This FLCL Progressive review contains spoilers.
FLCL Progressive Episode 4
After every new episode of FLCL Progressive, I peruse Twitter a bit to get a general feel for how fans are receiving it. This week’s episode seems to be getting the most positive reaction so far, with former doubters even suggesting “LooPQR” finally felt like real, proper FLCL.
While I get where they’re coming from, I’m afraid any resemblance to FLCLassic is only cosmetic. I can agree that this was one of the best episodes of Progressive, possibly the best since the premiere, but I still absorbed it the same as any episode of this revival series. I watched pensively in silence almost throughout and then, at the end, when the whiz-bang action showed up accompanied by a Pillows’ song, I felt a small thrill of recognition, a hint of FLCL’s past. (I did laugh once, when Haruko asked Jinyu “Do you enjoy dressing up like a maid?” as Jinyu ignored and talked over her.)
But the fact remains that I watch the bulk of this series stony-faced. It barely makes me feel anything. And the only reason it keeps the gears in my head turning is I’m doing my best to keep up with the plot, which, yes, is bizarre and, yes, to its credit, is not at all repeating the story beats of the original series.
However, as I explained last week, this feels fundamentally wrong for FLCL. I shouldn’t have to be trying to keep up with this surreal, sci-fi plot about Atomsk, or Haruko and Jinyu being a split entity, or the logistics of N.O. portals and overflowing. The original series dropped almost all its goofy sci-fi exposition into one rambling monologue in the final episode because it just didn’t matter all that much.
That’s not to say that Progressive must or even should be attempting to achieve the same effect as FLCLassic, but (to repeat myself from last week) if it is not, like its predecessor, a series about growing up, about the characterizations of a few schoolkids, about strong emotions delivered through a pairing of music and animation—then it has to fill that gap with something that’s at least equally engaging. But all Progressive has is its plot about head portals and space pirate gods and whatnot, stuff that was previously all backdrop now brought to the forefront. It’s the FLCLore show and, your results may vary, but I just can’t bring myself to care. (I will say I think the concept of N.O. portals in multiple kids chaotically spitting out all sorts of crap into the world in tandem is not a bad one that maybe could’ve worked for me in a different storyline.)
The characters are still hollow as hell so there’s nothing to cling to there. Hidomi was sad and quiet before and, in “LooPQR,” by contrast, she’s hyperactive. We also now know for sure, because she spelled it out for us, that her father is absent and her mom is waiting for him to come back. She also wants to bang Ide. I’ve just described Hidomi in full and Ide, the other protagonist, is even less interesting. (Side note: wayyy too much of this episode is Ide shouting “Hibajiri!” over and over.)
The action remains a decent spectacle and, in “LooPQR,” it is, indeed, the best-looking and most spectacle-y it’s yet been, but it’s not as imaginative as it was in the old show and far less effort is put into achieving a symbiosis with the Pillows’ soundtrack (plus, let’s face it, the non-Pillows, pseudo-metal tracks that serve as background at other times just plain suck). As mentioned, the action set pieces that cap off each episode come closest to giving me the FLCL tingles, but it’s starting to feel kind of unfair. Just throw a bunch of fast-paced shit at me (not that I don’t deny some of the animation looks great), slap a Pillows track on it, and it tricks my brain a bit. But it’s never as inspired as it was in FLCLassic and the end result is nowhere near as strong.
So, then, we have naught but the lore: Haruko and Medical Mechanica and Atomsk and yadda, yadda, yadda. To play my own devil’s advocate, I might suggest that I’ve been watching Progressive all wrong, that my focus has been misplaced, and that it’s been Haruko’s story all along. In that case, the question becomes: does it work to take a character who was previously little more than a catalyst for a coming of age story, who was, in her own words, “an illusion of your youth, a manifestation of the feelings in your adolescent heart;” does it work to take this character, flesh her out, and make her conflict the central one? Personally, I don’t think it does.