I saw God the other day, by the river on a rainy afternoon. He helped a kitten that was left all alone. It's a god that only I can see. A black winged angel that came down from the heavens just for me.
In a few words: love, sex, guitars, robots, rock and roll. Vespas, hospitals, nurse outfits, giant hands, even larger hand irons. The end of the world, and the end of childhood. All of adolescence condensed into two hours and thirty minutes. Is it a music video? A science fiction series? A comedy show? Why did the main character just get hit in the head by an electric guitar? Is that girl really an alien, like she says? What does it mean to overflow? Did they really just go there? Yes. They did.
FLCL isn't a show you watch--it's a show you feel. It possesses real, tangible weight, and absolutely none of it comes from pretension. It is one of the most heartfelt evocations of the stirrings of adolescence ever created, while at the same time steering clear of anything remotely cloying or sentimental. It is an Important Work that gleefully gives the middle finger to Important Works everywhere while riding a yellow Vespa into the sunset, cackling insanely. It is also completely impenetrable. Viewers watching it for the first time will be dazed. Viewers watching it for the second time will be confused. Viewers watching it for the third time will be elated. Viewers without a working knowledge of Japanese culture will be insulted. Viewers used to the conventional will be repulsed.
Make no mistake: there is room for the conventional in this world. Spirited Away is a "conventional" animated film and is also one of the best animated films ever made. Ditto for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, or even Fullmetal Alchemist. FLCL is so unconventional that its title is pronounced "Fooly Cooly" and not "FLCL." There is a scene in FLCL where a girl in a bunny suit rides a robot and faces off against a giant hand wearing a trenchcoat. Enough said.
Looking up at the scores, you may wonder how FLCL scored a ten for story when part of the plot involves the scenario mentioned in the above paragraph. The first answer to come to mind is that the is, but I think that while FLCL is self-indulgent and opaque to a point, it is also, in the way that the best cult works are, intended for certain people in this world. You know who you arplot does not matter, that FLCL is so different from anything else out there that focusing on the physics of the universe in which the story takes place is missing the point. That's the lifeline that many cling to after their first watch of FLCL: that FLCL is "random," that its nothing more than slightly less than three hours of noise. The truth is that FLCL is more than that, but it takes a certain kind of person to see it. For me, after the second or third viewing the show opened up like a lotus blossom and made me understand, and smile. I do think that there are people out there, though, who intuitively "get" FLCL on the first try. I've met one or two of these people, but any connection between them is tenuous, at best.
You're the one I saw first, Ta-kun.
The cast of FLCL is essentially five strong, and despite the fact that only these five recieve any significant character development they remain some of the most distinctive characters in anime. Haruko (if that's her real name,) housekeeper and alien, is simultaneously hilarious, crazy and incredibly cunning. Canti's television head remains iconic, simultaneously goofy (in blue mode) and badass (in red.) Mamimi's brokenness beats the Evangelion girls at their own game, while Ninamori represents a rarity--a female supporting character who is not only working through issues of adolescence just as significant in the grand scheme of things as the main character's, but also manages to work through them episodes before the protaganist resolves his. Then there's Naota, who is both sympathetic and a little alienating; an aspiring adult marooned in a town in which adults are idiots, looking for meaning in a world that is, despite invading alien forces, profoundly banal.
That's not to say that FLCL is particularily subtle, especially regarding its interweaving of sexual imagery into the plot. It's about as subtle as a guitar to the face. If you're easily turned off by rampant sexual imagery, then FLCL may turn you off around the time that one of the girls sprouts a giant many-legged uterus from her forehead and goes on a rampage across the school. But in some ways, this lack of subtlety is unavoidable, especially considering the subject matter. Sex does play an enormous role in adolescence, and so if you take FLCL as the inside of Naota's mind, opened up and broadcasted onto the outside, then the presence of sexual imagery in every part of the show makes sense. We see things through his uniquely distorted lenses, after all.
If that thing hits, do you think we'll have school tomorrow?
Almost every song in FLCL comes from a Japanese rock band called the pillows. After seeing FLCL the first couple of times, these songs will haunt you the rest of your life. Whether these songs are actually any good or not is irrelevant, because a) they are and b) they are damn catchy. Seeing a yellow Vespa on the street triggers the nonsensical "Ride on Shooting Star." Sprinting in a track meet brings up "Blues Drive Monster." Feeling under the weather on a foggy day brings up "Carnival." As FLCL is the dictionary definition of adolescence, the soundtrack of FLCL is the aural definition. The show is inseperable from its music.
On the matter of sound, the English dub for the show is one of the best English dubs of all time. It takes a show riddled with jokes specific to Japanese culture and somehow renders it comphrehensible and funny. You might become so attatched to the English voices that you will never desire to hear the characters any other way ever again. I know this from experience.
Nothing amazing happens here. Everything is ordinary.
FLCL isn't for everybody. A number of people who have seen it that I greatly respect don't particularily care for it. One person I showed it to could only take three episodes, and afterwards said that she couldn't connect to any of the characters, or to the plot for that matter. So perhaps FLCL is not for everybody. It's a show that requires time, and patience, and also a willingness to not take things too seriously. Watching the show more than once helps.
But if this review perks your interest, or if you've thought about watching FLCL before, then you owe it to yourself to drop whatever you have on hand and watch it as soon as you have the chance. Then watch it again, preferably with friends. It's one of the few anime I've seen (except for perhaps Revolutionary Girl Utena) that I'd label as art, and a show that, despite its quirkiness, is required viewing for everybody interested in Japanese animation.
Legs straight, same width as the shoulders. Then hit the ball like you're defeating the enemy. See? The pinky finger is the key. Then you swing. Ka-king! He who conquers the left side conquers the world, chief.