This FLCL Progressive review contains spoilers.
FLCL Progressive Episode 5
When FLCL Progressive started, I had no idea what was going on, but that was exciting then. It felt like proof that this sequel was going to do its own thing and avoid turning FLCL into a formulaic anime, attempting to ape the rhythms of the original.
It’s certainly lived up to that promise of not being a carbon copy of its forebearer. The plot has gone in all sorts of strange and unexpected directions completely of Progressive’s own design. If I try to make one-to-one comparisons between plot events of FLCL old and new, I come up almost empty, with one major and unfortunate exception.
The final shot of “Fool on the Planet” is Haruko gazing skyward and declaring, in awe, “It’s Atomsk.” Atomsk, the giant pirate-king godlike bird-thing that Haruko is after, popped up in the final episode of FLCL and, evidently, he’ll be making a repeat appearance in Progressive’s finale too. The point I’m about to make is the one I’ve made for the past two episodes, but what can I say? This is Progressive’s number one, inescapable problem. And that problem is this: I don’t give a flying cooly about Atomsk.
There was next to nothing about FLCLassic’s first five episodes to suggest to the viewer that they should be getting excited about an upcoming giant bird. As I noted last week, we only really got any background info on the guy about fifteen minutes before he appeared. Like all the robots and other weird shit in FLCL, Atomsk is only cool to the extent that he looks cool and adds to the overall crazy audiovisual spectacle that is FLCL. I don’t care about his arrival or who he is. In fact, Haruko’s “It’s Atomsk” pronouncement made me roll my eyes because it mirrored her dramatic delivery of “Medical Mechanica,” only two episodes ago and, in case you need a reminder, I don’t give a fooly crap about Medical Mechanica.
Hell, I’d go so far as to say that, despite her being a main character, I never really cared about Haruko’s motivations. If I think back on FLCLassic, the following would be the most important plot aspects of each episode.
“Fooly Cooly” – A kid named Naota has a complicated relationship with his brother’s older girlfriend, Mamimi, and life gets even more complicated for him when an older woman shows up. Also, there is a robot.
“Fire Starter” – Mamimi is an extremely troubled girl and very probably an arsonist. At one point, there is a robot.
“Marquis de Carabas” – Class president and daughter of the mayor, Eri Ninamori, has a difficult home life and a crush on Naota. This leads her to rig the school play so that she and Naota get the two lead roles. Robot.
“Full Swing” – Naota’s feelings for Haruko makes him jealous of his father. The moral of this one is basically that cliché “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” There’s a giant bomb set to blow up the town, but more important is that Naota is the one who stops it, when he finally takes a shot (or, rather, swings a bat).
“Brittle Bullet” – Naota gets a big head. His relationship with Mamimi becomes strained. Real big robot this time.
“FLCLimax” – Mamimi takes out her anger on the townspeople. Naota grows up. Hey, look, it’s a giant bird.
Now, let me summarize the important plot elements of every episode of FLCL Progressive thus far: Haruko is trying to reunite with a giant bird.
That’s it. There are the two main teenage characters, Hidomi and Ide, but all I know about them is Hidomi has an absentee father, Ide is poor, and they like each other (for reasons I’ll never understand because I’ve barely seen them interact outside of action sequences). Also, we knew it was going on at the start, but it’s revealed here that Ide and Haruko have maybe been boning for the entirety of the series? Maybe?
However, that character stuff is presented as irrelevant as the series remains focused on (especially in this episode) endless, surreal, sci-fi action and weird crisscrossing conspiracy nonsense. It’s actually the total inverse of FLCLassic, which clearly signposted its spectacle as ancillary to its characterization. So, while I had no idea what was going on in both FLCL and FLCL Progressive, it didn’t matter with the former. Here, I don’t know the meaning of this weird shit, like ducks being shot at Medical Mechanica or Ide’s body inflating and flying up to outer space, but that’s all there is. Indeed, “Fool on the Planet” features a lot of weird imagery, with enough nonsensicality to rival the FLCL of old. But with nothing to anchor it but a dumb sci-fi story about Atomsk, why should I care?
Some of it looks nice, anyway. The watercolor opening scene is eye-catching and the overall different, sketchy art style of “Fool of the Planet” sort of makes you wish the whole series had looked like this, at least at first. As the episode progresses, the novelty wears off and it actually starts to look cheaper and choppier.
Progressive seems to be at its best when it’s slower, sadder and more somber. Two tiny moments that stuck out to me more than everything else were Aiko stashing her money into a jack-o-lantern and when Ide’s balloon body first floated up into space. The series occasionally pulls off these effective quiet and moody moments and it’s sad they didn’t lean into them more, instead of favoring hollow, sci-fi action.
As always with Progressive, there are reused elements from FLCLassic to trigger my nostalgia and “Fool on the Planet” employs them a bit more shamelessly than other episodes, doing a (pretty uninspired) manga sequence, giving Hidomi a giant robot arm, and introducing a little robot (with a Canti face) that eats metal scraps. They also straight-up reused two of the original series Pillows’ songs, “I Think I Can” and “Last Dinosaur.” However, instead of using them for specific, triumphant moments, as the original series did, they’re just kind of plopped in there, lazily underscoring scenes.
In the end, “Fool on the Planet” left me feeling like every episode of FLCL Progressive: mostly bored, but with a lingering, haunted sense of melancholy that I can’t immediately shake.
It’s like running into a long-lost love and finding they’ve changed. There’s a sense of the person you fell in love with there, so, you can’t help it, some of those emotions you had all those years ago get stirred up. However, the new qualities of this person are so at odds with what you remember and attempting to accept the new and unfamiliar about them paired with those good feelings of the past is so disconcerting that, more than anything else, you just feel weird and uncomfortable. And when you step back and reflect on the experience, you’re left wishing that that time you loved them had remained the only time you’d known each other.