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Beginner's Guide to FLCL

Gainax's madcap, surrealist anime, broken down for new viewers.

FLCL - - sometimes called “Fooly Cooly” or pronounced “Furi Curi” (just accept it) - - was built up to me for years before I finally got the chance to watch it. One friend even went as far to describe it as “what falling in love for the first time is like.” I don’t know if its impact is quite that significant, but it’s certainly a one-of-a-kind experience and an excellent example of what anime offers the discerning viewer that no other kind of entertainment can. Concerning accessibility to beginners; this is a short series and easy investment of time. But be warned... this show is bonkers.  Bombastic, ballistic (but beguiling) bonkers.

 

The Story

 
Describing FLCL’s plot is almost a fool’s errand. The show’s intentionally, almost brazenly, nonsensical with a free-spirited flippancy regarding its own logic.

The starting point, at least, sees 12-year-old Naota going through some typical adolescent ennui over the seemingly ho-hum nature of his home town.  He describes it as a place where “nothing interesting ever happens” and that might make you think it’s a run-down, boring industrial dump. However, given that the “industrial” part of that description comes in the form of Medical Meccanica (a colossal steam iron-shaped facility that towers over everything,) well... it should give you a clue as to what kind of dream logic’s at work, here.

Naota’s mother is out of the picture. He lives with his father, Kamon, and his grandfather, Shigekuni,  while his older brother, Tasuka, is playing pro baseball in America. Sure enough, Naota’s becomes sloppy seconds to Tasuka’s troubled ex-girlfriend, Mamimi, who lures this listless lad under the town bridge for daily bouts of idle conversation and half-hearted flirtation.  

One day, something interesting does finally happen in this town when Naota gets run over by a strange chick in a vespa - - Haruka. After giving him some suggestive, bullet-time-style CPR, she smacks him on the head with an electric bass and the impact (as any rational person would expect) causes a robot to sprout out of his head. Haruka claims to be in town on a mission from outer space and odd circumstances lead her to becoming Kamon’s housekeeper. Making things ever more uncomfortable for Naota, she moves in his room and takes over Tasuka’s bunk.

From this point onward, Naota sees his world turned upside down by this crazy girl. Among other things, he unsuccessfully tries to suppress fleshy horns that are now sprouting from his forehead (which doesn’t like another symptom of male puberty, at all) that, in turn, shoot more robots out of him (OK - - that sounds less like puberty.) His mind-bending, dimension-twisting activities attract the attention of entities as diverse as  Eri, the class president, the local amateur baseball team and a secret government division run by a man with super-eyebrows. Soon, the entire town is drawn into an escalating cycle of phantasmagoria that really makes more sense the less you think about it.

Characters

FLCL’s about Naota’s coming of age: the plot can easily be interpreted as happening entirely inside his hormone-charged head. Thus, all the wacky personalities in this colorful cast are defined mostly by their relationship to him.  And what’s an adolescent male fantasy without multiple girls gunning for one clueless guy?

 
NAOTA NANDABA
A precocious 12-year-old who’s bored by his every day world, embarrassed by his childish father and, subsequently, bewildered by this parade of strangeness following Haruko. He’s just a kid coming to gripes with the usual pangs adolescent. You know... discovering girls, stepping out of his big brother’s shadow and suppressing the robots sprouting from his head.    

 

HARUKO HARUHARA
The infamous bass-wielding, Vespa-riding space girl. She’s technically the archetypal “manic pixie dream girl” who’s going to freak out this moody square, Naota, but her style of “manic” runs much more psychotic than your typical muse.  She’s got some ulterior motive about freeing a space lord, but there really is no reading this pink-haired alien.  
   
MAMIMI SAMEJIMA 
Your mother warned you about the kind of girl.  A chain-smoking truant (and possible arsonist,) she plays hooky daily and plays some serious head games with Naota under the local bridge.   It’s kind of icky already that she’s putting moves on Naota when she’s his big brother’s ex; it’s doubly-icky that she’s five years older than this middle-schooler.  
  
 


ERI NINAMORI 
So precious, she makes Naota look infantile by comparison.  A class president who’s oddly cool, calm and collected about the affair her father, the mayor, is having with his secretary, she’s got a crush on Naota, and even goes as far as to rig the school play's casting so she’ll star opposite him. Out of the Naota's three potential girlfriends, she’s the healthiest choice since, well… she’s actually his age.    

