FLCL Review

This is review number four hundred and fifty three. This anime is part of the Spring 2001 lineup, and it’s called FLCL or Fooly Cooly. It’s a six episode OVA about a lot of random sh*t. I have tons of paragraph about the damn show, so let’s just read on.

Story

Naoto Nandaba lives in this quiet town with a girl that he likes. One day though, a girl riding a Vespa crashed into him and hits him with a guitar on the head. The bruise is so big that it became a portal or sorts for a lot of things, including a cool robot that fights for Naoto. Going through puberty and living under threat of universal crisis, Naoto lives his life trying to make sense of it all.

Taking the Pants Off

Once upon a time, I reviewed Evangelion as a request from a long time reader. After that, he subbed on my patreon and asked me to review FLCL. I didn’t get around to doing it because of life stuff, but here I am now. It only took me two years to get around to it, so it’s not that big of a deal. I do want to apologize for my long time reader for not following up as soon as possible. I mostly didn’t hurry as well because I kinda already saw this anime, and I was convinced back then that this was an overhyped anime. Really, the sentiment still stands. I don’t think this show is that amazing, but I do know I am in the minority. Some people like stories and thicc plots in their anime while some people like all the glitter and sparkles of the medium. After all, it’s a visual medium so there’s nothing wrong with that. KyoAni fans don’t watch K-On for the riveting character development. I’ve made my peace with all of that. I’m old and I’m tired. FLCL is one of those shows that anime fans know by default. It’s that influential of a show, and I think the list goes: Evangelion > Code Geass > Death Note > FLCL > TTGL > FMA Brotherhood. You can bet the default list will be reviewed in due time. Despite its infamy though, FLCL is nothing surprising to me. I just wasn’t impressed by it. I’m sorry. I’m mostly sorry for the dude that waited two years for this review. If there’s one thing that was evident with FLCL though is that it was a product of a phenomena. You see back in 1995, a super depressed director came to Gainax and made a God Status anime. The things achieved in that Freudian nightmare of a show created waves among the industry. FLCL was Gainax embracing its popularity thanks to Evangelion, and they made a solid follow up. FLCL is a showcase anime. This is Gainax. You all love Gainax.

Hideaki Anno

I was always convinced that the legendary director made this anime. I was mistaken. Even though a lot of his style permeates in the anime, this show was actually directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki who was Anno’s protégé. The student was given the reigns to try and be as impactful as his teacher, and I kinda love that idea. Make no mistake as well, Kazuya is a fan of Hideaki Anno. He tries to make copies of Anno’s greatness, and I think casual viewers can be fooled. The visuals, the robot fights, the sleek 90s vintage atmosphere and the psychological themes present in Anno’s work all appears in this anime as well. Kazuya did something sneaky though, because he understood Anno’s limits as a director and he tried to go beyond that. He broke some of Anno’s rules, he took risks that Anno didn’t want to and he tried to break out of his teacher’s shadow the more you get deeper into the show. The first episode is a big indicator of this, because the entire twenty two minutes was actually a direct response to Evangelion. I know it sounds stupid, but Kazuya seemingly saw the last episodes of Evangelion and had a reaction so big he waited till 2001 in a six episode OVA to properly react to it.

Anno’s Evangelion is divine. I can still talk about it in lengths and pinpoint certain scenes that are special to me. Even though the show devolved at some point, Anno was always in control. I always believe that the last two episodes of congratulations was intentional. It wasn’t an animation budget concern and it wasn’t some powers that be stepping into Anno’s creative hand. Nah, Evangelion ended with a suicide. As much as we don’t want to accept it, the show slowly choked itself to death then congratulated itself. I can imagine Kazuya next to Anno internalizing the last two episodes, and he didn’t have the power to object. He was learning from Anno. The ghosts of several Japanese traditions would’ve slapped him countless times if he dares question Anno. You also have to understand that a lot of animators were forged out of fire and iron back in the early days of animation. Discipline was drilled into them and respect was something they had to earn. Kazuya hasn’t earned respect yet, so he saw Evangelion commit suicide in real time. It must’ve been one hell of an experience. FLCL’s first episode is a response to Evangelion, because an element of “hope” was always present in the show.

