Look, Darling in the Franxx has bad politics. While you might disagree if you’re someone who tends to empathize with more traditionalist social values, most who range from the center to the left would have at least a minor problem with its prescriptions on how the world does and should work, particularly in regards to gender. But that’s not all that interesting to me. I’ve spent the last 6 months reading people in my circles complain about it and those complaints are almost entirely valid but they’re also remarkably dull at this point, utterly lacking any spark. A full video on that alone would be a simple rehash and given that I’m interested in improving my content, that’s not something I’d be willing to make.
What is notable to me is that the show isn’t just politically bad in the sense that its views are inherently off-putting due to my leftism. It’s also fundamentally broken, an absolute failure at actually communicating the ideas that the series makes gestures towards signing onto. Essentially, Franxx’s politics aren’t just bad on their own but made worse by the fact that it doesn’t even meaningfully know what it’s trying to say.
Before showcasing why the politics of the series fall apart, it’s important to look at what it seems to be attempting with its messages. Franxx’s base political stances can be boiled down to a few things. First, it broadly pushes the idea that men and women need each other. This is emphasized from the very beginning, as the story of the Jian is clearly a parallel to both Hiro and Zero Two in particular — as confirmed by the finale — as well as the situation surrounding the pilots more broadly. 50 years ago, this could have been progressive in some very loose sense in that it encourages sexuality though nowadays, it’s not particularly impressive as a message. Having kids is also highly emphasized. After all, you wouldn’t get memes about Shinzo Abe if the show didn’t advocate getting that ol’ procreation on, which is part of its broader focus on how we should return to a simpler form of living that emphasizes our natural communities.
Second, it takes a page from the book of classic right-wing scaremongering tactics and argues that pushing for too much equality is actually an attempt to “make everyone the same”[scare-quotes]. This is generally a very lazy approach, which is actually a bit of a disappointment. The anti-gender Nines contrast with Ikuno, a lesbian who wants to maintain gender and this could have brought up real tensions in the queer community, given that the fight between those who prefer integration and those who prefer total systemic abolition is an incredibly fraught one but clearly the series wasn’t aware of this potential. As a result of following this simplistic idea without really questioning it in any way, the show tends to believe that we gain value from difference. That’s not exactly something that those who push for equality disagree with but given that the show has the mouthpiece for this view be anti-gender, it’s pretty telling that it sees this as an authoritarian left-wing viewpoint.
Lastly, while the show is clearly skeptical of abolishing gender and in favor of having men and women pair and have kids, expressing their sexuality openly as long as it remains heteronormative, a bit of wiggle room is given. The series attempts to show how people can exist outside of these norms, with Ikuno’s lesbianism being the clearest example. Still, actually diverging from your gender’s role outside an interest in your own sex obviously isn’t meant to be seen as a particularly good thing.
So, naturally, I’d disagree with all this stuff even if it were well-portrayed and part of an excellent show. However, this video wouldn’t exist in that case. Almost every single point I laid out here is, throughout the show, either subverted, dropped, or simply not expounded upon enough to really feel legitimate. Broadly, I’d say this is due to the show’s poor writing in general but I’m sure someone else will make a whole video on that topic so I’d like to focus on why its politics in particular fail.
First, the idea that men and women are necessary halves of a greater whole doesn’t really make sense here. In a more down-to-earth setting, the simple need for reproduction works as a good enough justification to pass by — albeit one that has holes — but here, that fails. People can clearly be made even without men and women having sex and they did so for quite some time prior to the events of the main story. The adults are totally functional people — at least in a physiological sense — despite their lack of reproductive organs, so clearly, the human race can survive whether we cease having children in the traditional manner or not.
This is made even more confusing by the Nines. Because the Nines are quite clearly said to lack gender and reproductive organs, much like the adults — though the adults pair in heterosexual couples, so they must maintain gender to some degree — it’s to be interpreted that they are a small vision of the terrifying, homogenized future that VIRM presents for us. Now, honestly, I think Nine Alpha is totally right in terms of what they say about gender but even ignoring that, their presence breaks the series. They function just as well at piloting the Franxx as do the gendered children, despite the clear meaning here being that our diversity in having gender helps empower us. In the final stretch, Nine Alpha even pilots with Hiro, less skillfully than when he’s with Zero Two, yes, but not to such a degree that the issue of gender seems to be the cause.
Honestly, the show never presents a clear reason why it would be worse to do away with gender. As I said, Ikuno is strongly against it because she’s found identity in her position as a girl who loves other girls, a conundrum that leaves many in the queer community hesitant to embrace more abolitionist viewpoints, but aside from her, the characters never demonstrate a reason why gender is a good thing for them to maintain. And this isn’t just me taking my radical anti-gender stance here, it’s just not justified in the text. The only clear sign by the end that we shouldn’t all be like the Nines is the fact that VIRM was controlling them. But given that VIRM is a massively underdeveloped strawman protagonist which literally doesn’t have a clear goal unless you’ve watched Eva and Gurren Lagann, I can’t really get invested in them being evil enough to see everything they propped up on Earth as inherently disgusting.
