An Episodic Breakdown of “FLCL”: Episode 1 – Bass to the Brain

“Legs spread same width as the shoulders, body tight, then hit the ball like your defeating the enemy. Here the pinky finger is the key. Then you just hit hit hit kaking-bingo!!” -Samejima Mamimi

And with that line, we start off one of the most unique animated series of all time since Neon Genesis Evangelion, and one of the most in-depth write-ups I’ve ever done on an anime since…well…Usagi Drop last year. Now, since I already reviewed this show early this year, I won’t be reviewing it for grading–this is just a look back at the series episode-by-episode as it airs on Toonami. Call it “Cajun’s Cooly Cliff Notes”. In any case, I’m the Cajun Samurai, and this is my episodic breakdown of the experience that is FLCL Episode 1: “Fooly Cooly / FLCL” 

Naota and Mamimi...So our premiere episode opens up with Samejima Mamimi giving us the above quote, explaining the proper way to swing a baseball bat. [Baseball will play a major role in one of the episodes later on down the road, so keep an eye out for it.] Naota Nandaba, our male lead character [Following early Studio Gainax tradition to give our male main lead blue eyes and brown hair…] asks Mamimi why she’s always hanging out by the river with him instead of doing things that girls her age really should be doing. After draping her arm around him, pressing her chest against his back, and nibbling at his earlobes she offers a cryptic explanation–“If I don’t do it, I’ll overflow.” When Naota questions this, Mamimi pushes the 6th Grader to the ground, and lays on top of him, replying “Probably…something amazing.” As we leave this…very odd pair to their own devices, Naota ruminates internally how nothing amazing ever happens in his small town, and how everything is ordinary and how, on this particular day, the white smoke that’s belching up from the large Medical Mechanica plant off in the distance seems like some sort of omen…

After the title card, [Please note that FLCL doesn’t have an opening theme or title sequence…just title cards…] we see Mamimi and Naota getting a drink from the vending machine, unaware that they’re being watched by a grinning figure on a scooter. Before Naota gets the chance to select the cold drink he wants, Mamimi beats him to the punch and selects a sour-tasting drink, much to his dismay. Mamimi drinks first and hands the can to him, saying that there’s more than half left. Naota wants none of it and angrily tosses the can away.

Haruko about to make life difficult for Naota...Just before he lowers a potential bombshell about his brother, currently away in the United States, along comes our mysterious figure on the scooter, her Rickenbacker 4001 Bass spinning high above her head like a helicopter. Naota soon regrets throwing that cold drink can on the ground as the Piaggio Vespa SS 180 hits the can, veers off course, and then slams into Naota, sending him flying while Mamimi takes snapshots. [Mamimi would be a HIT on Instagram and Facebook—snap first, medical attention later…] Our mysterious figure dismounts, flips Naota’s lifeless body over and, to Mamimi’s horror, give Naota mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in Matrix-time! [Behind the scenes, we discover that the slow motion scenes were actually done in real-time with our mysterious figure and Mamimi literally moving in slow motion the whole time–get used to this show breaking the 4th wall…and the 5th…as well as the 6th…]

Naota is revived, but his conscious state changes again as our mysterious figure yanks a pull starter on her Rickenbacker 4001 [which now makes the sound of a weed eater for…reasons unknown…], winds up, and clocks Naota on the head, once again, sending him flying. She then runs over and turns him upside down shaking him vigorously by the ankles mumbling something about “it’s not coming out”. Mamimi comes to his rescue before Haruko decides to take another, literal, whack at it. Naota finally comes to, and when he angrily inquires about what this mysterious girl did to him, she angrily shouts out that he’s good for nothing and blasts off, leaving Naota angry and needing a Children’s Tylenol.

That night, in his room, the spot where our mystery girl clocked Naota has swollen and protruded…rather unusually and squarely, from his head. Naota worries about how the heck he’s going to hide it from school tomorrow and opts to go with a bandage to hold back the forceful projection. […insert phallic joke here…and prepare more…]

FLCL_003.jpgThe next day at school, Naota’s friends are talking about a rumor circulating around the school about a woman riding on a motorcycle with a guitar, hitting people and leaving demonic marks that show if you’ve been doing naughty things. Naturally, Naota’s friends think that the bandage their blue clad bro is sporting is covering the mark of the demon and they beg him to remove it, which, of course, he refuses to do.

After school, Naota decides to go to the hospital to check out his injury [Yeah, one DAY later…good job there, Naota…] deciding to push the Vespa riding girl out of his mind…until she appears next to him as he waits for a train to pass, asking if anything strange happened to him after she left. [Isn’t that how it always is…the last person you want to see is the first person who comes along…] Naota pleads ignorance and darts off as the train passes, leaving our Vespa woman in the dust.

