Speeding into the 21st century (albeit moped-style) is none other than the cult classic: FLCL! This series holds a particular spot in many hearts, from its near South Park-esque animation style, fourth-wall-breaking moments, its relatable coming of age story, and of course, robots and violence: it's a story like no other. In fact, it left such an impact upon its initial release that the creators of Avatar the Last Airbender required their team to watch the entire series! (Director Giancarlo Volpe infamously even said to the crew was "ordered to watch every single episode."). Why was this show so inspirational to the team of Avatar, you might be asking yourself?
Well! I'm glad you asked!
FLCL (pronounced Fooly-Cooly) is a coming-of-age show that dived heavily into the experimental and surrealist style. It revolves around Naota Nandaba, a 12-year-old working-class boy living with his widowed father and grandfather. The show itself seemed to rely on being more impulsive in nature, rather than a desire to follow an actual narrative. The creators really wanted to express the awkwardness of growing up (presented in the manner of grotesque metamorphosis. An example? Look at the giant robot that bursts from the horn of our main character Haruko), puberty, and the overall notion that life is unpredictable. This analogy between the wildness of the show and the wildness of life is represented by Haruko, the pink hair female protagonist with a moped. The show is so dedicated to proving the point that there is no actual plot or moral to the story other than pure shenanigans- the main character Naota's father questions what the term FLCL even means, to which Naota responds by: "How should I know?"
The series is also split into 3 seasons, with the first season be the most well-known. Season 1 begins with Naota,
who claims that his life has been relatively boring. He feels that he does the same thing every day, at least until he gets hit by a moped, driven by none other than Haruko Haruhara. After the rather bumpy and speedy introduction,
she revives him with CPR before hitting him on the head with her left-handed electric bass guitar (a blue, vintage Rickenbacker 4001) and proceeds to stalk him.
Quite the introduction, right? Well, it gets even more interesting, as her smooth-talking and forceful talking prowess, allows her to weasel her way into being a live-in maid with Naota’s family. Not too long after that, robots begin to enter the conversation- yeah, this show is a strange one! You might be asking yourself: how exactly? Well, as if things weren’t interesting enough: when Haruko whacked Naota, the injury caused a portal to open. This portal occasionally will spit out robots from time to time.
The first robot to come out was a friendly service robot later named Canti.
Canti ingests Naota to assume the reddened form he first had when fighting the robots sent after him. As if that isn’t weird enough, Haruko claims she is an alien investigator from the Galactic Space Police Brotherhood.
And of course, her presence places Naota and those around him in danger. The Interstellar Immigration Bureau's Commander Amarao, whom Haruko has a history with, asserts instead that she is an apathetic seductress seeking a space-manipulating being called Atomsk who was partially contained within Canti. Eventually, tensions build between Naota, Canti, Haruka, and the Medical Mechanica, leading to a battle that ends Medical Mechanica's attack on Earth. Haruko follows after Atomsk, and Mabuse returns to some normalcy.
In season 2, titled: FLCL Progressive, Haruko returns to Mabuse years later after a failed attempt to contain Atomsk. However, she did manage to absorb him. She becomes a middle school homeroom teacher, and soon targets a 14-year-old girl named Hidomi Hibajiri through her classmate and eventual love interest, Ko Ide. Her opposition appears via both the headphones Hidomi wears and Julia Jinyu, a more stoic offshoot of Haruko that splintered from her during her initial attempt to control Atomsk's power. Eventually Atomsk appears on Earth as planned, but Haruko fails again with a freed Julia taking her to leave. Haruko regains composure and resumes her hunt for Atomsk as Hidomi and Ide begin their relationship while Mabuse rebuilds after much of it were destroyed by Medical Mechanica.
In the third and final season, titled: FLCL Alternative, Haruko enters the life of high school student Kana Koumoto and her friends as she becomes a mentor of sorts to Kana in helping the teen's transition into adulthood as Medical Mechanica begins its assault on Earth. A seemingly less intense season than the past two, but an interesting season, nonetheless.
Lastly, the fourth and fifth seasons have been confirmed during Toonami’s 25th anniversary. titled FLCL: Grunge (season 4) and FLCL: Shoegaze (season 5), respectively. Both seasons will premiere next year (as of this writing) in 2023. While the series is deserving of the ongoing seasons, it really was that first season that set the world ablaze. Now, a series wouldn’t exist without a manga writer!
The manga was created by Hajime Ueda and published by Kodansha, with the English publisher being Dark Horse Comics. The original manga only had 2 volumes; the first 3 seasons all were OVAs, containing 6 episodes each. While seasons 4 and 5 haven’t been confirmed as to how many episodes, it might be fair to say each will also have 6 seasons (although I could be wrong). The manga was published by Kodansha and serialized in monthly Magazine Z. The two volumes were released on October 23, 2000, and August 23, 2001. The omnibus edition was released on May 16, 2012, and includes remastered story pages, a remastered script, and bonus color pages. Hajime Ueda has quite the history as well, working on other projects such as:
Now, with that bit of information out of the way, how did it become popular in the first place? It all began when it first aired on Adult Swim in 2003, which grew thanks to Toonami repeatedly airing the show in 2013 and again in 2018.
Following that last broadcast, the show made a return in June 2018 with seasons 2 and 3, titled FLCL: Progressive and Alternative, which was a nice surprise for fans. After that, it really began to spread like wildfire amongst the anime community of the time. As mentioned earlier in the article, it even helped inspire Avatar!
Going back to the common question that most people like to bring up and is often brought up in other articles is the interpretation of the series. And to be fair, there is a lot to dissect with these series! You have robots coming out of middle-schoolers heads, girls whacking people with bass guitars and rocking mopeds, and erratic pacing. Well, in short: there is no interpretation. That's how Hajimi wanted it- for the series to be open-ended. Because it was driven by the narrative of showing the awkwardness of life in general through a young boy's life. It was meant to be interpreted more by the individual than most stories. But, for some reason, it works.
One argument that could explain why so many people want to analyze (and maybe overanalyze) is that the show's director Kazuya Tsurumaki, a longtime animator at studio Gainax, was also a protégé to Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno. So, as you could imagine, having any sort of accurate tag attached to Neon Genesis,
which is a very deep show (from its takes on depression, addiction, and puberty), you can imagine how it can attract analysts. Although, really, it’s very of its time of being an early show (I mean, even the music was very 00's, which I'm a fan of! Please go check out the band that made the show’s intro: The Pillow). Just know, it's okay to feel stupid! As long as you're entertained, continuing to grow as a person, and ultimately knowing that no one really has it together, then you have arrived! Arrived at an ‘understanding of the FLCL mentality.
Continuing that theme of massive phenomenon’s, we’re going to go back in time from the modern (ish) era to the eras of clans and tribes! Better practice your knowledge of jutsus as we go into the series of Naruto!