Reviewby Mike Crandol, Jul 31st 2003
Tensions are rising in the Nandaba household. Jealous of his father's relationship with Haruko, Naota stages a war game against his dad with the alien housemaid as the prize. Meanwhile, Kitsurubami is trying to assassinate Canti, and Amarao and Haruko have a violent showdown that makes Quentin Tarantino look like Walt Disney. Lost amidst all the chaos, Mamimi unwittingly stumbles upon the key to unlocking the Pirate King Atomsk from the Medical Mechanica building. With the fate of the planet on the line, Haruko, Amarao, and Naota head to the giant iron on the edge of town to vie for the power of the universe.
You've probably heard it by now: Fooly Cooly (or 'Furi Kuri' if you prefer) defies description. It is at once about nothing and everything - a stream-of-consciousness joyride to a profound destination, an exercise in animation for its own sake that happens to tell a heartfelt coming-of-age story in the bargain. The gags are hilarious, the artistry superb, and the messages endlessly applicable to the human experience. It's all things to everyone, and it's something every serious fan of animation simply must see.
A tour-de-force of visual imagination matched only by George Dunning's Yellow Submarine, FLCL is a sheer joy to watch. Hardly a minute goes by without some kind of animated inspiration, from dead-on recreations of South Park and Lupin III to a fully animated battle between a Playboy bunny surfing on a flying robot and a giant monster that looks straight out of a John Woo film. And let's not forget a series-capping guitar battle that will knock your socks off. Some of these visual stunts bear some relevance to the story; many more do not. But all of them are beautifully executed. The wizards at Production IG pack every frame of FLCL with TLC, raising the series above the business-as-usual look of the competition and into the realm of cinematic art.
Inviting further comparison to Yellow Submarine is the absolutely amazing music courtesy of Japanese punk band The Pillows. It's hard to imagine this series working without the slew of rockin' upbeat tunes that accompany the slam-bang antics. The series' many musical action setpieces have a life of their own and are by themselves great achievements. Oftentimes FLCL appears to be more a of music video than an anime - the only difference is FLCL looks and sounds better than anything you'll see on MTV these days.
A feast for the eyes and ears, this is what good animation is all about.
Amazingly, FLCL pulls off this technical marvel and makes it all mean something, too. These final two episodes bring Naota's adventures to a inspiring conclusion while packing in all the ribald energy that makes the series so enjoyable. First is a hilarious spoof of media violence in which Naota declares war - literally - with his father for Haurko's affections. Soon every character is firing their guns away in a furious hailstorm of cartoon bullets for no apparent reason. Naota starts to let the power trip go to his head - literally - when his machismo manifests itself as another giant creature bursting from his subconscious. Then in the climatic episode our hero must finally come to terms with his feelings for Haruko, who appears to have been using him for her own ends all along. Abandoning Mamimi, his family, and his friends, Naota stumbles at first but finally finds the strength he has been missing since his brother left for the US. Oh, and he saves the planet along the way...something about Medical Mechanica harnessing the power of Atomsk to iron out the wrinkles in all our brains....
Trying to work out the mechanics of the convoluted plot won't get you very far; FLCL is no more about intergalactic aliens than Animal Farm is about raising livestock. FLCL is a cracked-lens portrait of adolescence, the journey of some unlikely yet very human characters on the bumpy path to maturity. Despondent Mamimi eventually founders in her own angst, Naota's classmate Ninamori conquers it, while Naota himself learns to live with it. More importantly, these final episodes see Naota take control of his own destiny. Of course, this is all told through wacky metaphors involving Pirate Kings, a giant iron, and some really sweet electric guitars. The free-form storytelling may distance the more conventionally-minded, but the fact that the creators are able to tell such a moving, human parable with such outlandish trappings makes FLCL's accomplishment all the more impressive.
Something else that is impressive: the absolutely perfect English dub. Before Synch Point began releasing the series there were doubts that it could be dubbed at all. The original Japanese cast is flawless and the material so outré', but a largely Japanese translation team has ensured that all of FLCL's manic charm has been transferred intact to the English version. Out of necessity, some of the more culturally-specific gags have been modified to American equivalents - a throwaway reference to J-pop band Watana Baby becomes the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example - but they remain solidly in the spirit of the original and actually make things more fun for the gaijin audience. And the English voice actors sound so much like their Japanese counterparts it's scary. They're also some of the most talented actors in the US anime industry today, and FLCL rivals Cowboy Bebop in the professional quality of its dub. This is indeed fortunate; the series' visuals fly so fast and furious it's nearly impossible to watch while dividing your attention between the action and the subtitles.
So what's not to like? The low episode count per volume, with six episodes thinly spread over three DVD releases. With ADV offering all six chapters of Catgirl Nuku Nuku on a single disc, FLCL doesn't seem like much of a bargain.
However, to Synch Point's credit every volume has been a top-quality release, and this final installment is the coup-de-grace. We continue to get a commentary track from director Kazuya Tsurumaki, who points out which elements of the series are meant to have a deeper meaning and which elements are just supposed to look cool. The Pillows' music video for the closing theme, "Ride on Shooting Star", is also included, though the clean closing credit sequence that rounds out the extra features is a much more satisfying two-and-a-half minutes. As for the show itself, the digital transfer is dazzling and really does Production IG's amazing art justice.
In short, it may cost you a lot of money to collect this series, but it's worth every penny. Incredibly innovative, immensely endearing, and above all else blissfully entertaining, FLCL is in a class by itself. It is one of the very few works of genius in recent anime history.
Overall (dub) : A+
Overall (sub) : A+
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A+
+ unequalled visual imagination coupled with amazing animation and music tells an hilarious yet heartwarming tale of adolescence
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