At the hospital, Naota gets “diagnosed” by a nurse with “FLIctonic KLIpple Waver Syndrome”–an adolescent psychological skin hardening syndrome which is described as a disease children get from “trying too hard”, resulting in horns coming from the forehead. When Naota questions the truthfulness of his health care provider, the nurse admits that it was a lie and reveals that she is, in fact, the Vespa woman in disguise, having roped and hogtied hospital security and swiping a nurse’s outfit. Naturally, Naota scrams out of there while Haruko attempts to make him “Feel ALLLL better…”

vlcsnap-2013-01-30-02h06m52s129Later that day, after telling off Mamimi about the photos she took, and having a nap about his brothers amazing batting ability, Naota’s dad, Kamon, calls him downstairs for supper. It’s then to his shock, he discovers that the Vespa woman who ran him down ALSO ran down his father. Instead of doing the logical thing like getting her license and insurance information, Kamon hires the Vespa Woman, who we learn is named Haruko Haruhara, as a live-in housekeeper and to help out in the family bakery, much to Naota’s grandfather, Shigekuni, consternation. Haruko then spill the beans that Naota and Mamimi hang out by the river doing naughty things. Dear old dad correctly, if not elaborately, explains that since the brother is not away, Mamimi is now “sinking her fangs” into Naota, and that the two of them are now doing what he calls “Fooly Cooly”. What EXACTLY is Fooly Cooly? Don’t ask Naota, as he’s only in the 6th Grade. After more insanity where grandpa tries to explain what Fooly Cooly is in the bread maker’s language, Haruko trolls poor Naota, saying that they have a “mouth-to-mouth” relationship, which noticeably depresses Kamon as he hopes to score with Haruko himself and show her off as a trophy wife. Eventually, Naota leaves the crazy adults to their insanity and has a bath.

After his soak, Naota goes to his room to see Haruko waiting on him, plucking the strings on her guitar. Naota presses her about her origins, which she evades effortlessly, instead asking about the lump in his head. After this roundabout line of questioning, Naota gives up and flops in bed, saying that she can’t sleep in his brothers top bunk, as it once belonged to his brother when they shared a room, prior to his leaving for America. Logically, Haruko takes the bottom bunk, much to Naota’s chagrin, since the top is reserved. Naota then frumps downstairs pillow in hand, content to sleep on the couch. He passes Kamon in the bakery, who confronts Naota with photo evidence of his run-in with Haruko, provided by Mamimi, who came in to buy the day-old bread from the bakery. Upon hearing this, Naota bolts off to find his brothers girl. 

Back at the bridge, Mamimi looks off in the distance out at the river, smoking a “Never Knows Best” cigarette. [Guess Japan doesn’t carry Winstons or Pall Mall…] Naota approaches her and asks just how much she likes her brother. Wrapping an arm around Naota, she says “I like him more than hard bread.” Naota then decides to spill the beans…

"Got me a Blonde Gal!"…as Haruko finally opens the letter on Naota’s desk from his brother which says, “Got me a blonde gal!”

Obviously, Mamimi doesn’t take this news great, and she grabs her head in pain, repeating her earlier line “I’m gonna Overflow!!!” It’s then when Naota gets a severe headache as the bandage begins to shift, bulge, and finally fall off, to reveal the horn, now exponentially bigger and growing, erupting from his forehead. The horn grows longer and longer, and gets redder and redder […get your mind out the gutter, it’s NOT what you’re thinking it is…] until finally, it transforms into a large, bright red Robot with a television for a head. Also erupting from Naota’s noggin is a disembodied robotic hand which begins attacking Big Red. The two engage in battle, with Naota hooked by his shirt to the red ‘droid. Haruko makes her way to the melee on her Vespa, disembarks, and with a flying leap worthy of El Kabong, Clocks Big Red with her guitar, causing it to change color from red to blue. Naota, in awe at what he saw, ruminates how, just for a moment, Haruko looks just like his much-admired brother.

A day later and things are back to the “boring” standard for Naota…except for the fact that the giant robot that erupted from his head is now working in the bakery under Haruko’s tutelage. Naota heads off to school and meets up with Mamimi, who is drinking a sour drink by the bridge. She hands the rest to him and, after pouting how he doesn’t like sour drinks, upends the drink.

