FLCL: Volume 3
Never have I wished for amnesia more than I do now. That's the problem with first times, unless you live in a soap opera world where memories are fleeting, you only get one. That's just one first time with FLCL, just one first experience of each episode, just one unveiling of its myriad delights, and just one ecstatic realisation that you've probably just had the defining anime experience of your life. After that, it's just rewatches, which will certainly offer whole new perspectives on the show, offer little secrets that you missed the first time around, new character nuances to discover, but it's still won't have that first time buzz to it. With volume 3 of FLCL, my sextet of first times comes to an end, and I sincerely wish that someone would hit me over the head with a bass guitar, erasing my memory, so I could experience it all for the first time again.
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!
Volume 3 of FLCL concludes with 2 more episodes and a host of extra features.
With two years invested in making just 6 episodes of animation, you would expect something special, especially from the combination of GAINAX (Evangelion) and Studio I.G. (Ghost In The Shell), and you won't be disappointed with FLCL. The transfer is excellent, with the 4:3 image coming across with absolute clarity and depth of colour. The only time you will notice any aliasing or compression artefacts is if you pause the disc; in normal playback it looks excellent. There are also no signs of NTSC-PAL transfer issues. I'd be hard pressed to distinguish it from a native PAL transfer.
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 a choice between DD 2.0 Surround English and DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese with optional subtitles and signs. The dialogue is clear in both versions and the stereo offers a nice degree of separation to the effects. The music is something special, with a soundtrack commissioned from the Japanese rock group, The Pillows, and diverse enough to warrant three official soundtrack CDs. The English dub has stood up well to the test of time, and sounds just as well performed and solid today, when compared to current efforts. I of course opted for the original language track, and personally I found that the American accents didn't suit the animation as well.
FLCL may be light on the run time, but it makes up for it in the extras department, with more than just the animated menus, jacket picture and trailers (Ergo Proxy and Shana).
Both episodes get a commentary from director Kazuya Tsurumaki, interviewed by two unnamed commentators. He talks volubly about the show, translating the humour for the Western audience, and some of the pop culture references therein. It's a clear, informative track that is light and easy to listen to, it may be a little gappy, but everything spoken about is of note. This is subtitled in English quite naturally. You have to select it from the Setup menu, as it isn't listed in the Extras.
Also on this disc are the Australian trailer (which is surprisingly identical to the FLCL trailer that MVM have been using on their discs of late), the textless closing, and Cast Profiles for three of the characters. You also get an art gallery with six promo images.
Not listed in the extras, but available through your remote is a fourth audio track. It's an effects and music only track, which offers you the chance to hear those tunes from The Pillows without anyone talking over them.
FLCL has to be the wildest, most freewheeling, bizarre, surreal, sexy, energetic, original anime that I have seen in a long, long while, and I must say that I have enjoyed every frame of it. It's a show with tons to offer, and I'll still be rewatching it when lesser shows are a distant memory. There's something to be said for the OVA format, the scope for imagination and creativity that is open to the creators, as opposed to the regimented deadlines of a television schedule. With a show like FLCL, it's more important to get it right, to bring your vision to life just as you envisage it. In the commentary the director mentions that the final episode was delayed by a month, the original deadline fell by the wayside, and you can't fault them for making that choice given the final product.
Although the sheer manic nature of the show suggests otherwise, FLCL does indeed have an overreaching story, an ultimate point to the hyperactive mayhem, and the focus of the final two episodes is on resolving that arc. Episode 5 begins with another dose of insanity with Haruko unleashing havoc on the Nandaba household, which quickly degenerates into a free for all gunfight. We're channelling John Woo and the Matrix here with non-lethal bullets flying all over the place. It's all explosive but harmless fun until Amarao and his seaweed eyebrows return to once again stop Haruko from accomplishing her nefarious purpose. This time the handle of a gun is sprouting from the back of Naota's head, and when the trigger is pulled, the greatest threat yet to the city will be unleashed, a giant hand shaped robot that will head for the Medical Mechanica factory.
Following the attack on the factory, the city is isolated, surrounded by smog and pollution, and Haruko and Canti have gone missing. It comes as a shock to Naota to learn how much he needs the oddball self-confessed alien, although their reunion is predictably chaotic. We know that Haruko is here to retrieve something from Medical Mechanica, but we only find out just what it is in the final episode. Atomsk, notorious space pirate is in the care of the factory, and Haruko wants him back. Meanwhile, Mamimi has adopted a new pet, a little widget that crawled out of the river, and is now feasting on mobile phones and scooters, and rapidly putting on weight. The widget is the Terminal Core, heart of the robot that was stopped short of the factory in the previous episode. If the Terminal Core is reunited with the robot, then the end of the world is nigh, at least according to Amarao. And he's urging Naota not to trust Haruko. But Naota is finally sorting his feelings out, and they are heading in a dangerous direction.
With final episodes it's all about wrapping up character arcs, and FLCL has always been a study in the process of adolescence, the period where we are no longer children, but not yet adults. It's a harsh transition at the best of times, and for Naota it's happening under utterly bizarre circumstances. In the previous two volumes, much was made of his inability to swing the bat, to express himself or have faith in himself. That epiphany came at the end of episode 4, when he acted to save the town from a falling satellite. That process of growth continues to unfold in these episodes, as he finally makes it clear to Mamimi that he isn't just a replacement for his brother, a cute pet that she can play with, and it goes on into the final episode where he finally realises how he feels about Haruko, and he even acts on those feelings. Mamimi too goes through a self-realisation here. She's been bereft since Naota's brother left, and has been consoling herself with replacements, all of which she has insisted on calling Tak-kun after Naota's brother. With Naota refusing to play along, and the kitten apparently deserting her, she finds one final adoptee in the Terminal Core, except it finally dawns on her how stifling her obsession is when the robot starts acting out of control.
I'm just scratching at the surface of this rich anime experience, as its anarchic creativity defies easy analysis. The hints are there in the audio commentary to get you started, but there is a whole lot more to discover besides, and it's a whole lot of fun doing it, with all the in jokes and references that the creators have ladled over their work. The manga panel domesticity returns in the final episode before the 4th wall completely shatters, while episode 5 is worth keeping an eye on for a South Park homage. FLCL is a show that inspires a whole lot of thought about it, and watching it at different times can invoke different feelings. You can see how else the show has affected me in my reviews for the first two volumes, the point being it all applies to the series as a whole. They don't make them like this anymore, in fact they never did. For one brief moment, divine inspiration struck in Japan, and the results were six episodes of perfection. You know if you are a film buff, you're expected to have certain films in your collection to show just how cultured and film literate you are, films like The Godfather, 2001, Rashomon, Battleship Potemkin, the films that come in Criterion editions, and hold pride of place in many a collection because they are cinematic works of art, landmark moments in film history? Only they hardly ever get played, while guilty pleasures like Smokey and the Bandit are actually worn down by the laser in the DVD player. FLCL is the same thing in terms of anime; only these are discs that you will watch again, and again, and again. Every anime fan should have this in their collection, and everyone else should give these discs a spin too, they will blow all your preconceptions about anime out of the water.