Naota is a detached youth living in (what he considers) a boring town, dealing with not only the hardships of puberty and the frustrating advances of his brothers ex-girlfriend. Then suddenly and without warning, a crazed pink-haired woman on a Vespa motor scooter runs him over, bashes him upside the head with a bass guitar, then moves into his house. The woman's name is Haruko, she makes the claim that she is an alien, and throws Naota into the fray of a mega-corporation's plan. Did I mention that giant battling robots come blasting from his head?
Take an child who happens to have ADHD and give that child two liters of soda, then forget to give that child Ritalin for the day, you then have a clear example of what FLCL is like. FLCL, or Fooly Cooly, has become a fan favorite for its zany artistic style and daft story, but to write it off as nothing but an exercise in the surreal would only be half true and would discredit a story that is deeper than it looks.
Graphically speaking, FLCL is the ultimate in experimental visualization. What starts off as a rather calm beginning to the series with beautifully water colored backgrounds and smoothly designed characters quickly turns to optical anarchy with the introduction of Haruko. With this, FLCL delves into a fever pitch of different styles and tones and makes the series a real visual feast of bombastic action sequences that range from (intentionally) sloppy and amateurish, to elaborate and intricate. One scene which resonates this style the most effectively is in the first episode concerning Naota's frustration at the fact that Haruko is going to be staying at his home as a “housekeeper.” This entire scene is extravagantly showcased through a series of black and white manga pages, complete with dialogue balloons and sound effects. The action of FLCL is frenetic in its pace; things are destroyed in the most epic of fashion and characters are beaten to a—sometimes bloody—pulp in a style that is a homage to Loony Toons slapstick comedy violence.
Since this is a Gainax production, expect a lot of references to not only other anime such as the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, but also some of their own anime, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion. FLCL does go into the realm of being esoteric with references that only hardcore otaku would grasp, which comes to no surprise since studio Gainax was founded by Otaku. FLCL is an anime crafted by fans and for fans, with a creative team that gave themselves free range to go ballistic in their fan-boy tendencies. The referential nature of this anime makes FLCL a mirthfully daffy series, and the fact that this anime also has the habit of being self-referential, only adds to the hilarity.
The cast of characters in FLCL are as varied as the artistic style of the series, but the main character, Naota, is the one who—at least tries to—keep the story together. The entire tale of FLCL is told through the narrative of Naota, who kind of acts as an anime version of Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye; always ready to spot out the perceived idiocy that he observes all the while, using that as a mask to hide his own insecurity of having to live in his brother's (who is in America as a baseball player) shadow. Naota acts as a allegory for a lot of the shows symbolism on puberty and growing up. After all, what do you think the 'horn' growing out his head represented? Naota is a apt main character because we have all been the child who thought that everything around us was stupid, especially our parents and we have all been the child who had to go through the troubles that puberty presented in our young lives. Naota—And all that happens to him, and what he struggles with—is a representation of all of the preteen frustrations that people have gone through. It is this realism amidst the unreal that compels the viewer to root for him in his battle to understand who he is as an individual. Even if that battle entails a highly improbable fight with an intergalactic pirate, amidst a giant factory, which is shaped like a clothes iron. Yeah, I know, it's weird.
On the other side of the fence of characters lies Haruko Haruhara. Whereas Naota is the main character of the show, Haruko steals it. Haruko is, by far, one of the most fun villains that the world of anime has to offer; She's selfish, headstrong, hilarious, relentless, and she wields a bass guitar as a weapon. Seriously, what's not to like? In terms of character design, Haruko is endearing; with her pink hair, and clothing that resembles a mod girl of the 60's—complete with white go-go boots—Haruko has a style all her own. She is deliciously nefarious, and you will love her for it.
Next there is Mamimi, who is the high school girl who latches on to Naota. She's a naïve nymphet with a ditsy disposition that represents the youthful sexuality that has become ubiquitous for anime female eroticism. FLCL finds a balance with Mamimi and does not go overboard in that facet of the show; Mamimi's sexual presentation is utilized more as a catalyst for Naota's confusion brought about by puberty, than for fan-service. Beneath her cute nature lies a more complex character, wracked with fear of loneliness and the incessant want to have something in her life larger than herself. She uses Naota as a rebound to replace her former boyfriend—who happens to be Naota's brother—and even calls him by his brother's name. Mamimi even resorts to obsessive religious behavior to mask the pain she feels inside by creating a 'god' for herself from one of the robots that came from Naota's head. It is this kind of vulnerability that makes Mamimi a sympathetic character.
Then, the other array of characters that make up this anime are all developed quite nicely. Within six episodes we have an anime that features more than its fair share of characters. Naota's father, the lecherous otaku who becomes just another victim of Haruko; Naota's grandfather, who is there just for laughs; the general Amaro with exuberantly large eyebrows (which is one of the series running gags); and Naota's classmates. The characters of this series bounce off each other well and mostly for comedic effect.
In the never-ending contention between anime fans of subs-vs-dubs, FLCL is an anime where the two are equally good. In fact, if the viewer were to place the English voice track and Japanese voice track, there would be a parallel styling of pitch and tone relating to how the voice actors use their voices in each respective language. In musical terms, FLCL has one of the best and most fitting soundtracks courtesy of the Japanese rock band, The Pillows. Fitting, in the sense that every piece in the series hits the mark perfectly as to the ambiance of each scene; When the scene centers around moody-introspection, a angst-ridden ballad is cued in the background, when there is a rollicking fight taking place, a hard hitting melody blasts on the scene. None of the pieces feel out of place, and there is enough variety of songs in the soundtrack so that no piece is overused. The song that is the most noteworthy is the end theme, Ride on Shooting Star, which is complete with a litany of nonsensical lyrics that summarizes the feel of FLCL to a tee.
In retrospective, some viewers may hold FLCL with a lower regard than this review. The anime requires a suspension of disbelief and many viewers may not be able to appreciate its off-kilter style of storytelling and its in-your-face visuals. If FLCL can be approached with an open mind, than viewers may be pleasantly surprised that it is about more than just robots, aliens, anime references and slapstick humor, but about a boy coming out of his shell and becoming his own person. That is something we can all relate to.
A fast, funny and unabashedly outrageous anime that is more than meets the eye. FLCL is a character study using aliens and robots as an allegory for angst and puberty, and does it all with creativity. It is not for everyone, and earns a five star rating. Take away a star or two if you prefer your anime with a more conventional style of storytelling. — Dallas Marshall
Recommended Audience: Classic flip-skirt fan service in a couple of spots ... mecha getting ripped to shreds ... some discussion of adult themes and occasional lechery ... nothing else of truly objectionable taste.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (6/6)
FLCL © 1999 Studio Gainax
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