Comment permalink

Anime Friday: FLCL

Since I began Anime Friday I've had a question in the back of my mind each time I watch one of the entries. I wonder whether or not I would watch it outside of the context of this project. Even if I rate my enjoyment of a given anime on the high end of the scale, there's no denying that the score is at least partially influenced by the fact that I'm getting paid to watch it. You readers would be surprised how many awful things become bearable if they're just part of a job, just like how good things can become chores in a similar situation. So, sure I can say that I liked Haruhi, but would I watch it just for the sake of entertainment? Nope. I'd rather watch re-runs of Flight of the Conchords or even an episode of American Dad. That said, there are a few series and movies I've watched that I enjoyed on a purer-than-work level. I loved every minute of Paranoia Agent and I've started to approach the embarrassing bloom of fandom for today's entry, FLCL. Written by Yoji Enokido and directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki, FLCL is the heartwarming story of a boy, his oversexed, hyper-religious female friend, an alien girl who rides a Vespa, his lecherous beatnik father, and the TV-shaped robot that popped out of his head because he had a guilt-zit. And that description? That's just the first episode. Plot-wise, FLCL isn't actually that wild in terms of anime. What puts it over the top is its sense of style and pacing. About 80% of the show moves at the brisk clip of a music video while the rest pauses for beautifully-staged, subtext-heavy scenes of emotional intimacy. The story concerns Naoto, a 12-year-old boy in a fictional town that exists in the shadow of a giant robot factory. Naoto's friend, Mamimi, is in love with his older brother Tasuku. Because Tasuku is a baseball player in America, Mamimi unleashes her sexual energy on Naoto instead. Much of this series deals with the psychological complications of sex, especially how strange it can appear to a budding adolescent. In fact, everything is that pubescent context. When scooter-riding alien girl Haruko hits Naoto on the head with her base guitar, he treats the bump more like a zit than anything, even when a robot emerges from it and does battle with a giant mechanical arm. FLCL has an amazing sense of humor and it isn't afraid to let a joke go by too fast to catch the first time around. A lot of it is cultural reference, but in a detached sort of way. This is why I actually recommend the English dub over the subtitled version. A lot of the references were changed so the show could carry the same tone to a different audience. That, and I think it's a waste to have to miss the mile-a-minute visuals because you're busy reading a constant torrent of text at the bottom of the screen. Even more so than Cowboy Bebop, this show is driven by its soundtrack. A rock band called Pillow provides most of the music, some wonderfully driven alterna-rock that fits the MTV (in the 90's) tone of the attitude and action. FLCL may fall slightly more to the side of style rather than substance, but that doesn't mean it's vacuous. The layers here are nothing short of post-modern, making it the best kind of coming-of-age story for our modern society. It's media stimulation to the point of critical mass. Comprehension: 5/10- This is one of those shows that banks on the hope that viewers will be confused. In the context of FLCL this rating reflects one of the show's strengths. At least half the time I couldn't tell what was going to happen next. It definitely starts to show a formula by three episodes in, but this is a true cartoon if I've ever seen one. There is literally nothing that can't happen. Enjoyment: 10/10- For the first time since this project began, I've found a series I plan to continue watching after I'm done with the review. I'm starting to think that the years of 1998-2002 were a miniature Golden Age of anime. Improvement of Understanding: 8/10- While unabashedly PoMo exercises like FLCL don't do much in the academic pursuit of classic anime, I have to acknowledge it for being the key to my entry into fandom. This project has always been about coming to understand why anime is such a pervasive cultural force when it seems so unappealing to so many people from the outside. Acquiring that borderline-embarrassing giddiness over a show is my first honest glimpse into why anime is what it is. Next Week: Read or Die (it's the name of an anime. I'm not threatening you readers. I love you guys).