdain through the middle episodes of ‘Magical Girl Raising Project’ at least passingly similar to the feeling I had while watching the later episodes of ‘Made in Abyss’.

Okay, so what happened in that show that triggered you? It wasn’t a death, but rather what I saw as cruelty for cruelty’s sake. For anyone who’s seen the show, ‘the elevator’ is all I need to say, but for anyone who hasn’t seen the show and doesn’t mind the vague spoiler; two side characters are subjected to unimaginable torture at the hands of a nondescript villain character who’s only introduced at the start of this flashback scene. The scene is darker in tone than anything that had come previous and in the moment only serves the purpose of showing how two characters came to be how they are. Important, perhaps, but at the time I was so angered and disheartened that I couldn’t marry what the show had shown me and its importance to the narrative. I was ready to quit the show then and there so strong was my reaction.

Sounds like you’re just too sensitive for some things. But I don’t think I am! I’ve watched so many graphic and disturbing movies in my life, graphic horror films like the Hostel films, the Human Centipede films, even a film considered among the most harrowing ever made; Irreversible—while all impactful in their own way—never affected me the way ‘Made in Abyss’ did.

I’m still not sure what point you’re trying to make. One of the tortured characters in ‘Made in Abyss’, the one most physically affected by the torture is given a mercy killing by the male protagonist. It’s a powerful scene, but it’s only as powerful because of all the context that was given from the flashback scene of their torture. This ties into the idea that suffering and violence and death, like in ‘Magical Girl Raising Project’ is only palatable, or perhaps a better word is “understandable”, if there’s sufficient context to justify their suffering. And the context for the death and suffering in ‘Magical Girl Raising Project’ came almost too late.

Right. I think I understand what you’re saying now. You don’t like death unless it has a narrative purpose and the more impactful and traumatising the circumstances around it the more immediate the reasoning has to become apparent through the story? Yeah, something like that. I’m reminded of when Buffy’s mother died on ‘Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’, here we were in the fifth season of the show and certainly characters had died before, but always as the result of something related to the narrative. But then suddenly we have a character who’s more or less removed from the immediate dangers of Buffy’s dangerous ‘slaying’ lifestyle and she dies, and not only does she die but it’s without warning and due to a brain aneurysm. There’s no-one to blame for it, no ~thing~ to get revenge on, no urgency to be addressed. It serves to immediate narrative purpose, she just dies. And yet, it’s all the more powerful because it’s so real and unexpected and pointless.

Umm, I feel like you’ve just contradicted your whole point you were trying to make with this essay? Why did you bring that up? Because I didn’t want to suggest that there isn’t power and purpose in an occasional pointless death. As I said earlier, 99.9% of us will have a pointless death and yet to those who love us and care for us it will be every bit as important as the cinematic deaths that saved innocent lives or inspired the hero to destroy a great evil. The reason the ‘Buffy’ example worked so well was because it was so different to not only other character deaths we’d seen on the show thus far but different to what any kind of show was doing at the time.

So a pointless death is okay if not all the deaths in the show are pointless? I don’t know, I haven’t watched every anime and the anime where people die “pointless deaths” generally aren’t on my radar. I’m not pretending to be an authority on the subject, despite me calling this an “essay” this is still very much a narrow opinion based on a few examples.

Fair enough, probably should have prefaced this “essay” with that… Well take this as forewarning for future essays’ I may write like I know what I’m talking about but I’m far from the authority on any subject.

Don’t sell yourself short, you’re an expert pervert after all. Come on now, I thought we could go one post without reminding the readers of that…

So how’d you want to wrap this thing up? How do essay’s ‘normally’ wrap up? I don’t know, I suppose I could reiterate my points in a succinct manner?

Do that! Right… So at the end of the day, a character dying in any media, be it a flashy Hollywood picture, or a gritty indie horror flick, a long-running live-action TV series or an anime filled with cute characters—needs to serve a purpose. But why? Well, regardless of whether something fancies itself as ‘realistic’ or not, it’s still entertainment. Yes the media we consume can sometimes be messy and problematic and imperfect but it should always strive to serve a meaningful purpose, especially with something as permanent and powerful as the death of a character.

This is my first proper essay style 20 Question post, let me know what you thought of it, if you think I should do more or if you have any suggestions for topics I should cover in the future. Thanks for reading!

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