And let’s talk about how VIRM is a strawman. The idea that the abolition of hierarchies — or even less aggressive forms of equality — will destroy all diversity is a common right-wing talking point. Those who rail against multiculturalism will, in between being massively racist, point to the idea that spreading cultures will dilute them, tearing apart the diverse forms of humanity that existed while everyone was separate. And this kinda seems to be what the show is saying with gender. Now, the Nines show quite a range of gender expression despite seemingly lacking gendered anatomy or gender identity, so this argument already has some holes but let’s put that aside for a second. Roughly, VIRM takes the same position as those who favored Instrumentality in Eva: they propose we should all become one entity and cease fighting, leading to an evolved race. It hardly sets this up in the show itself but whatever, the series relies on you having seen past, better Gainax works, I can accept that. What I can’t accept is the idea that this argument has any merit or is something anyone believes. I have never met a single person who honestly thinks we should all be the same. The people I know that are heavily in favor of abolishing gender also tend to be those who present themselves in ways that show enormous variety, hardly boxing themselves in. Encouraging divergence from the current gender binary can’t be reasonably seen as an attempt to stifle diversity, even if you are an “only two genders” type. This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if any depth was given to VIRM’s ideology. But none is, so the series’ opposing ideology just comes across as weak, making the opinions it’s actually pushing less effective at the same time.
This lack of depth plagues many of the show’s ideological failings. One thing the series seemingly tries to get at, though without much success, is a vague anti-colonial and conservationist message. This is primarily done through the Klaxosaurs. They were invaded and their planet was, in a sense, colonized, so they try and fight back against VIRM through the humans, who act as a sort of middleman in this whole process until the final 5 episodes. Unfortunately, the Klaxo race isn’t given enough time in the series for this to come through clearly enough. For three-quarters of the show, they’re the antagonist and as soon as they join the children’s side in fighting VIRM, they get no development. I get why the Klaxo princess wants to destroy VIRM but there’s no pathos here nor is their enough of a motivation for the messages surrounding it all to have any impact. This is only made worse by the finale, as they return to live beneath the Earth’s crust, allowing humans to maintain control of the surface. Given that there’s no clear sign the environment is being respected by the end — the buildings look remarkably similar to the ones in the plantations, contradicting the idea we should live simply — I’m frankly just left confused by what the series was attempting to convey. The environmentalist and anti-colonial position makes the most sense but because it falls apart in its execution, I’m not even positive what the staff was going for, a problem which occurs many, many times in this series.
Remember how I said earlier that a bit of divergence from gender norms is said by the show to be acceptable? Well, it tried. Ikuno is given the chance to confess to Ichigo and while her feelings are a bit minimized, they’re treated as valid and she’s hardly considered a freak or anything of the sort for it. Hell, by the ending, she even seems to hook up with Naomi, which is nice. All too often, queer characters are left alone after their one unrequited love is not returned, seemingly incapable of recognizing that we can fall in love with multiple people across our lives.
But it utterly squanders this by having her be the only one of the pilots who has to die early. Look, bury your gays is a well-known trope by now, I don’t have to go too in-depth with it. When gay characters are in a work, they often die. Just for popular anime, look at Kiznaiver, Eva, or Iron Blooded Orphans. Even when works are good, they still fall into this, making it hard to bear regardless of the quality in context, as the pervasive trend always returns to the back of your mind. And here, where the show is blatantly trying to demonstrate some positive representation in portraying its lesbian, it stands out as especially glaring. Her pairing up with Naomi makes it better than it could’ve been but it still seems to imply that you really do need a man and a woman to truly fly, so to speak. That would be disgusting to me if it were the case but at least I’d know it was intentional. Here, it’s just another unclear statement by a show that obviously didn’t know which direction it was going in, only serving to make the politics more and more impossible to decipher.
All I can say about Franxx is that it doesn’t commit hard enough. If it wanted to be a center-right show about the importance of having children and maintaining traditional gender roles than it went too far in validating the concerns of those who are opposed to that idea. If it wanted to be at all progressive than it failed as soon as the base premise was drafted. Frankly, my disappointment over the show’s politics are just a part of my broader feelings of being let down. From episode 1 I knew I wouldn’t agree with what it had to say about gender but hey, I wanted to give it a chance for its other merits. But as time went on, those merits continued to decrease, leaving me with a show whose direction is as confused as someone who just watched Lain for the first time. Even someone who agrees with Franxx’s politics would have a hard time believing it executes on them in a remotely satisfying way. And that’s a real shame, since it reflects the more general problems with it as a work of fiction. I’m sad to say it but this show is Franxxly a mess, politically and otherwise.