Your Body is Not Your Own: Darling in the FranXX and Sexual Agency (or the Lack Thereof)

Something I think is very important to get right has been got rather wrong, in my estimation.

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Disclaimer: I know I’m writing about a sensitive subject here, and while I’ve written this piece in a semiformal style, it still only represents my interpretation.

In the first episode of Darling in the FranXX, one of the adult characters pronounces a rather striking line during the welcoming ceremony that precedes the parasites’ induction into the ranks of… whatever organization it is that they’re becoming a part of:

Turn your life into a blaze of glory and shed every last drop of blood you have.

“Oh,” I thought. “That’s a rather fatalistic pep talk.” As I reflected on it more, I was also struck by the profound and single-minded utility that this idea assigns to Ichigo and the rest of her team—and, I suppose, Hiro and Zero Two, as well. The parasites, it is implied, are not their own masters. Rather, they are cogs in a larger wheel, exploited by faceless, mask-wearing beings for purposes that remain yet hidden to the audience (and perhaps even the parasites themselves). They are expected to die, possibly even within a very short time period, and in so doing they find meaning in life. The absent Hiro’s narration over the ceremony notes that they have been told all their lives that piloting Franxx is their sole purpose in life.

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The captivity represented by this small symbolic band is fascinating.

This is not an uncommon set-up in anime, a giant organization that utilizes the powers of adolescents to fuel their wars, their ambitions, or just their scientific curiosity. And so, as the series wears on, one might expect Hiro, Ichigo, and the rest of their team to begin to strike out against the “system” that commodifies them by assigning them only numbers as identifies and cultivating them for the purposes of combat. Perhaps it will be Zero Two, with her flagrant disregard for the rules, who leads the way.

And yet, I wonder if Darling in the FranXX has already kneecapped its own ambitions in this area through the lurid, manipulative way it handles its characters’ sexuality.

I must admit upfront that sexuality it is not an element I often care to see in anime. The way it is often expressed—not just in anime, but in many other works of fiction—very rarely jibes with my personal opinions and beliefs on the topic, although there certainly have been anime that have handled sexuality as a theme, core plot element, or even metaphorical system in a way that I’ve appreciated. Revolutionary Girl Utena comes to mind, as do Star Driver (:thinking emoji:), the Monogatari series at points, and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. This is an admittedly short list, and while I expect I’ve forgotten some obvious contenders, that ought to speak for itself.

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I don’t even know what to say about the robots.

It is one thing to make sexuality a key element in a narrative. It is another to do what Darling in the FranXX began to do in its first episode and went all-in on in its second—treat its characters’ sexuality as a plaything for the narrative and a tease for the audience. One of my core issues (among others) with a lot of anime sexual fanservice is that it deprives the character being objectified of their sexual agency. Darling in the FranXX upsets me because not only does it do this through its camerawork (which focuses pretty much exclusively on the female characters), but also through the actual story.

To address the former first, well… there’s not much to say. If you’ve seen the second episode of DarliFra, you watched the changing scene. You saw the butt shots. Heck, you even saw the sexually aggressive framing of the robots (female-coded robots, I might add)! Heck! It’s par for the course when it comes to anime, but grates against the narrative framing of these characters as individuals who don’t even know what a kiss is, let alone anything beyond that. There’s no argument here—as there is in something like Monogatari—that the characters are deliberately playing up their own sexuality. By the story’s own rules, they (excepting Zero Two) are incapable of such an action.

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Zero Two’s knowledge of and agency over her own sexuality allows her to do things like this.

But again, the kind of both cartoony and more leering sexuality Darling in the FranXX imposes onto its characters isn’t something all that unique. It’s just what—frustratingly—a lot of anime does. What is far more upsetting is that this is a show that through both explicit narrative beats (the kiss being the activating factor for Hiro’s piloting of Strelizia with Zero Two in episode 1) and its dreadfully unsubtle symbolism (not to mention the constant innuendos) clearly wants to be about sexuality, and yet falls into the very same manipulations that we can presume it intends to condemn the in-show organization for: commodifying its characters’ sexuality for its own purposes.

Hiro and Ichigo stand as twin examples of Darling in the FranXX‘s cruelty—is that too strong a word?—on this front. Hiro has failed once in the past for what serves as a pale metaphor for his masculinity (or sexual capacities), and he fails once again in circumstances that are robot-piloting centric on the extremely shallow surface and very nearly explicitly sexual (again, just look at the damn shot framing) in the subtext. His confusion and distress is teased out and slapped onto the screen. And then there’s Ichigo, who is not only subject to a similar failure, but is also sexualized by the camera and forced by the plot into giving Hiro a kiss in which she must take responsibility for initiating. The shots in the immediate aftermath of the failed kiss are deeply distressing, and convey with extreme force the completeness of Ichigo’s (plot-demanded) failure, the sexually-charged nature of the whole encounter adding just another level of intensity.

