FLCL Alternative Episode 1 Review: Flying Memory
In FLCL Progressive’s wake, Alternative's character-focused approach only looks more promising.
This FLCL Alternative review contains spoilers.
FLCL Alternative: Episode 1
A subtitled version of this episode already aired on Adult Swim’s website on April Fools’ Day and I reviewed it at the time, but things have changed since then. We’re now in a post-FLCL Progressive world and that series helped me realize what I wanted and, especially, what I did not want from new FLCL.
In short, FLCL Progressive completely sucked. I’m halfway through a rewatch of it and have only found more to hate. This has made me feel far more charitable toward the first episode of FLCL Alternative. The first time around, I found it pleasant though not too exciting. This time, though I’ll admit it’s not as instantly engaging in the same way and still doesn’t reach the emotional heights of the original series (though who expected that, really?), I now more admire the relaxed, character-driven approach of “Flying Memory.” However, I’m also warier of future episodes as I’ve been burned by a series premiere before.
Progressive has a much weirder first episode featuring zombies, while Alternative goes with effectively a slice-of-life story about a friend group of four high school girls. Comparing just their premieres, Progressive is the more gripping series from the outset, while Alternative is just gently pleasing. However, the most interesting aspects of Progressive’s first episode turned out to be a misdirect; the weird zombie stuff went nowhere satisfying. At the same time, the series also failed to ground itself, never slowing down enough to properly define its characters.
Alternative feels like the antidote to Progressive. It leads with the characters rather than the weird stuff, and is paced much slower. I can understand fans finding this boring and feeling this is nothing like FLCL. However, it’s worth noting that the director of the original series believed that the only way to do FLCL justice with a sequel would be with teams unafraid to take the series in drastically different directions. I’m inclined to agree with him.
Much of the failure of Progressive can be tied back to how it essentially replicated Haruko’s arc from the original series. Haruko’s arc is the most unknowable and least interesting aspect of FLCL and serves as little more than background. Progressive brought this stuff front and center and failed to build on it in a meaningful way. It came off like a flailing, misguided, and lazy attempt to redo the original series.
FLCL Alternative’s gentler, slowed-down vibe feels a lot less crazy than the original series, giving it its own identity. However, it’s also far truer to the series in a very important way. The sci-fi craziness in FLCL was always a smokescreen for a story about kids growing up. Progressive never understood this, but Alternative, at least so far, totally does.
At no point in the six-episode run of Progressive did I ever feel I had a handle on the characters of Hidomi and Ide, even though they were ostensibly the leads. In just one episode of Alternative, I am more familiar with Kana, Pets, Mossan, and Hijiri. I understand how they interact—at times teasing, at other times supportive—as well as the differences between them that make them stand out as individual characters.
The look of this series is also immediately more appealing. Neither new series looks like FLCLassic, but then they don’t have to. However, Progressive’s art style had no clear identity of its own either, looking functional at best and cheap at worst. The soft hues of Alternative feel spiritually closer to the original series. Besides that, there just seems to have been more thought put into using a consistent color palette, which gives the series (or at least this episode) its own look.
The direction also contributes to the overall better look of Alternative. The montage of the girls shopping set to The Pillows’ “My Foot” gave me some sweet nostalgia chills. And the action in the monster fight looks good and is easy to follow (Progressive suffered from confusingly directed action sequences).
That said, Alternative still has unfortunate hints of being mired in FLCL lore, which worries me. Haruko still appears to be in pursuit of Atomsk by way of NO portals in children’s heads. However, I appreciate that Alternative has bluntly name-dropped the NO stuff right in the premiere, rather than coyly dancing around this nonsense the way Progressive did long past the point that fans already knew what the characters were talking about. Plus, I understand that at least some aspects need to be carried over from FLCLassic into its sequels to designate them as part of the same universe.
This is the question that hangs over both these sequel series: how do you recreate the magic of a show that was defined by its uniqueness? FLCL Progressive demonstrated one of the wrong ways to do it. FLCL Alternative’s focus on its characters shows promise that it’ll better answer the question. But there’s still plenty of time to screw it up!
Joe Matar watches a lot of cartoons and a lot of sitcoms. He’s obsessed with story structure so that’s what all his reviews are about. Joe also writes about video games on occasion. He has an MA in English if you can believe it. Read more of his work here. Follow Joe on Twitter for more fun @joespirational!