Welcome to Episode 53, a multinational special!
This time out we have a classic culture clash featuring two of the biggest animated series of this year from each side of the Pacific Ocean. Later on we review one of Japanese anime’s biggest blockbusters in recent years, but first we cast our eye over the surprise return of one of America’s great animators.
Disenchantment (2018, S1, 10x28mins)
Disenchantment follows Bean (left), otherwise known as Princess Tiabeanie of the kingdom of Dreamland. Tired of her stuffy castle life she often spends her time getting drunk at the local tavern until her father, King of Dreamland, arranges for her to be married off to the son of the rival kingdom of Bentwood. During the reception Bean is mysteriously gifted a small demon named Luci (top), who refuses to leave her side no matter how hard she tries to shake him. Meanwhile, in the magical elf ream there is one elf who is tired of being happy all the time. Eager to explore the world for himself, little Elfo (right) leaves his warm sanctuary behind and ventures into the kingdom, immediately finding himself in peril. Accidentally crashing Bean’s wedding, the two of them, with demon in tow, escape into the wilderness, marking the beginning of a quite peculiar group of friends.
Basically Plot: Follows Bean, the rebellious princess of Dreamland, a demon sent to terrorise her and a runaway magical elf through their many misdemeanours as an unlikely trio of friends.
With an image that was just about ripening in terms of nostalgia, Matt Groening’s brand-new comedy series was always going to bring a warm smile to your face. That being said, Disenchantment is definitely a title worthy of the man’s sizeable name.
Most importantly, this is a really funny series that doesn’t just deliver a healthy amount of classically dumb slapstick moments reminiscent of the best of Groening’s past works but is also very subtly funny throughout its run, something that isn’t very common in modern comedies. After watching the trailers I worried if that Simpsons style of animation – with pug noses and quarter profiles aplenty – would work in a fantasy element, but in reality you barely notice it when the series starts. If anything, it adds to the somewhat nostalgic feel of Disenchantment. The three characters are quite good as a group despite their relatively flaky personalities, something quite apparent when any of them are left to perform on their own.
Overall this feels like a really solid comedy, built off the back of one of the biggest names in western animation. However, Disenchantment falls into the biggest of comedic pits – its struggle to blend comedy with the apparently necessary storyline. Emotional moments in this series lack impact, and actually suck the life out of many later episodes. Add to that a few hit-and-miss episodes in the middle of a series only 10 episodes long to start with and you have a finished product that is a joyful nostalgia drive but far from the cult classic Netflix were perhaps hoping for given the teased second season at the end of the final episode.
ANIME RANKING: #64 – In our extremely competitive rankings Disenchantment’s inability to balance comedy with story means that it, like many other good comedies, fall into the lower reaches of the list. Still, it’s in pretty good company, just behind No Game No Life and ahead of Web.Wagnaria!
If you liked this you’ll love: Konosuba (#60) – Following the story of a shut-in NEET’s embarrassing death and chance of redemption in a fantasy world, this comedy shares the same mix of fantasy tropes and characters who would rather pull them all apart than play along with them. With rude-mouthed characters aplenty, there’s much more entertainment in this series than you would probably expect…
Darling in the Franxx (2018, S1, 24x23mins)
Sci-fi, Action, Drama
Set on a ruined earth in which humanity has been driven into mobile Plantations by robotic monsters known as klaxosaurs, the story follows a new squad of Parasites, young children raised with the sole intention of piloting peculiar war machines known as Franxx. Hiro (front) was once a young prodigy in the Birdcage as leader of Squad 13, but after failing to connect and pilot a Franxx with any of the female squad members he is left on the side, slowly losing his purpose in life until he meets Code: 002 (top), a half-human-half-klaxosaur pilot with an infamous history – nobody has managed to pilot a Franxx with her three times and survive. When the Plantation suddenly comes under attack and Zero Two’s co-pilot once again dies in battle, she extends her bloodied hand to Hiro, giving him a dangerous opportunity to join the mission once more. Despite their early success the unnatural partnership leads many of Hiro’s friends to shun his partner, but over time the group discover more perilous truths about life as a Parasite.
Basically Plot: Follows Hiro, once a promising pilot for an endangered future human population whose inability to connect with any of the girls in his squad leaves him as an outcast, until the mysterious half-monster Code: 002 takes a liking to him and leads him on a path to retribution, or self-destruction.
Possibly the biggest original anime series of this decade, Darling in the Franxx was seen by many as the revival of the golden-age of mecha anime. By the team that created Gurren Lagann, one of the most recognisable robot anime of all time, this modern equivalent looked set to sweep everything else to the wayside, and it came fantastically close to doing just that!
As mentioned before, much of the crew behind this original story made their breakthrough working on Gurren Lagann, and the beautiful animation style of that series is brought perfectly into Franxx. What strikes you immediately with this series is that it is almost completely done by hand, a rarity of modern animation that gives this series the best of both worlds – Franxx is a classic anime series with a modern sheen, and is a joy to look at.
The story itself is likely to be this series’ only sticking point. Franxx does a fantastic job during its only stages of putting the unlikely romance between Hiro and Zero Two at the centre of this very young adult dystopia. The story of this poisonous chalice playing out around a fight we knew little about was really interesting to watch, especially as the characters bounced off each other. Culminating in an Episode 6 that we quickly included in our very exclusive list of greatest single anime episodes of all time, Darling in the Franxx looked like a fantastic story about young love played out on the deadliest of stages.
Meanwhile, plots were forming in the background out of the group’s control that looked full of potential. However, this was the beginning of a stage where the story begun to lose some of its early zip. While full of seemingly limitless potential, the insight we get into the inner workings of the world the Parasites were designed to protect were minimal, culminating in the classic anime faux pas of hurriedly explaining too much at a time in the series too late to make any sort of meaningful impact. While the world stutters during this period – about 2-3/4 through the series – the characters descend into relatively bland teenage angst and self-doubt. While this is meant to be more poignant given their upbringing, the poorly laid out world underneath them means that their coming-of-age periods feel little more than just that, teenagers growing up. Not the standards set at the beginning of the series.
That being said, when that period passes and the ending begins Franxx begins to show us again why it is a textbook example of anime done well. The animation is gorgeous, with the final fight in space – amusingly reminiscent of Gurren Lagann’s finale – being one of the most beautifully coloured fight scenes I’ve seen, and culminating in a brilliantly directed finale worthy of the hype the series had prior to its release.
Yes, Franxx should be held to account for its dragging epicentre, but that shouldn’t take away from the bigger picture – this is probably the closest we’re going to get to a modern anime masterpiece. A story with a good blend of characters both dramatic and comical, beautifully drawn and brilliantly voiced. With its own directional style but still paying homage to the giants that came before it, this attempt to bring something of a golden age of anime into an era of high-value IPs and manga adaptations reminded people of what anime can be like, if only for a short period. On paper, Franxx is a resounding success – however, reality shows that Franxx’s legacy will be diminished by its inability to maintain its high standards of storytelling for the amount of time needed to take on the tried and tested franchises like My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan.
ANIME RANKING: #24 – A very good ranking for a very good series, putting it ahead of series such as Sound Euphonium and just behind Bakuman!
If you liked this you’ll love: Gurren Lagann (#11) – Need I say more than I have already? One of the original and still one of the greatest mecha anime of all time, this story of a young boy’s adventure through the wasteland of an earth humans had been banished from, this story of friendship and wholehearted determination, is the major reason for Darling of the Franxx existence. Some people say that you can’t recreate a classic, and if our Anime Rankings are anything to go by, then they might just be right with this one!
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