Caution: This review contains spoilers for this predictable show. I have specifically and very clearly marked the spoiler sections (there aren't as many as you think, only 3 paragraphs’ worth) so you can still easily read my review and do not need to worry. As for the fans of the show, enter at your own volition since you will not find this review to exalt it in any manner, so to those who consider FranXX a 10/10, keep your temper in and let's begin. If you're a regular reader, please carry on :)
FranXX was hyped a lot. And that's just the short of it, it had a huge marketing campaign and had a huge amount of anticipation with people calling it the “Next Evangelion” or a “Spiritual successor to Eva” and so on and so forth. The legendary Yabuki Kentarou was signed on doing the art for the manga adaptation for this unoriginal original and as a matter of fact, that's how I found out about the show in the first place and went in expecting the amazing show the marketing had me believe. Result? Well I can't surprise you since you might have seen the score I gave it. Yes. A mess. A terrible mess.
To begin with, the main part that is the reason fans gloss over this show, the characters. They are given little to no backstories and their roles to play are very less. Squad 13 mainly served as a bumbling group of teenagers (hmm… why teenagers in particular?) who don't know jackshit except for the so called “fact” that they must pilot the mechs known as FranXX and defeat these blue magma lover monsters called Klaxosaurs. Let that seep in. Why children? Most likely because they wanna appeal to the target audience of the show, teenagers. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be as fruitful as A-1 and Trigger thought it would because when you've got an idiotic group of teenagers who contribute nothing to character development, I don't think you end up with teenage viewers going crazy over a show. I mean, yes, teens in real life aren't always smart, but if given the chance, I'm sure they'd do something sensible when they need to, but we don't see such a thing at all. Why? All we see is random blushes and such stuff. I mean, these teens are acting like everyday teens, yes, that's fine but is this the premise to do so? A place where people are bombarded by the constant threat of Klaxosaurs? Kids are supposed to have fun yes, but not when you're literally guarding human lives from danger.
To move away from the characters for a moment, we move to another problem with the show, its connection. And don't you dare justify it by telling me it's an episodic anime, because it sure as hell is not. In reality, it's just mixed up completely and had too many ideas to implement together and instead of choosing one idea to go with, they probably chose all and excellently failed at all of them. Why? Poor connection. To hold up a plot you need connection, FranXX didn't offer any of that at all. It just dragged on and didn't leave any mention of what happened before and most importantly WHY the situation happened before. What could possibly be the reason behind this? Simple. Bad direction. All it takes to destroy the whole hard work of a show is bad direction. In fact, about 90% of the issues with the anime can be traced back to bad direction. If the show had a good director I suppose the show would have a direction to follow, but this being FranXX, it had to follow all the directions it could and then ended up nowhere. In the first episode I had the show at a shocking 9 and if you look at it now it's fallen pretty spectacularly. This is because of the show's bad direction; events were unconnected and an irritated yours truly almost smashed his screen onto the floor . Random stuff happening here with no explanation, and then random stuff happening there without explanation, was this anime devoid of sense or something? Because I did not find any of it anywhere. And then we've got the problem that follows that the story was unexplained. Why did this happen? Why did that happen? How did this occur? Where did this issue first occur? There were many questions asked by fans, and the answer is that it was clear both studios didn't want quality, they wanted the $$$ And that's me trying to be positive, we got zilch as in reality but eh, gotta act positive.
Needless to say, apart from a cliched mess of a story, it's disappointing in almost every other regard (read on for further explanation), serving as a reminder that it only takes one big mistake to spoil the whole effort put into an anime, or anything for that matter. Speaking of mistakes, we come to another part that had the cosplayers, fan artists and others crazy, the romance— particularly the romance between Zero Two and Hiro. First off, our two MCs. Zero Two was introduced as a waifu like character which immediately took the undeserving “deconstruction” tag which was ripped off from Eva (surprise surprise, FranXX ripped off a show) while giving us another useless MC who went by the self appointed name Hiro. Their romance was unexplained until way later into the series, an episode which even I liked, episode 13. They were largely unexplained for most of the anime’s run and it was only in the first episode of the second cour (episode 13) that tried to remedy this. Result? Thankfully good. Episode 13 was regarded as an excellent episode by even the harshest of critics since it explained a lot of the stuff between Hiro and Zero Two and obviously it was a flashback episode, yet despite being a flashback episode it was done well— surprising since this is FranXX. But the problem came afterwards; after that episode was done, we saw a lot of crap follow it in the form of the team getting “mad” at Zero Two for “hurting” Hiro for over dramatic effect and to make me sympathise with the characters. Why would you drag through 12 episodes just to see the one episode that seemed half decent and it goes back to its shitty formula? I loathed it even more.The episodes were cliched, unconnected messes with absolutely no relevance to the plot, just serving to pass time either to focus on Hiro or to make the fanboys go crazy over the fight scenes, which were nothing more than one hit kills and random dashes.