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Physical, emotional, and sexual humiliation for Ichigo.

To conclude, it’s not merely the existence of these factors in Darling in the FranXX that upsets me. It is the fact that, in a show that without doubt must eventually become about its characters discovering their sexuality and taking agency for it, those same characters are afforded so little sympathy or respect. Their emotional suffering, which is so tightly woven into the sexualities they have no control over, is only a reminder that they have been written into a show that (again, presumably) wants to give them sexual agency as a fundamental part of its structure but at the same time has no qualms about objectifying them by shot framing, manipulating them into humiliating circumstances, and pushing the cinematic portrayal of their humiliation to maximum.

In short, it makes me deeply uncomfortable. That final shot of Ichigo’s heaving body, her gasping as if following a sexual encounter, conflates her emotional pain with sex appeal—and it put a knot in my stomach. For me as a viewer, it was horrible. If the adults of Darling in the FranXX have reduced the children they oversee to nothing more than puppets whose sexuality (metaphorically or literally) can be used to fight a war, then the show itself has similarly fetishized the characters’ sexuality for the purpose of entertaining its audience. It puts the audience in the place of the in-universe adults and dangles the sexuality of its characters before our eyes and says, “You like this, right? This is what you want these characters for?”

To which I say, when it comes to something as personal, sensitive, and important as sexuality… Well. I don’t like to use profanity on my blog.

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50 thoughts on “Your Body is Not Your Own: Darling in the FranXX and Sexual Agency (or the Lack Thereof)

  1. Nice! I agree with basically everything here. Darling in the FranXX has been troubling many with its treatment of sexuality and gender stereotypes. It kinda makes one look back on other Gainax/Trigger shows and their ways of exploring and portraying the same stuff.

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      • Yep. We can only wish they pull a 180º turn halfway through or something, since, as unlikely as it seems, they’ve kinda done it before. The show would be so much better if it fixed that -almost everything else is really cool- and I’d feel better looking for the sakuga in it than I do now.

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  2. The director is not exactly known for being a subtle guy, even though he is clearly talented.

    Can’t say any of this sexualization bothers me, personally, but I can respect those who do feel this is a problem.

    The thing is, I’ve already inherently accepted the fact these are products meant to sell merchandise, character figures, posters, etc. and not just tell stories. I do think the show will ultimately make a point about relationships and sexuality, but I don’t expect the creators will ever tone down their portrayal of fanservice as part of this production.

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    • Fair enough, although I think if the fanservice gets in the way of the story, especially one ostensibly about sexuality, that’s a problem. But you already knew I thought that since I said so in the post lol ^_^”

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  3. Thanks for putting this all more eloquently than I could have. The episode left me with an unsettled feeling, but it was hard to explain. And I’m someone who watches shows with lewd/fanservice.
    The show feels hypocritical. It’s throwing stones in a glass house. The adults in the show are bad for exploiting these ignorant children who don’t even know what a kiss is, but here let’s leer at this girl’s crotch from multiple angles while she’s in emotional distress. The show is nearly thoroughly serious in tone and atmosphere too. It all feels so jarring. Like the writers have one idea and the animators just wanted to animate fanservice. The sexual metaphors just repeatedly bash the audience in the head too. Yeah, I know you’re talking about sex. It’s just the characters who don’t. I’d rather watch a mindless fanservice show like Killing Bites that knows what it is than something like this which is pretending to be deeper than it actually is.

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    • The overlapping of emotional distress and sex appeal was what really upset me in the end. That was the emotional instigator for this post existing, even though I talked about a lot of other things.

      To clear one thing up, though—there’s no such thing as the writers doing one thing and the animators just adding in fanservice. That’s just not how anime production works. The director of the show—who has the ultimate say over the direction of the project—is also doing storyboards and is in charge of series composition (structuring the story). So the fanservice isn’t something that can be blamed on the animators, even if they happen to enjoy animating it—it’s something that was planned as part of the show.

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      • My bad. And again, thanks for articulating a feeling apparently many more have felt. It can be difficult to talk about it in the anime community because sometimes criticism of this nature gets shut down dismissively without consideration.

