This FLCL Progressive review contains spoilers.
FLCL Progressive Episode 2
Watching FLCL Progressive continues to make me feel more than a little… off. As with the premiere, “Freebie Honey” is certainly engaging. I find I’m very quiet and pensive as I watch as I try to get a sense for this new version of FLCL.
This is in part because I’m such a huge fan of the original series, so I’m grappling with this new approach to this universe. However, it’s also because Progressive is largely the product of an almost entirely new crew doing something completely different with FLCL. So much of the original series was about spectacle; the thing was so high-budget and brightly colored, synced to uplifting tunes by The Pillows. I strongly suspect that a lot of emotions stirred up in me by FLCL classic are the product of little more than pretty visuals combined with upbeat music and amazing direction.
Progressive is simply not like this. The series has kept just enough of the trappings of old to identify it as FLCL, but it’s a creepier, moodier show. Part of why the old FLCL washed over the viewer was because The Pillows’ music was almost ever-present and the spaces without music were filled in with insane, rambling dialogue. It encouraged you to view it like a music video or, with its yammering exposition, often felt like it was telling you to go ahead and zone out.
Progressive’s lead character is largely silent. The Pillows’ music is there but it’s lower in the sound mix and used sparingly, with the rest of the score being unobtrusive background stuff from a different composer (R・O・N from music production company VERYGOO). And, as with last week’s premiere, the action in “Freebie Honey” is far less bombastic or eye-catching.
With the latter issue, it’s not apparent to what extent this is deliberate or to do with budget constraints and/or differences in animation techniques. And, although I am doing my best to be receptive to Progressive, the less flashy, and at times cheaper-looking animation in the action sequence left me a little cold. However, the moment Hidomi’s horn emerged, everything suddenly looked a lot prettier and I felt a twinge of that old FLCL special sauce.
And maybe that’s what FLCL Progressive is doing: presenting a darker, quieter, less spectacle-based, more story-driven FLCL that only occasionally recalls the past. In reviewing the premiere, I noted how the series led with disturbing, gory imagery (a feature of the original FLCL, but not a major aspect). “Freebie Honey” doubles down on it with a longer, more violent post-apocalyptic zombie sequence and, later, a disturbing scene in a tragic-looking slum in which Ide gets beaten up for an extended period. Where FLCL classic made me swell with positive emotions, Progressive has now properly unsettled me.
Adding to Progressive’s macabre tone, blood plays a significant role here. FLCL classic’s characters rarely bled and, in fact, barely seemed capable of injury. Ide gets roughed up and bloodied worse than he did in the first episode and, in an inspired reveal, Hidomi’s overflowing manifests itself as a nosebleed followed by a blood-red horn that emerges from her forehead (with FLCL all about coming of age and puberty, the parallels to menstruation are blatant, or, then again, maybe it’s meant to look clitoral).
This stuff implies Progressive is aiming to be darker purposefully (note, too, that much of the background art in “Freebie Honey” is dominated by a somber blue). This seems to extend to Haruko, who’s a muted version of her former self. She feels most like the old Haruko in a scene where she pesters Hidomi while riding her Vespa through a school hallway, but she’s in general far less manic and even comes off a bit melancholic (her monologue in the classroom vaguely touches on how she’s aging). She’s also not the force she once was and gets her ass handed to her by Hidomi after she overflows. Oh, Haruko also has a new catchphrase: “Poo poo poo. Poo pee poo.” Works for me!
With “Freebie Honey,” I continue to admire how FLCL Progressive really doesn’t feel like FLCL almost at all, because I see no point in attempting a carbon copy. It just also means I absorb this show in a completely different way compared to the original. The onslaught of sound and imagery of the original series gave me overwhelming waves of emotion. Progressive is quieter, simpler, and sadder. I’m engaged but in a more contemplative fashion, occasionally disturbed, and—in very brief instances—I feel a hint of the way FLCL used to make me feel.
It’s all intriguing enough. I’m just not certain yet whether I’ll look back on this series and view this different take on FLCL overall as a cool experiment or a strange disappointment.