I’ve made no secret of how far anime fell from my good graces as I got older. Comics are probably the only nerdly pursuit I’ve invested more time and money in, but they can at least be sold one day for something resembling a return on investment. The 150+ VHS tapes I ultimately left at our old apartment when we moved were never going to get me a dime.
This sort of thing will sour a person.
But, despite my aversion to the Narutos and Bleaches and Death Notes of the world, there are series and movies that will always have a place in my heart and will always get a pass. And no collective except Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli gets carte blanche with me quite like Studio GAINAX.
These are the people who made the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remix Nadia. The people who crafted a beautiful meditation on faith and space travel with The Wings of Honneamise. And the people who continually reinvent the giant robot genre from Gunbuster to Gurrenn Lagann to a little known show called Neon Genesis Evangelion.
But perhaps none of their collected output means more to me than their 2000, six-episode miniseries FLCL, aka Fooly Cooly.
Essentially a demo for the studio’s newly finished CG division, FLCL is almost an indulgent vanity project, with the director throwing everything he loves [guitars, scooters, Lupin III, baseball] into a spastic bouillabaisse that doubles as an allegory for puberty.
How could this possibly be bad?
Naota is a middle schooler trying to play cool and nonchalant during a difficult time in his life. His brother has left him to play baseball in America, his brother’s girlfriend Mamimi is getting all kinds of inappropriate with him, and then a girl who may or may not be an alien runs over him with her Vespa and smacks him with a Rickenbacker bass guitar. Robots begin to spring from his head shortly thereafter. The series charts Naota’s struggle to deal with the changes in his body and his life, while trying to figure out what Haruka the alien girl is really after and defending his city from continued robot attacks. Yup.
Like most things featured in the Throwback, FLCL was hard to track down for a while. Despite popular airings on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, the company responsible for the original DVD release went under, copies dried up and prices shot up: the original Synch-Point boxset being the only thing I’ve ever been ripped off for on eBay; cost me 75 bucks, never showed up. I almost punched out a vendor at Toronto’s Fan Expo two years ago for implying my tastes were antiquated. Luckily, the show’s been reacquired by licensing behemoth Funimation, allowing me the chance to pick it up for a cool 30 bucks.
Visually, the animation hasn’t held up especially well. I can’t speak for the BluRay release, but the colours on the DVD look a little washed out, probably partially due to the yellow palette used on the sky most of the time. The animation isn’t quite as revolutionary as it was a decade ago: those 360-degree shots of people flying through the air look downright precious, although the famous ‘manga scenes,’ when the show changes from traditional animation to a camera panning over a narrated manga page, and the South Park cutout scenes look as good as they always did.
The Funimation set appears to preserve the original Synch-Point dub and director commentaries. For a guy who originally saw the show on a downloaded fansub, the show makes a fair bit more sense with the aid of a professional translation, though not much more.
And of course, there’s the music. Longtime readers of the site know how I feel about the pillows, and this is the place I first heard them. From the second the acoustic guitar chords of ‘Brannew Lovesong’ played during the menu, I was swooning like it was 2002 all over again. I know fans have given the band shit over the reworked instrumentals they did for the show, but I’ll always hold them in special regard. The video for ‘Ride on Shooting Star’ is even included in the special features, giving me the first legitimate piece of pillows memorabilia I’ve ever owned.
FLCL is still an amazing, ballsy work to witness, in the way that a lot of Gainax’s work is. It does exactly what it wants to do and doesn’t give a damn if you get it or not, and makes no effort to explain itself. If you know the pigeons that fly by in episode 5 are a nod to John Woo, or what the talk about red vs. blue ‘Cagliostro Castle‘ jackets, great. If you don’t, tough shit, you’re on your own. But an intimate knowledge of the jokes isn’t necessary to appreciate what a wonderfully mad experiment it is. It could even make me love anime again.
Ha! No, I can’t do that with a straight face.
FLCL: The Complete Series is available now on DVD and BluRay from Funimation.