We all know that growing up can be hard. The pressure put on us by parents and teachers as well as the expectations placed on us by society can feel overwhelming. We sometimes felt confused by how the adults viewed us along with their conflicting expectations. You would be told to be more mature but also constantly told “you’re too young,” making growing up even more difficult. We now take all that confusion, angst, and growing pain and supplant (or transplant) it into a dystopian future. The children are cared for in a peaceful garden and give daily thanks to Papa, the absolute ruler of humanity. The children have their ignorance of the world nurtured in order to ensure their compliance. Adults need them to keep their childlike minds and biology because they are crucial to using a technology the adults can’t. But all the while the children are being asked to do the most adult things: fight, kill, and die as the pilots of robotic soldiers called FRANXX.
Zorome is a Franxx pilot with the code name 666. The code name fits him well considering the abrasive boy is easy to offend and constantly criticizes others, including his co-pilot Miku. He completely idolizes the adults and consistently seeks Papa’s approval. The idea of growing up to be an adult is his entire goal in life. Zorome seems slow on the uptake, not realizing that the adults do not necessarily return his loyalty. The children and most of humanity are eventually betrayed by Papa and Zorome's world is shattered. It takes some time for his psyche to recover, but when it does his animus that was reserved for those who challenged Papa was now directed toward Papa. A big moment in life is when those we idolize fall from grace and we have to reshape our beliefs because of it. Zorome matured slowest out of the others because of his wholehearted acceptance of the status quo. He does, in the end, become a teacher for the next generation but we never get a complete view of him as a grownup or see that his relationship with Miku or the others really changed.
Goro, or Code 56, is tall, handsome and calm. At first glance, you'd assume he was the leader of the group, yet that role falls to his partner, Ichigo. He does have a lot of leadership qualities, though. He is willing to sacrifice himself for his friends and attempts to do so in episode 9. He also slowly develops feelings for Ichigo but understands that her heart belongs to Hiro. Goro’s big moment of maturity comes after he chastises and punches Hiro for wanting to run off to space and save Zero Two. Goro later realizes he was being a hypocrite for criticizing Hiro. Goro was most concerned about how Hiro being gone would affect him. He also saw that Hiro was willing to chase after what he loves most. Goro realized that Hiro was braver than he ever was because he was still unable to tell Ichigo his true feelings. The introspection it takes to admit you’re being selfish is truly a moment of maturity.
Miku, or code 390, is a classic anime character template: the twin-tailed tsundere. She is paired with the other tsun of the bunch, Zorome. She is also the girliest of the group. She attempts to act aloof and adult but is quick to react when provoked. Miku could also be described as opinionated and unapologetic. She isn’t one for backing down. She also seems to have more of a brother/sister relationship with her partner than a romantic one. She, despite her youthful appearance, is one of the first of the characters to show a sign of actual aging. Miku begins sprouting gray hairs as early as episode 16 and by episode 24, as one of the new adults, she pulls the bands from her twin tails and lets her hair fall down her back. In the process, she lets go of her childhood making that the most visible aspect of her maturity.
Nana, as her name alludes, was the nanny-like manager of the children in Squad 13, the group of Franxx pilots that make up our main cast of characters. She is also one of the first adults we meet in the world of Darling in the Franxx. Nana, like almost all of the adults, is very reserved and almost emotionless. She demonstrates this when she says she is willing to leave one of the children behind when the plantation they are defending is in jeopardy. We are led to believe later in the series that she had most of her emotions conditioned out of her in a re-education facility. When Kokoro becomes pregnant, the shock of how that conflicts with Nana’s programming causes her to revert to puberty, at least mentally. The idea of showing emotion and feeling actual love is considered something that is less evolved. Nana’s moment of maturity is actually in this regression. She regresses once, is reconditioned, and then regresses a second time. The second regression breaks her conditioning, leaving her – for lack of a better term – human. Her ability to realize the rules of the world as she knew them were lies is probably one of the greatest achievements of a character in the show becoming a clear moment of maturity.
Zero Two is the main heroine of the cast. She is a klaxo-sapien hybrid and a skilled Franxx pilot. She is the disrupter. The Franxx pilots in Squad 13 all do their duty by living, fighting, and dying without really asking any questions until Zero Two shows up. She is also impulsive and arrogant, yet has a childlike innocence about her. Hiro (who was already a little bit of an anomaly on the obedience scale with his willingness to question things like their mission and Papa and the other adults' motives) is quickly influenced by Zero Two. She refers to Hiro as “my darling.” She loves him but acts selfishly and quickly becomes jealous when she realizes Ichigo has feelings for him. In many ways she was both the most mature in the beginning and yet not. She begins to mature when she realizes that she needs to take more into consideration than her own feelings and her connection to Hiro. Her journey takes her from self-centered, too possessive, constantly bucking the system to keep Hiro with her, to taking on a lonely painful burden battling a new enemy so Hiro and the others can try to remake the world. Zero Two matures constantly over the course of the series just as the main heroine should.
