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Episode IX: FLCL (Fooly Cooly) Review

Naota’s ten years old and his life’s already a muddle. His older brother’s been shipped off to the U.S. to play professional baseball, his father’s a schlub who mismanages the family bakery while trying to hawk a crummy self-published ‘zine, his brother’s ex-girlfriend Mamimi is hitting on him, and there’s that weird factory—the one shaped like a giant steam iron—that just plain creeps him out.

None of this prepares him for Haruko, a girl who roars into his life on the back of a Vespa, wielding a bass guitar which she uses to smack him over the head. That’s bad enough, but then the bruise in the center of his forehead produces a rampaging robot. Only Haruko can stop it—and she does so by smacking Naota again and unleashing another robot. And then she cons Naoto’s father into letting her move in with them as a housekeeper (although the robot she summoned does a better job with the cleaning than she does), and …

Let’s stop right there, because the plot of FLCL (say it “Fooly Cooly”) is nigh-impossible to summarize. It’s also not even all that important, because FLCL is more about how things happen than what happens. It’s a showcase of style and attitude courtesy of the creative team behind Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gurren Lagann, and it sports all of the apocalyptic overkill of both of those shows but in a goofier, more palatable wrapper. That doesn’t make it any less strange—most of the humor is of the rapid-fire non-sequitur variety—but it’s a wonderful kind of strange. Once you let it get under your skin there’s no getting it out again.

Nobody debates FLCL’s visuals. GAINAX and Production I.G, the studios responsible, are some of the best in the business. They fill most every shot with something dazzling, bizarre, hilarious or—whenever possible—all of the above. Haruko and Naota’s first sort-of kiss is rendered in 360° bullet-time, and the robot battles are unmatched in their scale and absurdity. Plus it’s all set to a terrific rock score by The Pillows, one well worth picking up on CD if you can still find it.

Given how much they throw at the screen and the speakers, it’s a good thing there’s someone halfway sympathetic at the center—namely, Naota. He wins our sympathies just for staying sane in the middle of the maelstrom of his life: battling robots popping from his head, an alien conspiracy to invade the earth, and Haruko’s own bizarre predilections (she has a knack for doing exactly the wrong thing in front of everyone). He’s not a bad kid, just a confused and lonely one, and having this crazy alien girl in his life serves as a catalyst for him to figure out, if only tentatively, what he wants from his life—even in the face of total planetary destruction.

The main FLCL cast of characters | Image credit to original owner.

If the series has a flaw, it’s only in that it’s largely by and for fans—in its style and attitude, its many references to other anime, and its blizzard of not-always-translatable gags. But it’s so confident in its outlandishness that it might well make a fan out of the uninitiated.

Bottom line, Naoto’s humdrum hometown life is flipped on its ear when a Vespa-riding alien girl wielding a bass guitar decides to use him as a portal to summon robots from another dimension. And that’s only the first episode.

“Surreal”, “hilarious” and “unforgettable” are the watch-words for FLCL (“Fooly Cooly”), a show that crams more into six episodes than many others get into twenty-six. It’s an anime milestone, both for its eye-filling design work and its oddly heartfelt story, where the flavor of what happens is more important than the plot.

Here’s an AMV (anime music video) tribute to the series:

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