Never knows best; my ‘review’ of FLCL

Writing this now, I’m reminded of people (some of them anime fans) who will often say that watching these funny Japanese cartoons isn’t “hip”, isn’t something to be proud of, but watching this show, I’m ready to call that bull-****. Anime can be stylish, hip, cool, fun, trendy and everything else under the sun, and guess what, FLCL is my proof.

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When it comes to reviewing anime, one of the most frustrating tasks can be screen-capping. Sometimes you’ll remember the cool scenes, jump straight in and snap away. Job done. But with FLCL, it’s not that easy; everything looks cool. So, when I skipped through the first two episodes, I finished up with 89 separate images! Some heartless deleting later (with emphasis on heartless), the count is down to 24. Frankly, I can’t bear to discard any more than that. Writing this now, I’m reminded of people (some of them anime fans) who will often say that watching these funny Japanese cartoons isn’t “hip”, isn’t something to be proud of, but watching this show, I’m ready to call that bull-shit. Anime can be stylish, hip, cool, fun, trendy and everything else under the sun, and guess what, FLCL is my proof.

It’s FLIctonic KLIpple Waver Syndrome. An adolescent psychological skin hardening syndrome. A common affliction where children grow horns from trying too hard. Okay, I lied.” — Haruko.

This is the obligatory part of the review where I write a brief plot synopsis and you roll your eyes in boredom, but as FLCL is far too punk rock to bother with such standard fare, any attempt on my part to summarise the story would be utterly futile too. For what it’s worth, these few words might help: bored, head, rock, horn, girls, cigarettes, surreal, pain, mecha, pathos; repeat times infinity. If you really want to know what FLCL is, the above quote is the best possible explanation I can offer. It is an experience, on its surface illogical, yet subconsciously profound. Pure animation in the sense that, just like you can’t really relate to the pain of a gunshot wound until you’ve felt it yourself, you’ll never really understand the mad brilliance of hurricane FLCL unless you’ve seen it in motion for yourself.

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If we’re talking about motion, then we’re talking about animation. For me, this is GAINAX’s finest production, better than Evangelion, Gunbuster and even Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. No other animation studio in the world could come out with something like this, it’s so unique. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s character design is simply wonderful, but then, the entire production aesthetic is too, which feels so seamlessly tied into the hormonal narrative themes that you might get more sense out of it by watching without the dialogue. I made a point there to specifically say ‘dialogue’ because I’d hate for you to miss out on the soundtrack. You see, the music is almost entirely composed of The Pillows grungy, delirious, hot-blooded rock sound that, again, is a perfectly fitting conveyance for FLCL’s rallying cry against bored, sub-urban apathy.

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A favourite scene of mine appears in episode 2. The air-headed, pink bomb-shell Mamimi is wasting time playing with a stray kitten when something catches her eye in the golden, grassy field ahead. It’s Canti the robot wandering around aimlessly. She follows “him” until they happen across a half burnt down, old elementary school. The sky darkens with black rain clouds and hungry crows perch on the surrounding landscape as Canti climbs onto the roof and, quite literally, takes flight. It’s an amazing, baffling moment. The sun shines through the clouds as Mamimi stares on, birds aflutter, wonderstruck. Through-out this sequence, The Pillows song, “Hybrid Rainbow”, is rising in the background, the chorus hits crescendo just as Canti flies away. It’s a spine-tingling, rousing scene, seemingly random and superfluous, but completely worthwhile.

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You could say FLCL depicts that painful transition between late adolescence and young adulthood; a time when you’re too old to do kid things and not old enough to do adult things. Characters, failing to understand or grasp new emotions and burgeoning sexuality, are confused and lost, as if unable to make sense of the reality that surrounds them. They can lash out, or retreat, and yet, back then, life was so colourful, new and exciting too, as if a sudden revelation could unlock a new, brilliant dimension of reality. That is, ultimately, FLCL’s crazy point of view, an unpredictable, wonderful stream of consciousness, so frenetic, surreal and fun, like stepping into a long forgotten, lost dream.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

36 thoughts on “Never knows best; my ‘review’ of FLCL”

  1. All I can do is nod in agreement here – words can’t express the feelings I experienced while watching this series (which is the main reason why I haven’t blogged it yet). It feels like adolescence itself – or, rather, the adolescence I wish I had – condensed into six episodes of purest win.

    The UK release is better late than never I think. If I had to come up with one show that sums up everything I love about anime, this would probably be it.

  2. Ugh that part where Canti flys with The Pillows playing in the background. That may have just been one of the best moments in anime history.