Congratulations

A lot of FLCL’s thing is metaphorical. I mean, this is basically an erection:

There is no two ways about it. The dude is having an erection, and a lot of sex talk is actually vomited into the anime. It’s like the creators of Kill la Kill and Panty and Stockings were having a stroke when this anime was released. FLCL’s storytelling is actually very loose and intentionally sloppy. There is an overall story, but it’s covered with thick layers of metaphors and the ever “anime is art” deal that makes it such a headache to watch. We’ll be dissecting this sh*t, don’t worry. Let’s focus on that response to Evangelion first. You see, FLCL’s characters are all troubled in their own way. Honestly, Naoto is like a mini Shinji but a lot more likeable. Naoto has this weird relationship with an older girl that used to like his big brother. Naoto’s brother moved to the states though, and the girl has since been using Naoto as a proxy of sorts. Naoto likes the girl, so he just goes along with it. All of this plot elements eventual turn into a Freudian thing wherein FLCL actually did something Evangelion didn’t do. It tried to be mature about it. It explains to its audience in the first episode alone, that problems come and go. We face it and we become better people afterwards. We should never give up “hope” and suddenly reach for a congratulations. There is always a better option out there. We just have to go find it. This sentiment is all the more felt in the second episode wherein the show explains that “traumas” can be overcome. A burned building will always have ashes left behind, but that doesn’t mean you can’t blow those ashes away. And how about the third episode where life’s problems is eventually solved by simply kicking it in the teeth. There is this upbeat positivity to FLCL that seemingly rejects Evangelion’s entire thesis. Anno’s work was always about depression and the pointless struggle of life. FLCL, on the other hand, takes you by the hand and tells you dead in the eye that those feelings are part of life. To live is to suffer, but that doesn’t mean you ONLY have to suffer. Sometimes you just have to take a guitar to the face and move on with life.

I think this is really the biggest selling point of FLCL. It’s completely different from Evangelion. It tries to be anti-NGE, but in a roundabout way. There’s a reason a six episode OVA is beloved by people as much as a twenty four episode mecha that ended with a congratulation. FLCL made an impact with people. You could argue, it was Gainax’s second impact. Trigger made the third. Aha! Evangelion references for you! Evangelion references for me!

Plot Vomit

As I said before, this anime tells a story two ways. It has a general plot about an alien and a giant iron, and there is also a metaphorical one about human libido. Yes, Jebus Christ almighty, let’s talk about libido. Wiki-sama states that it is a person’s overall sexual drive or desire for sexual activity. Libido is influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors. That’s kinda it, really. The anime talks heavily about a character’s sex drive interlaced through the many different factors of their life. The big horn sticking out of Naoto is a giant erection brought upon his messed up experiences with a high school girl, a more mature woman and his resentment of his brother. I do not want to see the climax of that sex drive. The character’s libido eventually turns into a giant mecha to fulfill the Gainax aspect of the show though. We love giant robots because we are 90s filth, and this anime proves it. As much as I am a fan of exposition and subtext though, the anime doesn’t really use its metaphors wisely. Often the spectacle is very shallow. It reminds me of that glowing nipples in Kill la Kill. It’s just there for the visual aspect of it. It doesn’t do anything beyond that, and it is a shame. Clearly Kazuya didn’t learn a lot from Anno. With FLCL, it seems like he is more a fan of the director than someone that actually learned from him.

