FLCL

FLCL

FLCL

Watched via Adult Swim/BD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: I think it would be safe to say that FLCL rejects traditional plot and narrative in favor of a more Dada-esque random happening of events. Sure there are repeated themes and an overall timeline from beginning to end, but the middle is just a mess of hilarity and craziness.

Prior to the beginning of the series, elementary schooler Naota Nandaba’s older brother has left to play baseball in America, leaving behind his high school girlfriend Mamimi Samejima. In his brother’s absence, Naota has taken over the awkward role of enduring Mamimi’s affections. One day while the two are hanging out, a strange woman on a vespa comes along and hits Naota on the head. This is the catalyst for strange occurrences throughout the town, usually in response to some sort of interior turmoil with one of the characters. In these instances either the secondary character or Naota has some robotic entity emerge from their foreheads, resulting in destruction and a battle. These battles are then resolved by Naota or the strange red robot that originally emerged from his head.

The rest of the plot is really all over the place, but there are several themes that feature throughout the entirety of this six episode OAV. Relationships are a key component of the series, whether it’s between family members, friends, or potential love interests. Another key theme is propriety versus desire. This is seen especially in the battles, such as when the red robot first emerges from Naota’s head along with a giant robotic hand. These two robots serve as symbols for Naota’s uncertainty in his relationship with Mamimi. Every time a character’s desires seem to overwhelm them and overcome their sense of propriety, a robotic being ends up emerging to then be beaten down or subdued. After the character releases these emotions, they are able to come to terms with and accept these feelings and move on with their lives free of the burden of hiding their thoughts from others.

PLOT: FLCL’s more than a little batshit crazy. Instead of having a standard plot that makes sense, FLCL mixes up a coming-of-age narrative with slice-of-life and mecha and alien intrigue. The result is amazing and fun and weird, and it takes a few watches to figure out what’s going on beyond it all just being so darn cool. Fortunately, it’s a short show, so it’s totally rewatchable. I think it’s been rerun on Adult Swim about fifty million times by now.

The show’s main character is Naota, who’s a confused twelve-year-old kid who’s just starting puberty. His older brother’s ex hangs all over him, and one day he gets run over by a lunatic on a Vespa and hit on the forehead by her guitar. After that, the bump on his forehead begins growing horns which become full-fledged robots that pop out of Naota’s head. The how or why isn’t really explained, but its psychological parallels should be pretty apparent. This show’s mostly about cool visuals and crazy symbolism, so the plot doesn’t really need to make sense.

Most of the show deals with Naota’s feelings about those around him, including Mamimi (his brother’s ex), Haruko (the Vespa-riding lunatic), his father, and his class president. Everyone’s dealing with some hefty emotional issues, and robots pop out of Naota’s forehead that help everyone deal with their issues in spectacular ways. However, the most important journey is Naota’s, as he matures into a confident, triumphant teen.

Because this show is six episodes, things happen really quickly, and each episode stands alone pretty well. There is some continuity, but a lot of important events happen in the gutter between episodes, and the audience has to fill in the gaps or just accept things as they happen. Really, this show runs on adrenaline, so it’s a very fun ride, even if it doesn’t always make sense. It’s crazy fun and amazing to watch, which explains why it’s been on Adult Swim so long.

I really liked that each episode stood alone fairly well. It made it very accessible to watch randomly while flipping through channels.

SETTING: Naota lives in a small, relatively normal town, in “modern Japan” known as Mabase. The strangest natural feature of the town is its medical building which is shaped like a giant ironing machine.

Many of the scenes play out at Naota’s home and the store attached to it as well as the medical building, his school, and a local creek.

While the town is relatively normal, it appears that the strange woman, Haruko Haruhara, is an alien working for the Galactic Space Police Brotherhood and is seeking to harness a mysterious power through a portal in Naota’s forehead. In direct opposition there is an earthbound group dedicated to Interstellar Immigration which is after Haruko. I was very confused by all of the action going on in this show in regards to these two organizations. Luckily it’s all very basic and character driven, so understanding the world building isn’t all that important to enjoying the series.

I think it takes several watches to really figure out the plot between Haruko and Interstellar Immigration. Fortunately, that’s not the main point of the show. So long as you understand Naota’s crazy adolescent experience, you’ll be okay.

SETTING: Naota’s hometown is purposefully small and normal, except for the giant iron that’s the Medical Mechanica building. I can’t remember exactly how Medical Mechanica plays into the plot right now, but it has something to do with Haruko and the alien she’s tracking, Atomsk.

Beyond that, Naota’s hometown is steeped in normal things, from the boring (Naota’s class play) to the stressful (the class president’s father’s sex scandal, Naota’s brother moving to America). Some otherworldly elements crop in, like Haruko and the robot Canti, but they conform themselves well enough to Naota’s hometown that they don’t attract government attention until the end of the series.

Overall, FLCL’s setting is like a normal town that’s been yanked through a mecha show and all of the hormones of adolescence. It seems normal on the surface, but things get weirder the longer you watch, until Naota has no choice but to grow up and change the town so it’s back to normal.

CHARACTERS: I can’t say the characters are realistic, or even “good” people. Rather they are hilarious, charismatic, and egocentric. If these characters were real, I’d probably hate them, but their inclusion in this comedic series is perfect.

Naota is a little kid, lacking in confidence and experience, just beginning to go through the pains of puberty and love. He’s fascinated with women, and his naivety makes him easy to manipulate. Throughout the series he grows emotionally by facing his anger, jealousy, and fears through battles with robots that appear from his forehead.

