This FLCL Alternative review contains spoilers.
FLCL Alternative: Episode 3
The original FLCL is my all-time favorite anime. One of my other favorites is Genshiken, a slice-of-life series about an otaku college club. It really couldn’t be any more different than the surreal spectacle that is FLCL.
In one story arc of Genshiken, the characters work together to put together a doujinshi in time for a manga convention. This episode of FLCL Alternative, in which Mossan and Kana (and the other two girls as well, but mostly Mossan and Kana) work together so Mossan can design a dress in time for a fashion contest, gave me some Genshiken vibes. But seeing as this is FLCL, Haruko also showed up to whack a robot, beat up some policemen, and, uh, perform a rap.
The thing is that, for more of its running time than not, FLCL Alternative is reminding me of my favorite slice-of-life anime rather than the franchise it’s meant to be a continuation of. I don’t have a problem with that; again, nonsense though this may sound like, in order to capture the unique spirit of FLCLassic, the best thing a sequel can do is be nothing like it. (The worst thing it can do is sloppily ape it; *cough*, Progressive, *cough*.)
However, what’s unfortunately being revealed as Alternative continues on is that it’s at its worst when fulfilling its obligation of being FLCL. Luckily, watching the development of the relationships of these four girls is engaging enough that Haruko sporadically appearing to derail everything doesn’t ruin the show. On the other hand, it’s increasingly causing me to wonder whether this series wouldn’t be better if it were exclusively about these four girls growing up together.
But then, maybe this is a paradoxical musing. There’s no shortage of female slice-of-life anime out there, but, as I understand it, most of it relies on tired tropes. In other words, it seems like maybe the only reason Alternative has interesting characters is because they were written with the idea of fitting into the FLCL universe in mind. That seems kind of unfortunate, that the only way we can get cool female anime characters is by having them periodically sprout robots out of their heads, but so be it.
Anyhow, as far as the stuff I like about this series goes, this is the Mossan episode, though it’s told, as is the series’ wont, mostly through Kana’s perspective. Alternative is doing a great job of revealing the depth of each girl by focusing on one for every episode. Mossan is, to put it bluntly, the fat one of the group and has heretofore been depicted as being driven entirely by a lust for food. In “Freestyle Collection,” however, we learn that she’s actually also the most diligent, working a part-time job while pursuing her fashion design dream.
This makes Mossan quite a strong character. Yes, the series has no qualms with occasionally employing fat character tropes, showing Mossan overeating and getting overexcited about meals, but it rarely feels like it’s outright mocking her. Plus, though the other girls occasionally suggest to Mossan that she might want to cut back on the eating, they seem to do so more out of concern for their friend than out of cruelty. Furthermore, they all envy her work ethic. (We’re learning through each episode that Kana’s main problem is a lack of confidence in her own identity as she wishes she had all of her friends’ best qualities.)
As it has in the previous episodes, the direction and staging bolster the quiet, character-building scenes. There’s the beautiful moment of Kana, Pets, and Hijiri looking out over the sparkling sea. And I very much love the way the three of them are positioned as they converse in the playground scene. It’s small, inspired visual details like this that make the series work.
What works less, as mentioned, is just about everything Haruko is involved with. I do much prefer the version of her we’re getting in Alternative as opposed to Progressive just because it’s a refreshing new take on the character. Mind you, it doesn’t really add up with the original Haruko, at least not yet anyway; she was always manipulative, self-serving, and insane. Here, she’s a lot more low-key and seems to actually want to help the girls out in their lives, at least to some extent.
However, even though I’m cool with this depiction of Haruko overall, I’m still left feeling like she hinders plots more than helps them. Illustrative of this point is how she completely mucks up the fashion show at the end so that everyone gets to see Mossan’s design. Mossan was previously adamant that no one help her to achieve her dream, because if she doesn’t do it by herself, it doesn’t count. She’s softened on this by episode’s end, but it still seems heavily in conflict with her character that it doesn’t bother her that she gets her spotlight moment and that the audience gets to see her dress design exclusively because of Haruko’s cheating.
I like how Alternative has gotten bold enough to shake up the FLCL formula so much that the robot that comes out of Kana’s head in this episode isn’t even a real threat, showing up midway through the episode to be dispatched by Haruko in seconds. But all the other Haruko stuff is, uh… I don’t know. The rap didn’t actually make me cringe as much as I expected it to and the art during it is pretty cool, but, as with the rest of the Haruko appearances, it felt unneeded. Worse is the hospital scene which feels like the crew remembered this was FLCL so we needed some awkward, inappropriate sexiness. It just feels tonally off and shoehorned in (why do the girls undress so quickly at Haruko’s command?)
With “Freestyle Collection,” FLCL Alternative continues to serve up more good slice-of-life content. Unfortunately, the series is also continuing to demonstrate that it’s at its worst when it’s at its most FLCL as the storytelling falters every time Haruko is onscreen. Regardless, the solid characterization still shines through to make for an overall enjoyable episode.
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!