「フライーング・メモリー」 (Furaiingu Memorii)
Setting the Scene
For years, Adult Swim has made their April Fools jokes as baffling as possible from adding fart sounds to their anime premieres and airing the Aqua Teen movie on TV in microscopic form, to their recent screenings of cult classic The Room and debuting a Rick and Morty premiere way earlier. Taking a page from last year, they decided now would be the time to unveil the new two-part sequel series to FLCL, titled FLCL Progressive and FLCL Alternative. Oddly enough, they chose the first episode of the third season, Alternative, as their starting point. Whether premiering this before an episode of the second season will be determined once this particular episode makes its true debut in September. But for now, this episode of FLCL Alternative might just be what is indicative of the quality we will be expecting from this sequel series.
Since the two seasons were announced, a giant elephant in the room has been how amazing FLCL is as a standalone 6-episode series when it first popped up in the early 2000’s. It was the chance that Gainax took on its up-and-coming animators to create their own OVA alongside Production I.G., and director Tsurumaki Kazuya went out of his way to ensure that it has it’s own personality, disturbing the system with experimental animation and a youthful rock soundtrack from the pillows. FLCL was this self-contained, special thing intended on being merely a launchpad for the creative efforts that Gainax was able to pull off with the freedom that their prior success had given them, and breed new talent that would eventually go on to be involved with contemporary hits.
But then, in a twist of fate, life happened. Many of those involved with FLCL would go on to either move on to different studios like Studio Trigger or Studio Khara, or stay with Gainax as their creative efforts dwindled, their legal troubles intensified, and their assets continued being sold off, including FLCL, which now resides in Production I.G.’s hands. Enter Adult Swim, the channel whose love for FLCL has been documented for years, and now had a good chance of being able to co-produce a continuation of the series with I.G.
For many, it sounds like sacrilege. FLCL is easily the best example of an anime that can tell a simple, imaginative, fun, and engaging story in only 6 episodes, so seeing it stretched out for 12 more episodes more than a decade later is hard to swallow. With Adult Swim’s responsibility in wanting to extend FLCL for quite some time and the involvement of very little of the original staff other than the character designer, the director’s supervision, the pillows, and the voice actress for Haruhara Haruko (Shintani Mayumi), it is bound to ruffle up some feathers. However, in its differences, can it still come up with something original and interesting? Can it overturn the skepticism that comes with making a sequel from an older, highly-revered series? Is it going to feel natural or will it be a cynical attempt to force a finished series back to life?
First Impression: Progressive
Going into it with fond memories of watching and loving FLCL first in gritty pixelated Youtube videos from 2005 and then on Adult Swim, I was skeptical about how necessary the idea of a sequel felt. I’m open-minded enough to appreciate any additions that work well with the universe, but at the same time understand that it’ll be hard to live up to how great the original was. Although these concerns weren’t 100% alleviated given how different a beast this new sequel is in its production, it retains enough of the spirit and spunk of the original series to at the very least propose interesting ideas with the potential of belonging as a fun chapter in FLCL‘s story.
Aesthetic and Animation
Right away, the character designs help bridge the gap between this newer series and the original as the cast and art feel like they belong. The characters are expressive, their eyes have a stenciled-in look to them that matches the original show’s artwork, and Haruko doesn’t look like a completely different person save for a different hairstyle. There are little touches that make it still feel like it fits with FLCL‘s sense of style like the chalkboard tracing from the beginning, the comically-detailed in-between frames, and, as always, the pillows playing in the background to capture the enthusiasm and excitement of being young.
