What on Earth is going on here??
That’s pretty much what you’ll be asking yourself the whole time you watch this show. Between the wide variety of characters and the behaviors they exhibit and the impossible-to-follow storyline, you will find yourself just staring at the screen wondering what the hell is happening. Sometimes it’s so ridiculous and funny you’ll be rolling in laughter, and other times it’s suddenly so dark and serious that you’ll want to cry. This is one of the strangest and most fascinating and most engrossing shows you’ll ever watch. And through three seasons, there’s only 18 episodes!
Yeah there’s a bunch of characters. Most of them are middle or high schoolers who find themselves thrown into these situations that are somewhere between ridiculously absurd and life-or-death perilous. And they are not ready for it! These kids are all dealing with the tribulations that adolescence throws at people, and usually they’re taking it really badly. I could go into all the different characters in this category, but it would probably be depressing to you. From Naota in S1 to Hidomi in S2 and finally Kana in S3, they all have different troubles that don’t just go away because they’re suddenly fighting the proverbial evil empires of the universe. On the contrary, their problems try to take centerstage as much as possible in their lives. I don’t want to go into the whole growing-up thing that’s going on in this show too much, so I will simply say one thing about this.
It’s actually kind of interesting. If we think about growing up, remember those times when you were very little and you’d fall and scrape your knee, and that was the worst thing in the world? This show kind of makes a point of that. Highschool is the wild west for these kinds of overblown feelings. Not that they’re not real or heartfelt, but they tend to consume everything in individual teenage lives. This show just super highlights it by juxtaposing all that drama against these universe-level threats. And the teenage drama always challenges those threats in importance! It’s borderline hilarious, but also highlights the sadness of it all. It’s just another weird but really effective thing about this show.
But that’s the last bit of gloominess I’m going to touch on in this review. Because this show is ultimately a wild and zany experience at heart, and any other view of it would miss the entertainment value of it. And the craziness of this show is embodied in the only character to appear centrally in every season. Yep, Haruhararuharahuraraharuhuraha…Haruko Haruhara!
Her punk manner of speech and wild guttural screams as she slings her guitars around at mechs will have you in fits! She’s the best in the first season (the first season is the best by far in my opinion), but her strangeness impacts each season. When she shows up in season 1 and runs over Naota with her Vespa (hilarious, this choice of vehicle) and proceeds to revive him with CPR (ahem) and then smash him in the head with a guitar, you’re pretty much sold on this character. And after watching her and her antics for three seasons, you start to wonder what the writers were consuming when they designed this character! She’ll try to seduce people. She’ll hit things with guitars. She’ll run over people. She impersonates anybody, in any profession. She’s really good at baseball (what’s up with the baseball thing in this series?). Supposedly she’s an “alien.” All while slurring and cutting off her words in that droll yet energetic tone of voice. Mayumi Shintani hasn’t done a ton of anime work as far as I can tell, but should it surprise you if I told you she was also in Kill la Kill? She’s the annoying Nonon Jakuzure in there, but these two shows have so many similarities it would almost be wrong if she wasn’t one of the characters there! Haruko is so much fun, I won’t even attempt to describe her any more here. Just go see it for yourself! This series is so short, you’ll get the idea pretty quickly!
You’ve got a handful of other characters with the various groups that appear throughout the series, but they more or less just enable the action around the teenage characters and Haruko. Jinya’s interaction with Haruko is kind of fun, seeing as they’re kind of supposed to be alter-egos or something weird like that. Other than that, these characters are just kind of there and serve their purpose, never really getting much development. Nor do they need it. They serve to highlight Haruko and the bizarre storyline, which they do just fine.
It’s squarely in the sci-fi genre of art. Not too crazy about details, lots of single points of interest, and varied but not crazy bright coloring. The main teenage characters get a decent amount of care in their design, but not so much that they warrant any special attention. In fact, I figure the writers want these characters to feel “normal,” so their characteristics are fairly normal.
Haruko is not super unique or recognizable in appearance, but without doubt she has the most effective design. Messy pink hair going all over her head and face, greenish eyes, and a carefree, contemptuous expression all over her face, she knows she’s the center of everything, and doesn’t really care! She’s the most attractive person in the series, regularly using her body to try to seduce male characters, usually for some ulterior purpose. Of course she’s riding a dorky Vespa and carrying a guitar! It’s FLCL!