Moving on from there all we got were cheesy half hearted lines like “I wanna be with you forever” and all that teenage fantasy (severely paraphrased for ease of comprehensive analysis) and pointless romantic moments that don't have much to do with the plot. Why am I crushing the romance here even though I'm a romance fan? It's because FranXX deployed this romance at the wrong times, I can't even say I'm surprised anymore at this kind of problem. Then we go to the other cast, Ichigo is a character that served as a reminder about the stupidity of fanboys since her voice actor Kana Ichinose received death threats just because of her work as Ichigo. Anno would be proud. Ichigo’s character though wasn't fleshed out (to say nothing of the rest of the cast, especially Ikuno, Zorome and Miku) and her actions were basically “I'm jealous because I love him but can't reveal it to him because I'm shy” and that time when she DID do it, it was enough to even send non romance fans into a fit because it was done in a (dare I say it?) slutty way cause teenagers? I do not know. Then we come to the signature part which had many people divided as well, Kokoro. To delve into this horrible character we must enter minor spoiler territory so if you can't handle looking at a good character being turned into a whore please skip the marked spoiler section.
Skip this paragraph if you don't want spoilers about this side character and want the relationship as a surprise. Spoilers begin: Kokoro was paired up with Futoshi who liked Kokoro a lot but suffered from the same problem as Ichigo. However, since he's male the fanboys didn't take or notice much issue, perhaps also because Futoshi wasn't made as a cockblocker character and instead was of the “I'll protect her” than a “I want him to love me instead”, only thing is that Kokoro turned out to “betray” Futoshi and instead go for an unlikely character who was largely ignored throughout the show, Mitsuru. She suddenly developed feelings for him and even kissed him for no concrete reason apart from taking the show into an extremely shitty direction because guess what? She wanted a baby. Why? Freakin’ teenagers… this is the worst way to relate to them. Then Kokoro went from a “I am not in love with Futoshi but he's a kind person” to an “I want Mitsuru’s @#$_ inside me". I'm not even joking. This LITERALLY happened. Why am I rambling on about this? Because that's definitely not how you make a show about teenagers because that's not at all representative of the majority. Anyway, then they suddenly want to get married (!?) and we see other crap follow as well without explanation or reason, they just wanna fill time at this rate. With what? Throwing in the notion that Kokoro is pregnant later on. Teenage pregnancy, a very common thing in teens nowadays amiright? Wrong. And you know what worse? The fact that the folks at FranXX.inc pulled the WORST cliche to go with this. Both of them are caught and are “brainwashed” and their memories are “stored” somewhere. If VIRM didn't want to let them regain their memories then why store them in the first place? Why not “delete” them into oblivion? Plot armour I say. Convenience too… this makes many viewers realise that the episode was just existing to pass time and fool the viewers into thinking their time into the episode was worth it? Spoiler end
This brings us on to the next point, underused characters. Namely Miku, Zorome and Ikuno. Not to mention Goro but he got a little bit of a focus so I'll give him a brief look later. Miku and Zorome were shown as characters who had a rivalry-love which seemed fresh and interesting but that was pulled down along with the anime because they didn't focus on these two at all. What made them attracted to each other? Why are they paired up together? These questions were never answered and I was left hanging, which was disappointing since Miku apart from sharing the same hairstyle as the superstar with the same name (my profile picture character to those of you non-Vocaloid fans) she was one of the few characters who was believable as a teenager. Many people wouldn't notice that these two weren't given enough focus and that was sad because this fresh idea could be explored a lot more and I wouldn't be surprised if I found their rivalry-love better than the two main characters, and don't forget, I liked Miku as a character as well.
Leaving us with the last two, Ikuno and Goro. Ikuno was mainly used as fodder for Mitsuru to frown upon so that he could get hooked to the resident slut Kokoro (I don't think I should call her that because she didn't like Futoshi but considered him kind but then I'm disappointed because like Miku, I liked Kokoro, only that love turned to hate since FranXX ruined her) and Ikuno was ignored for the rest of the anime, she wasn't given lines and that one “I want a baby” episode scene where she DID say something, it wasn't explained WHY she stepped forward and did her act. My guess is because since she didn't have any lines, the show didn't want to make her look like a dumbass so they forcefully gave her lines and that was all. Then we enter spoiler territory yet again because Ikuno was given that small 5 minute focus in a later episode.