KAMON NANDABA 
 Naota’s immature father, an aspiring editor. As if things weren’t gross enough already (in a funny way, of course), he’s also Naota’s rival for Haruko’s affections, putting an Oedipal spin on everything. The most pointed instance of this comes when Kamon (or a robot, it’s hard to tell) uses his chin stubble to give her massage.   You, uh...  have to see it.  
  
   

What You Need to Know

FLCL ran first in Japan from Spring 2000 to Spring 2001. Gainax, the animation studio that also produced NEON GENESIS EVANGELION, produced it while Production IG animated it. Supposedly, this project grew out of Gainax wanting to do something fast, loose and fun as a “break” after having spent several years working on the deathly-serious and greatly-complex EVANGELION. Having that in mind explains a lot of why the series has a such a blithe whimsy about its own plot.

 

What Can This Be Compared To?

 What happens when you crank the amp to 11.
 What happens when you crank the amp to 11.

The most mainstream thing this show can be compared to is ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. Both are freewheeling potpourri of abstract romantic comedy, music-driven surrealism and wild psychological symbolism mashed with heady sci-fi. A closer - - though more “indy” - - comparison can be made to the work of SCUD THE DISPOSABLE ASSASSIN creator, Rob Schrab. Like a lot of his comics and videos, FLCL can be described as a hormone-fueled fever dream a 13-year-old might have after a weekend-long marathon of sugary cereals and Saturday morning cartoons. And if you’re fan of the Nick Toon AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, you’ll probably be intrigued to know that the directors of the show made all their staff watch FLCL.

What Should You Watch?

 It's hard to even describe this image.
 It's hard to even describe this image.

Running only six episodes long, this is a very easy series to get into, length-wise. There aren’t any side series or spin-off movies you must watch to get the whole experience. What’s potentially tricky is the plot, as mentioned, since it’s positively three breeds of bizarre.  Tokyopop put out two volumes of English translated-editions of the manga. I haven't read these, myself, but I'm told that they're loose adaptations of the anime that put a darker spin on the story. 

Buyer's Guide

 Seriously - - beware ANYBODY on a Vespa.
 Seriously - - beware ANYBODY on a Vespa.

Another obstacle for new viewers is finding reasonably-priced copies in America. If you want to get the whole series in one place, copies of the Ultimate Edition and Limited Collector’s Edition Box (which come with all sort of extra features and goodies) run from around $150 to around $300 on Amazon. A cheaper option would be to pick up the three - - count 'em One, Two, Three - - DVD volumes separately. Each one contain two episodes and runs for around $20, putting the whole series at around $60 and around $90 cheaper than the cheapest box set copy.


   



FoxxFireArt moderator on June 7, 2010 at 11:21 p.m.
FLCL is a great series. It's one of those rare gems where the dub cast does such a good job. I like it more then the original Japanese cast.
 
The music is cool. It's really entertaining and not a big investment on time.
 
I liked Eri Ninamori. I loved the awkwardness of that scene in his bedroom. It was pretty funny.
My favorite woman we see in the series is sadly the one we saw so little of. Kitsurubami. She is a cute character. I loved when she shot down Amarao's advances.
sotyfan16on June 8, 2010 at 12:17 a.m.

Sounds awesome. Ever since I started seeing Anime Vice columns talking about FLCL I've been interested in seeing this as a break from all the other anime I watch. 
 
On a note about buying the boxset..I just got on eBay and can buy one for about $100. Some people have some outrageous prices on there but hell one guy has a listing at $20 right now with under 2 days left. A total steal if I buy? It's brand new and sealed.

Centimanion June 8, 2010 at 12:27 a.m.
Having just finished the first season of Avatar (literally moments ago), It's interesting to hear about the team members watching FLCL. To a degree, I can see some of the influence it must have had on the series.
vargladon June 8, 2010 at 3:29 a.m.
Otousan: FURI-KURI! FURI-KURI! FURI-KURI!..... furi-kuri te nannda? Naota: shiruka!
 
xD so many aweosme moments in this anime. And with the music and awesome cast... damn it's just to good. I really like that I first learned of this anime from a review that gave it the lowest score possible... so wierd. But i guess some people just can comprehend t's awesomeness.
sickVisionz moderator on June 8, 2010 at 5 a.m.
I've always wondered this: in the Cartoon Network version it felt like the music was really loud, is this a mixing error or is that how the show is?  Pop/rock music pops up so much and so loud that I always thought it was an ED coming up.
Gaseroon June 8, 2010 at 6:21 a.m.
Is it possible to have a beginner's guide to FLCL? I've seen the series, and even though it was enjoyable while watching, I barely could tell what was going on.
 