However, what it makes up in spirit, it lacks in imagination and flow. There are callbacks that feel like they were created for the sake of fanservice such as our main heroine Kana (Miyama Karen) pulling out a wood block that happens to have “Never Knows Best” written on it because Mamimi wrote that on her cigarettes, how the male characters eat their eggs, or setting up the basis for another guitar for Haruko to pull out and fight mechanical aliens with. Sadly, the animation doesn’t have the fluidity that went into the action scenes from the original, giving everything from the final fight sequence to standard school-life scenes a stiff feeling that is neither fooly nor cooly. And with none of the crazy shots or animation switch-ups that gave the original life of its own, the episode has times where it feels like a far cry from the fun the series had in breaking the rules, and scenes are animated to look average and conventional to tell its narrative.
Story and Characters
While it’s animation is hit-or-miss in being in-touch with the original, the narrative itself works decently enough. The first episode is promising in adding to the series’ lore with the town of Mabase’s contending with the extra-terrestrial. The prime minister makes a popular and aggressive push to ban space travel to prioritize societal woes on earth over exploration beyond the stars, all the while Haruko is working in collaboration with the Space Police Brotherhood to find more N.O.’s and eventually the link back to Atomsk. The plot fits well with what would be happening within this stretch of time, so it doesn’t feel like an unnecessary add-on so much as it feels like an extension of the politics behind what Haruko would have to do in order to find Atomsk without relying on the same trick she used with Naota again. In an age where technology is becoming sophisticated and space travel is more contentious, its interesting to see how FLCL Alternative handles the passage of time in society’s developments between the original series and now.
The good thing is that the most promising aspect of FLCL Alternative isn’t trying to relive the glories of the yesteryear, but rather seeing the dynamic between Kana’s group of friends. The girls are engaging to follow as a group of friends that truly appreciate their time with each other, and have their own set of quirks and charm that exceeds our expectations on what they would act like, going beyond tropes to show how fun they are as characters. Kana is a relatively mysterious lead at the moment, but is able to bounce off each of her friends very well, giving each of the girls a chance to shine. Pets (Yoshida Yuri) has a mischievous air to her as she has it a little more together than Kana yet passes the time chain-smoking, drawing eyes on her hands, and taking upskirt photos of Hijiri. Mossan (Tamura Mutsumi) seems like your standard chubby character that is willing to pound down Dr. Pepper bottles, but she is easily the most level-headed of the girls, and has a deeper interest in creating the bottle rocket the girls plan to launch in the air. Finally, we have Hijiri (Iida Riho), a fun-loving girl who’s interest in modeling and marrying into money are only secondary to how goofy and eccentric her personality and mannerisms can get. They’re all a lot of fun to follow and despite some not being too keen on the idea of wanting to watch FLCL to watch gals be pals, it does a great job at soaking in the youthful experience of the series’ tone by embracing the joy of hanging out, talking about life, and reaching a common goal with school friends.
First Impression: Alternative
FLCL Alternative might not be as visually delicious or unique as the original, but it still retains the spry charm and atmosphere that made FLCL a show that captured its coming-of-age story so well. At the moment, the story doesn’t feel tacked on or unnecessary, and Kana and her friends’ encounter with Haruko have potential to add to the original with an entertaining story that builds on the relationship between the town of Mabase and the extraterrestrial. The camaraderie and friendship between the girls is refreshing, engaging, and offers a new way of seeing how a coming-of-age story like FLCL would fare with a friend circle instead of focusing on one solitary kid. The fact that our leading protagonists are girls is also nice because it gives the anime-watching audience a break from yet another “everything is phallic” metaphor that over-saturates a lot of contemporary anime.
As hard as I am about how it isn’t as creative or fluid as the original, it’s the differences in Alternative that make me enthusiastic about the prospect about seeing more from Kana’s friend circle. The first episode left me looking forward to seeing how they interact with Haruko and the aliens that surface, how Kana’s N.O. capabilities are handled, and where the future of space travel goes from here. It’s definitely given me a better impression of how the sequels might turn out than my initial feelings about the project, and Kana’s side of the story is shaping up to be much more intriguing than I would’ve thought. But until September when the rest of Alternative is released, ride on shooting stars. Ride on.
ED: 「Star Overhead」 by the pillows