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        • Nah, that’s alright, nothing to apologize for! There are a lot of details to anime production and a lot of the info still isn’t widely accessible!

          & yeah, I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by how many people have said stuff like, “This post helped me figure out how I felt about things.”

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  4. Simoun would also be a good show, with an underlying sexual theme…
    And a more human/personal approach.

    DarXX uses many Evangelion and/or Kill la Kill templates and also from adult film.
    -Many shoots were irritating, or just awkward/silly.

    I had hopes for this show, but the characters and the story seems a bit off. The characters don’t seem genuine as you mentioned. —Except the part in the Mech, and partly 02, but there for the wrong reason.
    I think it is a bad show at the moment, because it tries to overarching, and if it didn’t get much better, it’s a waste of time to watch.
    Kiznaiver or Flip Flappers already went there and farther.
    They failed ultimately but at least they tried something new like Kill la Kill.

    But to be honest — the show is named „Darling…XX“ – I mean the XXX in xxxHolic has a different meaning — but in this case?!?

    So if it’s XXX=
    —You could then take the sexuality in this show as symbol for liberation from the oppressing System they are in.
    They break free through using of the life force and the joy of sexual pleasure and maybe the friendship.
    —if you see the different characters als representatives of the subconscious of the viewer and the robot as representative of the system they are living in.
    Then this could be a metaphor of the mentality of young people living in Japanese (or western capitalism) culture.
    And we as viewer experience exactly what cultural/social conditioning has done to the people in the show, cause they are mirrors of ourselves…

    Hope you enjoyed “A Place Further Than The Universe“.
    I was wondering every week, if the show could hold on to its on standard and am surprised how good the writing is…

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    • Oh, yeah, I didn’t even get to talking about how none of the characters except Zero Two (most of the time, even she’s not perfect) just feel kind of… off? to me. Like, I get what I’m supposed to think and feel about Ichigo, but it doesn’t really feel like the story’s done the work to really help us make sense of why she acts the way she does. She, and most of the other characters including Hiro, don’t feel consistently written to me.

      Haven’t seen A Place Further Than the Universe yet. Eventually…

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    • I assumed that the XX in FRANXX was denoting their female design, as in the X chromosome. Obsession with and exploitation of the female body are at play here, and I don’t know if the answer to these kids’ problems will be sexual revolution.

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      • The title alone, “Darling in the FranXX”. DARLING being the guy. FRANXX being the girl. Darling IN THE FranXX. That alone is an obvious innuendo. Moreover, in episode 4, where he finally got to “ride” her, they placed so much sexual references in lines mentioned by Hiro “I’m so much more deeper in you!”. Something like that.

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  5. I was mainly irritated by the gender representation by the whole thing- the girls are in the submissive position, basically treated like part of the cockpit hardware while the dudes loom behind them and hold their reins. Then there’s the dialogue and phrasing, tone, it all makes it very blatant and unpleasantly sexualized. I think there is a chance for the show to explore this in a potentially interesting manner, where Hiiro could be revealed to not be in the male driving position but instead in the lower position, thus placing the protagonist in a reversal of the oppressive binary the show depicts, and using that to defy expectations and maybe have a point about sexual and gender role flexibility….

    …But I seriously doubt the show has the guts for it.

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    • The show’s a lot less exploitative of Hiro’s body and his role in the failed connecting is somewhat less brutal than Ichigo’s since she volunteers to be his partner and initiates the kiss, but I find the way the show treats him is pretty awful too. He’s certainly no beneficiary of any of the structural framing elements you point out, and humiliation he goes through is very nearly as horrid to watch as Ichigo’s.

      And yeah, I’m not counting on any especially interesting turnabouts down the line.

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  6. I will probably be proved wrong(whenever I tend towards well meaning scenarios in anything, I usually am), but I thought the hyper sexualisation of Ichigo and thus the robot is in the long run supposed to be a bad thing.

    Ichigo, to me, seemed like the half crazy enemy (fairly common in anime) who lives only to fight, and often ends up working against the antagonists ultimate goals in their bid to conquer in every battle. The robot takes on first lurid feminity and then a beastial deformation later in the battle, showing how she feels she can only connect with her male co-pilot sexually, but is then overwhelmed herself, berserker like, in the heat of battle.

    I felt this showed her broken,(but strong)psyche overwhelming what should be a harmonious merging of male and female minds. Hiro, I hope, in the series will learn to match Ichigo’s mental strength, becoming a real partner for her, and in the process steer her away from Crazy Town.

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  7. I made the questionable decision of reading this post before actually watching the episode, but doing that, watching it, and then reading it again provided for an interesting perspective.