Futoshi is a big boy with a big heart and pilots a Franxx. You could describe him as the optimist of the bunch who is always trying to find the bright side of a situation. He constantly wants to make his squadmates feel better. He is devoted to his friends and was completely committed to his partner, Kokoro. He may not have understood the word love but he was in love with her. He is heartbroken when she breaks off their partnership in order to partner up with Mitsuru. He cries and throws a tantrum like a child, not sure how to handle the complex emotions he was feeling. He eventually comes to term with it in his best show of maturity. Futoshi quickly forgives Kokoro but takes longer to forgive Mitsuru. He eventually decides to embrace the love Mitsuru and Kokoro have for each other and support their relationship, understanding that loving Kokoro is wanting her to be happy -- with or without him. Futoshi even demands to be the priest when Kokoro and Mitsuru get married, conducting a ceremony that they had only ever heard of in banned books. Futoshi in many ways matures in the most relatable way for the outside audience by understanding true love is unconditional love.
Since a young age, Hiro has been different than most of the children. Hiro was the one that gave most of the children names, a practice not necessarily done by the adults who only referred to the children by their code numbers. As a child he was naturally curious and wanted to explore the outside world. Hiro and Zero Two meet when they were very young children as they attempted to run away. He wasn’t at all disturbed or afraid of Zero Two’s otherworldly appearance with her dark red skin and horns. She could barely speak yet he found a connection with her. Despite being reconditioned after being captured the two never truly forgot their encounter. They’re immediately drawn together when they meet for the second time. Hiro’s moment of maturity comes when he realizes that he actually has to make a real sacrifice so the others, the rest of humanity, can live on. He realizes that Zero Two and himself will be cheated out of the life together that they desperately wanted. He knows the only way to ensure that humanity and their friends live on is by sacrificing themselves in the process. The two of them don’t meet their end with anger but with hope and determination that one day they would meet again and get the life together they earned.
At first glance, Mitsuru makes you think he is a clean cut, by-the-books guy. He may have been this way in order to compete with his best friend, Hiro, who was a standout student in every metric. Hiro promised Mitsuru that they would pilot together one day. Mitsuru even risked his life taking an injection that would increase his ability to pilot a Franxx when he got older just to be able to stand by Hiro. Hiro forgot all about his promise to pilot with Mitsuru due to reconditioning. Mitsuru became resentful of Hiro, thinking he just forgot. As a result, Mitsuru becomes fiercely independent because he never wants to rely on others. He has no use for his comrades other than their official duties and has even less interest in his partner, Ikuno. He begins to change, as most men do, upon getting to know a girl: Kokoro. The two begin getting to know each other in the greenhouse as he reads and she tends to the plants. The two fall in love, even though they aren't sure what love means, and even get pregnant and decide to marry. His moment of maturity comes as he slowly erodes through the conditioning that wiped their relationship from his mind and takes on the responsibility of being a father. Kokoro never made him feel like he was obligated to be a father, he just knew he was and felt the need to be.
Ikuno is one of the Franxx pilots and was paired with Mitsuru until he left her for Kokoro and she partnered with Futoshi. She has a calm and put-together personality, attempting to maintain control of her emotions at all times. We first feel that something is different about her when Zero Two licks her -- as Zero Two is known to do from time to time -- and says that Ikuno “tastes like a secret.” She has absolutely no chemistry with her partner Mitsuru and seems to barely tolerate him or the other boys. She obviously shows a fondness for Ichigo, their female squad leader. She frustrated by the fact that Ichigo is in love with Hiro despite that Hiro essentially ignores Ichigo because he is in love with Zero Two. Ikuno confesses to Ichigo and kisses her. She tells Ichigo that she hates the boy-girl system of pilot/copilot in the Franxx. She confesses to loving her and that she has loved her since they were small children. She fights with self-doubt, wondering if she is creepy for being jealous of the boys who get to partner with her just because they are boys. She’s confused by the feeling of wanting Ichigo all to herself. We cite this confession as her maturity moment. The bravery it took for Ikuno to come out in a society that sends you off for reconditioning if you deviate too much from the norm is admirable. Her ability to not only accept herself and enter into a relationship with another girl in the future shows a maturity that we all hope we have.
Kokoro is the warm and nurturing kind of person that likes to see things grow. She is always there to care for people and ferociously defend those she loves. Kokoro is also one of the more thoughtful members of her squad, preferring to sit back and watch the more energetic members of the group. She is careful about what she says and often holds back her true feelings. She also has some very good moments of introspection. She tells Mitsuru that she is a liar, admitting that she isn’t the sweet, innocent, nice girl that they all think she is. She finds a book on childbirth in a ruin and is captivated by it despite society saying they had “evolved past the point of something like that.” She questions why the human race stopped having babies the natural way. Kokoro, wanting to have a baby, convinces Mitsuru to impregnate her as a natural part of their relationship. The two even marry, and even though the ceremony is broken up by the adults and they are both re-conditioned to forget about their relationship she remains pregnant. Kokoro’s ability to be introspective is the key to her maturity. She is able to identify her faults and accept them. Kokoro is also making the most obvious leap of maturity in the Franxx universe by becoming the first mother in centuries. She is driven by a primal urge to create life as well as rekindle her bonds with Mitsuru even if they had forgotten their past together.
We all strive, even as adults, to be more mature in our lives. We especially strive for that maturity as children. The way we play house, go on adventures and imagine our worlds as children are all part of the innate need to grow up. The characters in Darling in the Franxx have that same need to mature and each tackles problems in their own way. We who have been through this thing called growing up know it’s hard -- and some of us still struggle with being an adult in our 40s. Yet, we know we can’t stay children behind a walled garden forever; we will have to face the monsters on the outside eventually.