DARLING in the Franxx was a bona fide hit in the U.S. market, attracting lots of loyal fans. You simply have to attend an anime convention to see dozens of cosplayers each putting their own spin on the characters like Zero Two and Ichigo. We were able to catch up with the folks from Studio Trigger, who heavily influenced the production, at Otakon and this time, Honey-chan was able to catch up with the other half of the production team for this sci-fi dystopian adventure -- A-1 Pictures -- at Crunchyroll Expo.
Interview with DARLING in the FRANXX Producer Yuichi Fukushima, Director Atsushi Nishigori, and Character designer Masayoshi Tanaka
Whose idea was it to introduce Zero Two by her bursting out of the water with a fish in her mouth, creating one of the most memorable character introductions in recent anime?
In the initial brainstorming sessions we were kind of like we want that boy-meets-girl aspect. We thought one of the best examples of the scenario was when boy meets girl and she’s naked. We were then like, let’s have them in the water. If she’s coming out of the water she needs to be doing something humorous yet scary and has a lot of impact; and we decided okay, we’ll go with the fish.
With all the anime today that are adaptations of other works, was it hard to get approval for Franxx and original work?
It wasn’t that big of a problem because Mr. Toba, one of the producers, said “leave it to me,” and “I’ll make it happen.” I think that support gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. A big part of the plan was using big names like Tanaka-san and showing investors we had a great staff. So it was pretty easy to get the project approved.
The design of Zero Two seems really important to the series as a whole. How much influence did you have in designing her especially since she would be a key part of the marketing?
I took a lot of parts from our brainstorming session in her design and the big consensus was that we need to have Zero Two standing out.
If you had the chance to build a similar world in a different genre what genre would that be?
I really think that anything goes. The idea of the dorm and co-op living and the children supporting each other without parents, which was the underlying theme of DARLING in the FRANXX. So, even if it’s psychic battles or just regular school and everyday life, as long as there is that one house where the main characters will live together and care for each other it could be any genre.
You were the character designer and the animation director. How did you balance the responsibilities?
I tried to alternate between duties, one week it was character designer the next it was animation director. I think a lot of it came down to working really fast.
What was it like working with Studio Trigger?
I was basically the mediator between the two studios. We didn’t have many instances when the studios would need to talk because the way the production duties were split on an episode-by-episode basis. If there were any questions from any of the studios they would be filtered through me.
Tanaka-san, could you describe some of the thematic devices that you brought to the characters, such as Ichigo being symbolized by the color blue or Zero Two and her red jumpsuit?
Color is more of a directorial decision than a design decision. I would say most of the decisions were part of the initial discussion about the project. I think the designs on a large part were a group decision. I, however, always had in the back of my mind how easy is it for me to draw during actual production.
A lot of the character elements started out with the idea that I wanted Tanaka-san to draw this or “can you draw something like this?” I was always very eager to see what Tanaka-san came up with because I really wanted to see it.
The gender politics that appeared in the show were at times controversial. Was the intent to provoke a discussion?
I think the politics or especially the gender politics read into the show differs by country so you can’t say “this” is the gender politics of the show. We just wanted to express that there are different ways of thinking and different parings. We saw that everyone was closing in on the Mitsuru and Kokoro pairing, but they weren’t the only pairing we created. We wanted the pairing to be varied and not just a boy and a girl. The whole Mitsuru and Kokoro storyline wasn’t even engrained in the early stages of production, the relationship evolved during the production process. The paring probably stood out more because of the contrast between Hiro and Zero Two, the fact that for them they choose to fight in space and possibly die in order to stay together. Yet, on the other hand you have Mitsuru and Kokoro deciding that they would stay on Earth and have kids. I think that contrast of life and death might have been one of the reasons Mitsuru and Kokoro stood out so much.
You said the Kokoro/Mitsuru relationship grew during the course of the production, so what else about the show did you change during the production?
We did have key episodes such as episode 13 that were planned out. But there were a lot of things that were done on the fly. We at times responded to what the audience said they liked and decided to make that a plot point to evolve. We added a lot of plot points as a result to the viewer feedback as a way to keep the viewers invested in the program.
Fukushima-san, the show did generate a lot of viewer feedback, and some of it was very intense. Will this affect how you and shows interact with fans in the future?
We won’t change how we do things in the future that much. The reaction to episode 14 was most unexpected. We got a little reaction in episode 13, but it really blew up after episode 14 aired and the reaction was mainly from overseas. We didn’t get much of a reaction from Japan, but we got a lot of hate mail from America and Europe.
We asked this question of the staff at Studio Trigger. The story of DARLING in the FRANXX seems to have influences from classic science fiction like Brave New World, The Handmaids Tale, and 1984. Are those storylines an attempt to raise the sophistication of the audience or is it a result of a more sophisticated audience?
I don’t think it is anything that is super-complicated or super-sophisticated. It is more like I had my favorite stories growing up like Evangelion; the current generation of viewers didn’t have that amazing experience. I want to find a way for them to feel how I did when I was younger being exposed to stories like Evangelion. So I just filled the show with everything I love.
When we talked with Masahiko Otsuka at Studio Trigger and they said they’d be up for a sequel if Nishigori-san would be willing to take on a sequel. What does Nishigori-san have to say?
My mind is completely emptied out. If, over time, my passion wells up once again and we can get a good team of creators then… maybe?