Anno doesn’t end an anime with a congratulation just for the heck of it. He also didn’t do it for the mere shock value or to have people talking. He did it, because he wanted people to know what it feels like to hang on for so long and eventually let go of everything. Anno is a methodical director. He devolved a mecha show with intense animation to its storyboards not for the visuals spectacle or just because he can do it. He is stripping the show of its identity, as much as depression can strip you of your sense of worth and of your reason to live. He doesn’t do an elevator scene with no animation just because he wants to. No, all of this sh*t is calculated and deep. I can understand Anno not being able to teach his nuanced style, because it’s uniquely his. Kazuya seemingly missed the point with Anno’s work though. He made FLCL not as Anno’s protégé, but a fan. A nerd, basically. He was inspired by the animation, the fan service and the psychological themes but he kinda missed the point of it all. Or maybe did, and he just didn’t want to be another Anno. He wanted people to know Kazuya’s style more. Either way, it was not that impressive. Some plot holes are conveniently covered up by the metaphors and some of the show’s logic is also chalked up to symbolism, but it shouldn’t be. I remember the third episode featuring a character’s libido monster defeated by spicy curry, and it doesn’t really make sense because previous monsters were defeated by a guitar. The symbolism and the metaphors doesn’t really stay consistent, and you can feel there is no effort to be consistent. Kazuya seemingly thinks a messy presentation will get people talking and will awe the audience. It’s frustrating, because it’s like he seemingly admitted he can’t be as great as Anno so he tried to be someone else uniquely. I guess it is unfair to judge his work to Anno’s, but the entire OVA felt like a response to Anno directly. It felt like a middle finger to the standards that Anno was forged in. The anime industry will undergo change, and this anime declares it. Gone are the days of people like Miyazaki and their anal approach to animation. Anime is now wild and loose, and I bet none of these f*ckers expected the moe revolution will come after.

Spirals

There is a more linear story here, but it wasn’t apparent until the fourth episode. There is apparently an alien king somewhere, and Haruhara is trying to open a portal to get to the king using Naoto. The kid is apparently special, and he can call the king but a bunch of people doesn’t want him to call the king. It climaxes into something stupid, or whatever. I’m brushing off the linear plot, because the anime doesn’t really prioritize it as well. Honestly, it feels insulting to even have one. The only thing of note with the linear story of the alien king is it somehow resembles Teggen Toppan Gurren Langgan. There is this magical thing that the characters are trying to achieve, and Yoko is honestly a more sexed up version of Haruhara. It’s kinda scary the influence FLCL had with the industry, and it’s even scarier that FLCL’s existence is brought upon by Evangelion so the God Status anime inadvertently birthed a lot of regrettable things. I don’t want to do this review anymore. I keep circling back to Evangelion whenever I discuss something. I guess to discuss FLCL in its bare bones, the show actually had a simple goal in mind.

Coming of Age

Yup, the entire show might be muddled and insane but it’s essentially a coming of age story. It’s about Naoto reaching puberty, learning to become more mature, understanding how to release his libido and eventually grow as a better person. The alien king story and the libido metaphors eventually serve just this one theme. Naoto is growing up, life can be crazy and there are emotions brought upon by pretty girls. He must now learn to express himself better, handle people in a more mature manner and become a better version of himself later on. This is apparent with Naoto hating sour drinks until he ends the series drinking bitter coffee. I love that, but I hate the fact that the show point it out. Still, throughout the six episodes, Naoto is always involved in all of it. He’s just a boy that likes mature woman, and he must now find a way to deal with that fact.

I read back on this review, and I realize there is actually very little to write about this anime. Look at this section of the post. The theme of the coming of age is barely long enough to be called a section of the review. This is ultimately the problem with this anime. It is forgettable. The show might be a crazy experience, but it lacked any real substance beyond its animation. It even lost steam in the final episode, and it used its metaphors to cover up its lazy storytelling. I can write loads about a show that impacted me like Evangelion, and I can even write stuff about an anime I hate but FLCL is neither. When it comes down to it, the show is just OK. It’s fine. It’s passable. I saw NGE three years ago and still remember the congratulations, the storyboard animation and the elevator scene. I just finished FLCL and I don’t remember much of it. It had cool robots, I guess. In terms of its plot and meaningful symbolisms, the anime is forgettable. I think that’s why I was able to rewatch this show, because I barely remember it from my first time watching it. This is just my subjective opinion though, but the entire anime is sorely forgettable. Outside its animation, there is little to love in this show because it’s all just noise. It’s just loud banging and random paint splatters that might look smart if you look hard enough. I am honestly not impressed though. I do still think the anime deserved its status as one of the default anime to watch, but it’s not something I would personally tell people to go see. Hideaki Anno’s anime suicide is a lot more interesting.

