Sometimes, you watch something at just the right moment in your life. For years I had watched anime, but it always felt so distant. No, I was never going to be a superhuman martial artist, a magical girl, or pilot my own giant robot. As cool as everything I watched was, it was hard to relate to, as a dumb, antisocial, kid. And then, as if someone had been watching me, taking pity on a kid whose only outlet in life was playing video games and watching cartoons, a promo popped up on Adult Swim.
I couldn’t believe it. It felt like the promo was made just for me. Naoto’s narration carried the same bored and indifferent tone I’d often find myself using. The animation wasn’t quite like anything I’d seen before. And thanks to Gundam, anything that even resembled a robot was enough for me to throw my hands up in excitement.
FLCL is a 6 episode OVA, produced by Studio Gainax and Production I.G, and aired on April 26, 2000. It was directed by Otsuka, Masahiko, with the animation directed by Imaishi Hiroyuki; the dream team who would later go on to establish one of my favorite studios, Trigger. The soundtrack was handled by the Japanese alternative rock band The Pillows and remains one of the most iconic soundtracks in all of Anime.
The story revolves around Naota Nandaba, a 12-year-old boy living in a mundane town, with little to do. But his life completely changes when he is run over by a spontaneous and violent pink-haired woman, named Haruko. Smacking Naoto in the head with a Rickenbacker Bass Guitar, Haruko opens a portal from which strange creatures emerge. Naoto soon finds Haruko living in his home as a maid, as she uses him to battle the forces of the Galactic Corporation, Medical Mechanica.
If you’ve never watched FLCL, the series can come off as flippant and obtuse upon first viewing. While the animation is top-notch, and the soundtrack killer, each episode flys by at a lightning pace. It can be hard to digest the amount of information they are trying to throw out you. It’s not hard to see why some might consider FLCL to have little substance. But if you can get past its flashy exterior, lies a wonderful coming-of-age story, about a boy who has to learn how to be an adult in a world full of children.
The first time I ever watched FLC, It spoke to me on a level like no other show had. Here was Naoto, this cynical and jaded kid who wanted nothing more than some peace and quiet. Yet he was ill-prepared to handle the arrival of Haruko, to deal with Mamimi’s codependency or the uselessness of his father. Naota tries to act mature, to make up for the childish nature of the adults surrounding him, not realizing that he himself is still just a kid. This is captured impeccably in the very last scene. Even after everything he has gone through, Naota still prefers sweet beverages over bitter ones. Naota still has a lot of growing up to do, and that’s just fine. Maturity shouldn’t be something to be rushed. It has to naturally occur through time. How he dealt with growing up gave me a lot of insight as a kid going through a similar situation. I saw a lot of myself in him, for better or worse.
Years went by before I went back and rewatched the series. What I had found most surprising was that in those few short years, I had grown to relate so much to Mamimi. You see, I had very little friends growing up. So, I tended to cling onto the few friends I did have. While it wasn’t all that surprising when they ditched me after entering middle school, it still hurt like hell. Like Mamimi, I struggled with issues of dependency all throughout High School. It became a vicious cycle of forming new friendships and holding on as tight as I could. I knew that as long as I had someone to rely on, I could continue to wallow in my self-pity, unobstructed. Nothing mattered. And as I watched her, I recognized I wasn’t all that different. Just another pathetic loser with nowhere to go, always having to depend on others.
At the end of the series, Mamimi decides to leave Mabase to become a photographer in America. Her last words to Naota show she is trying to break away from her dependency. She chooses to move forward and leave everything behind. Mamimi realizes that unless she takes action for herself; until she learns to live for herself, nothing will ever change. It gave me hope that even someone like myself could take that step, even if it the road ahead is a painful one. It was inspiring and made me want to go out and make a change. That’s why I loved FLCL so much. At more than one point in my life, it was able to perfectly depict the struggles I had been going through. Had I not watched the show when I did, I might not have the deep appreciation for it that I do now. It is truly a classic, and will always have a special place in my heart.
Which brings me to the second season. After 18 years, we are finally getting a continuation of this beloved series. I decided to reserve talking more about Haruko because as much as I love her crazy antics, she always felt more like a plot device than an actual character. What I want to see most from the second season is a better insight into Haruko as a character. Simply having her appear for the sake of getting the story started would be a massive waste of her character. There is still so much to explore with her relationship with Atomsk and his power. Lots of interesting places you could take with her character, and after 18 years, we deserve to see some closure.
I’m glad to see that some of the old staff is returning for the second season. We have series creator Tsurumaki, Kazuya and character designer Sadamoto, Yoshiyuki on board, and from what we’ve seen in the trailer, season 2 certainly captures the looks of the original. Motohiro Katsuyuki, most notable for directing Psycho-Pass, is the director this time around. From my experience watching Psycho-Pass, he seems like a capable director, but maybe not the right fit for the more out-there insanity of FLCL
The biggest thing I am worried about is that without Otsuka, Masahiko and Imaishi Hiroyuki, we might get a much tamer second season. But I want to give Motohiro Katsuyuki the benefit of the doubt and say he will do a fine job. And last, but certainly not least, we have The Pillows returning. Had The Pillows not return, I would have not watched the second season. Yes, I find their music that critical to the FLCL experience. FLCL season 2 is off to a good start, now let’s see if they can actually deliver!