Minor Spoiler Begin: Since Ikuno wasn't given a love interest the folks at FranXX.inc thought it's a good idea to introduce some Yuri at the worst possible time and in the worst possible way, as such, the result was never spoken of again, which pretty much explains how the “affair” went. Needless to say, this was a last ditch effort to save her character and it served as the final nail in the coffin for Ikuno. Minor Spoiler End
We then come to the last character, Goro. Apart from being mildly explored, he served as the third wheel-ish character who was later shown as being in love with Ichigo unsurprisingly, unfortunately he as mentioned wasn't explored much and so was thrown into the sidelines to focus on our main characters, yet another character thrown aside who had a lot of potential to do great things in this mess of an anime. I haven't spoken of any “villains” yet, as this important role was destroyed by the Iotas, who were, like every other thing in the anime, unexplained, unwanted and irrelevant. They served as somewhat of a “backstory” to Zero Two despite not going into detail at all.
As mentioned above there was no proper backstory to Squad 13. Some people said it's because sci-fi shows “don't need backstories”. This is plain wrong because if you don't have backstories of your character, there won't be any depth to them (see the word depth again and imagine, if there's no backstory, there's no depth, which means the characters are shallow) and when the characters simply don't develop at all during the course of the anime, you end up with flat characters who fall on their face to the plot. Why am I saying this? Hiro and the others didn't change at all mentally from the first episode to the last. Some might say Hiro’s infatuation with 02 makes him a “developed character” but his rejection of his other members in Squad 13 proves that wrong. Others say that “characterisation is excused in a sci-fi anime”. At first it seemed as a joke to me but when people seriously started talking about this as a defense I got concerned and felt I needed to clarify this. Take arguably the best sci-fi show as an example to that statement: Steins;Gate. It definitely has development throughout the series. How? Okabe starts to realise he can't do anything, and tries even harder, Makise realises she can't do things alone, Mayuri does more tuturus because people around her are sad, or to move from the joke, Mayuri realises that she needs Okabe and he needs her, this is what development in a sci-fi is. FranXX, on the other hand, didn't have any development to the show, its characters, or anything. It felt more like characters felt less real each time they appeared, and I'm not talking about them being realistic and human-like since that's not what an anime’s main target is everytime, I'm talking about them being acceptable as a character which wasn't at all seen. No characterisation is only excused in slice of life anime since we're understandably looking at the lives of the characters and so there's no plot and therefore no development. FranXX isn't a slice of life, it's (terribly weak) progression proved that.
Moving back to the MC of our wonderful series, Hiro. I hadn't given him enough attention and will do so now. From the start he was unexplained. Why was he a prodigy? What was he doing before meeting Zero Two? What made him so special? To stand out from the rest of the cast, you need distinctive qualities that set you apart from other characters, Hiro had none of that. He was plain and boring. Many may point out that him being in love with 02 would mean that it makes him different from other MCs but that's wrong because apart from his “love” for 02, nothing else was brought into his character. Although towards the end it was shown that he had become selfish and cared about 02 more than his squad who cared about him, it still isn't the kind of development that makes you go “Oh, that changed my view of him positively” and if you read that line again you'll probably understand why too. Then we come to the point that he named everyone else, which was revealed early on. This surprisingly is a good thing I saw. He named Ichigo and named other parasites as well which gave it a child-like feeling (perhaps the only successful child-like/teenage feeling that was executed properly throughout the anime, bear in mind this flashback was 2 minutes long) although it wasn't explained at all I still felt an iota of warmth. And nothing else I suppose.
Going back to the other “villains”, the Iotas. Since they came in at random times and with random half baked reasons, unsurprisingly they served as yet another thing that was meant to be loathed in the anime. Another irritating thing is how they suddenly became buddy-buddy with Hiro and team in the final arc. I suppose now that FranXX has exhausted whatever little “creativity” they had, they wanted to end with a shounen-esque “everyone bands together to fight the enemy”? I mean, not complaining about the trope but was there any sensible stuff going on beforehand? Speaking of insane stuff going on beforehand, FranXX was said to have been in a post apocalyptic world all of a sudden which we were given hints of in the beach episode for about 20 seconds and then later shown in “detail” (I don't even know why I'm so generously awarding that word when it's meaning wasn't followed at all) in episode 19, which to FranXX’s favour, was a decent episode. But until then for the first 18 episodes, it remained largely unexplained and I don't think I can award a show a point for revealing something so important when it's finished about 80% of it's run. Not a good practice and it returns more harm than good which by now is definitely not what I need to calm myself down. Oh youth. But then wait! Youth reminds me that I should yet again cover another important part about the “juvenile” aspect of this show.