FLCL is just one of those series that one has to watch in order to tell if they'd like it.
Kuma_From_Argentinaon June 8, 2010 at 6:22 a.m.
The Soundtrack is sublime, even with the bizarre history the charcter develpment is corrrect, and dual wielding energy covered guitars at the end is fraggin awesome....
Dream moderator on June 8, 2010 at 7:47 a.m.
Forgot  one other option, Tom: wait until fall. Funimation license-rescued FLCL and they plan to release the series on both DVD and Blu-Ray this upcoming fall.
haseo_yashimoraon June 8, 2010 at 9:02 a.m.

i justed watched the first episode, after i said to myself, "ok......WTF did i just watch"???? it was soooo werd
groonkon June 8, 2010 at 10:36 a.m.
I get something new from FLCL each time I watch it. 
 
Also, I watch it every 3 months or so.
 
Nothing will happen if you don't swing the bat.
sotyfan16on June 8, 2010 at 11:48 a.m.

I went ahead and watched all of FLCL after reading this last night. It was very enjoyable. I mostly like the ending but I would have one tweak. 
 
Now I'm up for some Fooly Cooly ;)

jamdownon June 8, 2010 at 3:11 p.m.

greatest thing since cheese on toast
No_name_here staff on June 8, 2010 at 3:25 p.m.
@haseo_yashimora: Ha! You know that was the name of the column I reviewed FLCL for, right? There was many a WTF? moment in that show.
haseo_yashimoraon June 8, 2010 at 3:28 p.m.
@Tom_Pinchuk said:
" @haseo_yashimora: Ha! You know that was the name of the column I reviewed FLCL for, right? There was many a WTF? moment in that show."

lol i no right, ive seen up to episode 3
No_name_here staff on June 8, 2010 at 3:28 p.m.
@FoxxFireArt:  I read some commentary that described Kitsurabami as the only sane character in this show.  I don't know if there's any "cartoon crushes" in this show for me - - not as much as Misato, anyway. She's the sexiest toon since Jessica Rabbit.
No_name_here staff on June 8, 2010 at 3:33 p.m.
@sickVisionz:  Ha! You know, I noticed the same thing too when I first saw it on CN. Seemed like an MTV promo.
No_name_here staff on June 8, 2010 at 3:33 p.m.
@Dream:  Thanks for the head's up. I'll update it and put that in.
FoxxFireArt moderator on June 8, 2010 at 3:49 p.m.
@Tom_Pinchuk said:
" @FoxxFireArt:   I don't know if there's any "cartoon crushes" in this show for me - - not as much as Misato, anyway. She's the sexiest toon since Jessica Rabbit. "
 Robin Nico
 Robin Nico
True, but talk about serious baggage. Lot of Daddy Issues there.
 
I'm a little more partial to Robin Nico. Elegant, mature, highly intelligent, and what a body. She's the archeologist in the crew in One Piece and has a deep love for history. Brilliant, Beautiful, and Loves History. Trifecta for me. You almost always see her reading something in her free time.
LordCravenon June 8, 2010 at 4 p.m.

It just one of those shows where you start to feel nauseous over it's weirdness (half the fun!).  
Also in this catagory: Sayonara Zetsubo sensei and Arakawa under the Bridge 
God I love Japan. How do they air this stuff?
Gaffon June 8, 2010 at 4:58 p.m.
Articles like this make me miss the mid to late 90s era in anime: Evangelion, FLCL, Raxhephon, Lain, the Ghost in The Shell movie... Then again, rose-tinted glasses and the fact that licensing often filters out the crap that comes through unfiltered with the internet nowadays. 
 
Oh man, did I just play the "good ol' days" card? I need to lie down. 
 
Also @Tom_Pinchuk: I saw her first!

Dig Deeper into FLCL

Mechs, guitars, and vespas unite in this surreal sci-fi comedy.

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