What They Say
Naota is a detached sixth grader afflicted by the pangs of puberty. He’s fooling around with his brother’s ex-girlfriend when a crazed girl on a motor scooter runs him over, brains him with a bass guitar, and moves into his house. She says she’s an alien, and hurls Naota into the middle of a mega-corporation’s secret agenda. Now giant battling robots shoot from his skull when he has naughty thoughts.
Contains episodes 1-6.
Both the English and Japanese tracks are offered in 2.0. The mix is fine, and has a decent amount of directionality. There is also no dropout on either channel nor in the various tracks. But with the amount of action in this release, I would have liked to have seen it get the 5.1 treatment. What is here is fine; I just wanted more.
The artwork and animation on this release are gorgeous. There are some really great effects during the battles, and I loved the way they played with different art styles for comic effect. I especially loved the scenes done in “manga” style (i.e. static comic images) that slowly devolved into nothing more than rough sketches. There are just some really great ideas. The animation is fluid and the colors are bright. The only issue is that the transfer isn’t as clean as we might like. There are some noticeable instances of noise and artifacting. Nothing particularly distracting, but there all the same.
This release has some pretty basic packaging, but I like the design of it nonetheless. All six episodes are on one disc, so this just has a standard amaray case (there is also a card sleeve that has all the same designs as the case). The front cover has a picture of Haruko posing with her bass guitar in front of her Vespa. It is a very stylish picture, with a lot of bold colors and severe lining. The back has some screen shots and a series summary, all the while continuing the bold color motif from the front cover. The cover is reversible, though, and I actually like the reverse cover better. The front has a pen and pastel drawing of Mamimi with her cat, while the back has a newsprint black-and-white picture of Haruko with an episode list. Both are really cool looking. Again, this set is fairly basic, but it has a good design.
Again, the menu is pretty basic, but I still like the design. The menu is static, and has the same newsprint picture of Haruko from the reverse cover as the background. The FLCL logo is in a faded black, with the white selections offered against random shapes the same black as the logo. Like the cover art, it is really stylish, though this time the style is monochromatic. While on the menu, a really cool, smooth guitar riff plays. It is on a full two minute loop, too, so it does not get too repetitive. Very nice.
There is a lot of good stuff on this release. First, there are Directors Commentaries for each episode with the Japanese staff. There are also AMVs for the songs “Ride On Shooting Star,” (the OP), “Come Down,” “One Life,” “Little Busters,” and “Last Dinosaur” as well as the official video for “Ride On Shooting Star” and a clean version of the closing theme. Finally, there are three short blooper reels from the English dub sessions. All-in-all, just a tremendous amount of stuff for an otherwise short series.
FLCL was originally a title released by Synch Point and Geneon Entertainment across three discs and came with a lot of fanfare as it was done by Production I.G. and Gainax, who (among other things) brought us titles like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell. But despite these studios reputations for delivering intricate, serious, and though provoking plots, FLCL instead delivers a mind-bending array of randomness and inanity that makes Excel Saga almost look sane by comparison. To say I loved it is a bit of an understatement.
Now, this is usually the part of the review where I give a little bit of a plot summary in order to ground the rest of the review. So, here we go: 6th grader Naota spends most of his time with his older brother’s girlfriend, Mamimi, who is in high school (his brother is off in America playing baseball). They seem to have a thing for each other, but never seem to follow through on it. Then, one day after school, Naota is run over by a girl riding a Vespa, who then proceeds to beat him over the head with her bass guitar. Her name is Haruko, she claims she is an alien, and she invites herself to live in Naota’s house as their supposed maid. Oh, and from that moment, various things grow out of Naota’s head (like robots, for example) and cause chaos. Randomness follows.
Now that we have that tedium out of the way, I would like to start with a hearty “Wha-?” To try and delve any deeper into the supposed plot of FLCL is likely an exercise in futility, so I will leave it off. Just know that there is an evil alien corporation bent on world destruction, a Space Pirate King being held captive, a supposed religion based around a robot God, and guitars are apparently the most powerful melee weapons in the universe.
What I enjoyed about FLCL is how each episode is very different from the rest. The creators had some fun with the conventions, and while it all typically built up to a fight at the end of the episode, what leads up to the fight always had a different feel to it. There was a bit of noir-like drama, sports movie determination, psychological mystery, and even some erotic thriller all tied together with more than a healthy dose of random comedy, mostly created by Haruko and whatever decided to pop out of Naota’s head.
FLCL also has a very strong cast of character, that despite not having a whole lot of time to round out, still seem fully developed when all is said and done. Naota is the perfect chump for Haruko’s plans, Mamimi has plenty of issues that run deeper than just the insanity that has overtaken her life, and even Naota’s classmates have their own share of stories to tell (particularly Ninamori). For all of the time FLCL spends just throwing random stuff at the screen to see what sticks, I was astounded at just how well realized the cast of characters is.
And as such, I actually cared about what happened to them as the “story” progressed and concluded. I found myself frustrated that Naota began to ignore Mamimi more in favor of the manipulative Haruko as the series progressed, I felt bad for Ninamori as her family life seemed to be falling apart (not to mention having her own apparent feelings for Naota), and I wanted everybody to be in a better place when all was said and done. This is the first series of this type that I have really connected with the characters on such a basic level. Most of the time, the characters are there to do little more than be the catalyst for the comedy as you never expect them to break out of the two-dimensional roles created for them. With FLCL, I expected them to, and I wanted them to. It adds a surprising amount of depth.
And even though we have sections for these ideas above, I have to talk a bit about the visuals and music for this series. With Production I.G. and Gainax at the helm, it is not a shock to see something so well animated, but I was particularly pleased with the effort put into FLCL. A title like FLCL often gets short changed in this department, as it might get seen as a throwaway title, but FLCL looks about as good as anything else you might see out of these studios. The action has some glorious renderings, the characters have some great designs, and the animation is very fluid. I also like that they played around with the style a bit at times for comic effect, including doing “manga stills” for a couple scenes and even doing a spot-on parody of South Park. Just some great work from the animators.
FLCL also has a killer soundtrack. With the emphasis on guitars during a number of the fight sequences, the music (done by the band The Pillows) follows suit with songs very heavy on the guitar riffs. As such, you might expect the music to all start sounding the same after a while, but they do a nice job of mixing it up with some hard rock, some soft rock, and quite a bit of mellow stuff in between. I am a particular fan of the song “Little Busters,” which seems to be the song of choice for the denouement of each episode.
But, as with any series like this, the following disclaimer must be made. As much as I really enjoyed FLCL from start to finish, it is not a series that will entertain you if you do not either already like random comedy nor have an open mind. Like something like Excel Saga, you have to go into FLCL expecting to not have any idea what is going on but just sitting back and enjoying the ride. The real fun comes later when you stop to think about what it was you just witnessed.
I generally tend to enjoy anime series that are built on randomness, but I was shocked at just how much I enjoyed FLCL. It takes the formula of inanity (if there is one), and adds a surprising amount of narrative depth to it. Add in the production values of Production I.G. and Gainax, and everything about it is just a treat. If random comedy wears you out, then certainly avoid it; for everybody else, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Director Commentaries, Music Videos, Outtakes, Clean Ending
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: February 22nd, 2011
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony BDP-S360 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection upconverted to 1080i, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System