Spoiler Paragraph (or Spoiler-graph) for the final arc below. Skip this paragraph if you don't want spoilers for the final arc. If you're okay with them, then please continue :)
Spoiler for last arc begin: The most frustrating part of FranXX is by far the last arc. After pointless teenage melodrama, the FranXX team thought of what “ideas” can be added to “save” the anime and they did what every laughable show tries to do as a last ditch effort. To take the battle into (wait for it) SPAAAAAACEEEEEE. Yes. FranXX pulled THAT trope. What an insult to Star Wars and Star Trek. Anyway back to this show, the sudden shift in tones (first a teenage melodrama, then a clone war, then a space war? Is this a tutorial on how NOT to make Star Wars ripoffs?) and extremely convenient and unexplained reveals (more on that in a bit) coming out of nowhere? I don't think that makes for a coherent plot at all. Add to that another desperate added shounen trope where the enemy suddenly becomes your friend??? And he sacrifices his life for you just a while after you rescue him??? The Klaxosaur Princess was set as the antagonist at around the third quarter of the show and she suddenly joined Hiro’s side and sacrificed her life for him? What happened to her people, the Klaxosaurs? What happened to saving the world? And then suddenly VIRM puts themselves as the villains despite the show trying to establish the Klaxosaurs as the villains and then the aforementioned Klaxosaur Princess as an antagonist? And then their boss is a Power Rangers ripoff??? What even was that last arc?! The industry can do without more Dadolf Scmitlers you know! We've seen enough of this trope! Like when they're losing Papa and the others suddenly give the order to destroy Earth? Nanja sorya??? And then if you thought all this stupidity wasn't enough, we suddenly see YET ANOTHER problem with the show surface, Plot armour. If I hadn't explained this before, FranXX suffered from yet another plot hole in the form of plot armour. The Iotas lost a few of their members but Hiro and team were left unscathed, the only “injury” being Ikuno’s hair being turned white… Throughout the course of the show Squad 13 was met with life or death situations but I was confused since no one died. It can't be a life or death situation if everyone survives, or at least when you have so many life or death situations and no one dies even once I think that's authentically bullshit. Why fill it to the brim with Deus Ex Machina crap then? In the last 3 episodes we saw Hiro and team suddenly band together and go to space, but then the pathetic dialogue in the previous episodes of the anime became even worse, when they're in space they're going “We're really in space huh?” And Mitsuru’s reason for staying being “I wanna stay because I want to”? Even the dialogues took a huge hit and fell even further… Add to that the pointless Mobile Suit Gundam I ripoff battle except FranXX’s was much worse because everyone survived??? Not to mention Zero Two eating Hiro through her teleport to Hiro fro Earth directly in front of Hiro and she eats him and takes him to the dream world only to play hard to get? If you're not understanding at all then you have common sense, because no sensible person could understand WHAT happened and WHY. Let's not add to that horrible reasons to horrible dialogues such as bringing up love when your Squadmate is suffering? And then Hiro and Zero Two immediately go leave the Solar System and the others can't tag along because “it's not possible”? This is the limit of cliches but the studios broke it long long ago. And I want to skip over that last episode since that was the only (remotely) decent (?) part of this arc, but the means done to achieve it wasn't and I spoke enough on that... Spoiler end
FranXX tries to show us that adults are somewhat tyrants and displays the children’s “struggle” to gaining “independence” even though they're perfectly fine with their lives with no issues. But you know what they say, if you've got no issues, you make them, and that's EXACTLY what FranXX stayed true to. Trying to show us that our teenage cast is “growing” by acting “mature” with examples as “ wanting to have babies” and “doing the kitty” (don't search up on that last one) both of which are related and were attempted by Kokoro and Mitsuru. Yet again you ask. Why? I do not know why the show did it. You can't even tell anymore who they're trying to make the show relatable for. Then we have to look at the teenage drama as well that follows (that I covered above).
Spoiler Paragraph (or Spoiler-graph) about a range of questions on things that were unanswered throughout the course of the anime below. Skip this paragraph if you don't want spoilers on these questions. If you're okay with them, then as expected, read on.