    When I first read this before seeing the episode, I frankly was expecting something on par with Sugou and Asuna in Sword Art Online, where the intention is so transparent that it’s hard to not view what’s going on as something with a nasty secondary intent. However, upon watching it, I didn’t feel like what I got was particularly close to that level.

    The biggest argument I have in favor of a good (or at least better) faith reading is the tonal similarities I feel this show clearly has to Eva. There’s a definite moodiness to all of the interactions between the characters where things never quite seem settled. But the more operative similarity, to me, is the way piloting the robots is depicted. The piloting scenes in Eva generally center on the emotional state of each of the characters, and how that affects their ability to utilize the unit effectively. A constant point in these scenes is the link between the pilots’ emotional instability and the physical suffering that this causes them to incur from the unit.

    This similarity I read into it is probably why I read the scene you highlight with Ichigo at the end of the episode so differently. Through the lens I described, that scene came off as something akin to an Eva piloting scene, where Ichigo, as the primary instigator of the scenario in the first place, is desperate for reciprocation from Hiro in a way that simply does not work between them. Her exertion towards him is something that, as a result of the FRANXX, is both emotionally and physically draining to her. Colored the tonal similarities I mentioned before, I viewed it more as a straight depiction of suffering than something marred by a voyeuristic intent.

    I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t mention the context and layers to that scene. The pilots in this show, to this point, are not anywhere close to the pilots in Eva in terms of their depth of characterization, and that does make the suffering come off as more shallow. It’s also not a one-to-one comparison in terms of what kind of suffering plays out, especially when the connotation of piloting in DarliFra is so obviously sexual. Combine that with the obvious fanservice scenes in the changing room, and I think I might have a better understanding of where your reading is coming from, particularly without using Eva as a predominant frame of reference.

    Writing this has rekindled questions I’ve had about whether anime stuff has eroded at my ability to feel moral disgust at media that’s potentially sexually exploitative, but that’s a whole other can of worms. At least I can use the fact that my two favorite new shows of the season so far (Yuru Camp and A Place Further Than the Universe, which are both a joy to watch) don’t even come close to this problem to tell myself otherwise…

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  8. Although I fairly liked it in the first ep it just was too much on the second.. putting so much focus on them as framing goes and adding to the humilliation as you mentioned is just plain “over-the-board”.. Great insight and post I strongly share most of the opinions but I’m still watching the show I guess … 😅

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  9. “(female-coded robots, I might add)”
    What I found interesting here is that all of the robots bear resemblances to the pistils that pilot them.
    Delphinum – Has the red thing covering her right eye, similar to how the fringe of Ichigo’s hair is covering her right side of the face.
    Argentina – Has the two parts sticking out of her head, like Miku’s pigtails.
    Genista – This one is interesting because its physical appearance has aspects of its stamen pilot too. The blondish piecces resembling hair hang down across the front of the body, similar to Kokoro’s hair when she is in her “school” uniform and not the plug-suit. But its also notably chubby compared to the other robots, like Futoshi.
    Chlorophytum – Has a visor covering the eyes, like Ikuno’s glasses.

    So not only are the robots themselves being sexualised, they all appear to be mech’d versions of the female’s character designs. This is compounded by how the female pilots are consistently communicating with the male pilots by use of screens in the cockpit – that have the robot’s face to the female’s voice.

    Also: towards the end of episode 2, Zorome talks about piloting Delphinum, Ichigo’s robot. Miku responds with frustration on how he’s hitting on another girl- but all he directly mentioned was the robot!
    Also: They never reference males potentially piloting these robots alone, just Zero Two and Ichigo, both pistils, and how dangerous it would be for them to do so.

    This leads me to theorize that the robots become extensions of the pistils themselves, and that the stamens may just be there to prevent them from going berserk when they’ve merged their consciousness into the robots. Or something. So each robot is permanently paired with the specific female pilots.
    Which.. then means the guys have to literally get inside.. of.. the female robots which is.. sexual.. inferences.. and.. eugh.

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  10. I’m probably gonna write something of my own soon about this, but to me, there was something inert about the sexual framing of a lot of these scenes. Maybe I was too deep in the heads of these kids–kids who don’t understand sex and therefore can’t understand or embrace any pleasure derived from it–but outside of that one shot of one of the girls putting on her underwear, a lot of it felt like going through the motions. To me, there was a lot of sexual stuff there that wasn’t sexy–not even a little. It was just uncomfortable to watch.

