FLCL Progressive came to an end last weekend, and fans are still divided on the results. This week, Nick and Steve parse their gut feelings on this highly anticipated sequel.
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You can read our weekly coverage of FLCL Progressive here!
Nick, it's time to give a proper TWIA send-off to this season's high profile sci-fi anime about love and adolescence, told through the language of birds, plants, and robots. It was a divisive show, but I'm sure it will continue to be discussed and dissected in conversation with the classic anime that inspired it.
OKAY FAIR, you got me. We're gonna talk about FLCL Progressive instead, because that show actually had interesting things to say!
You're damn right it did! The one thing I wanted more than anything going into Progressive (and its eventual followup Alternative) was for it to have its own story and ideas that stand apart from its predecessor, and in that regard it's delivered in spades.
For one thing, if these sequels are meant to capture the experiences of being a young adult in today's world, kicking us off with a heroine who's horny for death and pain is a bang-up place to start.
Very Big Mood! And I do want to preface this column by saying that we wrote it literally only one day after the finale aired, so I'm still mulling a lot of the show's themes over in my head. These thoughts are gonna be fresh and messy, but I also think the fact that Progressive left me with so much to think about speaks to the quality of the show in itself. It had big shoes to fill, and it wasn't perfect, but I'm overall pleased with what it gave us!
It's definitely a messy show, even just from a production standpoint. Progressive was a weird beast, and there are still parts of it I want to rewatch knowing how it turns out. But at the very least, I can say I'm glad I watched it. Like even weeks afterward, I'm still enthralled by the bizarre opening sequence from episode 2, where we get our first real look into what's going on inside Hidomi's head.
As it turns out, it's fucking terrifying in there!
I was initially excited for the prospect of a female protagonist and some introspection on female adolescence a la the original's themes on male adolescence. But in the end, I think Progressive's focus ended up more egalitarian, split between Hidomi and the boys. I still really like Hidomi's character arc though. She goes through this show unwilling to confront her inner problems and desires that she doesn't really understand. And in the end, she still doesn't really understand them! But she does make the first step toward accepting these parts of her and working through them, which is a beautifully nuanced point for her to end on.
Of course, the journey there is very bumpy.
And very FLCL
Okay I actually love weird Genki Hidomi in episode 4, and not just because it's easily the most silly and loose Progressive's visuals get. Part of what I like about the more ensemble-focused dynamic of Prog is that it allows for more varied explorations of adolescence and how everyone's stumbling through their own mistakes growing up. So when Hidomi turns into this glee monster, Ide immediately insists that this isn't the real Hidomi. But the audience, having been inside her brain space, knows that's not entirely true. She wouldn't act this way normally, but that cheerful personality is still an aspect of her that she just isn't comfortable expressing. So it's a cool and subtle way to show that while Ide has good intentions and certainly cares about Hidomi, he doesn't yet know her as well as he thinks he does.
Yeah! And it's also important that this version of Hidomi catches the eye of Marco instead, who previously hadn't expressed any romantic interest in her. It speaks not only to the multitudes we all contain within ourselves, but also to how we project our own desires and expectations upon other people, where we willfully ignore some things while latching onto others. Everyone is a complicated and messy amalgam of facades that swap around, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. This is especially true when you're a teenager and trying to figure all this junk out for the first time.
Or forever pretending to be a teenager, at least.
In Haruko's case, her inner self is more concretely fractured than usual. For us non-aliens, our vulnerabilities don't manifest as a physically different person.
Y'know I was initially pretty skeptical of Jinyu, but damn if Progressive didn't turn her into the crux of everything it was doing with Haruko. Like it's fascinating to me how this series somehow managed to make Haruko a much more vindictive and openly antagonistic character than FLCL Dad Rock, while simultaneously humanizing her to a degree you'd never expect from the original.
The show ends with everyone rejecting Haruko! She's more unequivocally the villain in this sequel, and it feels like the right way to approach her character almost two decades later. Her motivation is single-minded and maniacal, but it's also an extremely basic human desire. She just takes things too far to the point of tearing herself apart, and Progressive is as much a journey for her as anyone else.
