When is an anime more than just an anime? When does a show step beyond that often occupied category of ordinary and into that least occupied extraordinary category? How many episodes does a show need to tell it’s simple yet complex story and establish itself as one of the most well-known, most watched, and easily identifiable anime of the last decade? And how is it that a show can, despite multiple television airings and two DVD releases, continue to bring a breath of fresh air with each and every viewing? Hopefully, I’ll be able to answer all these questions and more. Keyword being “hopefully”. I’m Cajun Samurai, and this is my review of “FLCL”.
Series Warning and Other Objectionable Content – Yeah…umm….”FLCL” was put on the “Adult Swim” time slot for good reason. This show is not meant for anyone under the age of fourteen…and even then that’s pushing it a bit. While not bad with regards to language and tame with regards to nudity [Everything, if and when it’s shown, is appropriately covered…] the sexual imagery and innuendo might make some people a little uncomfortable. Also, in episode 2, “Fire Starter”, one of our female lead characters worships another character as her own personal god. Your mileage may vary on offensiveness with that regard, but still, it’s something you might wanna keep in mind.
Series Availability – “FLCL” was once released in a three volume DVD set by a company called “Sync Point”, but they have since ceased production. In 2010, Funimation Entertainment began releasing all six episodes on one DVD or Blu-ray complete with all the extras from the original DVDs. Finding this show should be relatively easy in some anime-friendly brick and mortar stores like Walmart and especially Best Buy. Online retailers are very prevalent as well, so you should have NO problem getting ahold of this one and at a great price at that. Once again though, I have to warn you dear readers to please keep your wits about you when buying physical media as once again I got snookered into buying a bootlegged version of FLCL…and the scary thing is I bought it from “FYE”! Online streaming is pretty readily available from many major sources; at the time of this printing, Funimation Entertainment is streaming “FLCL” on it’s YouTube channel in both subbed and dubbed flavors.
Story Premise – “FLCL” is a six episode OVA created by Studio GAINAX. The series takes place in the fictional town of Mabase, and follows the adventures of our main character, Naota Nandaba, an elementary school student who is bored with everyday life. Since his much-admired and hometown hero brother Tasuku left for a lucrative baseball career in the US, Naota pretty much drifts through his ordinary boring life, while his brothers’ former girlfriend, a high school girl named Mamimi, clings to him like a second skin, carrying on as though the elementary school age Naota was a replacement for Tasuku; so much so that she calls Naota “Takkun”; her pet name for Tasuku. However, Naota’s life soon takes a rather sudden sharp turn as he is run over by a runaway Vespa scooter piloted by Haruhara Haruko. After reviving the young boy with her own special version of CPR, Haruko then proceeds to clock Naota on the head with her Rickenbacker bass guitar, model 4001. However, what he thinks is just a bump soon becomes something much larger as, the bump soon grows, swells and expands to form a giant robot. Haruko arrives on the scene and engages in battle with said robot who then converts into a more docile autonomous robot with a TV screen for a head. As the series goes on, Naota suffers from more instances of Robo-Headbirthing, with Haruko acting as both midwife and executioner as larger and stranger mechas emerge from the depths, the method behind her madness not fully known until the last 3 episodes. As I see it, “FLCL” is three anime genres expertly combined into one. It’s an action series, of course, but it’s also a coming of age story. Sure the fighting scenes are awesome, and by far some of the most epic ever done in an anime, but you’re still watching a story about a boy going through the most awkward and confusing time in his young life, made even more awkward and confusing when you consider that the one person he looked up to and admired all his life suddenly up and left him, and all the adults in his life are pretty much lazy and self-serving. And then there’s the whole “robots sprouting out of my head” thing coupled with the “my brothers’ weird girlfriend is trying to hook up with me” thing. Like other Gainax series before and since, you are not going to catch everything in the first go-around with “FLCL”, and in my opinion, that’s what makes this show so good. It’s the idea that you will NEVER fully get everything in one sitting that will keep you watching all six episodes again and again, picking up on things that you missed in previous viewings, and by extension, formulating your own theories and conclusions. The ending of “FLCL” has about the same grand scale feeling as “End of Evangelion”, but much shorter and without all the potentially blasphemous blood and gore. It’s actually very well done and satisfying. We get the idea that Naota is beginning a new phase in his life, yet, as Haruko said before her departure, “You’re still a kid”. And that, at its core, is what “FLCL” is all about; a boy trying to act older and cooler than he really is, and in the process, winds up looking like a fool. We’ve all been there, and we can all relate. [25/25]
Favorite Scene – My favorite scene comes in the form of Episode 6, “FLCLimax”. The whole episode is amazing from beginning to end, but the climax of the episode [So to speak…] for me is actually towards the end. I won’t spoil it for you because it’s something you just HAVE to experience on your own, but all I have to say is that this whole episode was a very refreshing one with regards to Naota, and you really see a welcome change in his persona. [Mm….Persona…Must…play…Persona 3…must…level up…snap out of it Samurai! Come on! Finish the review! You can game later!]