    Without a major robot battle in this episode, I wonder–what’s the appeal supposed to be here? We might expect that the sexual nature of being Franxx pilots will be played with in the future: roles may be inverted, or the kids might have an epiphany about sex that changes their perspectives. But until then, are we really supposed to be satisfied with this sexual framing as the primary appeal? If so it’s pretty weak.

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  11. I’ve been trying for a little while to properly word what I’ve been feeling since reading this post. In short, while there are some points I agree with WRT the visual objectification of the characters vs how the story attempts to frame their sexuality as being exploited and abused by their elders, I take issue with how you characterize the show as “cruel” for the way its characters are humiliated in the climax of episode two.

    Partly this comes down to my probably much more generous reading of DarliFra’s take on sexuality. It’s pretty clear that the whole robot piloting setup is a very, very blunt metaphor for sexuality, and the show expects the audience to read every act of piloting between 2 characters as a sexual encounter. And following that logic, Hiro and Ichigo’s humiliation is meant to be read as a really, really bad first time. Hiro feels emasculated and (quite literally) impotent, and Ichigo feels rejected and miserable. It’s an absolutely mortifying experience in every aspect, but I don’t read it as the show wanting the audience to relish that humiliation, but to sympathize with it.

    A large part of why I read it this way is because of how on-the-nose the show is with the sexual metaphor. We are meant to read every bit of dialogue regarding piloting the robots as innuendo for sex – and specifically for the Parasites as early sexual encounters. Whether it’s Futoshi asking Kokoro if he “did it right” when they start up their robot or Zorome’s insecure posturing about how Hiro couldn’t possibly have piloted before he got to, it feels really reminiscent of how I and many of the people I knew thought about sex growing up. Extending that logic, I read Hiro and Ichigo’s failed piloting as bad but not at all uncommon experience of teenagers trying to express their sexuality but failing because of how they have been taught to approach it.

    I’ll admit a lot of this hinges on my reading of the Parasites’ powers-that-be being stand-ins for restrictive, repressive views on sexuality. They are – in the show at least – the ones who created the Franxx and designed the heteronormative binary that is the piloting system. They are also the ones who have raised the Parasites for their respective roles and presumably kept them sheltered from even knowing what a kiss is. And so Hiro and Ichigo try to act how they’re “supposed” to – they get in their ridiculous cockpit, assume the blatantly sexual positions that they don’t even understand, and they cannot make it work. They fail, and they don’t even have the intellectual tools to understand why or how they failed. And it leaves them both feeling like absolute garbage – certain that their failure is due to some flaw in themselves and not in the system they’ve been placed in. As somebody who’s been in a very similar place, I felt uncomfortable in the same way watching certain parts of Scum’s Wish made me feel – like it was hitting too close to home.

    Obviously my interpretation could turn out completely off the mark – the casual fanservice of the female cast certainly bothers me too, and definitely hampers any potential the show has to critique the way the cast is objectified in-universe for one – but that was my immediate reaction to Episode 02, and having revisited the last scene since reading the article, that’s still how I’ve read it, and I see a lot of potential for interesting, thoughtful consideration of sexual awakening in a restrictive, limiting social structure. I could end up with egg on my face, but I just wanted to express my own feelings on the show and why I felt rather strongly about this post.

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    • Well said.
      I only just started it, my wife is making my watch it lol.

      The sexual imagery is not an issue for me. It could be full on porn for all I care, what makes me uncomfortable is the similarity to my early sexual adventures

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  12. Feel like the over the top framing that denies agency is good precisely because it does express the relevant information. If the framing and plot don’t deny them agency (plot entirely directed by the secretive counsel of men perpetuating the status quo) then how else do you communicate that 1) this is sexual and 2) they have no sexual agency? By exposition?

    The framing and plot should CHANGE as they take sexual agency, but I have a relatively decent amount of confidence it will, because the one instance of sexual and plot agency so far, Hiro’s decisions to join Zero 2, was explicitly hidden from the viewer, I suspect because when we later get a flash back to what happened, it will reveal events and framing that are inherently opposed to the rest of the existing “piloting” scenes, which will be part of the point.

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  13. Ooh, a new post (and it seems I missed an entire 12 days worth of Christmas posting, too). I personally didn’t think too much about the show. LossThief’s take sounds plausible to me, but I don’t feel strongly either way. I’m enjoying the show more than I thought I would, but I had no expectations at all for that show, so that’s not saying much.