Pictured: self care
Even if it seems like she hasn't learned her lesson in the end, Haruko does change a bit. She accepts Jinyu and therefore herself. It's a really touching scene for an avatar of absolute chaos!
Yeah, of course there are complications along the way. Very cool complications tho.
also you just know that someone's fetish out there was pregnant Haruko, and Progressive was kind enough to provide for them
i mean it would be fitting for a new FLCL
to inspire a messy sexual awakening in some unsuspecting teen watching Toonami
Every generation deserves a chance to be warped forever by anime.
Cursed google image searches aside, I was genuinely impressed by how Progressive handled Haruko's (and by extension Hidomi's) character in the finale. Neither of them necessarily change much; they don't come to some big revelation that makes them change course, they get power only to lose it almost immediately, and in the end Haruko just goes right back to chasing Atomsk and presumably causing trouble for the teens in Alternative someday. But what's important is that both end up realizing they can change. It's a process, it'll take a long time and probably cause more trouble, but it's an important shift in perspective when you're a kid (or a kid at heart) who's convinced you're stuck in stasis.
It's not a conclusion because adolescence isn't a conclusion, no more so than any other period in your life. Your story continues, so long as you recognize that you can always grow. I also loved how the finale continually hammered the theme of its characters escaping the roles preordained for them by both society and the show itself. Like Hidomi and her mom finally decide to live for themselves and not for her absent father.
Fuck the world and your shitty dad, become a robot.
also may I say Hidomi that is a LOOK
this is an equally choice look:
Aiko is also a super-interesting character in this regard. She's initially introduced to the story as an object, i.e. a fabricated anime girlfriend to make Mori look good, and then she's continually associated with the potted plant MacGuffin, i.e. a tool used by the adults for their own purposes. But in the end she breaks free of all this to become her own person instead.
Aiko's story is certainly interesting, but I'd be lying if I said I particularly dug it beyond that initial reveal of her fake cutesy personality. That's actually one of the nitpicks I have for Progressive. While its larger cast delivers some interesting ideas, they're not really developed outside of short side notes. Like I could talk at length about Hidomi or Ide or Haruko, but you ask me to write even a paragraph about the eyepatch dude or Captain Dodo and my eyes glaze over.
I'd agree that the show's major shortcoming is that it's too concerned with expanding the lore of FLCL, which ends up undermining the more important emotional impact. There's only so much I can care about the ongoing insurgency against Medical Mechanica, but I have infinite patience for teenagers being dumb yet goodhearted.
That said, there are certainly beats of the "plot" that I thought were cool. The construction of a giant birdcage to house Atomsk (and its subsequent destruction) was a great image.
Gotta love that Haruko's grand scheme falls apart because she didn't build a big enough cage. That said, the messy plotting is totally secondary to a FLCL
story, and if nothing else being a Macross
fan has trained me to ignore narrative weakness if the thematic backbone is solid, so I can't complain too much.
There are also parts where I feel like the showrunners were taking purposeful jabs at FLCL
's legacy and mythology, like the Canti crucifixion, which I appreciate.
Canti must be so confused by all this. One day he's just doing his job as a crossing guard and then all of a sudden he's in the middle of all this bullshit. At least he eventually finds more fulfilling employment.
bless all robots in maid outfits
Overall, FLCL Progressive
is a weird, messy show that has its failings, but frankly I think polish is overrated when you're trying to make something this sincere—some rough edges only add to the charm.
For sure! It's not gonna be part of the zeitgeist like the original, but it's a more than worthy followup that uses its time and energy to continue the neverending conversation about what it means to grow up as a horny teenager. The groundwork it laid makes me very excited to see what Alternative does in a couple months!
It was certainly Progressive at its core: moody, idiosyncratic, full of cool ideas that don't always work. It's not all that different from a Mars Volta album, really.
If nothing else, it explored a full spectrum of Art.