  3. I watched this around 7 years ago, I can’t really remember what it was all about. What I can recall though is that its really unique. I think if I watch it now I’d appreciate it much more as I’ve gotten into the whole Japanese obscure humor with random occurrences. In a way I was too naive and ignorant to truly understand what the heck was going on in this little production. Now that I think about it I did find the art and animation fantastic for its time with the whole abstract camera and shadow work. I’m hesitant to call it better than Gurren Lagan in the animation and art front though. The designs are much more simpler and lower scale as evident in the caps, in comparison to Lagan. I think I’ll re watch it I might find something I like that I didn’t get 7 years ago.

  4. I agree with you and Martin 100%; there’s no other way to describe how awesome FLCL was. This was the show that got me into anime and I don’t think anything else can possible compare to what FLCL did for me.

  5. Oddly, of all the bizarre anime I’ve loved, I never found myself engaged by FLCL’s world. The animation is gorgeous- I believe GAINAX made this an entirely CG vector-driven production, so an HD release would be great. Animation notwithstanding, I believe my conflict with the show was just distaste for the characters. This does not entail that the characters are poor (I’m sure they’re quite the opposite), but personally, I felt alienated from them (maybe from a poor first impression of the show or maybe because of the punk/psycho vibe.) Now, however, I feel morally obligated to dig up my archive of the show and give it another shot.

    By the way bateszi, do you have an Anidb mylist? I’d love to peruse your preferences.

  6. one of my top and first anime

    direction in live action movies is increasing every year now they can do spiderman and all types of crazy things
    but its impossible to make something like FLCL stuff like that makes you happy you watch anime
    it must be experienced in animation

  7. Oh FLCL was one of the earliest series I saw. Back when I still watched anime on TV (it actually has a pretty good dub too).

    I remember thinking it was really neat at least for its style. I still think it is a lot of fun. But I am not sure if I can say it is a favorite of mine just because the characters aren’t that memorable for me. I do love the OST though. It’s one of the few I actually bought.

  8. @Martin: I think you’re right about how FLCL feels like “adolescence itself”. It’s very much an anime about emotion (rather than specific characters), an era distorted and idealized through memory. Rather than try to realistically depict things, it’s as though Gainax set out to create FLCL from their memories of that time, hence the massive sense of surrealism and symbolism.

    @Hei: I can’t disagree with you. It’s one of those moments that makes me glad to be watching anime.

    @Ivy: Like you, first time I watched FLCL, I didn’t really get it like I do now. I didn’t understand it’s frenetic pace, weird humor or (lack of) story. But a year and dozens of anime series later, I came back to it and suddenly, it all just clicked. This will be my fourth time through FLCL and honestly, it’s such an amazing series, I’d definitely recommend you try it now. For me, it reinvented the idea of what anime could be.

    @rwaggie: As I said in the comment to Ivy above, FLCL is almost definitely a show that gets better with every passing year accumulated as an anime fan. Given how conventional most anime is, it’s really great to see something that’s so free feeling and off the wall. Just the little things, like the use of proper rock songs in soundtrack, really captures my heart. Also, I’m not on Anidb, but I am on MyAnimeList and you can scroll through pretty much everything I’ve ever seen over there (with ratings).

    @IcyStorm/@qwertypoiuy: Yup, it’s pure animation. A real shining example of what the medium is capable of. It’s not like more conventional, slower anime is bad, but to see something like this, it’s like you can almost reach out and touch the soul of the storyteller.

    @Kim: I’d be interested to see if you would revise your opinion slightly after a rewatch. In many ways, it’s very subtle, the characterization only comes out over multiple replays as you start to understand that the environment and their body language reflects the character’s emotional state more than anything they actually come out and say, or do, themselves.

  9. It took me about four tries to get what the point of FLCL was (the previous three we’re looking at how OMG everything else was), and I think GAINAX has great execution here. The “Hybrid Rainbow” moment (CAN YOU FEEEEEEEEL?) is also one of those scenes that will always stay with me, but my favorite episode was gun-crazy episode 5. :P

  10. I just saw the Pillows live at AnimeBoston. It was amazing to say the least. I definitely enjoyed FLCL when I watched it a couple years ago. The producers packed so much symbolism in that I could not digest it all the first time through. The Pillow’s soundtrack definitely seals the deal, pick it up if you haven’t already. I’d say it’s on par if not better than the Seatbelt’s stuff.

  11. Gods I love this anime. This was the one that got me into looking for J-rock bands, and this really is the only comedy anime I’ve really liked. I’ve liked a few others but never been able to put it on the “OMGs” list, but thats due to not like a lot of comedy (american, japanese, etc.) anyway.