    Your post made me think about how I reacted to the scene in question. I couldn’t see it as sexy at all, and I found it an uncomfortable watch, but unlike you, I think, I didn’t turn that comfort against the creators, or against the meta-levle (not sure how to put this). Rather, I felt the clinical and callous camera was more effective on me than a stylistic display of sympathy would have been. The latter could have worked, but at the same time it’s very easy for me just sort of phase out due to overdone cheesiness. Whether it’s supposed to have been sexy I can’t tell; I’m bad at that. But there’s a huge qualitative difference between that scene and Zero Two (0-ni –> Oni)’s swimming scene. So I wonder.

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  14. The context of this scene (and other related ones that I didn’t talk about in the post) is very different from the swimming scene, so to me the intent feels very different. But the show is sure having fun showing Zero Two’s body off (both in the show and in the OP, yeesh). It’s different though, because as I mentioned, she is aware of her own sexuality so it feels much less exploitative for the show to throw her into such situations.

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    • True, I sort of didn’t pay proper attention to the awareness effect. What I sort of think, though, is that she must have gone through similar experiences. She’s “on the tray”, too. I’m not entirely sure if she’s completely unembarrassed, or if she’s so used to inevitable embarrassment that it no longer registers, like chronic pain. The key point I was making, though, is that her scenes feel sexy; the others don’t. I don’t remember the show enough if there’s anything in the presentation to support that, and I don’t like the show enough to re-watch the episodes. Where am I going with this? I sort of think that relentless objectification just… fits.

      At this point, I’m not even sure how much of the show I’ll be watching. And I can certainly see your point. In a sense, I could see the show saying things like “this is what much fanservice is like; stop making excuses you hypocrites.” Now, self-awareness doesn’t make things better in any way, but it doesn’t necessarily make things worth either.

      Also, I’m really rambling without much of a direction. ’twas good to read another post of yours. Will maybe read the other posts sometime, when I get the time.

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      • Definitely nice to see you in the comments! ^_^

        Utena already has done the sexualization bit, and way better than this if that’s the angle DarliFra’s going, and it did it without being crass. So no points for DarliFra from me there 😛

        Feel free to comment if you read the others! I’ll definitely respond!

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  15. I do like how the show portrays the lack of agency afforded to the characters due to the power of the Empire which, as you say, squeezes every last drop of blood from them. This Empire is so invasive that it even dominates their sexual agency, forcing them to wear these ridiculous suits and to ritually copulate in the cockpit of robots which allows them to destroy their enemies. The girls are in the submissive position as the men literally steer them with love handles. The empire has made it so that the only sexual relations the characters are even able to imagine are based on a foundation of violence and power (perhaps not unlike our own world). They don’t even know what kissing is, nor do they understand why anyone would want to. They believe sex is purely a matter of duty to the Empire.

    While it is pretty over the top, thematically it’s pretty believable. Empires do remove sexual agency: look at the pressure to procreate for the good of the country (i.e., tax breaks) or to not do so (i.e., China), the empires of the past which frequently had variations on sexual slavery, forced childbirth, compulsory sterilization, and rape as a spoil of war, the arranged marriages and difficulty of obtaining a divorce in many countries, the propensity towards monogamous marriage in our own culture, etc.

    So, yeah, I don’t mind that the characters are objectified and deprived of their sexual agency. They don’t have any sexual agency. And as you say, it made you deeply uncomfortable. Me too. It was horrible. And I’d call that a success. It was supposed to be horrible. I’m pretty sure…

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    • Well, if that was all it was, I’d have less of a problem with it. My issue is that the show it’s trying to make that point while also sexualizing the characters to pleasure the audience. When DarliFra objectifies the characters through fanservice, the show itself becomes the Empire and is thus guilty of the same crime it purports to condemn its fictional Empire for. That’s why I said in the post that it’s not the presence of these factors that I find galling; it’s the way the show doesn’t seem to understand how it’s undermining its thematic cake by eating it up as fanservice at the same time.

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  16. Thank you for this article.
    Here in China, DarliFra (as a consequence of a video by a famous videomaker) just caused a storm on social medias. Their main focus is, somehow, on the…position(I wager if the word fits here) used to pilot FRANXX. But after reading your opinion I start to believe it’s a minor one after all, as I consider the organization’s wrongdoing is the major problem.
    In the ED song the lyrics talked of breaking the birdcage. I think it’s gonna be one of the main themes of this anime, another of which is this talk of sex.
    Heck, I do hope the staff would get things right in the following story…and judged from the staff’s history they most likely will?
    (Should my vocabulary/grammar fail to express my opinion…forgive me. )

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you for this post. Honestly, what I most hate about anime is its rampant fanservice. I guess Trigger always try to ‘subvert’ this in some way, but honestly they always fall short. Kill la Kill was supposed to be a parody of all that, and yet it took it to its extreme, and it was not comfortable to watch (mind you, I did like it a lot, but the constant no-clothes stance; plus the fact that all men had abs and all women where basically hourglass figures really bothered me), I feel like the show, deprived of that, could have been much better. I have also seen Flip Flappers, and I also liked it a lot; but the fanservices or sexual poses where also always too much and unnecessary.

