Reviewby Jonathan Mays, Mar 29th 2003
Gainax has built a reputation for injecting a generous portion of creativity into their productions. If the combined artistry of the studio's prior works could be captured and channeled into a single series, FLCL would be the result. It is raw, uncensored energy, tortured ambivalence, and unpredictable insanity. It is also perhaps Gainax's greatest achievement.
FLCL—or “Fooly Cooly”—features the wild escapades of twelve-year-old Naota Nandaba. Naota is first introduced as a depressed, confused young boy who's tormented by his brother's departure to America to play baseball. He's left with his brother's former girlfriend, a peculiar girl who desires an erratic, discomforting relationship with Naota. And that's the “normal” part. Complaining insistently that “nothing ever happens” in his life, he then witnesses the construction of a smoke-spewing iron contraption in his neighborhood, followed by an unexpected visit from Haruko Haruhara, a self-proclaimed alien with a gas-powered electric guitar.
This second volume features (in order) a scandalous secretary, a motorbike accident, a murder, a shower cap, a coed sleepover, deadly cat-like ears, a baseball game, a bloody nose, a disturbing sex scene, and a man with very large eyebrows. “Bizarre” and “random” are understatements of unimaginable magnitude.
Nevertheless, regarding the plot, FLCL bats a thousand. Naota's futile struggle to live a normal life is at once hilarious and harrowing, a conflict that lays the foundation for a fantastic animated journey. The bizarre premise functions perfectly within the series' frantic pacing, and the diverse offerings of fascinating characters invite the viewer's empathy. Yet even the best series strike out once in a while. It happens a few times in FLCL—when Naota watches three Haruko fastballs blistering high and tight over the plate, that is.
Chaos rules FLCL. Typical anime series often strive for an atmosphere of consistency, but director Kazuya Tsurumaki chooses instead to embrace unrelenting randomness. In fact, the included director's commentary reveals that many a scene and item were included because “they looked cool.” Now that's creative freedom.
It's a daring decision but a successful one, as the series thrives in its insanity. Unlike the energetic but sometimes grating Excel Saga, FLCL punctuates its levity with brief glimpses of the plot's somber “loss of innocence” undercurrent. The disconcerting turbulence is omnipresent but rarely emerges in the foreground of the episodes. To its credit, FLCL doesn't get caught up in its message; it remains appropriately low-key. The subtle exploration of adolescent trials is an ideal foil for the series' tumultuous comedy, a pleasing diversion from FLCL's otherwise persistent intensity.
FLCL's visual presentation is a radical departure from normality. The art vacillates wildly between styles that are muted yet detailed, super-deformed, vibrant and colorful, minimalist, and even Matrix-like multiple point of view. Sometimes it's to emphasize a shift in tone, but often the changes are simply for the sake of variety. One element remains consistent: regardless of its form, every scene of Production I.G's animation is of the very highest quality.
Rarely does the soundtrack so perfectly integrate with an anime series. In typical Gainax fashion, the studio turned away from standard fare and selected instead a collection of pieces from a little-known group, The Pillows. Their alternative-rock sound solidifies the show by supplying a much-needed dose of maturity and reality to the outlandish world of FLCL.
If FLCL has any significant drawback, it's the brevity of the OVA series. At only six episodes, there simply isn't enough time to develop each of the characters and pursue the plot's many branches. It's hard to imagine any series accomplishing more in such a short period of time, but FLCL's rich development suggests a plethora of untapped potential. In the end, one may only dream—or write fan fiction.
Undoubtedly, some will be discouraged by the low episode count of this three-disc series, but it would be unwise to judge this series by its running time. Synch-Point's first class treatment of FLCL—complete with a twenty-page booklet, reversible cover, and an exclusive director's commentary—only add to the value of this sensible purchase. Besides, every minute of FLCL is more than worth the price.
FLCL does not lend itself well to piecemeal analysis. Yes, the vivid—and extremely dynamic—digital animation is stunning, the eerily similar language tracks are engaging, and the music contributes perfectly to the mood. But if you, like I, become so enchanted by its ideas, so enthralled by its chaos, you won't fixate on the vehicles of this most satisfying head trip.
Enjoy the ride.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : B+
+ Completely ignores every convention of animation and storytelling
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