Friday, April 9, 2010

Anime review: FLCL

Naota is bored with his life and his hometown. As he puts it: “nothing amazing ever happens here.” That is until a strange girl with pink hair rides into town on a Vespa scooter and whacks Naota in the skull with her guitar. As unexpected as the intro is, it is both incredibly impactful and important in setting up the events that play out the entirety of FLCL (pronounced ‘Fooly Cooly’).

Naota is a fairly mellow middle school student who doesn’t understand why people get worked up over small things, and doesn’t exactly enjoy the company of his father. He thinks his classmates are too much to take and that his brother’s girlfriend Mamimi is too clingy. But Haruko, as annoying as he claims her to be, piques Naota’s interest more and more as FLCL progresses, and he learns from her how to be free-spirited and enjoy life.

Haruko is an alien who has been tracking down the power of the pirate king Atomsk. She attempts to use Naota’s head as a portal to reach Atomsk and his seemingly limitless power, but Naota’s head yields plenty of other troubles along the way. Each of the objects that erupt from Naota’s head plays a greater role in the end of the series, but for the first three episodes, they are passed off as being relatively unrelated. In order to keep tabs on Naota’s progress and the objects his head spits forth, Haruko convinces the boy’s father to hire her as a maid. Haruko constantly shows up to help Naota deal with the otherworldly creations of his otherwise empty mind, mixing stylized action with a plentiful helping of humor.

Mamimi plays a relatively minor role compared to Naota and Haruko, but is arguably still a main character. She was previously dating Naota’s elder brother, until he left to play baseball in the United States. Now she spends most of her time hanging out with Naota, teasing him about his supposed disinterest in girls. Underneath, however, Mamimi is lonely and doesn’t get along with her classmates well, so she confides in Naota as her only friend.

The other characters are not nearly as developed, but that's to be expected from a series this short. As such, most of them will likely become forgettable in the long run. Some viewers may find the main cast to fit certain anime stereotypes, such as Naota being borderline emo and Haruko being spontaneous in her attempts to accquire the power of Atomsk. This is largely true, and is one of the few weak points of the series as a whole.

Most of FLCL’s best jokes come from poking fun at other anime series, most notably Lupin the Third and Neon Genesis Evangelion. These are used in both more obvious and in-your-face instances, such as Naota’s father’s choice of suits, as well as more subtle references, such as the first major fight sequence atop the bridge drawing inspiration from Gundam and Evangelion. However, the parodies are not limited to anime, as the animators decided to try their hand at recreating South Park with “Mr. Eyebrows” ranting about his romantic problems. Even if viewers have not seen these constantly referenced series, they can still be assured plenty of laughs, from Haruko’s rock star outfit to the outrageous attitudes of Naota’s classmates, and my personal favorite, “Little Prince Curry Goes to New York”, a supposedly mild curry for children that burns Naota’s mouth, causes his grandpa to pass out in his bowl, and gives Ninamori diarrhea. The characters also break the fourth wall from time to time. Naota asks the audience if they are as confused as he is when Haruko begins ranting about famous rock stars, while his father has to cut a scene short because of its apparent high cost for the animators.

The soundtrack is absolutely brilliant, comprised exclusively of tracks from the band The Pillows. Some of their songs may feel a bit similar from time to time, but overall the soundtrack mixes things up enough to convey the moods of each scene quite well. If nothing else, the soundtrack is infectiously catchy. The art style, on the other hand, will probably make viewers pull a double-take to make sure this series was actually produced in 2000. In complete honesty, this series looks so much better than most present-day series. Granted it was only six episodes in length, so the animators had plenty of time to fine-tune things, but even so this is one of the best looking anime ever released, with bright and vibrant colors in the foreground playing off a watercolor-style background. This is one of a select few anime series where I actually prefer the English voice actors over the original Japanese cast, because of how fitting each voice is and how well the character’s emotions are conveyed.

Between the threat of a giant steam iron flattening out the wrinkles of all the brains on the planet, Naota’s grandpa complaining to robot Kanti that he “wanted the Hustler with the Anna Nicole centerfold”, Ninamori growing a giant spider-like alien out of her skull, and Haruko engaging Amarao in a John Woo-style shootout with the neck of her guitar, FLCL does an magnificent job of setting itself apart from the rest of the crowd. Far too often an anime will attempt to parody other series and end up throwing the story off course. FLCL manages to keep things on track, while still maintaining a heaping helping of action and humor. Though it is a short six episodes long, FLCL is one of the best anime of the decade and a major accomplishment for something that was more or less an experiment on Gainax’s part.

My Rating: 9.5 (out of 10)

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