The women in this series are portrayed as antagonistic. Mamimi uses Naota as a rebound in dealing with her heartache with little regard for how it affects his feelings. Haruko also selfishly flirts with and uses Naota (as well as his father) in order to use his forehead portal for her own ends. While I believe these depictions make them immoral, they work as catalysts to Naota coming to terms with himself and his feelings. I’d call them a necessary evil.

Like I said before, FLCL has a really charismatic cast of characters. The red robot that comes out of Naota’s head turns blue while not in battle mode, and works as an adorable housemaid for his family on the side. I really liked how emotive his character is while being unable to communicate verbally.

I also love the Bureau of Interstellar Immigration, in particular the special agent Amarao with his nori (seaweed) eyebrows. He ends up giving Naota fatherly advice in a couple scenes, a nice parallel to the negligence that Naota usually receives from his own father.

Because this series is about growing up and figuring out who you are, Naota’s constantly dealing with shoddy advice and people telling him how they want him to be. I think Haruko makes the biggest impact on his growing up, but beyond that everyone’s advice to Naota seems to be about the same.

CHARACTERS: This show has a great cast of characters who are all vastly entertaining with their bizarreness while also reflecting reality. Naota’s the pubescent teen who wants to grow up faster, Mamimi’s the dejected teen who doesn’t want to grow up, and Naota’s father is the sleazy, self-centered adult. Some of these characters develop throughout the show, but it’s always a slow, crazy path that has many fantastical turns that can only happen because of Haruko and the weirdness she’s brought with her.

Though Naota’s the main character, I really like Mamimi. She’s a depressed, pyromaniac loner who clings to the memory of Naota’s brother because he brought her some stability. Eventually, though, she has to realize that she can’t keep looking at the past and has to move on. I like her because she reflects a lot of the issues that teens tend to have, and she acts out in similar ways. She might not be a character to willingly imitate, but she’s a good case study of the self-destructive teen.

Haruko, on the other hand, is just crazy. She doesn’t care about property or emotional damage, and she’ll do whatever it takes to find Atomsk. She comes in with a bang, changes everything, and leaves just as suddenly, like a tornado. She’s hard to compare to a kind of real person, but you might compare her to a very messed-up version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl meme.

My favorite character is probably Canti, the robot who fights on Naota’s behalf. When he’s not fighting, he works for the family, and I love that no one ever questions that his head’s a TV. He just fits in and does things his own quiet way, helping out however he can.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: What really makes FLCL stand out is its explorative art style and animation. While the plot and setting are rather confusing and basic, they actually strengthen the series by allowing for more energies to go into the animation efforts.

This series went all out in its brief six episodes. The action scenes are chock full of details, movement, and dynamic angles. There are no shortcuts in this series. Every scene has a strong purpose and direction, even if the narrative is so abstract that you can’t read what that purpose may be. FLCL feels like it’s intensely trying to say something, while saying nothing at all. Not to mention doing it with flair and style.

The character designs are wacky and fresh. They read very much as being “anime” while remaining clearly distinct from anything else.

What I loved most were the mecha references we get to see with all the robots that emerge from the portal. They not only tie into mecha in general, but parallel the other story lines going on in the show. For example, when Naota is feeling inferior to his brother during a baseball match, he later has to face this fear when a giant baseball glove throws a giant robotic baseball towards the earth.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: As I said above, this show’s manic plot works out because it’s so breathtaking to watch. Rumor has it that Gainax made this on the budget for a full-length series, which would explain how it manages to look so amazing for an OVA. There are very few shortcuts, and the animation frequently takes some bizarre turns. In on episode there’s a sequence in the style of South Park, while a couple of times the animation looks like manga. Unlike His and Her Circumstances, though, these manga-style sequences have a good budget behind them, and they move chaotically while staying somewhat true to the confines of the manga format. Like the rest of this show, it’s easier to understand if you watch it.

The character designs are by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, the guy behind Evangelion and Summer Wars, so they have his distinctive flair all over them. Each character’s design reflects something about them psychologically, and everyone’s easy to tell apart. Additionally, they all have a similar feel to them that keys them into the world of FLCL instead of some other series Sadamoto’s done the designs for. The mecha design’s also great and fits into the world well, giving it a unified look to its insanity.

I thought the style looked like Evangelion! Glad to know I’m not crazy. I kept looking at the profiles and foreheads and having flashbacks to Eva. Actually, the color palette is also a dead give away. Oh wait, and the mecha…etc.

OVERALL: FLCL is hilarious. It’s one of my favorite anime to watch while just sitting back and relaxing. Somehow through all the chaos of the plot you are presented with a deep exploration of humanity and inter-relationships.

I’d recommend FLCL as a must watch to just about anyone, that is if they’ve seen and enjoyed anime before. Really this isn’t too novice-friendly for introducing people to the medium as a whole. Otherwise, if you haven’t seen this before, you really should feel obligated as a fan to watch it as soon as possible. FLCL is one of those key series that just needs to be watched to understand where anime has come from and where it could head to in the future. So watch it immediately, or renounce your fanhood.

OVERALL: FLCL was so popular for a reason, and that reason is because it’s a crazy roller coaster of amazing weirdness. It’s hard to tell anyone what’s going on, but it’s addictive as all hell. I watched this a ton when I was in high school, but it never got old, and now that I’m older, I can pick it apart and understand what’s going on. It’s a show that benefits from rewatching, which is rare in the world of anime and makes it all the more worth watching. So, if you haven’t seen this, jump on it right now! You really have no excuse. It’s short, fun, beautiful, and confusing in a good way. I’m just glad this gem made it onto Adult Swim in the first place so it could be appreciated by other fans.

FINAL SCORE: (9/10) FINAL SCORE: (10/10)
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