This Week in Anime
Whatever Happened to FLCL Alternative?

by Steve Jones & Andy Pfeiffer,

FLCL Alternative came and went without much fanfare after the divisive results of FLCL Progressive. This week, Andy and Steve look back on what new things this conclusion to the FLCL trilogy brought to the table.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

You can read our weekly coverage of FLCL Alternative here!

I'm so glad we're here to talk about a show people have been discussing for months, Golden Kamuy!
Asirpa looking just as cute as ever, I see!
Oh wait, I'm sorry, but the truth is Asirpa couldn't be here with us today, so instead we're going to be talking about the show that no one has been talking about for months, despite it being talked about a lot before it premiered.
Yeah, FLCL Alternative is over, and with it ends the new batch of FLCL sequels we got this year. Speaking purely anecdotally, it does seem like it ended with a whimper as far as discussion goes. Like, I saw practically no one talking about it on Twitter, and I literally forgot it was airing until we were told to do this column lol.
I honestly can't say I'm surprised. There's only so far you can stretch an obvious puberty metaphor, after all. However, I can't say I'm disappointed in their attempts. Between Alternative, Progressive, and Old Dad Rock, we got many flavors of the adolescent experience. The latter versions coming after those that found a connection to the first had become grown adults does make it feel like an experience in search of an audience though. They're basically seeing material they've already internalized, while the FLCL label isn't exactly drawing in anyone that didn't experience the original.
That said, once I established that perspective in my head, I really did enjoy Alternative. Especially in keeping with the latest trend of letting anime girls be expressive as hell.
It's a tricky situation, because FLCL is so beloved, and I think if you asked people whether or not they wanted to experience a show like FLCL again, they'd probably say yes. But that doesn't mean that the answer was more FLCL. I think that colored people's expectations before we knew a single thing about the new shows, and it's kind of a shame, because while I don't think either of these shows lived up to the original, they weren't without merit either. And Alternative, despite the lack of hype after Progressive, actually ended up being the better of the two sequels imo.
Mostly because these were all very good dorks.
Alternative actually breaks the mold of its predecessors by not only having a more realistic cast of characters, but also that Kana's friends act like real friends! In Naoto, we got a child that wanted to be seen as an adult, and in Hidomi we got a kid that wanted to shut out the world. Both of their views were incredibly insular but valid approaches to how we deal with puberty and adolescence. In Kana, we get an outwardly happy kid with friends she already understands and loves, and in this lies the final piece of the horrible puberty puzzle, which is never wanting to move on because it means leaving behind this happiness.
Yeah, adolescence is rife with enough stories and themes to fuel anime for generations to come! What I appreciated most about Alternative was that it actually seemed aware that it could not be another FLCL, so it honed in on the down-to-earth dramas of its core cast rather than trying to one-up the original.
It has its moments of FLCL wackiness, but it also has this aesthetic of a low-key indie movie, which I really liked.
After the premiere, it more or less follows the formula of each episode focusing on one character and their problems, and I think this more restrained and structured approach helped it in the end.
That's not to say weird nose robots don't show up, because they do.
At one point, my brain likened it to a bunch of after-school specials, but made by people who actually cared. Haruko seems to be there mostly as a sexy Ms. Frizzle, showing up to help lead things to their eventual conclusion and teach a valuable lesson about friendship, rather than acting as the mysteriously antagonistic force she's been in the past.
And yes, she also punches robots that symbolize the girl's problems.
It's been almost two decades, but Haruko is still not one to turn down an opportunity to smash that fourth wall. and you're right, she's more mellow and genuinely helpful in this one. Although she's still, definitely, extremely, very Haruko.

That horrible cat mouth will forever haunt my dreams. In addition to being forever 19, we also learn that Haruko is an accomplished rapper, a Bjork body double, and still maintains her habit of braining teenagers with whatever she has handy.

As for the fourth wall, I'd like to mention the basketball episode in particular for its heavy use of grand larceny lifted inspiration from various manga. There's obviously the opening title card, but I think there might have even been a touch of SLAM DUNK involved.

