Looking through my archives and document listing the series I have written about, it amazes me that I have yet to write about one of my all time favorite series, FLCL. The 2000 series gave an imaginative spin on puberty for a young man that was nothing short of an artistic piece or an absolute train-wreck, depending on who you ask. Wherever you stand with the series, it is hard to deny the impact that has been left by the series about the woman on the Vespa.
When a sequel, or rather, two sequels, were announced eighteen years later, there were mixed reactions to the news. While I was busy uncovering a conspiracy with the the series that was more exciting than most of the crime dramas to come out lately, people were either doubling down on the “I hate the original, therefore the sequel will be much worse” take or the “Oh no, Adult Swim is at the helm of this...my beloved anime is doomed. DOOMED I SAY!” one. Adult Swim, the Cartoon Network late night slot that has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts with showing anime instead of horrendous six hour Family Guy reruns, definitely turned heads with their swiping up to the rights to air this series. They even had the gall to use the first episode’s raw (for those who might not know, that is basically the episode with Japanese audio without English subtitles) as an elaborate April Fools joke
(April Fooly Cooly?). With the Internet confused, both FLCL: Progressive and FLCL: Alternative waited right around the corner.
When I returned to the States about a month ago, I found the entire series conveniently available for free streaming on Adult Swim’s website (English dubbed only as far as I can see). Advertisement breaks aside, this was an appreciated move by Adult Swim to make both the original FLCL and FLCL: Progressive free to watch on their website, as well as a means for individuals to follow along with the third project, FLCL: Alternative, when it airs in September. Much like the original, Progressive is six episodes of a bizarre coming of age story for a young teen in an otherwise inconspicuous town. This time around, the main character is a girl named Hidomi instead of a boy like the original series had. Almost immediately, it is obvious that there is a much more modern spin on the classic tale as well. The fictitious town portrayed is still that of a rural area, however the technology is indisputably appropriate for the current era.
FLCL: Progressive does not invent a new legend nor does it fumble what it does. If the original wasn’t your thing, or if you hated the original, then nothing will change here. Chances are if you were just “ok” with the original, you won’t like this one that much either. Progressive sheds the weight of being an experimental art house-esque work in exchange for blitzing its’ semi-cohesive story. The individual episodes of the original could stand on their own for what they try to do and what messages they try to convey. In Progressive, however, the structure of the series requires all of the episodes to make any sense. If someone really loved the cryptic messages of the original, then the sequel should work well to scratch that itch. The best thing this show has going for it is that it manages to strike a really smart balance of feeling just familiar enough to keep the charm of the original and still tell a very original and enjoyable story. Most sequels could take a note from the way this work was handled- especially since a lot of it had to be devised from scratch. If you’re looking for a quick six episodes to binge and are willing to gamble, there is high reward potential to be found here.
One of the things that I love about the original FLCL is how every time one watches it, there is a little detail or two that can be pulled from it that indicates a lot of elaborate thought and care put into the crafting of the wild tale. The desire to talk about the little things found in the sequel that are just as effective as the original has been eating at me for weeks since I watched Progressive for the first time. With that said, if you’re looking for a review, the above is where my “review” ends and from hereafter, it will be nothing but spoilers and analysis.
There’s an important fact that needs to be pounded into the viewer’s head before they head into this series, and even after a complete watch, it is difficult to get it through to some people. This vision of FLCL is not that of the same beats, nor is it one that wants to be as experimental. There is an episode or two where the art direction takes a different approach, but it wasn’t immediately noticeable. Most of the creativity in art direction for Progressive comes when Hidomi is dreaming of a grotesque, post apocalyptic world.
By having a 201x girl as the main character, there are a lot more modern influences on a developing mind as a result of technology that can be explored in FLCL fashion. Everything from the use of technology to isolate from society to the exploitation of youth exposure to the adult world via the Internet and even the instability of having text channels that move at feverish paces. All of these are drips in the bucket that eventually overflow and allow Haruko Haruhara to exploit budding feelings to get closer to her goal of reuniting with the Pirate King Atomsk. Compared to the original FLCL where Haruko was targeting one character, Naota, Haruko is seen trying to find the means to the end she desires under the guise of being a teacher at the local rural town’s school.
No matter how much I enjoyed the series, there is definitely a lot less to chew through in Progressive, but there were two particular plot points that really shined in the last act of the series. One is a little less revolutionary and the other is a development into a character that had not been seen before. I’m an absolute sucker for family bonds, so when Hidomi and her mother, Hinae, finally connect at the end of the series, it is wonderful. Hinae spends years holding on to the hope that her husband will rejoin the family and that the two of them could continue holding up the pillars of a successful family for their daughter. Hidomi drowns out the rest of the world with a pair of headphones that her father gifted her, which is ironic since the origin to her disdain for the world stems from her father leaving in the first place.
A few times in the series, we see Hinae try to delicately bring up the idea of closing the family café, however each time Hidomi rejects this and inadvertently drags her mother back into having to wait on a hopeless dream. After dealing with Haruko’s traps and aggressive attempts to use her, Hidomi opens her heart up to her mother and embraces the family she still has. They meet in the middle of their ideas for the café and use the establishment that once harbored mixed feelings to pave the way for their new future, just the two of them. As they cried and (kinda) hugged over it all, I cried a little bit. It was really sweet.
The deeper character development that ended up making this an interesting series was what ended up being shown with Haruko. After going through a masterful plan to resurrect Atomsk, he rejects her, and we see a very raw, hurt version of the carefree spirit for once. What I particularly liked about this was that it was an interesting commentary on what ended up happening with a relationship in the original FLCL. When Naota began changing himself to be the “adult” that he thought he needed to become as a result of Haruko’s influence, the young woman who once cared about him in Mamimi began distancing herself from him, to the point she wanted nothing to do with the boy. Haruko experiences rejection from Atomsk when she finally gets an uninterrupted chance to embrace him, with the Pirate King choosing to reject the person she became searching for him for another piece of her, a literal personification of part of her being named Julia Jinyu (TL;DR due to the mumbo jumbo that brings Atomsk out that Haruko searches for, she got split into two beings. There isn’t a whole lot else to it than that). Clearly heartbroken yet unwavering, Haruko sets out yet again to search for Atomsk. This is such a huge flaw in an otherwise one dimensional character that should get a little attention for what it is worth.
Overall, you get out of this series what you put in. Progressive will only be as fruitful as you allow it to be- which is less of a blanket statement than it sounds. At the end of the day, it takes its shot (or I guess in this context, it swings the bat) and moves on from the original. Like I said earlier, more of the same isn’t going to be found here, but there will be just enough shared undertones that make it comfortable.