This FLCL Alternative review contains spoilers.
FLCL Alternative: Episode 6
The conundrum hanging over both FLCL sequel series was what, indeed, could define a FLCL sequel? How do you extend a series characterized by a fleeting and unpredictable uniqueness? What makes FLCL FLCL? Is it about robots coming out of kids’ heads? Is it about Haruko trying to get with a giant bird (it’s not)? Is it more just about a feeling, or a style, or is it, like, a thematic thing… or something?
Progressive and Alternative attempted to solve this conundrum by doing a bit of everything. Haruko was all over each season (a choice I still question for both series) and robots still came out of kids’ heads. However, both also told new stories that veered massively away from the events of FLCLassic. Or, at least, Progressive pretended it was doing that, but then, contradicting its title entirely, it actually turned out to be a rehash of the original show’s most inconsequential plot.
Alternative, however, did shape up to be a truly alternative take on FLCL. Robots come out of protagonist Kana’s head, but not with any consistency. Haruko is a more laidback figure who claims to be acting in her own interest, but overall comes off like a much more heroic world-saver than her previous self-centered, immature character. Most importantly, Alternative’s tone and storyline were driven by a completely new depiction of what it is to grow up.
The original FLCL was a hyperactive distillation of childhood from the perspective of its crew. Director Kazuya Tsurumaki’s experiences growing up resulted in the character of Naota, a boy who maintains an aloof façade, insisting on the mundanity of his life despite the many insane happenings disrupting it.
Kana and her friends are the opposite of Naota. They’re openly invested in their lives and friendships. They’re fully aware that things are changing, that their time as high school friends is coming to an end, and that the world around them is collapsing. What they want more than anything else is for things to stay the same.
This is how, in spite of its flaws, flubs, and sporadic confusion about how to use Haruko, FLCL Alternative works as a FLCL sequel. Tsurumaki believed that a younger crew with a different perspective and a willingness to deviate from the original series was necessary for a sequel to work, and the Alternative team delivered. FLCLassic and FLCL Alternative are both coming of age stories, but they’re the products of creators from different generations with vastly different perceptions of what growing up is like. FLCL is a lot of things, but, above all else, it’s the creators’ personal expression of what it is to be a kid grappling with a world they’ve been thrust into. In this way, FLCLassic and FLCL Alternative are extremely unalike and yet both extremely FLCL.
So, with its talkier, more grounded, character-driven, slice-of-life approach, Alternative flounders a bit when it’s time for a climax. “Full Flat” seems more at home in its slow-paced, melancholy first half. (I especially enjoyed the quiet moment between Kanda and Haruko as they sit beside a vending machine.) But when it comes to the end, Kana is faced with having to save the world, though the series seems uncertain on how she’s meant to do that. She has to make a big portal come out of her head, naturally, but the rules of how to cause that to happen are ill-defined.
In keeping with Alternative’s chatty nature, Kana manages to manifest the portal by way of a long, rambling monologue that eventually makes her turn Super Saiyan. It’s a strange, kind of goofy device that doesn’t entirely work, though it’s charming that Kana reflects on how awkward her monologuing is (“I keep saying the word ‘love’”).
The ending also denies us what I think we were all hoping for, a heartfelt patching up of Kana and Pets’ friendship. Instead, Pets is already on a rocket to Mars, leaving Kana to shout-monologue at her from afar. It certainly contributes to the melancholy feel of this and the preceding episode, though I’m not sure Alternative’s best move was to go so bleak like this, culminating in Kana sending the world into a never-ending time loop (or, at least, that’s my best reading of it).
I also think it’s bullshit that Kana affirms Pets’ claim that she’s annoying and self-obsessed. Pets’ rant in the previous episode, to my mind, revealed more about Pets’ problems than Kana’s. Even if Kana was acting more out of self-interest, she still eventually learned to temper her behavior based on what her friends wanted, and was ultimately helpful to them (or she was to Hijiri and Mossan, at any rate). Regardless, Kana yelling out her love for Pets is still very sweet. Also, Kana saying “things that are important to us disappear” as Haruko fills the frame works well as a comment on letting go of the past.
Furthermore, though somewhat unfocused, all the action is still enjoyable and looks awesome. There isn’t really one big fight, but rather a sprinkling of smaller action sequences and, compared to the shockingly cheap-looking, phoned-in action of Progressive’s finale, everything here is attractive and well-directed. The CGI hand grabbing the iron looks noticeably cheaper and less good than the stop-motion hand in FLCLassic did, but everything else looks high-budget enough to not be embarrassing. I’d also like to add that Medical Mechanica throwing multiple evil Cantis at our heroes demonstrates a far better understanding of the FLCL universe than Progressive’s cheap nostalgia bait Canti appearance.
“Full Flat” is an emotional finale. It’s just that the emotions are communicated better in the first half. However, it looks great throughout. As for the final moments, it feels like an especially grim way to end things (most disturbing is how totally unprepared for it all Haruko is as she’s forced to revisit her past). Again, I’m not sure the events of this series deserved such a weird, dark conclusion. Then again, perhaps the Alternative crew’s version of reality sees no way to tackle the future except to retreat into the past. And it wouldn’t be FLCL if we weren’t getting the full experience of the creators’ worldview.
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!