Spoiler questions begin: FranXX as mentioned tried very very hard to be edgy by leaving out some so-called “mystery” feel by not answering the most crucial questions many had throughout the course of the anime. Although episode 13 answered the questions many people had in the first half, there was no such plausible explanation for the second half’s stupidity. What makes me say that? We got weak explanations or no explanations. For example why was the enemy VIRM all along? What was their purpose? Why does Hiro not care about the rest of Squad 13 who he's lived with all his life and why is he so attached to Zero Two despite the above problem? Why are the problems for the characters happening? Who is to blame and why? Despite this being answered (VIRM) there was no proper explanation as to WHY the villains did it? What was their purpose? Why is Ichigo the leader of the group? Why is 02 not explained properly? How does she looks human and how did it happen (also why does she have pink hair when she was a clone of one with white or blue hair)? How are the rejected people treated? What happens to them? What about their memories? Although their memories as mentioned were stored in some place there's no explanation as to why they're stored. Why am I asking that question? When VIRM doesn't want their puppets to regain their memory, why store their memory? And how is the memory stored anyway? Why are teens chosen to pilot the FranXX? Don't tell me it's because their sex organs are most prominent because the teenage years is not the age when this is so. Why are pregnant girls not able to pilot the FranXX? How did the Iotas suddenly be able to join Hiro in the last arc? Weren't they broken or something? Why do Hiro’s group care and still chase Hiro despite him having rejected them for his “one true love” Zero Two? What was the bullcrap about them going to space and space being the important stuff? Like, what was that cop out explanation about VIRM and the enemies being the aliens? Who and what was the Klaxosaur Princess? Who were the Klaxosaurs? No detailed explanations were given. To cover the villains one last time, VIRM. We look again at the Dadolf Scmitler trope that FranXX.inc deployed. To viewers of Grancrest Senki who aren't familiar with the Dadolf Scmitler trope, VIRM is basically the Mage Academy, for the first 20 Episodes we were focused on only one villain but suddenly that villain changes in around the 20th episode and they tell us the real villains were someone else all along? (Surprising how both shows deploy the same cliche in the same episode number. Coincidence? I think not), Why is this bad? This is bad because it makes the viewer question if the time they spent on the first 20 episodes even worth it. I mean, if you really HAD to do this, why do it so late? And instead, why not just make an OVA of the last 6-8 episodes and treat it as the same thing? I'm sure it would get a higher score from me and other disgruntled people if they did this instead because our time was wasted… Spoiler questions end
With all that's said, eagle eyed readers might have noticed that I haven't trashed the art or the music. That's because it isn't shit. And continue to find out. Since it was a collaboration project with A-1 and Trigger (and later Cloverworks because budget issues?) many expected the art to look amazing and it did actually. They tried to make a world that looked beautiful and mostly succeeded in doing that but you can't award points to a show for “looking good” as with what the “mainstream” gaming critics like IGN often do (“CoD a 9/10 because it looks good?” Have you even seen what they're doing now ripping off Fortnite?) so though the art looked good thanks to the colourful backgrounds and eye-catching scenery from time to time, it was in vain as the show couldn't manage to utilise it well into its plot. Another thing that the show did good was the sound. Even though I've been (rightfully) trashing the show left and right, I have to give credit where it's due, FranXX’s usage of synth tracks are rarely seen in anime and obviously serve for something really good in terms of listening especially when you're using headphones (and not streaming the show). Then we move onto the OP/EDs selection, I felt that the show went lazy and just changed the OP a bit and passed it off as an OP 2, but the EDs were great. If only FranXX used those EDs more in the second half and don't abruptly end the episode I'd have a positive opinion of the show. But I'm guilty of singing “Torikago” from the show so gotta give a point to that I guess? But oh wait, they underused all the EDs anyway.
Overall, FranXX is a mess which was over hyped and tried it's best to stay relevant by throwing in useless storylines all of which were riddled by plot holes and Deus ex machinas which were unconnected and not to mention completely unrelated events and random crap here and there (from teenage drama to Star Wars to Power Rangers? MASAKA???), to remain positive, towards the end, I only ever found the two caretakers Hachi and Nana (especially Nana) interesting and likeable since they had an aura of mystery and the 30 seconds they appeared in their few episodes were all great. Miku and Goro too were characters I pretty much liked but weren't explored well since they were thrown aside for Hiro and Zero Two unfortunately. If the show had good direction, I'm sure it would have turned out to be one of my favourite anime of all time and for many other disillusioned fans-turned-critics as well. FranXX sadly will always serve as a reminder to how one big mistake in the form of bad directing can jeopardize the whole premise of a show.
Special thanks to TheCobraSlayer for proof-reading the review.