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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.


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?

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.    


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.  
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.  

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.    

 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.


nephrahimon June 8, 2010 at 6:23 p.m.
Wow, who the hell is crazy enough to write a beginners guide to FOOLY COOLY?
Paulruson June 8, 2010 at 7:34 p.m.
Gotta love FLCL. Short, memorable, stylish, and fresh. It's like the Portal of anime, I figure.
Shisnopion June 8, 2010 at 7:47 p.m.
I need to get the ultimate collectors set. This is the Anime that got me into Anime, Manga, and the Japanese culture.  It took me a about 3-6 watches to completely understand ( I was only 12 at the time) but once I got the story I watched it another 6 times.
00Raiseron June 8, 2010 at 10:23 p.m.
I have the entire series on one DVD and I think I paid about 15 bucks for mine. Which makes me wonder how much is the series actually worth. I see on amazon its like a 150 bucks tops!
wwfunderakeron June 16, 2010 at 3:51 a.m.
I might watch this next. Really enjoy these guides, keep up the good work.
ethan staff on June 17, 2010 at 1:26 p.m.
@wwfunderaker: @00Raiser:  
Glad you guys like the guides we're doing. 
@nephrahim said:
" Wow, who the hell is crazy enough to write a beginners guide to FOOLY COOLY? "
PaulHernandezon July 20, 2010 at 9:43 p.m.
Definitely one of the best anime from the 90's. I first saw this show on Adult swim when I was 11 or 12. I am 17 now and still in my top five anime. With the character cast, awesome English dubbing (A rare thing indeed), and music from the J-Rock Gods "The Pillows" in your ears this is by far an epic anime that is severely underrated and overlooked by most newer anime fans (Bad enough shows like Dirty pair and Ranma 1/2 are dead to most anime fans).
ImperiousRixon July 20, 2010 at 10:05 p.m.
Being a newbie to anime, this is definitely one of my favorites.  Hell, I'd venture to say this is one of my favorite things ever EVER.  I'm glad that my super stubborn best friend decided to force me to watch the series, or else I may be just as jaded about anime as I had been for years now (thanks Iyna!). 
Great guide.
Eeptogon July 12, 2011 at 11:59 p.m.
Having watched this during puberty i can hardly look at haruko or listen the The Pillows (who supplied the soundtrack) without bursting into tears. Watching this and completely understanding it despite all the insanity odd feeling to say the least.
You poke some fun but to me FLCL was a powerful experience that portrayed puberty's internal madness in a quasi-physical manner.
I'd go so far as to say its one of the few anime that should be seen as artistic.
sharingan_eyeson Aug. 29, 2011 at 8:29 p.m.
not gonna lie...not a fan of this anime
ALdragon17on Sept. 25, 2011 at 7:36 p.m.

I love this series and the song Riding on Shooting Star by The Pillows. I'm going to get the freakin CD and put on my Itunes, yes. I wish I could emble this into twitter or gmail accounts, hell I might have it on my phone as a ring tone.

pmurphon Feb. 6, 2012 at 5:03 p.m.

Wow! i had not seen flcl in years and watched it again 3 times recently , and i have always just been on giant bomb, happened to go on animevice once and there's an article about flcl, awesome!

EDIT:one thing that should be said about flcl is that it has an amazing soundtrack

LordTerminalon Feb. 20, 2012 at 9:43 a.m.

For the love of all that is holy Gainax, why haven't you made a sequel to this series yet? It has so much potential to work off of. I don't care if it takes a 180 of it's original message and just consists of Canti and Naota beating up Medical Mechanica robots for 30 episodes, I'd still watch it.

eroeruon Sept. 14, 2012 at 5:22 p.m.

I'd add that I at first couldn't really get into the series, I don't like anything that doesn't make any sense. But the second time I watched I found an exceptional interpretation to it: symbolism.

Haruka is, as she at one, more mild point says herself, the personification of Youth. The guy with thick eyebrows the personification of adulthood, and others... I don't have such a clear answer to.

Viewing it with this in mind, the series really offers interesting moments to contemplate on. Like the interactions between eyebrowz and Haruka, or any of their deallings really. I was also most impressed by the episode where it's implied that "one needs to kill his father, metaphorically of course, in order to become a true adult and surpass the outgrown generation", in the vein of psychoanalysis.

Dig Deeper into FLCL

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

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