    As for this show, I’m not even going to give it a chance by now. The position in which the women are and the usual fanservicey shots is truly disgusting, and I don’t see how it could be righted, even if they do end up ‘liberating through it’, which seems to be bullshit, to me. If you want to subvert stuff, maybe you could try not using fanservice and the like? A story does not need it at all, none the less when it’s about literal kids.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Whoa, about the social media storm about DitF in China I mentioned days ago, it literally became a storm. Someone, out of unknown reasons, reported DitF to the gov. And the sole video streaming service website removed DitF from its site, due to potential risks of getting itself “blamed” by the gov…Or I don’t know if the company actually received the order to remove it. The former one is more likely the fact anyway.
    Man, I’m really starting to question the conscience of my people…It’s like those people did it for no good reason, just for some affairs inside the Otaku circle.
    No worries though. Sometimes it’s good that we still have torrents available.

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  19. Really good analysis of the show!! DarliFra is one of those shows that elicits both entertainment and discomfort from me. The framing of the characters and their sexual relationships is… deeply unsettling, as it seems like it’s supposed to be, but the a lot of the shot compositions suggest otherwise. However, I am a sucker for stylish mecha (and the Franxx are OOZING with style), and the world and background characters are intriguing enough for me to keep going. I really hope they turn it around, as I am sure they are capable of. Inklings of this are shown in the clear negative portrayal of zero two, and the lack of subtlety in the worship of a “Father” that does not love them, and the devotion of their flesh and soul to a job they didn’t sign up for. With the relationship between Hiro and Zero Two (shakily) defines, I await a greater focus on the people and the world around them.

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  20. Hiro’s failure to pilot a Franxx is not just a jab toward his masculinity or maybe sexual performance (as the show relies heavily on innuendo) but it also depicts the importance of connecting with your partner. As in being sexually compatible.

    Hiro failing to connect with a partner and pilot a Franxx was to take a character who was a prodigy and force them to deal with failure and the feelings associated with it. It’s putting him through a crucible. Knocking a protagonist down to rock bottom and seeing if they can overcome their shortcomings and ultimately grow as a character.

    I completely disagree with the author’s assessment of Ichigo’s role in her and Hiro’s mock battle against Zorome and Miku. To say Ichigo is “forced by the plot” into kissing Hiro is just dead wrong. They form a brief connection in Delphinium, it doesn’t work and she asks what he did while piloting Strelizia as she’s aware of his “performance issues.”

    He recalls his kiss with Zero Two and how it felt. It’s Ichigo who comes up with the idea to kiss Hiro not because she’s being forced to, but because she has feelings for Hiro whether or not she fully understands them. In addition to that, she knows Hiro will only stay if he can be a pilot and she’s grasping at straws to make that happen because she wants him to stay.

    The anguish she feels when it doesn’t work is because she’s been with him all his life yet couldn’t connect with him in order to pilot a Franxx. She wanted to be the one to “fix” him. To help realize his dream. Now she has to give that role up to Zero Two; an aggressive, reckless, dangerous woman they just met who clings to Hiro and has the nerve to refer to him as ‘Darling.’ It’s easy to see why that would infuriate her.

    Hiro mentions to Goro after the battle that he views Ichigo like a sister. This is again a motif of the importance of compatibility. The difference in feelings of how each views the other is the obvious reason they failed to connect.

    The author refusing to notice or acknowledge these aspects of the story would be like me saying Eddard Stark was “forced by the plot” into falsely confessing to the crime of treason. I would be completely ignoring the character’s love for his family and how that love influenced his decision simply because it was a plot point I didn’t like.

    At the beginning of the article, the author lists Revolutionary Girl Utena as having a positive portrayal of sexuality while Franxx is negative.

    Utena has scenes depicting men with bare chests splayed out in very sensual poses. https://data.whicdn.com/images/33532097/original.gif
    How is that image any different or less objectifying than the suggestive poses of the females of Darling in the Franxx?

