Episodes: 1-6 (complete)
Genre: Crazy, Sorta Sci-Fi
(Note: this review was written more than 10 years ago)
So you are an unknown animator, Kazuya Tsurumaki. Chosen by Hideki Anno to help him create one of the most emotionally intense anime epics of all time, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Anno then turns to you at the end of production and tells you that he is out of ideas; the mantle of making a follow-up to Evangelion is thus passed to you, because “you are next.” So what does Tsurumaki do with complete and unsupervised creative freedom of his very own anime series? He creates FLCL: one of the most psychokinetic and totally insane anime to ever see life outside someone’s hallucinogenic-induced imagination.
The show starts out innocently enough. The protagonist, 12-year old Naota, is hanging out underneath an overpass with his brother’s 17-year old girlfriend Mamini, whom has taken an intense interest in Naota since the brother moved to America to play baseball. A while later, a space-alien named Haruko arrives on Earth and proceeds to mow Naota down with her Vespa moped, revive him with CPR, only to clock him with a gas-powered bass guitar at close range. After the encounter, Naota goes home only to discover that Haruko has become the family housekeeper, and this is depicted literally via rapid-fire manga pages. Naota then develops a horn-like protrusion on his forehead which eventually sprouts two extremely large robots that immediately engage in a life-and-death battle at the top of a bridge.This is still the first episode. The rest of the series goes on from there.
In all seriousness, FLCL moves at an incredible and unrelenting pace that still feels controlled enough to be digestible. In other words, the manic energy which pervades the series is tempered by moments of surprisingly emotional introspection which borders on lucid epiphanies. It is impossible to grasp all the subtleties of the show when initially viewed, but subsequent viewing provides proof that there is indeed a coherent plot buried somewhat deeply within obscure anime-related references and other genre in-jokes. The fact that Tsurumaki directed a major portion of the Evangelion movies really shows itself in this project, as while the line between parody and metaphor becomes more and more abstract as the insanity increases, the line nevertheless continues to exist. In this sense, FLCL is able to be consumed by both action-oriented and plot-oriented anime fans – provided, of course, that both groups can make it past the surface nature of the show.
Saying that FLCL looks good is similar to calling Mt. Everest “big.” Simply put, this show is one of the slickest anime I have ever had the opportunity to visually consume. The animation itself was digitally mastered by Production I.G., the same people who brought Ghost in the Shell and Jin-Roh to life. What is perhaps one of the most captivating aspects of the animation itself is how its drawing style varies widely during each episode yet is still cohesive enough to prevent complete visual vertigo. Scenes jump from classic anime style to manga to Matrix-esque interludes right down to South Park imitation, all while maintaining a firm grasp of each character’s screen persona. It should also be stated that Sadamoto Yoshiyuki’s impossibly interesting character designs in this anime makes him only the second artist that has made me want to actually hunt down and purchase the entire wardrobe of the main character – the first such person being Koichi Usami, of GTO fame. This should not be entirely surprising as Yoshiyuki did draw the impeccably-dressed .hack and Evangelion crew, although I never recall seriously wanting to dress like Shinji before.
As if FLCL was not as crazy enough as it is, the Japanese punk band, The Pillows, were called in to produce a soundtrack able to complement the animation. Oh, and how they did. Their frequently edged and downright intriguing guitar riffs serves the function of nuclear dynamo, pushing an already intense experience to the very breaking point. Impulsive tracks such as Advice, Come Down, and Nightmare drive the crazy action forward just as the amazingly memorial tracks – Crazy Sunshine, Little Busters, I Think I Can, and Happy Bivouac – help set scene mood in record time. Special props are also in order for Ride On Shooting Star, one of the painfully few anime ending songs that does the series itself justice by actually being good enough to listen to till the bitter end.
If there was only one thing that I believe hurts the FLCL experience is the brevity of it all. While the series actually feels twice as long as it really is while watching it, this does not change the fact that it all comes to an end in little under three hour’s time. I am not lamenting this fact because the characters or plot feels rushed; on the contrary, FLCL grows on you exceptionally quickly due to the genuinely unique characters and crazy circumstances which surrounds them. But as the anime concludes with quite possibly the coolest character shot of all time, you are left thirsting for more – especially considering the fact that it is unlikely something this insane will ever see the light of day again. Be that as it may, FLCL remains another brilliant feather in Gainax’s already remarkably avian cap, and yet another clear indicator that while we may have lost Anno, we have gained Tsurumaki.
And as this show goes to prove, it’s almost a fair trade.