Review for FLCL Complete Collection
So I bought a Blu-ray player three years ago, and swore to myself I wouldn’t go all DVD on it, upgrading everything I own to HD. This time I would only buy titles that I didn’t own, both new and classic... Well, of course I would double dip on my absolute favourite movies, it would be daft not to have those in the best possible quality... And maybe my second favourites as well... Okay, that isn’t my favourite title, but it’s a bargain price... and so the Blu-rays pile up. You can rinse and repeat that sentiment with my anime collection too, an initial burst of must have double dips alongside new titles, and then slowly taking a look at my collection and seeing just what would work best in HD, especially in a medium which for a period of about ten years was very much an SD only affair. So on my spectrum of double-dipping, where does FLCL lie? FLCL is an early digipaint show that was animated natively at 480 lines of resolution. So let’s get the bad news out of the way first... the Blu-ray will only ever be an upscale. Yet FLCL on Blu-ray lies on my, ‘dear God, buy this on Blu-ray if nothing else’ end of the scale. That it’s a classic anime goes without saying, but it’s the prospect of hearing that Pillows soundtrack in unfiltered and lossless Dolby TrueHD that makes me salivate like Pavlov’s pooch.
Adolescent ennui takes centre stage in FLCL, with 12-year-old Naota resident in a quiet dead-end town whose only point of interest is a giant steam iron of a factory that regularly pumps fumes out over the town. His older brother is in America playing baseball, and he's left behind reflecting on the dreariness of existence in a town where nothing ever happens. He spends his time hanging out with his brother's girlfriend Mamimi, although since he left, Mamimi, who is at something of a loose end and lacking many friends of her own age, has been showing a rather oppressive interest in Naota. And the days slowly pass by…
Until one day, a girl on a scooter appears carrying a bass guitar. She introduces herself by running down Naota, and then reviving him with some indecently applied mouth to mouth, only to clout him once more with the guitar. Her name is Haruko, and she claims to be an alien. And nothing will ever be the same again. Soon, she's piloting her Vespa into Naota's dad, in order to move in ostensibly as a housekeeper, but more to keep an eye on Naota. For suddenly, Naota's brain has vanished and he's sprouted a horn in the middle of his forehead. Only it's not a horn, it's actually a robot trying to get out!
All six episodes of FLCL are presented on one Blu-ray disc from MVM.
3. MARU RABA
4. FURI KIRI
5. BURA BURE
6. FURI KURA
FLCL is presented in 1080p 4:3 pillarboxed format. This transfer has been sourced, via Madman Entertainment, and Funimation, all the way back to the Japanese company that re-mastered it for HD, so all versions should look identical. While it is an upscale from an SD source, FLCL has had a fair bit of processing work to make it look HD when viewed from a decent viewing distance. Lines are sharp, colours are detailed, textured and rich, and it certainly looks more impressive than the usual simple upscale. That does tell in a bit of shimmer on fine detail, and you are limited by the source resolution. As fine as the show might look, you’re never going to see more detail than DVD (compression notwithstanding). If you should happen to take a closer look at the image, you’ll see some smearing down to the up-conversion process that doesn’t look quite as appealing, but you really shouldn’t watch your TV from that close anyway. However, there is a problem with episode 3, where the processing work had a few spanners thrown in. This episode is replete with aliasing and excessive shimmer. Most of the fine detail lines show up as jagged and broken, and it’s only the HD resolution that doesn’t make it so obvious. It’s one disappointing sticking point in an otherwise impressive upscale.
The animation itself is astounding. One criticism of anime that is occasionally justified is that it isn't always that animated, with creators using tricks to make static scenes look dynamic, with plenty of talking heads and pretty landscapes, as well as a lower frame count to save on the budget and the sanity of the animators. There's none of that with FLCL. I have never seen television animation from Japan so dynamic and vibrant. The animation is fluid and of a constant high frame rate. There is always motion on screen, something to marvel at, and there is an energy to the characters and the onscreen action that indicates a theatrical level budget.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. It looks from this Funimation re-master, that they’ve reworked the subtitles; at least there is more in the way of text translations this time around compared to the DVD. Alas the problem with the subtitles is that they are in a thin white font, which is easy to lose when the backgrounds get busy, especially during the manga panel sequences.
