by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 3 of
FLCL Progressive ?
I could probably write full reviews just on Hidomi's dream sequences that open each episode of FLCL Progressive. They're always great-looking exercises in surrealism, and they provide some of the only insight into our withdrawn protagonist's thoughts. Hidomi's depression-fueled horniness for her own obliteration is highlighted at the beginning of this episode, where she drowns in the sea of her own aimlessness, watching her peers get lured to their doom, which she craves as the only place she can go to feel anything. There's a ton to take apart in this, but one of the series' main themes is becoming clearer: do we chase things for ourselves or because others expect it of us?
Hidomi's dream sets the stage as usual, but our headphoned heroine ends up with surprisingly little to do in the episode to follow. Even FLCL gets a beach episode as we approach summer, with all the central characters convening to make this feel like more of an ensemble entry that nonetheless explores the idea of why we present ourselves in certain ways to others. One subplot concerns Mori introducing his apparent girlfriend Aiko to Ide and Marco, a blushing moe stereotype that the the boys aren't impressed by. By the end of the episode (after several obvious hints have been dropped), Aiko turns out to be a a cynical teen girl running a compensated dating service that Mori took advantage of to try and impress his friends. When he's discovered, he's left embarrassed and angry, wondering why he had to go through all that in the first place.
The reason in this case is Ide. After bonding with Hidomi in the previous episode, Ide is fast-tracking some development of his own. Mori's antics parallel the way Ide embellished his own relationship with Haruko when we met him in the first episode. Back then, the story seemed pointedly uninterested in everything Ide was doing, which makes sense once we see Mori doing the same thing. Mori's fake-girlfriend plot isn't appealing to the other characters or the audience, and FLCL Progressive wasn't interested in detailing another Haruko-related sexual awakening for a pubescent boy either. Thankfully, Ide is developing in dramatically more interesting ways than than that.
Jinyu tries her hand at motivating Ide with a simple metaphor - trying to recreate your memory of a fireworks display through art is unlikely to succeed, so the best thing to do is to create your own fireworks or become one yourself. The suggestion sends him after Hidomi on a rescue mission inside a derelict Medical Mechanica facility, where Haruko is still trying to take what she needs from her via force, stripping her down to find the right spot to make her overflow (it's also revealed that Hidomi wore a swimsuit under her clothes, revealing a little more about how the person Hidomi wants to become is really just beneath her placid, depression-addled surface). He's still momentarily distracted by his adolescent boner, but he immediately commandeers the robot that pops out of his resulting N.O. head-portal and weaponizes it to try and save her, taking Haruko by surprise. This power hasn't been used in FLCL quite like that before, and all the resulting fireworks (get it?) led to me being much more interested in Ide than before.
Hidomi comes across somewhat more passive against the backdrop of all this, though her depression is hammered home in strong and obvious visuals. Her headphones are activated as a literal defense mechanism for shutting out the world, creating an enormous human brain out of scrap metal for her to hide in, only to be broken free by Ide - who learns very quickly that the only person who can eventually remove those headphones and let the world in is Hidomi herself. It's an interesting (and kind of complicated) way to illustrate the blossoming relationship between these two - Hidomi needs Ide's support and vice versa, but they'll have to rely on their own strength to truly break free in the end. At least, that's what it seems like all of this is pointing at.
Haruko's manipulations paint a clearer picture of her role at this point. Haruko has always been morally ambiguous since she ran Naota through the wringer all those years ago, but she seems even more overtly villainous this time, which is reflective of this show's take on adult manipulations of children. Haruko's sexualized treatment of Hidomi is presented as much less ‘fun’ than any perving she did on Naota, marking her as one of the legions of adults that would exploit a younger generation just to get what they want. We already know Haruko will return with the new cast of the forthcoming third season, so the character is certain to stick around regardless of how Progressive resolves. But with Ide angrily telling her to shut up near the episode's end, it's possible that this series will resolve with the kids actually rejecting Haruko, in comparison to the original's Naota, who ultimately still walked into her arms.
I'm impressed at that ensemble of ideas all being stuffed into this single episode, complete with more entertaining presentation. Production I.G. is back in typical form after the animation was outsourced last week, and their sharp quality keep this episode's visuals flowing along well (though the entire series still suffers from a particular TV anime stiffness I wish would loosen up a bit more). Most of the great sight gags come courtesy of Haruko (such as her entombing Jinyu in concrete), though Hidomi and Aiko also get delightful moments exploiting the ranges of their voice actresses. And anyone with interest in the lore of FLCL will be intrigued when new space-watching government forces are revealed, (one's been hiding in plain sight from previous episodes!) and a confrontation with the overarching villainous organization is set up by the episode's end.
This is the first episode to end on a true cliffhanger, with Hidomi comatose and Haruko and Jinyu preparing to take on Medical Mechanica directly. It's an exciting development, marked by derelict remains of the group's trademark giant irons in the background, but it means that little is actually explained yet, and I'm torn over the general lack of resolution to the issues this episode raises - this one felt more scattershot than the previous two, and they're still repeating themes that have been fully clarified at this point, but I'm still dying to know where all this is going. Heading in to the back half of this series, I'm thrilled to find out exactly what I.G has in store for us.
FLCL Progressive is currently streaming on Adult Swim.
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