In any anime where there’s fighting, and particularly fighting involving mecha, the fight sequences can either be really confusing and impossible or quite engrossing and impossible. FLCL is closer to the engrossing end of the spectrum. Usually these fights consist of Haruko flying impossibly through the air, wielding her guitar du jour with wild ferocity, smashing through mechs amid these ridiculous screams she emits. That aside. But during these battles, short though they usually are, the mecha movements are rarely incomprehensible. It’s a little difficult to describe. We’ve all seen battles in anime where it’s impossible to tell exactly what’s happening. Then we’ve seen battles where things seem to slow down or speed up just the right amount at just the right time, focusing on exactly the right thing at exactly the right time, where the effectiveness of this and the power of the result will make you laugh in amazement (Demon Slayer, Attack on Titan…hey is anyone seeing what’s happening there at the time I’m writing this in early 2021? Amazing!). While FLCL doesn’t reach those heights usually, it’s hard to forget the hilarity and power of Haruko’s guitar smashing through metal and glass, sending her opponents flying in every direction. It’s very fun to watch these fights.
There’s a story?
I guess there is. Between Medical Mechanica trying to save and/or destroy the Earth, the Interstellar Immigration Bureau, and Haruko’s supposed organization, the Galactic Space Police Brotherhood, there’s plenty of machinations going on. Wait, the what who of what brotherhood? Anyway, a lot of it revolves around Haruko’s pursuit of this being known as Atomsk (huh?), and the various dangers his presence poses to these various different powers that be. In a funny kind of way, it paints a very dark picture of our world. I won’t go into all that, as I promised no more gloominess. So yes, there’s plenty of plots and subplots going on. The thing is though, you don’t ever really know what those are!
Medical Mechanica is just a shadowy organization that somehow is either causing or somehow overseeing the activity of these “N.O.” occurrences. “No?” Yes. Anyway. We don’t really know what the deal is with them. They try to destroy the Earth in seasons 1 and 3. Their “plants” look like giant irons. You know, the things you use to get the wrinkles out of fabric? If there’s a deeper message in this choice of apparatus, I will not make any attempt to discover what it is. It’s just wrong somehow, just another thing in this show that’s bizarre. And that’s the other weird thing about the irons. The people who live nearby them just tolerate them. Their curiosity about them seems unreasonably low. When they finally activate, then all hell breaks loose. Then everything returns to normal after Haruko resolves everything. Where’s the story in there? I do not know. Neither will you when you watch it!
I don’t get it with the Interstellar Immigration Bureau either. I guess someone’s poking fun at the “ruling elite” of our world, again a rather dark view of things, but they are just what they sound like. Though it’s never clear whose interstellar immigration they’re bureau-ing. In S3 we see them ferrying off the wealthy to a Martian colony. But I think we’re supposed to imagine they do a lot more than just that, perhaps enabling all kind of movements among planets and peoples. But who knows, and who cares?
It not even always clear if there are good or bad guys here. Yeah Medical Mechanica tries to destroy the Earth, but no one is actively trying to fight them. The mecha that spring from characters’ foreheads (oh yeah that’s another thing), while often enemies to our characters, are at times very helpful. Haruko seems to be working with the Interstellar Immigration Bureau (I don’t want to type that any more) at times. Even Haruko herself isn’t really a sympathetic character. She’s pretty uncaring in a lot of ways. Most of what she does is just to serve her personal motives. And if solving teenage problems helps her to achieve those goals, she’ll even show up as their homeroom teacher to do it. If it involves seducing their parents, or their love interests, she’ll do that too! But I don’t think we’re supposed to imagine she’s out to save the world. She’s just out doing whatever it is she wants, and to hell with the consequences!
So there is a story, but also there isn’t really a story. It’s FLCL!
No I don’t know what “FLCL” means. If any of you do, good for you. I’m not sure anybody knows what it’s really supposed to mean, or if it’s supposed to mean anything. It’s just ridiculous, like everything else in this show! Yes it’s pronounced “fooly cooly.”
Yeah anime is about characters and art and the stories we set them to, ultimately. But this anime is just everything and anything all at once! It’s all over the place, doing all kinds of incomprehensible things. But above all, it is entertaining. Wildly entertaining. This is the most fun you’ll have watching anime, or nearly the most fun. It moves along rapidly, never dragging through story or character development. It is constantly in motion. Yes, it’s only six episodes per season! This is pretty unusual for anime. And to tell you the truth, when I rewatched this after probably a year’s break between first and second viewing, I honestly thought these were all short episodes too, like the 3-10 minute shows you see every now and then. But nope, they’re all 20+ minutes each. It doesn’t seem like that!
But you know what, I’m satisfied with that. When watching this show, you want to just keep watching it, never putting it down. But when it’s done, you’ll feel like you’ve seen all that you want to. Not in a bad way, just you’re content with setting it down now. It’s complete, and you’re happy. Although, I do hope they do some more. It has spanned two decades now, starting in 2000 and finishing up season 3 in 2018. They might as well keep going! And I hope they do.