Gainax

Did you guys know that Hideaki Anno’s actual follow up to Evangelion is a romance anime called KareKano? I saw that when I was in high school. The anime was wild, and I think I should review it too. I talked in lengths about Kazuya so let me talk about the studio here. Gainax had an intense following after the release of Evangelion. I think the follow up movie proved the fans were tuning in. They seem to be a studio of anime fanatics banding together to just serve the fandom. I like that, because having a good relationship with your audience is always a nice thing. I think a lot of internal conflict prevented the studio to consistently create magic though. As you all know, Trigger was made up of former Gainax people. I think Anno himself had a falling out with the studio and this kinda muddied the studio’s legacy. I think it was a problem with ideals, since old gruffs ran the studio while wide eyed youths are doing the animation. The story of the studio is a curious one, but you can’t deny the big influence it had. Production IG also had a hand here, and this is after their big hype with Ghost in the Shell’s first use of CGI. I think a lot of the animation here used some advanced doodads, but you won’t really notice it. The animation blended seamlessly, and that’s honestly the best thing about this anime. Let’s talk about the animation now.

Sight and Sound

Yoshiyuki Sadamoto design the characters, and I think it’s one of the best elements of the anime. I’m all praises from this point on, so I should’ve started this review talking about the visuals. Sadamoto’s design just oozes style. From the way the characters dress to the various libido monsters in the series, there is this pop funk feel to the show that is uniquely FLCL. It still pay homage to Gainax’s God Status anime, but it is distinctly its own. I particularly love how each character stands out visually, because of how meticulously designed they are. I counted eight or nine people in the show, and I still vividly remember them. From the guy with the seaweed eyebrows to the sexed up middle schooler to the Vespa riding alien chick, each character stood out amazingly just from the way Yoshiyuki designed them. Style is something this anime doesn’t lack. Every single thing is amazingly designed. The guitars have so much detail to them, and even the stupid iron that overlooks the city looks awesome. You’d think Hideaki Anno had no hand in this anime, and you’d be wrong. He helped in the mecha design, but I’m not sure if he solely designed them. In Evangelion, he created every mecha monster which is why we had an abortion in one episode. I think Anno designed the monsters, since they feel distinctly his style but I think Kazuya also made sure he had a touch in it by making the monsters look less menacing. Yes, the robots here aren’t metaphorical fetuses the characters must defeat. Ok, yeah, they’re libido monsters, but they look more like Persona 4 bosses than anything Anno actually concocted. I would’ve loved to see Anno just go wild on the mecha design though, because I know he would’ve added some spice to the entire thing. On their own, I think the monsters are still stylish. I particularly love the robot TV that pops out in the first episode. The dude even tried to fly in the second episode, it was surreal to watch.

Animation is incredible. I think this is the main thing that makes this anime persist. The animation is just on a whole different level. I particularly love how chaotic the presentation is, yet you can still feel the storyboard coming to life. You can tell people that love animation animated this show, and it resonates with me. Passion is something you cannot fake, and the animation had plenty of passion. If you pause the anime at any point, you can tell a lot of detail and love was poured into every frame. It’s really incredible. The pacing tends to be a bit chaotic, but I do think it also adds to the style of the show. I am particularly impressed with Kazuya employing Anno’s love of foreground and background in the first few episodes, and he completely shifts tone in the final episodes as if telling us he was Anno’s protégé but he is his own director. There were some scenes that went too far, like the manga panel scenes that devolve into chaos, but I think it was still a stylish choice by FLCL. I think the only thing I didn’t like is the use of pop culture references in some episodes. I think episode five featured a Lupin and South Park reference that I absolutely hated. They didn’t need to go there.

