by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
FLCL Alternative ?
There's something quaint about the way this last episode of FLCL Alternative handles finality. The big theme of the series has been apparent pretty much all the way through: Nothing is permanent, everything has to change or go away someday. So it goes for the FLCL series now, and there's a sense that it definitely wants this to be a big, go-home ending for the whole franchise. But even as things are coming to a head and the stakes are as high as they've ever been in FLCL's world-warping wildness, it's still firmly playing from the same book the show has always operated on. And even as it makes what seem to be huge changes in its world by the end, things keep marching dutifully fairly close to how they always did.
One major thing this finale does do right, especially compared to some of the missteps of FLCL Progressive, is in not forcing itself too deep into the ‘lore’ of the stupidly complicated universe this story takes place in. Atomsk never even appears save for his symbol on Kana's head, N.O. is only described in the vaguest terms of its power levels and what it allows Kana to do, and even Medical Mechanica's grand planet-flattening plan is pleasingly shown more than it's told. Even if you were somehow watching this without prior FLCL experience, the image of the giant iron cruising its way across the land, destroying everything in its path, speaks for itself as a problem the heroes need to solve.
Evoking feelings turns out to be a strong point overall with this last episode. I'll admit I'm something of a mark for end-times stories; quiet, reflective pieces on humanity on the doorstep of the apocalypse, and the first two-thirds or so of this episode nail that feeling. The anxious, slowly-emptying streets of Kana's town are communicated with some effectively stark, haunting visual design. It probably makes the best use yet of the new FLCL's rather flat, sterile animation style. It also leans heavily into the allegorical themes this show has been dealing with all the way through: Being at the end of your teens and feeling like the world was actually going to end because you were being forced to move on to a new stage in your life.
All those ideas work well on the level that FLCL Alternative has utilized throughout its run. Kana's finally being forced to confront the fact that she was an ineffectual friend so much more concerned with being likable than with actually caring for those she supposedly loved. Not getting any closure with Pets, who's confirmed to have fully left, is what factors the most into her final stand and the show's last big display of absurd space-energy. It is suitably grand as a setpiece and through-line.
However, I can't help but feel like the need to pull a last big win out for its main character resulted in the show's scripting going easier on Kana than it needed to. The writing tries to forgive her insecurities that motivated her by referencing her past isolation due to illness, which was only referenced once previously in the whole show. That ends up feeling like a cop-out, and while Pets not returning or being shown forgiving Kana thankfully feeds into how pointedly final her cut-off last episode was, it still ultimately makes Kana's whole massive apology and N.O. teleportation stunt feel like it was done for herself, a personality element I thought this was supposed to be about overcoming.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't throw out a few more thoughts on the visuals. I haven't been as hard on the scaled-back TV animation of the FLCL sequels as some sakuga aficionados, but if I'm being honest, there was still a twinge of disappointment that the grand finale for an expanded FLCL universe went out looking like this. There are a few dynamic cuts here and there, but it never really approaches depicting its grandiose scale at the level I think it wanted to. Even the ridiculous character animations and loving shout-outs to other media are at their most basic, with this episode actually opting to throw in its own homage to Akira's exhausted bike-skidding shot. I thought you were better than that, FLCL.
So this ends up being reasonably satisfying as a finale to FLCL Alternative, but definitely unworthy as the new last page of FLCL as a whole, and that ultimately colors my final impression. It tries, to its credit, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that things like Haruko's guitar getting destroyed, or her getting blasted into space alongside the Vespa and seeing snippets of the old show reflected between it and her didn't evoke some kind of a response from me. And it does leave those feelings of unsatisfying conclusion an out, in terms of its own themes.
The space-travel metaphor for humanity's own adolescence is completed here, with them leaving Earth and starting a new life pretty much the same as their old one on Mars. Kana herself exhibits a habit throughout the series of leaving her sentences unfinished, just trailing off. Her leaving things in a perpetual state of unfinished stasis is appropriate to her worldview, but also lends the final say to FLCL Alternative's message. It's funny that a series that continuously hammered on the futility of trying to keep things the same, to stop them from ending, completes itself by having things actually staying pretty much the same, only trailing off into ambiguity and a slightly shifted status quo. It dampens the message, for sure, but it is still an apt metaphor for the journey into adulthood; finding that there actually isn't all that much of a difference, that things really do keep going along like they did before, with us leaving behind only the smoothed-out memories of our past.
FLCL Alternative is currently streaming on Adult Swim.
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