FLCL

Alright, lemme get this out the way first and foremost. FLCL is a show that you should not expect to get in the first viewing. Plain and simple. You should come into this show expecting to be confused to within an inch of your life. Much like Studio Gainax other hit project, Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL is a show that can take multiple viewings to get a clue as to what the heck is going on. I mean, heck, I’m one of the biggest fans of this show, and there are still things I don’t have clue one about. Episode 1 is no different, however, it should be said that it does a good job giving you a solid foundation upon which the show is built. Episode one pretty much says “Okay, here are the characters, and here is the current situation. You’re on your own from here on out.” This show, just like every other Studio Gainax project before or since, doesn’t try to give you answers—it lets you draw your own conclusions; it makes you think…and it gives you one helluva ride while doing it. For some, it’s a highly complex coming of age story that just so happens to feature robots fighting, and for others it’s a study in human psychology…which feature robots fighting…and for others, it’s just a mass of insanity and confusion…which features robots fighting. It’s all in how you chose how to look at this story and how you chose to enjoy it.

vlcsnap-2013-10-28-11h19m31s6From Episode 1 my favorite scene is the opening monologue Mamimi gives about how to swing the bat. Not only is it a unique way to open the show—spinning the “camera” around while Mamimi is speaking, but Mamimi’s dialogue about swinging the bat is also a metaphor for this entire series as it relates to Naota…nothing will happen until you “Set the parameters” and “swing the bat”; nothing will happen unless you set yourself up as best you can and take a swing at life. Alas, because Naota is so young, he doesn’t completely catch on, thinking that Mamimi is just goofing around and talking about a video game. To me, this is also a somewhat sad scene—Naota and Mamimi, the ones that Tasuku left behind, with their only solace being each other.

As far as animation goes for Episode 1, well, heck, if the Bullet Time “CPR” scene or the Manga-Mode scene didn’t impress you, then I’m sorry, nothing will.  The animation quality of this episode is top-tier, which is surprising, considering that FLCL is 13 years old…and it’s only going to get more interesting from here. As I mentioned in my review, I find it interesting that everything 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.

vlcsnap-2013-01-30-02h08m01s35With regards to the soundtrack for Episode 1…I honestly feel I don’t have to say anything about it. There’s nothing that has been said before or since by much more experienced and professional writers than I about the awesomeness that is The Pillows. With instrumental pieces like “Carnival” and “Brand New Love Song” setting the tone for individual one-on-one scenes, and with “Ride on Shooting Star” taking us out, FLCL is a study in how music in anime, when done right, is the stuff of legend.

As far as the English language version currently airing on Toonami [as of the time of this printing], we have director Marc Handler at the helm. Never heard of him? Don’t sweat it. Here’s the English cast for Episode 1:

Character

English Voice Actor/Actress

Naota Nandaba Barbara Goodson
Haruko Haruhara Kari Wahlgren
Samejima Mamimi Jennifer Sekiguchi [Stephanie Shea]
Gaku Bob Marx
Masashi David Lucas [Steven Blum]
Eri Ninamori Heather Lee Joelson
Kamon Nandaba Joe Martin
Shigekuni Nandaba Steve Kramer

remote_image_286709580aFor an early 2000’s dub, this cast is excellent across the board. Honestly, this Dub cast in my book is on the same level as the crew that worked on Cowboy Bebop. It should be noted that the Japanese director of the series, Kazuya Tsurumaki, played a very active role in the casting and directing of the series. To me, that shows that the English Dubbers were extremely serious about making this show the best it could possibly be…with great success, in my opinion. I should also add, that I LOVE the line Naota says when he’s walking down the stairs after his banter with Haruko “Man, she’s playing with my head…”

Now, for those of you who were watching this on Toonami this past Saturday, and don’t have the luxury of rewinding the footage to see “hey, wait—what the heck was that?!” I’m introducing a new section in these episodic reviews called…

In Case You Missed It Lagniappe:

  • Mamimi calls Naota “Tak-kun”. This is NOT Naota’s name. This is the nickname Mamimi used with Naota’s brother, Tasuku.
  • The guitar that Haruko uses is a 4001 Rickenbacker Bass.
  • The Medical Mechanica plant is shaped like a gigantic iron.
  • Aside from the fact that Naota doesn’t like sour drinks, the reason he hesitates to drink from the same can Mamimi drinks from is because it would be seen as an indirect kiss.
  • Keep in mind that Naota and his friends are in 6th grade. Elementary school in the Japanese school system. This is why Naota et al doesn’t wear a school uniform, but Mamimi, a high school girl, wears one.
  • The text written on Naota’s brother picture that Haruko finds translates as “Got me a blonde gal!”
  • The link on Haruko’s bracelet is able to detect whenever a robot is about to emerge on the scene. This is an important fact to keep in mind.
  • After Haruko El Kabongs the first robot that emerges from Naota’s head, it turns a light blue color and resembles Naota’s hoodie.

And that’s it for Episode 1! I know that it’s a little long, but heck, this is a lot of series to fit into one simple write-up! I’ll aim to make the next ones shorter…but no promises!

Coming up next week, we take a look at Episode 2: “Fire Starter / FiSta”! Prepare to get burned…


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