by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 3 of
FLCL Alternative ?
What do you want to be when you grow up? It's often an easy question for young kids to answer, but may become harder and harder as those kids get closer to actually being ‘grown up’. Kana actually brought up this point in the first episode of FLCL Alternative, that no reasonable person should be able to expect a seventeen-year-old to choose a path to follow for the rest of their life. This show is all about analyzing the idiosyncrasies of being on that threshold of adulthood, and that idea of finding a goal or dream to pursue as you grow up becomes the focus of this episode. As well, it also gives Mossan her turn in the spotlight.
It had been made apparent previously that Mossan had initiative to spare compared to her other friends. She was the one that kicked off their dabbling in rocket science, after all. We get a more detailed look at how she goes about her life here, revealing that she's working a part-time construction job and aspires to fashion design. The way that comes out is interesting, that unlike the other three main girls, Mossan actually already turned in her end-of-high-school career sheet laying out said dreams of fashion design, but had never actually told the others about it. The concept of how much ownership we have over our own dreams is a point this episode returns to repeatedly: Should we feel obligated to share our aspirations with our friends, to bring them into it? What are the pros and cons of doing so?
The answer in the real world varies, of course, and thus does the show's exploration of the dilemma. After Mossan works herself to exhaustion between her job and the stress of preparing for a fashion contest, Kana and the others step in to try to help at her work. But Mossan becomes angry at them because for this, declaring that achieving her dream won't matter if she doesn't do it herself. The scene itself is delivered very well, and this spike of a moment crystalizes a lot of the issues around such an action. Obviously our dreams must be accomplished on our own terms, which vary from person to person. There's also a fear that bringing others in to trying to accomplish goals can multiply disappointment across multiple people if we fail in those. Kana does end up getting Mossan to accept help in the episode's second half, but only after actually asking first. That's an easy lesson for the episode to impart anyway: You don't get to insert yourself into other people's dreams without their permission.
For Kana's part in the episode, overall main character that she is, the concepts tie into the more broad themes of the show. I appreciate what's been done with Kana so far. I initially regarded her as surprisingly ‘normal’, seemingly well-adjusted and low-angst compared to previous FLCL characters. But as we've learned more about her layers have started to peel away, revealing that she's definitely still a normal seventeen-year-old girl, but with all the ‘normal’ worries and concerns mounting for someone in that demographic. We've already seen her caught between wanting to seem grown up without growing up too fast, and in this episode she's plagued by the fear that she might never find a dream of her own, something to strive for in adulthood. It's the selfish side of why she throws herself into helping Mossan, seeking fulfillment from achieving a goal that isn't actually her own.
These themes of teenage actualization are carrying pretty much this whole episode of FLCL Alternative. The omnipresent slice-of-life atmosphere feels even more enforced than in the previous ones here. Only a few snippets of the overall sci-fi lore-building background plot are touched on: We see that more giant space-pins have been dropped onto the Earth, and Haruko's apparently traded in her old cat-based communication methods for dogs now. Haruko herself feels oddly shoehorned into this episode, honestly. The girls' friendship fashion-show plot could honestly stand on its own, but Haruko keeps popping in seemingly out of obligation to remind us we're watching FLCL and keep the weirdness quota up. The absolute height of this is her out-of-nowhere rap number in the middle of the episode; it feels like it's trying too hard for the ‘random’ factor so many bits in the original FLCL had but misses the mark tonally.
It all leaves the episode feeling even lighter than Alternative usually does, especially as the ending almost entirely lacks any sort of crazy climax. The requisite robot fight is a pointedly anticlimactic one in the middle, so the ending is just Haruko crashing the fashion show to give Mossan some renewed inspiration after she loses. I like the thematic intent of Mossan being spurned towards a new dream of becoming a fashion model after the events. It highlights the fluid nature of our dreams, that the most unexpected thing can change our goals on a whim, even after we think we've committed to them. But I feel like the thematic elements of Mossan's loss and renewal were still underexplored. The episode hardly dwells on the point that other people had entered the contest as well, with all of them including the winner trying to fulfill their dreams as well as Mossan was. And Haruko's entrance comes off as mere deus ex machina, trying to wring a point about changing direction and finding new inspiration where it hadn't really been earned otherwise. This episode did fine in exploring its chosen conceptual subject, but didn't commit to it as strongly as it could have or utilize all of its strengths as a show effectively. Unlike the way Mossan's efforts were depicted, this episode felt like it was underachieving.
FLCL Alternative is currently streaming on Adult Swim.
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