This FLCL Progressive review contains spoilers.
FLCL Progressive Episode 6
When I finished the original series of FLCL, I understood almost none of it but felt every bit of it. And now the finale of FLCL Progressive has come and gone and the opposite is true: I understood everything and felt next to nothing.
I started harping about this from episode three onwards, but it remains true: as a sequel, Progressive is obsessed with, or, possibly, flounderingly, has no idea of what else to focus on but the FLCLore. It doesn’t know what to do except fill its time with dialogue about overflowing and N.O. portals as it randomly drops bass guitars into characters’ hands without attaching any meaning to them beyond “bass guitars were used as weapons in the original show, so, uh, we’re still doing that, too, I guess.”
Most importantly, the chief conflict throughout Progressive has been Haruko’s, which means it’s been a surreal sci-fi tale concerned with her machinations in attempting to achieve her goal of making out with a giant bird god. Haruko was doing the exact same thing in the original series; it’s just that it was the basis for a more prominent narrative about sexuality and growing up. The weird sci-fi was there, but the focus was on the kids: Naota, Mamimi, and Ninamori. I felt for them, so every episode was extremely emotional, even though I had barely understood the sci-fi stuff. A giant bird god thing showed up in the last episode but I couldn’t really tell you why.
In contrast, Progressive’s finale has a scene where (supposed) protagonist Hidomi has a heart-to-heart with her mom about their café and her absentee father, but it’s too little too late. I don’t care about these people because I haven’t been watching a series about them. I’ve been watching “Haruko and the Big Red Bird She Wants to Kiss.”
The weird thing is that, for all its obsession with its predecessor’s lore, Progressive doesn’t add much of anything new to it. We got here in a different, weird way, but in the end, “Our Running” mimics the major story beats of the original series’ “FLCLimax” as Haruko gets her giant bird to appear through a merging of the robot Canti and a young boy (Ide taking Naota’s place this time). And then the giant bird fucks off into outer space again.
There are new, unknown elements here (I don’t quite know why, for example, people are getting turned into marshmallows a la the end of the original Ghostbusters), but I broadly understood what happened because it had already happened before in FLCL and, once I’d gleaned all I could from that series on an emotional level, I read fan analyses of the sci-fi plot so I could understand that side of it as well. It’s a dense, multilayered work that rewards deeper readings.
I can’t see myself revisiting Progressive for a deep dive because what could I possibly uncover to make the series feel richer? I can read fan theories until I thoroughly understand why people were turning into marshmallows, but I’m not fleshing anything out except the technicalities of the surreal sci-fi nonsense. Yes, it’d be not dissimilar to the information I learned from reading analyses of FLCLassic, but, again, I’d already appreciated the original series for its other aspects. Understanding the sci-fi was just the icing on an already wonderfully weird, touching, deliciously rich cake.
The basics of FLCLassic’s sci-fi plot have simply been repeated in Progressive and I have no urge to learn more. I have no interest in unearthing further details about the inner-workings of the flower pot or the why of the marshmallows. If I want a show that rewards obsessive attention to technicalities, I can always rewatch Death Note, a series that explicitly defines all the rules of its high-concept concept. All I’d really like more of from Progressive is characterization, but the bulk of these episodes are devoted to sci-fi Haruko hijinks, so I’m quite confident there’s nothing more to discover there.
However, it’s not entirely fair to say there was no interesting character development. If we accept the premise that Haruko is the protagonist of Progressive, then, in “Our Running,” a new, vulnerable side of her is revealed. But it comes and goes in a flash, and it’s also weird that Progressive suddenly wants us to sympathize with Haruko when it’s thus far depicted her as cold and aloof at best, and often downright villainous, far more regularly than FLCLassic did.
Further, it’s my feeling that revealing Haruko’s vulnerability through what amounts to a scene of her and Hidomi fighting over a boy, is a lame and unfortunate way to go, cheapening her character, not to mention the entire series. The culmination of everything we’ve watched is that Hidomi and Haruko try to out-smooch each other to win back the guys they’re crushing on? I mean, really?
Everything else in “Our Running” is par for the course with this sequel series. I didn’t care about any of what was happening, but the occasional moment of attractive, bizarre animation and the (uninspired) use of Pillows’ music made me perk up briefly. The shots of Atomsk soaring through the sky were pretty and I liked the freaky animation of Haruko puking. Some of the most classic Pillows’ songs from FLCLassic showed up here, but they were, as before, lazily tossed in. And the beautiful and stirring “Thank You, My Twilight,” used brilliantly in the premiere episode’s opening sequence, was again squandered here, languidly providing background for sci-fi plot development.
If there’s one thing I can say for FLCL Progressive, it’s that it was consistent. Every episode left me feeling the same. I was largely unmoved, but there always remained a tiny, haunting sense of the promise of a more engaging, more emotional series hidden beneath the sci-fi mundanity. On the bright side, that series already exists. It’s called FLCL.