The lossless audio is certainly agreeable, especially when it comes to bringing across that wonderful Pillows soundtrack with clarity and energy, and as usual my preference was for the Japanese dialogue with subtitles. As you would expect, it’s a front focussed affair, although there is a nice bit of stereo separation for the action sequences. The dub is adequate from what I recall, as I haven’t listened to it since I first watched the DVDs. A quick burst on this Blu-ray showed that it was present and correct. I did note that the audio level was pretty low on this disc, quickly remedied with the volume control. Another thing was that there were times where the dialogue was lost beneath the music and action.
The disc presents its content with an understated animated menu.
Carrying over from the DVDs are the director commentaries on all six episodes, presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
The Ride on Shooting Star Music Video with The Pillows is here, up-scaled to 1080p, as is the Textless Ending, the same song again.
New for this release compared to MVM’s DVD release are Videos with Music By The Pillows. You get five of their songs in full, presented in Dolby TrueHD, and against scenes from the anime, AMVs really at 1080i resolution. There’s Ride on Shooting Star again, Come Down, One Life, Little Busters and Last Dinosaur, about 17 minutes worth in total. Also new are three Outtakes sequences, clips of English voice actors fluffing their line-reads for just under 7 minutes.
You get Madman trailers for Evangelion 1.11, Nausicaa, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time following an anti-piracy warning.
What remains unique to the DVDs, and may be added incentive to hold onto them are the character profiles and the art galleries, the Japanese closing credits, and what I miss most of all, the Easter Egg fourth audio track which presents the show with effects and music only, practically an unofficial Pillows soundtrack CD.
If you want to know what I think of FLCL, I’ll point you to my reviews of Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 on DVD. My opinion hasn’t changed all that much in the years I’ve owned and watched this show. I will say this though, quite naturally the more you watch a show, the more you become familiar with it, and I have to admit that the new car smell has faded with FLCL. The wonder at the animation, the depth of the writing and characterisation, the story, the awesome music has now become familiar, and while it is still a special show, it’s lost a little of that guitar in the face impact.
Of course if you’ve never seen FLCL before, then you’re in for a treat. Gainax came up with something quite special here. In the years since, they, and their spin-off studios have used the style and zaniness established by FLCL in shows like Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, Gurren Lagann, and most recently Kill La Kill. And while they’ve improved on the animation, layered on the style like there’s no tomorrow, they’ve never quite managed to capture the heart the way FLCL did, they’ve never gotten to the emotional core of the characters in the later shows. FLCL is an entertaining blast, but it also makes you think, and you develop empathy for the characters in a way that is still pretty unique in anime as a medium.
But should you double dip? For once, I’m having second thoughts about a Blu-ray upgrade. FLCL in HD is certainly sharp, and striking. It’s just that on the way to sharp and striking it’s gone through a whole heap of processing that doesn’t quite hold on to the original intent. I would have by far preferred a straight upscale of the sort given to Samurai Champloo (Classics Edition), and Baccano, than an attempt to make the show look faux HD as it is here. It looks fantastic, but sacrifices had to be made, in the form of some smearing and loss of texture, as well as the aliasing problems in episode 3. Comparing the Blu-ray’s 1080p to the UK DVD’s NTSC-PAL conversion, the Blu-ray does look better, especially when the DVD is scaled up, but the Blu-ray doesn’t look as good as it could have done. There is that occasional muffled dialogue problem in the audio, and the difficult to read subtitles, and you could say that the Blu-ray isn’t quite up to snuff. I also miss that soundtrack and effects only Easter Egg which was very cool on the DVDs.
The Blu-ray is just about good enough, but it could have been better. I have to say that I’m glad to keep hold of the DVDs as an alternate choice for watching the show.