by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 1 of
FLCL Alternative ?
FLCL is most consistently famous for being as outrageous as possible. It's a show that translates the tumultuous feelings of adolescence into acute visual insanity. This third iteration in what has become a FLCL trilogy, FLCL Alternative, seems to be concerned with the adolescence of humanity itself, set in a near-future where mankind is on the cusp of full-fledged space travel, while the adolescent main characters are about to launch their own lives. But despite that threat of a grand scale, the most unexpectedly notable aspect of this premiere is just how down-to-Earth it feels.
Of course, this isn't our first brush with the first episode of FL3L, since we actually got a taste of it (in subtitled form) nearly six months ago. It is interesting to see the episode again with an English dub (always happy to hear Kari Wahlgren again), with the cast bringing the same sort of cartoonish energy to the series I expect from FLCL dubs. It stands in contrast to the Japanese performance, which I recall feeling rather low-key. The show surprisingly doesn't gain much from having now seen its predecessor FLCL Progressive; for all Haruko went through in that series, she seems to be back to her more ambiguous motivations again, and there's no sign of Jinyu at all. New government-agent Kanda does bear a suspicious resemblance to Iide from Progressive, as well as already revealing that he shares a past with Haruko, but that's all speculation at this point. As-is, this first episode can stand on its own with only the original FLCL as a background detail.
That's probably the most interesting quality of this whole thing, how unique it feels from the rest of its franchise thus far. Whereas Progressive seemed repeatedly rooted in critiquing and contrasting the show it was sequelizing (often to distraction), Alternative seems content simply to be its own thing. There's a momentary shot of ‘Never Knows Best’, a nod to a character trait of being willing to eat spicy foods, but the plot and characters so far seem amazingly at ease in their own unique molds. Kana and her group of friends have an entirely different dynamic than the high-strung horny weirdos that populated the previous FLCLs, and it immediately distinguishes the show for the better.
Given how much of this episode is dedicated to just hanging out with these girls, it's a good thing they're eminently likable. Kana's perhaps underdeveloped right now, with the show playing coy about what's going on within her that would merit being the main character of an FLCL sequel. The others fall into seemingly stock boxes of witty, goofy, and pretty, but with some hints of more interesting depths to come, such as Mossan's propensity for rocket engineering. It will be interesting to see how much of the ensemble-cast style of Progressive is inherited by Alternative, and how much it can do with these characters to accelerate to a climax from this almost too-lax beginning.
Indeed, probably the biggest criticism I can level at this first episode is how it feels like a generally solid high school slice-of-life story where Haruko from FLCL crashes in at the last minute to fight a giant robot. Thus far, the girls' modest ambitions haven't been developed with the world-ending intensity paid to Naoto or Hidomi's relatable childhood issues. For all Haruko's observations that Kana is ‘tangled up’ inside or her ability to utilize N.O., she seems to be a relatively well-adjusted girl, recognizing that the ambitions society expects kids her age to adopt are perhaps premature, but still having the will to rebuild a destroyed bottle rocket with all of her friends.
At least the show still looks good at this point. Production I.G's workmanlike spin on the FLCL aesthetic continues on from Progressive, but the character models seem more immediately expressive this time. There are also some clever visual tricks deployed in this otherwise low-key episode, like the switching split-screen around Mossan's rocket explanation. And Haruko bursting her way in at the end for that robot fight looks even better than I remember it being all those months ago, though that could simply be a result of coming off the messy lack of consistency from FLCL Progressive. It still has yet to match the animated excess of the original, but this first episode of Alternative is already playing with the fluidity of its animation, turning out fun to watch in spite of its mostly subdued subject matter. And of course the soundtrack by The Pillows is perfect as ever, with the ending theme and adorable accompanying animation being a highlight that almost makes this whole sequel experiment worthwhile on its own.
Even with all the uncertainty surrounding these sequels so far, the seeds of potential are strong in FLCL Alternative's premiere. It's possible we'll get more insight into why Haruko sees power worth pursuing in Kana, and it will be interesting to see how the girls' adventurous ambitions tie into humanity's rapidly-developing space program. Basically, the series has me intrigued about what comes next despite lacking the crazy, inexplicable plot-hooks the previous shows threw out in their first episodes. It's perhaps an interesting lesson that looking forward to your next stage of life on its own merits rather than constantly chasing the extraordinarily destructive can be its own reward.
FLCL Alternative is currently streaming on Adult Swim.
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