Characters – Our series starts and ends with our male lead, Naota Nandaba, a twelve-year-old elementary school student who is pretty bored with everyday life. His brother moved to America to play baseball, leaving him to live with his father Kamon and his grandfather Shigekuni above the family bakery. Out of all the teen and pre-teen anime characters I’ve seen in my years, I have to admit that Naota is probably the most realistic of them all, and he is the biggest embodiment of what “FLCL” is all about. While he tries to look cool and act mature, he winds up looking much like the immature little kid he actually is. Our female lead, Haruko, is the perfect foil for Naota. She’s pretty much everything Naota hates about adults, while still possessing the traits of the one person who he admires without question; his brother. She’s a free spirit who brings life and color not only Naota’s life, but those around him as well including Samejima Mamimi, who already has her own issues. Mamimi is a high school girl who frequently cuts school, smokes like a camel train, and is a pyromaniac. Not only that, but she seems to cling herself to Naota and release her sexual frustrations out on him, much to his chagrin. The relationship between Mamimi and Naota is very interesting. On the one hand, Naota really doesn’t like being used as a stand-in “Takkun”, but on the other hand Mamimi is just like everything else his brother left behind; he doesn’t have the heart to get rid of it because it’s a connection to him. Finally, Naota’s friends, Gaku, Ninamori and Masashi are about as normal as teenagers get in this series. Gaku and Masashi are just two goofballs, more concerned with rumors and who’s kissing who, while Ninamori has a bit more depth to her, even getting her own episode which is by far one of my personal favorites. Overall, all the characters tell the story of “FLCL” very well and they all play a part, small though it may be, in making this show one for watching. [25/25]
Animation – Production IG worked on the animation for this one, and I’m gonna say it right now; if you’re looking for consistency in animation, “FLCL” is NOT for you. While I would typically say that this is a bad thing, in this case, I’m gonna say that this is “FLCL’s” most defining feature and it’s what makes this show work. We’re not talking episode-by-episode changes, my friends. We’re talking about changes from one scene to the next. One minute you have standard animation, the next you might have weird freestyle drawings, surreal angles, even full on manga frames and artwork! It complements the whole dreamlike atmosphere the story has perfectly. The actions during the fight scenes are some of the most fluid and well done I’ve ever seen. The bullet-time effect, used twice in the series, is like nothing I’ve ever seen in an anime. Character designs are very nice and you can’t help but draw comparisons between these characters and characters we’ve seen in other Gainax productions. For example; Naota bears a strong resemblance to Shinji Ikari from “Neon Genesis Evangelion” with his awesome blue eyes and brown hair, while Mamimi somewhat favors Yukino Miyazawa from Gainax’s earlier production “His and Her Circumstances” with her short, reddish brown color hair. Speaking of color, I love how this show uses it kind of as an identifier for things that are unusual or out of place in Naota’s ordinary world. In my eyes, everything that Naota knows as being ordinary and inconsequential like Mamimi and the family bakery are kind of associated with dull and boring colors. But things that he sees as extraordinary like Haruko, and to some extent, his brothers batting ability as represented by his baseball bat, are associated with brighter colors like red and orange. Finally, I’m not sure exactly what kind of processing work was done when the series was re-released by Funimation, but this show looks infinitely better than it did when I first saw it years ago; and even better than when it was first released on DVD by Synch-Point. Everything just looks crisp, bright, and alive. One last thing I would like to mention is that I think it’s a brilliant idea that [12.5/12.5]
