Fooly Cooly. I can’t go over the more interesting parts of the series without spoiling it, so, if you haven’t seen FLCL yet, go watch it. I have a video review up, so check that out if you want to. Everyone who hasn’t seen FLCL is gone? Alright, let’s get into this.
Ostensibly, FLCL is the story of an alien who comes to Earth, so she can find her bird-lover-Kaizokuou-dude by ripping robots (and other wacky shit) out of a 13-year-old boy’s head. It. Is. Weird. And I’m not going to lampshade that. The “plot” of FLCL is nonsense. Yet that could not be more of a benefit to the true strengths of the series.
At the heart of FLCL, is a human drama. The protagonist, Naota, exists in a world of chaos. Surrounded by “adults” who, to Naota, act more like children than anything. Naota wants to be mature. He strives to be considered an adult. Yet, as he continues to look condescendingly at everyone else around him, he remains unaware that doing so makes him the most immature one of all.
The beauty of FLCL comes from the fact that it can draw so many human themes from such a surrealist narrative. It uses the characters and drama to tell a story that breaks the boundaries of what we generally consider the rules of storytelling, which I commend it for. Because of how many aspects of puberty were addressed in FLCL, I’d honestly be shocked to find someone who didn’t find at least one thing that they heavily related to in this series, after fully digesting Naota’s character, at least. Listing all the examples would take 30o years, so I point you towards Goatjesus’ video on the topic. He goes over a few major ones, though the rabbit hole goes far deeper if you really look into the show.
If you’re someone who didn’t like FLCL, and doesn’t understand what people like myself see in it, let me try to explain this: The protagonist is a cynical asshole who looks down on others and bottles up his emotions to try to “seem more adult” to everyone else. We watch him deal with sexual feelings, get over doing things he doesn’t want to do, learn how to trust himself and others, grow into a protector of the people he loves and, finally, see him get out of his cynical shell and learn to stop trying to be mature. Instead, he decides to become his own person, just like Noriko years prior and Simon years later.
Each side character in FLCL walks the tightrope between metaphor and character flawlessly. Haruko, for instance, represents Naota’s lust for his ideal woman and his sexual confusion, while also being a really fun and well rounded character. Or Mamimi acting as the kick-start for Naota’s development (she acts as the one who constantly compares Naota to his brother, forcing his final epiphany) while also being a dynamic character.
I doubt FLCL could get away with this if it wasn’t enjoyable, but FLCL is the antithesis of the word boring. Each frame is bursting with life and fun. Every scene a different style, to serve a different purpose. Every shot filled with a million metaphors, making re-watches just as fun. Movement so fluid that it’s like water. FLCL is a visual feast, and by far the best looking anime I’ve seen.
The late 90s atmosphere is thick and consistent. It feels crazy, and sticks by that through and through. This makes the human drama and characters stand out so well. The series is directed with such grace, as some shots feel almost transcendent in how relaxing they are. Some of my favorites are basically all of the last episode, and any scenes with Mamimi smoking. Never knows best...
The director, Kazuya Surumaki, also uses single shots to convey massive emotions without any lines of dialogue. A running theme throughout the series is a plane, flying over Mabase, symbolizing that the memory of Tasuku doesn’t fade from Naota, and that he’s always looming over him.
Beyond that, the soundtrack IS the show. Every scene would feel incomplete without the music, and the music feels incomplete without the scene. They’re truly two halves of the same beautiful whole. The guitar motifs and style fitting perfectly with the late-90s vibe of the music is just icing on top.
The comedy is consistently on-point, with clever dialogue and wacky visual humor. The comedy uses expectations and conventions to its advantage, by subverting all of them. I also respect it for melding so well with the drama and action. I didn’t feel for a moment like any of them were out of place.
Excuse me while I absolutely lose my mind over the conclusion to the series... The animation kicks into overdrive while a kick-ass rock ballad plays in the background. Naota, putting aside his feelings for Haruko, decides to stay and live his own life, because while falling back on others is a good thing, becoming them is not. The final shot is totally ambiguous, and leaves the viewer pondering far after they first finish the series. Sublime.
I mean it when I say I could write 18,000 words on FLCL. As I’ve mentioned, though I may do that at some point, it won’t be any time soon. I’d like to save my sanity for now. Though I did count every time Sakura said “Senpai” in all of F/SN, so my sanity is already lost... point is, there is a lot of cool little thematic tie-ins and metaphors in FLCL. To give one example: In episode 1, Naota gives Mamimi a leftover piece of bread, and she takes it and eats it, pretending it’s the same as it would have been. Cleverrrrrrrrrrrr...
After everything, all I can say is that FLCL broke me. It took a literal mess of a plot and turned it into a masterpiece that I can watch over and over again, laugh my ass off, have tons of fun, and still end up learning a thing or two. Every. Single. Time. It taught me so much about life, and so much of how I live is a byproduct of this show. It even taught me that I don’t care about the “plot” in a work of art, or that you totally can write a character that a bunch of people will relate to. I’m not doing a pros/cons section, as not only can I not think of a flaw, but I also felt like this was a bit different than my usual reviews. Hence the name change. If you haven’t guessed yet, FLCL broke my scale. It’s more than a 10. It’s one of two shows I can say that about. Treasure it, Gainax. You really swung the bat and knocked it out of the park with this one.