Video Reviews
by Kazuya Tsurumaki
Studio GAINAX, Production I.G (JP); Synch-Point (US) (2000)
9 / 10
Hey-hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. For as much as I am a sucker for off-beat romantic comedies, I’m an even bigger fan of the tried-and-true “coming of age” tale. To that effect, I cannot think of any medium more suitable to chronicling the transition from childhood to adolescence (or adolescence to adulthood) than serialized film. Specifically: television series, wherein writers have all the time in the world—or, as much time as the precarious three-way balancing act with their respective fan bases and producers affords them—to develop their characters’ progression from Starting Point A to the nebulous, off-in-the-distance uncertainty of Series-ending Point B.

Many of you may fondly remember such coming of age series as “The Wonder Years” and “Freaks and Geeks,” two endearing tales of tween- and teenaged awkwardness, hesitancy, and small-scale personal triumphs and tribulations. Well, this review has little-to-nothing to do with either of those beloved slices of yesteryear Americana. Instead, we’re jumping halfway around the globe to the small (and presumably fictional) town of Mabase, Japan, home to an ordinary middle-school student by the name of Nandaba Naota.

Admittedly, Naota is no Kevin Arnold. Heck, he’s not even a Sam Weir. Truth be told, Naota’s a bit of a punk—the kid has more pent-up angst than a teenaged nihilist. He skips school, he makes out with a high school girl who is five years his senior and just happens to be his brother’s ex-girlfriend, and he has little to no respect for authority figures. Then again, his teacher is a neurotic flake, his mother is nowhere to be found, and his father is a burnt-out journalist with a penchant for lechery and a love of giant-robot anime. Worse yet, Naota’s grandfather is a surly old crank, and his older brother Tasuku left home to play baseball in the United States. Talk about your lack of immediate role models.

Just when you think that things couldn’t get any worse for the kid, enter the catalytic muse Haruhara Haruko, a Vespa-riding gaijin who pulls a drive-by on Naota’s noggin with the business end of a bass guitar. Adding insult to near-fatal injury, Naota’s would-be assassin resuscitates him, only to treat his head like a piñata a second time before taking off again. Apparently, two smacks upside the head were not enough, and Haruko later poses as a nurse at the local clinic in order to make a third attempt at playing blunt-force brain surgeon with Naota’s ailing cranium. Weirder still, she then moves in with the Nandaba family as a live-in housekeeper—and as Naota’s new roommate.

But wait! There’s more! As if a few concussions were not enough to ruin Naota’s day, a pair of robots bust out of his battered bean and proceed to duke it out on one of Mabase’s major thoroughfares, a duel replete with high-flying acrobatics and pyrotechnics.

On second thought, maybe Naota is not that ordinary after all.

“What the hell is going on!?” you might very well be wondering, and rightfully so. That was just a brief synopsis of the first episode of Studio GAINAX & Production I.G’s “FLCL”—pronounced “Furi Kuri,” or “Fooly Cooly,” depending on who you ask. Originally released in 2000, the six-part OVA series plays out like an ADHD mind-trip, pairing the pastiche-ridden, self-aware insanity of “Excel Saga” and Otaku no Video with the coming-of-age uncertainties inherent to such mecha series as “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” “Mobile Suit Gundam,” and “Macross.” There’s plenty of romance (more like rampant innuendo), epic battles (really, they’re just weird), genuine intrigue (more weirdness), and a sense of impending apocalypse that can only be averted by a twelve-year-old boy and his childish maid… housekeeper… alien. Whatever.

Stylistically, “FLCL” borrows bits and pieces from just about everything. The series as a whole is an esoteric homage to Eastern and Western pop-culture—an homage that manages to be both eye-rollingly blatant and pleasantly subtle. Keep a weather eye out for bits and pieces of 60’s Mod fashion, British Invasion-era rock-and-roll iconography, fantasy elements typical of Hong Kong Blood Opera, and even overt tips of the proverbial hat to well-known animated series like “Lupin III” and “South Park” and otaku-friendly shtick like Daicon IV.

Notably, “FLCL” progenitor and director Tsurumaki Kazuya was a coworker and protégé of “Evangelion” director An’no Hideaki, though Tsurumaki eschews An’no’s singularity of purpose. Rather, Tsurumaki’s artistic vision is as piecemeal as his series’ source materials. The animation is patch-and-motley yet uniquely fluid, seamlessly mimicking everything from the hard lines and break-neck pacing of action-adventure to the squash-and-stretch of slapstick comedy, from the bizarre angles and extreme close-ups of art-house and horror to the overemphasized emoting of romantic comedy and the strange beauty of phantasmagoria. While the style may shift constantly from one episode to the next—and often from one scene to another, as in the infamous “manga dinners” of episodes 1 & 6—it never feels forced. Add to this visual smorgasbord a talented vocal cast that feels right at home (both in the original Japanese and in the English dub) and a fantastic soundtrack featuring j-pop-rockers the pillows, and you’ve got an anime series that can’t help but entertain.

Mind you, “FLCL” is not without its faults, most notably its length, or lack thereof. With six episodes running at less than three hours total, “FLCL” is a remarkably quick ride, and its fairly open-ended conclusion may frustrate those expecting some sort of all-questions-answered finale (the aforementioned “Eva” connection notwithstanding). But, what the series manages to accomplish in those three hours is nothing short of phenomenal, and “FLCL” is a must-see for anyone who enjoys a good coming of age tale. But, like your childhood, don’t expect to understand everything the first time around.
Posted by: Tom Körp

Video Reviews (February 14th, 2007)

Tags: video, reviews, flcl, fooly cooly, furi kuri, gainax, production ig