Music – The soundtrack from “FLCL” is about as legendary as the one from our earlier review “Cowboy Bebop”. Just like Yoko Kano and the Seatbelts established the mood and feel of “Bebop”, so did The Pillows with “FLCL”. Each and every single song or piece of incidental music goes with its accompanying scene perfectly and gives a vibe of hip weirdness to the whole show that I just love. Whether it’s “Blue Drives Monster” or “I Think I Can”, each song stays with the listener long after the episode ends, and even when these songs are reused in other episodes, it never gets boring or stale. While there is no set opening theme, the closing theme, “Ride on Shooting Star” fits the bill perfectly and packs as much of a punch as any opening theme. The ending title sequence, featuring live action scenes of Haruko’s iconic Vespa in a Japanese neighborhood is very interesting and fun. It reminds me of the ending credit sequence from another Gainax series, “His and Her Circumstances”, except that show’s ending sequence changed from episode to episode and didn’t remain consistently live-action. In my eyes, “FLCL” does it right. [12.5/12.5]
Performances and Production – “FLCL” was created by Studio Gainax & Production I.G with director Kazuya Tsurumaki at the helm. Tsurumaki-san has had his hand in quite a few Gainax projects including the first half of “End of Evangelion”, and a few of the latter episodes of “His and Her Circumstances” when Director Hideaki Anno left the project. Here in the US, the project was initially licensed and dubbed by a company called Synch-Point and directed by Marc Handler. If you’ve never heard of him, don’t be too concerned, as he’s mostly working in front of a keyboard as a script writer, working on such ADR projects like the anime movie “Metropolis”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, and a little project known as “Cowboy Bebop”. In fact, he worked on this ADR script, and I have to say, he did an amazing job on both fronts. This script is amazing, remaining true to the original Japanese throughout while adapting a few parts to both suit American audiences and add a small touch of irony. My favorite example of this comes from Episode 1 when Naota, after a bit of banter with Haruko, walks down the stairs and says “Man, she’s playing with my head…” That quote in and of itself is hilarious, even though it’s not a direct translation of the original Japanese. While that one line might be lost on those who are new to the series, for those who are on their 2nd, 3rd, 50th viewing, Naota’s lament is the textbook definition of irony and hilarity. Speaking of Naota, our blue-socked male lead was voiced by Barbara Goodson in the US. Her track record precedes her as she’s been in the business longer than most. Her performance as the cynical pre-teen is flawless. I love the fact that Naota’s voice isn’t 100% mature, but it’s mature ENOUGH so he doesn’t sound like a little kid. She also brings awesome emotion to every scene that calls for it, ESPECIALLY with regards to Episode 6. Playing our female lead Haruhara Haruko is Kari Wahlgren. This name should be familiar to you as she play Kagami Hiiragi in “Lucky Star”, Kyon’s Little Sister in “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” and Anemone in “Eureka Seven”. When you compare her to Mayumi Shintani, her Japanese counterpart, honestly, you get a better performance out of Kari…but only slightly. She does an amazing job with a character that has many emotional gears, shifting through them flawlessly like an expert race-car driver. Playing the role of Samejima Mamimi is Jennifer Sekiguchi…sorry…Stephanie Shea. Pseudonyms, oy. In any case, her record is quite respectable: Orihime Inoue from “Bleach”, “Yui” from “K-On!” Hinata Hyuga from “Naruto” and the title character from “Eureka Seven” [She plays Eureka…not the number “7”]. Overall, she does a great job with Mamimi—playing her with just the right amount of “hide the knives” crazy and “Dawg gone it, I wanna hug you” sweet. Other actors, such as Heather Lee Joleson—correction—Melissa Fahn as Eri Ninamori, Joe Martin as Naota’s father, Kamon, and Dave Mallow as Amarao round out a cast of Dubbing actors that put on performances that equals if not surpasses the original Japanese. [25/25]
Story Breakdown – 25/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 12.5/12.5
Music – 12.5/12.5
Performance and Production – 25/25
Final Score – 100/100 = 100% – (A)
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):
- In the ending credits, the yellow Vespa scooter seen during the live action shots actually belonged to the director. However, at the time of shooting, there was a problem with the Vespa’s engine and so it did not run. However, the engine can be heard in the anime when its animated counterpart is revving up on screen.