And let's not forget the appearance of the most important number in the world:
Nice indeed. I've seen some explanations floating around that Haruko is nicer in this one because she doesn't have her Atomsk-detecting chain on her wrist, implying that this all happens before FLCL and Progressive, but honestly I don't care too much about that. In fact, one of the things I really appreciate about Alternative over Progressive is that it doesn't really concern itself with FLCL lore at all. Like, there's literally a moment where the prime minister is asking about Medical Mechanica, and the only answer given is that they're nobodies. Because it doesn't matter!
1000% agree with you on not caring. The thing I most feared about new FLCL was it going down a lore spiral and losing the part of the show that mattered. Instead we double down on the fact that Medical Mechanica is simply a fun metaphor for whatever emotional or societal constraints you find yourself under, which doesn't mean they can't still be expanded upon in new and terrifying ways.
After a bunch of odd robots and Canti clones, I was still completely thrown by the appearance of GOD HAND.
All of the sci-fi trappings and random references in the original were in service of its exuberant slice-of-life aesthetic, which fed into its themes about youthful aimlessness. Alternative uses these same trappings more minimally, but it works for its quieter and more somber tone and themes.
One detail I really like is that, after the first episode, basically every background shot has those giant pins somewhere. It doesn't draw undue attention to them, but it's understated and menacing in a good way.
And then you have the finale, which goes all in on some extremely relevant concerns like wealth inequality and global warming. It doesn't feel as bombastic as the original FLCL's climax, but the scope feels wider and more mature.
The 1% all escaping to space and leaving us with a doomed hellworld is a bit too on the nose tbh.
Right??? It's genuinely apocalyptic stuff, but all too believable. Like, there was just that summit a week or so ago about how disastrous the temperature rise is going to be if we don't do anything. I couldn't help but have that in my mind watching these kids deal with the impending and seemingly unstoppable doom.
Would I rather die from being smooshed by a giant iron or the atmosphere becoming unlivable? It's a tossup really. I really like the way Alternative approaches this though, which means it's now time for things to get scary and sad as I talk about Pets.
Oh Pets. ;_;
That after-school special vibe went right out the window as soon as we get to her episode. After Kana has helped Hijiri deal with breaking up with her shitty boyfriend and taught Ma-san how to beat Mike Tyson.
Pets simply disappears at the start of her focus episode, and during the search for her we meet her mother, who we only interact with for a few minutes, but those minutes contain more dread than most straight horror shows. We don't even learn many exact details of Pets life, but the stark nothingness of her room and long-held silence of her family situation says all you need to know.
Then her mother lashes out at Kana to know where Pets is because, "I'll get in trouble with my husband!"
Yeah, Pets' whole deal is that, despite being Kana's best friend, Kana doesn't actually know much about her. And this feeds into the show's final conflict, which is Kana having to reckon with her own weaknesses as a person and a friend. Because that's also part of growing up—we have to develop these complicated images of ourselves and others. It's never simple. It's never just okay. Kana, whether consciously or not, didn't completely let Pets into her life, and she deals with the consequences of that. Screwing up relationships is a part of life, and it sucks!
That absolutely brutal cut from Kana's dream of all her friends reunited to the reality of Pets leaving just ripped my heart out.
It hurts so bad, but even then there's some truth to the dream. Pets reprimands Kana for always butting into others' lives and trying to solve their problems in order to maintain her own happiness, but Pets could never allow Kana to do that for her because of just how bad she saw her own problems. Her friends were already her escape from that. To put that burden on them would just remove the one place she was free of worries. This is where I'm glad FLCL returned, because this specific feeling is so fully realized. It hurts even more as you realize Pets exchanging things in the backyard of previous episodes was also in preparation for her to leave them behind forever.
Her last interaction with Kana is that final exchange, and then she's gone.
Holy shit yes, that scene where they're waving goodbye with their mementos FLOORED me. Like, what a gracefully-executed and devastating subplot. And despite Kana going full Diebuster (which is the real FLCL sequel for those still looking) in the climax, she doesn't actually reunite with Pets in the end. She saves her town and friends, but there's still that bittersweetness that I think truly gets at the heart of what growing up is about.
Change is scary, and it's good for you, but it's also a process that's haunted by what you can't take with you.
The ending is truly bombastic, and Kana is the focal point of that action, but it's definitely a mix of feelings. That it works as the culmination of her feelings towards Pets is perfect. We have this entire planet at stake, but the thing that truly matters is the small story.
Everything else happening seems to be more commentative on the project itself, the result of the backstory between Haruka and the stand-in for the original audience, Mr. Too-Old-For-This-Shit-Anymore.
The point is that you can't go back to what was, but not in the typical "live without regrets." So yeah, this isn't the same FLCL. It isn't as boisterous as it once was. It isn't as hip or flashy, but that doesn't mean you can't still enjoy those things. So that's what we get in the final sequence!
It's a more nuanced and mature look at the different aspects of growing up jammed directly together with the visual parade that everyone had been looking back to when this was first announced.
And sure enough, as soon as it's done with its big ol' bang, we're right back where we started.
It's a strong bookend to a strong show. I just can't help but think that Alternative might have been better off not being tied to the FLCL brand. With a little more breathing room to do its own thing, not weighed down by almost two decades worth of expectations, it might have been able to find a more receptive audience. If we do have to be subjected to more FLCL sequels, I honestly hope we get more like this.
I wasn't terribly excited when it was first announced, but if they're in line with this style, then I'd be on board for more sequels down the road. As for the brand, it's probably blasphemy that we've completely neglected to mention the soundtrack, and I honestly don't plan to elaborate on it past A) It's the Pillows and B) They're great and C) FLCL knows how to use them. The one moment I want to mention is when Kana goes full Diebuster and the music kicks in; that hit me right in the soul. For that moment alone, I'm down with the branding.
True, it's hard to do better than the Pillows.
Unless it's my pillow, which sounds pretty nice about now, so I think I'll head to it after this last message to those that brought this weird series into our lives.
Hey, Adult Swim and Production I.G.
High five!

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