    In some ways this anime can be seen as just one long awesome music video that you just don’t want to stop.

  12. Although I hate picking favorites, if I were to choose I’d say FLCL is my all time favorite anime. It only gets better with age, like a fine wine or something.

    The only thing I don’t really “get” (that’s not to say I don’t like it though), is certain events that happen in episode four were confusing as hell.

    Also, I guess this belongs in your previous post, but good job on the blogging, keep up the good work, I check this site all the time, you’re my favorite animu blog, etc.

    Oh, and I found this site googling Sci-Fi Harry strangely enough. It was only the second anime blog I had been too.

  13. FLCL was sheer brilliance. I remember the confused moment of my life, as I sat in the night, half-asleep on the living room floor 4 years ago… and it was suddenly there. Everything about it just resonated, and I was really sad to figure out it was only 6 episodes; heartbreak.

    So beautiful. Nice writeup.

    Cheers :)

    ps. I totally sympathize with the screen issue, btw I have some entries you might find interesting. I’ve been snapping frames on-the-fly with the mouse click, and recently I started a webtool that totally handles sizes for my blog without my assistance. Next step is something along the lines of streaming the shots as I watch, but that’s just an idea.

  14. @dengar: How were the Pillows as a live band? I’d love to hear some of their music “in the flesh”, especially songs like “last dinosaur”, “advice” and “hybrid rainbow”. I think it was on Omo’s blog that I read that their non-anime songs didn’t go down too well with the crowd, which isn’t surprising given they were performing at a convention and all, but still, seems somewhat depressing. The Pillows are a part of my “holy trinity” of awesome Japanese rock bands, the other two being SUPERCAR and Thee Michelle Gun Elephant.

    @that girl hates you: As far as anime comedies go, I really liked Cromartie High School, though it’s weird style of humor might be hit or miss for you. Comedy has to be the most subjective genre in the world; apparently there are some people who DON’T find Larry David funny!? Impossible! Anyway, got any good Japanese rock bands to recommend? I’m into real music ala The Pillows rather than plastic Japanese idol/pop/goth/visual stuff.

    @Protodude: Thanks for the nice message. I made it all the way through Sci-Fi Harry at some point last year and the ending was such a non-event! Also, last year, Asami Tojo, the mangaka of Sci-Fi Harry, died :( Not sure how old she was, but I doubt I’ll ever get to the end of that story now.

    @Ryan A: Cheers for the tip. I’ll take a look at your blog in more depth a little later and try to get my head around what you’re saying. Generally, I use a Photoshop droplet/batch.exe to resize my images in bulk and then, the smaller thumbnails are automatically generated with the useful Word Press plug-in “Post Thumb Revisited”.

    @TheBigN: I’ll be watching FLCL in two episode batches over the summer months, so I’m looking forward to revisiting that scene you mentioned (I’m reviewing it for my other site, Anime UK News, as it’s only now coming out in the UK! Yes, we’re years behind many other countries when it comes to anime).

  15. I remember my flatmate, after I demanded we watch the whole thing in one setting, referring to FLCL as ‘the Ulysses of anime’ and his definition is so terrifyingly apt. It’s a whirlwind of influences, a distinct practice in style and somehow, like you’ve said, deeply profound. It sits pretty up top, watching all other shows squirm desperately to achieve the same abject understanding of the medium without the same success. Much in the way Ulysses dominates literature, FLCL looms large over anime and has yet to be matched as far as I’m concerned. I wonder if GAINAX had the same idea as Joyce when they decided to make an anime ‘for the new millennium’ – something infuriatingly impenetrable yet utterly timeless.

    My favourite scenes have to be all the bridge at nighttime segments with Naota and Mamami; episode four’s final scene with Ninamori (“They’re fake”) and the whole of episode six (specifically Naota and Haruko sleeping rough, and Naota in the mist when he and Haruko confront Amarao). Mamami just in general, I think. I like my Japanese schools nihilistic and insane.

    FLCL truly is a white-light for me. It’s hard to describe my love for it, but I think the fact that I have Haruko tattooed on my left arm says a lot, and she’s not even my favourite character!

  16. Nice to meet you.
    The blog that introduced Anime and Manga of Japan was started.

    「Japan Animation mania」
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    “NARUTO””Dragonball””Gundam””Rurouni Kenshin””One Piece””DEATH NOTE”
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    “Miyazaki anime”etc…

    Please come to see at any time.
    And, please paste the link.
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  17. FLCL is truly one of the great master pieces of anime right up there in my books with vamp D(original) or Akira however in order to fully understand the it you have to have seen a lot of other shows while i havn’t seen FLCL in years the ones you must see in order to get most at least ep 4 (i think its the ones where their shooting guns at each other in a field) is southpark and alot of Lupin the third both the series and first movies they riped a lot of Lupins opening off. they do some Evangelion to but a lot more subtle.