In terms of shot composition and camera angles, Kazuya is one hell of a director though. He never lets the camera fix on a single position. He makes sure it moves along with the characters, and it’s absolutely breathtaking at some points. He knows when to employ wide shots and when to do close ups. He makes sure the intensity of a scene is rightfully told by the animation. This is hard to do. I will admit making an anime move like this is extremely complicated, but Kazuya makes it looks easy. This was released in 2001. Most shows were adapting cell animation digitally at this stage, but it is awkwardly implemented. FLCL had CGI, cell animation and traditional hand drawn backgrounds all coming together to create this behemoth of a show. I also love those single frame shots, wherein keen eyed viewers are rewarded with more references and love from the creators, because it’s evident a nerd made this anime for other nerds to enjoy.

You can’t talk about FLCL without mentioning the music. The Pillows provided the soundtrack for this six episode OVA, and each song is amazing. This is actually the only thing that I remember from my first time watching. A lot of insert songs are earworms, and a lot of scenes are elevated by the band’s music. I still remember the impact of the song “Little Busters”, and the “I think I can” song punched me with nostalgia so hard I was unintentionally smiling after hearing it. As I rewatch it, I have come to appreciate more songs in the anime. There are simple acoustic songs played in mellow scenes that I absolutely adored. If these nerds were around during youtube, then you’d bet they’d be making AMVs of their favorite anime. They’re actual professionals though, and they basically made AMVs in their short OVA. The soundtrack for this anime is absolutely something I highly recommend to people. I think a lot of the scenes in this anime will hit you hard because of how effective the soundtrack is.

Voice acting is top notch. Fun fact, Hideaki Anno made a cameo in this show by voicing the fat cat in Naoto’s house. He was actually the only awkward voice in the series. The rest of the cast really stood out in their performances. I think Mayumi Shintani made a generation orgasm with her Haruhara voice. We all wanted a freaky guitar swinging chick in our life simply because of how inviting Mayumi’s performance is. Izumi Kasagi’s Mamimi is also brilliant. She captured the dumb immature personality of the character, but also gave justice to her unexplainable sex appeal. The fanservice in this anime is something that didn’t really register with me. Hearing Kasagi’s voice made Mamimi sexy to me though. I also love the subtle Asuka character in the third episode and Mika Itou made the reference obvious with her solid performance. Jun Mizuki’s Naoto is also phenomenal. It’s hard to explain, but he feels like a Shinji character but more likeable mostly because of how Jun portrayed him. The way the cast play off each other is also something I really admire. It’s not much but hearing the characters talk kinda made me want to pay attention to all of them. Yes, even the side characters.

The anime’s ED is “Ride On Shooting Star” by The Pillows. I think a lot of insert songs opened the show, but it only had one ED song with a proper ED sequence. This song kinda embodies the anime. The lyrics are a bit nonsensical but it is stylish and oozing with coolness. It also climaxes into a catchy chorus. I love the ED sequence, especially the stop motion scene of the Vespa travelling a street, interacting with a girl and then speeding away. I especially love how even the camera moved while the Vespa was twirling. It was insane.

Overall Score

7/10 “This anime is beloved for its intense animation and production value. I respect that, but it lacks any real substance.”

Some people might rate this show a solid eight or nine, but it’s completely forgettable for me. It lacked impact in ways I wanted to be impacted. I apologize for being bias. I know wholeheartedly I shouldn’t knock the show for its lack of story, but anime is not just about animation. I will drool at sakuga like most anime fan, but I mostly come back for the story. Still, being one of the default anime to watch, this show is a must see. I recommend it.

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2 thoughts on “FLCL Review

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