- In the Gainax movie, “Evangelion 2.0: You Can (NOT) Advance”, Haruko’s yellow Vespa scooter can be seen parked next to a power pole.
- The use of “Bullet Time” throughout “FLCL” is, of course, an homage to “The Matrix”.
- The feline Takkun was voiced in Japan by Jun Mizuki, the voice of Naota Nandaba.
- Miyu-Miyu, Naota’s cat, was voiced by Hideaki Anno, the director of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. However, because he didn’t want to be recognized in the end credits, his name is simply replaced with a question mark.
- During the commercial break scenes in the middle of each episode, the voices that say “Furi Kuri!” are Miyumi Shintani, Izumi Kasagi, and Mika Ito; the voice actresses for Haruko, Mamimi and Ninamori respectively.
- In the DVD extras for “His and Her Circumstances”, Mayumi Shintani asks for viewer support as she starts work on a new project. That project wound up being “FLCL”.
- The chase song played during the fight in the 3rd episode if commonly played at grade school sports meets in Japan.
- Episode 5 contains numerous references to the anime “Lupin the 3rd”.
- Episode 5 also contains an homage to “Daicon V”, Studio Gainax first animated project. Haruko is dressed in a bunny suit like one of the characters from that production.
In Episode 3, Naota is seen wearing the same “Gilligan’s Island” style of hat as Takeru “TK” Takaishi did in “Digimon Adventure 02”.
- Incidentally, “Digimon Adventure 02” was created that same year, as was “Hamtaro” which was referenced in the anime by Naota’s father, Kamon.
- Incidentally, “Digimon Adventure 02” was created that same year, as was “Hamtaro” which was referenced in the anime by Naota’s father, Kamon.
- Did you notice that Naota and friends were wearing uniforms in the last episode? This is because they made the transition to Middle school, which requires school uniforms, unlike Elementary which allows free dress.
- Speaking of Naota’s friends, if you notice, Ninamori has a different hairstyle and different clothes each time we see her in the series. The director admitted to showing more favoritism towards Ninamori as she is his favorite character.
- The hand that appears over the Medical Mechanica building in Episode 6 is the director’s right hand, made from pictures and scans.
- Naota’s teacher, Junko Miyaji, loses two VW’s throughout the series thanks to the robot battles. The first was a VW Jetta while the second was a New Beetle. In Episode 3, when her first car is smashed, you can see a small “South Park” Kenny keychain fly upwards in the vehicle debris.
So where does that leave us? Well, at the end of the day, “FLCL” is a kaleidoscope of cool. It takes different story telling aspects and combines them into one confusing yet organized story. That plus it’s fascinating characters, ground-breaking animation, amazing soundtrack, and flawless ADR work makes “FLCL” one of the highest ranked “Must see” anime of the last decade. While other shows created around the same time have been running a race to be the best of the best, “FLCL” has been waiting at the finish line for them to catch up.
And with that, we bring an end to our look back at some of the best…and worst…of Adult Swim anime. While I know we didn’t cover the full gambit of shows, I hope you enjoyed what we offered up! That being done, we now look to February, the month of love. And ladies when you think of love, you think about that one special boy you’ve been crushing on for a long time. Maybe he’s a childhood friend…maybe he’s a transfer student….maybe he’s your teacher…maybe he was betrothed to you at a young age and now he can be the king of the gods or king of the demons… Hey, I don’t judge; it’s your love life… However, what do you do when the love of your life has other girls around him vying for his affection? Hopefully the ladies in the anime we review this month will give you some ideas…for better or worse. Oh yeah, the month of February will be known as “I Love Him! NO! I Love Him! NO I LOVE HIM MORE!!!” Month where we look at harem anime! First up on the list is a show that I’ve wanted to review for some time now since I bought the Complete Collection DVD’s a few months back. I started it, but never got around to finishing it! Shame on me. That’s gonna change! So stick around as we kick off Harem Month on “The Cajun Samurai” with a review of…