    I originally watched it and thought it was so so a few years went by i watched alot of anime say it agean its the best thing i’ve ever seen

    Basicly if you dont get parts of it you need to spend a year or to to watch more anime then see it agean its not a newbie anime like Akira, Galaxy Express 999, or Vampire Hunter D (my first three anime).

  18. I do have to say that every time I rewatch the series I get a new sense of fullfilment from it. There are so many scenes where I go back and watch them over and over again and to this day cannot think of words to describe them. My personal favorite screen cap is the one in episode 5 where Naota tells Mamimi that he will be the one to protect her and calls Canti down form the sky. When our favorite tv-headed robot lands with his dark tattered cape lands he looks completely kick-ass.
    After watching the series 6 or 7 times I still notice new subtleties that i missed the last time I watched the series, and I still laugh just as hard at the shananigans that is the daily lives of all the FLCL characters

  19. All i have to say is that FLCL is pretty much the greatest anime series i’ve ever seen. I’ve watched it countless times, over and over again just to take in the full effect of what was going on in each scene and i’d pretty much have to say that the part where Canti hops off the building and starts flying while the Pillows kick in, is probably the greatest scene of all 6 eps.

  20. honestly. FLCL is probibly the most amazing show out there. ive shown a few friends who just shake their head and dont understand but a few ive gotten hooked and seirously. they got 2 come out with another season. 6 episodes just beggs for more 2 be added on.

  21. I didn’t bother reading the rest of the comments, and I literally Stumbled Upon this page. I’ve seen FLCL as well, and I felt the need to say that your right on with regard to your comment about the scene where Hybrid Rainbow plays. That has also always been my favorite part of the whole show. second being when he actually swings the “bat”.

  22. So much has already been said about FLCL, that there’s not much left to add. So, instead of trying to write something new, I’ll summarize this masterpiece of an anime with one, simple word: epic. I’m pretty sure everyone agrees.

  23. worthless anime. Barely a plot to be seen. Pales in comparison to other greats that have actual concepts behind them. You want surreal-done-right try paprika instead, at least you won’t have lost 6 hours of your life with this shit.

  24. Obviously you weren’t paying attention if you think that. Also 6 episodes at 30 mins a pop is not 6 hours >,>

    I’m sure some of you will disagree with me on this point, but they cannot make another season. The risk of tarnishing it is far to great, but also it’s part of the storyline. The stage between late adolescence and young adulthood, is mainly confusing because it is over in a flash, just like this anime. We have the luxury of watching this many times, and don’t you find it amazing how almost every time you find something you missed before?

    I came across this while surfing youtube and found it amusing
    “I believe this is and always be the only anime that, immediately following the kiss scene, a enormous glowing bird that seems to be magnetized emerges from the hero’s head and continues to absorb the large hand that was floating above it, then disappears into the sky as the Pillows play a catchy riff in the background. Amazing.”

    The anime has a happy ending though, if you read the manga…its…different…

  25. *Stunned* I am absolutely speechless that someone could actually find even a remote semblance of how profound this work is, let alone how fabulously you depicted it. FLCL isn’t an amine, it isn’t a work of art, its its a blaintened truth of being in this life.

    I myself for whatever reasons am a very emotionally detached person. Yet every time I watch this I’m so emotionally charged I feel like a bi-polar schizophrenic. It drowns you in its experience like a white water rapid, smashing you with emotions like each boulder in the river.

    My favorite spot would be in the last episode as Nalta is death diving at Haruko with the double neck guitar with the powers of the pirate king. As that guy in the back grounds yelling “FIGHT BACK TAKE HER OUT!” He stops with a twang of the guitar. Tells her he loves her kisses her and releases the pirate king with a vulgar display of power!

    Even in my wildest imagination I couldn’t conceive of this 6 Part series! The only letdown anyone will ever have about this series IS the fact that there’s only 6 episodes. To which I always say “Give them a break, Its hard to stay in Manga form, its hard work and it takes a lot of time!” -Naltas father

  26. FLCL may not be for everyone but it was for me. People whom get to deep into the plot and did not enjoyed themselves tend to forget that it is a cartoon created for fun and fantacy. Anyway I liked it and I think they should make some more.
    Ikeydo

  27. Flcl is most definitely the best thing ever. I love the animation, the music, the plots and subplots, everything. XD what can Is say.

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