    Or is the issue here that it’s ok to sexually objectify male characters, but not ok to sexually objective female characters?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The problem here is not about the ideas but execution, I understand your interpretation of compatibility but there is no subtlety whatsoever, which in my opinion loses the message you derived from it. if this show is seriously trying to depict sexuality, it does it like a teen who’s sole experience is watching porn and thinking that’s what it’s all about. The characterization is also one dimensional, the growth you are hoping for doesn’t happen( as of episode 10), I’m afraid there is no deeper exploration of the relationship, it is predictable and overdone.

      And your understanding of what objectification is is baffling, you produce one image from Utena and therefore discount it since it ‘objectified’ men( head scratch), why weren’t the male characters in Franxx shown in the same way girls were, that way we know this show is serious about the themes it’s throwing at us, and not resorting to age old fanservice to keep people watching instead of good story.
      you also cannot get away from decades of anime using female bodies for no reason but to draw in hormonal teens to watch anime, harmful objectification is not only about objectifying a character, it’s about saying that’s all they are, there is no other dimension to them. mostly if a man is objectified in anime, there are a dozen other men who aren’t, they are different and diverse but females in anime are almost always shown in a sexual way which sends the message that’s all they are.

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  21. Now to put things in context…I am not surprised that the plot goes like this.
    – They don’t have a true sense of parenthood (the first time they realised the existence of a ‘Mother’ is when one of the characters wandered through the ruins to discover a handbook about pregnancy as being a 1st time mother)
    – They were taught that they have no worth when they can’t fight (the first few chapters where Hiro felt as he lost his purpose when his partner left)
    – They never see their ‘Father’ in the first place, really.
    so to conclude, this story looks and sounds like a really terrible dystopia where 02 and Hiro attempt to escape from. I know. It’s really dark compared to the art style of colourful mechs and tech.
    But again, Good character building and mechs, so whatever

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  22. Now, i think you underestimate this anime, so many things are symbols and parables. For example the bird mentioned in the first episode. He reappears later and now think of the way the mechas were built. I don‘t think they wanted to say something about sexuality. The way the mechas were build is another version of the parable with the bird. There are thing we can‘t do alone, we need a partner. I think thats one of the main themes.
    Another point is the way Zero Two is represented in the opening, mainly naked.
    I can understand everyone, who thinks that‘s weird, but try to look a bit deeper. Zero Two isn‘t a human, everybody calls her a monster, herself included, even Hiro did. But she tries to appear unvulnerable, to hush it up with a cold behavior towards others. She always says, she doesn‘t need others, because she never had friends, she could count on.
    Actually is she helpless and alone in a world not understanding what it means to be a human. She is vulnerable. Being naked as symbol for being vulnerable? Works.
    Overall it bout being a human. Wha does it mean to be a human?
    Seen those adults? They don‘t live, they just exist. Those old men from APE don’ live they sit there calculation, not feeling anything. The members of troup 13 live. They have emotions and fears to fight. That‘s what it means to live as a human being. Zero Two isn‘t a human being in the biological way, but she still is a human. The color of your blood doesn‘t matter.
    Being and living as a human being is another main theme.

    Finaly done… I just had to write this. But:
    1. It‘s possible that I‘m wrong with pretty much everything i wrote.
    2. I‘m more or less sorry, if i made some mistakes. I‘m not native speaker.

    Have a nice Day
    Mike Chiro Meo Forster v/o Kosmos

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  23. While I wouldn’t say it disturbed me as much as it did you, I agree that the aggressive sexual metaphors in Darling in the Franx were rather…uncomfortable. Mostly because these kids are literally, well, kids. Like how old are they even? 16? 15? Younger that that? I mean, even if they handled simply these themes a little more subtly it could have made for something interesting in a psychological sense. But instead we got rear shots of teen girls in the doggy position and robots with boobs and it was just kind of ridiculous gross.

    That said, I did enjoy Darling in the Franx. The worldbuilding was interesting and it was enjoyable enough to watch. Theres just A LOT of stuff that seriously needing ironing out (or ommitting completely) and it was a pity.

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  24. Amazing. I was always a bit put off by the way DitF handled its characters sexuality but I don’t think I ever managed to fully articulate why. It all felt a bit hamfisted for the MC in a mecha anime to learn about his true powers as a result of his sexual awakening but there was definitely something more and I think this piece about agency was it. Very cool, thank you.

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    • Really glad to hear you liked it! It’s always a neat thing as a writer to hear that you’ve been able to articulate something that someone was feeling. So thanks very much for taking time to leave a comment!

      Like

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