FLCL - Volume 2 Review
Perhaps even more so than most anime, particularly since it is no longer than 6 episodes long, FLCL (pronounced “Fooly Cooly”) is not the kind of series to jump into half-way through, so it must be presumed that anyone reading this review is already a convert, or perhaps just holding out to see if the quality is maintained over the remaining episodes. If the latter is the case, then I can happily report that the manic mayhem of the first two episodes is certainly upheld and that the episodes are of such a continued fluid absurdity that there is not much likelihood of there being anything resembling spoilers in the following summary.
The troubles and confusion of childhood switch momentarily from Naota to his classmate Ninamori. The young girl’s parents are going through a messy divorce, and it doesn’t help that her father is the mayor, which means that all kinds of lurid details about his affairs are spread all over the sensationalist tabloid press and consequently circulated among her classmates. Naota meanwhile, is being encouraged by his strange housekeeper Haruko to participate in the rehearsals for the school play. With the Vespa Girl involved however, it’s not going to be simple, and sure enough, weird things and giant monsters start popping out of the kids’ heads. Those cat ears should at least come in handy for the school production of Puss ‘n Boots.
Naota is then placed in another challenging situation where he has to live up to the legacy of his older brother who has gone to play baseball in America. For Naota however in the strange little town of Mabase, where all sorts of strange alien activity is going on, the baseball match becomes a game of galactic proportions in its importance. Things get even weirder when his pervert father starts fooling around with Haruko.
Episodes three and four might seem to be relatively more restrained after the shock impact of the opening episodes, the stories seeming to even start making a little sense, but that is probably just an illusion brought about by familiarisation with the style and the characters. The freewheeling plot just keeps moving on, without recap and without too much repetition in either the story or the animation techniques. Yeah, giant robots do still have a tendency to explode out of kids’ heads, but they still provide plenty of opportunity for the animators to set their imagination loose.
Episode three is the best of the two, a freeze-frame-tastic explosion of animated imagination and invention, the creators given free-rein to create dynamic sequences in a range of styles and tempos. With rapid-fire explosive action, outlandish angles, freeze-frame sequences, busy backgrounds, all set to a blasting soundtrack from Japanese rock band The Pillows, the series remains a constant display of dazzling technique and, most importantly, fun. Episode four doesn’t significantly progress the story or take it to a new level, falling back on earlier themes through the shadowy Alien Immigration authorities, but it does provide a wider sense of dynamic for the series as a whole. Sticking to its ethic of allowing the animators complete freedom to make of the characters what they wish, the fourth episode turns out to be a showcase for art director Hiromasa Ogura, who manages to impress his own style and humour on the episode in quite a different manner from previous episodes, but perhaps not quite as dynamically.
Setting its animators loose with their imagination doesn’t however mean that FLCL neglects nuance and character detail. The mood that is created is meant to evoke the confusion, longing, trauma, sense of wonder and adventure of childhood, and, bizarrely through monster robot action, it manages to achieve that in a unique and entertaining way.
FLCL - Volume 2 is released in the UK by MVM. The disc contains just the two middle episodes of the 6-part series, each approximately 25 minutes long including opening credits, end titles and next episode previews. The two episodes are presented on a single-layer disc, in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2. Menu credits would suggest that the source for the release comes from Madman in Australia. The technical specifications of the A-V below remain essentially unchanged from Volume 1.
Presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio, this release of the series has all the usual problems associated with standards converted animation including colour banding and interlacing, though few of these issues are really noticeable on such a series that alternates between fast moving action and freeze-frames. Such dynamism however comes with a cost in the amount of ghosting artefacts which are all the more evident and prevalent throughout. The image is relatively stable, the print clear and colours reasonably well defined, but it looks slightly bright in one or two scenes. Lines hold together well, only showing shimmer and breaking on one or two instances. Overall, the image is fine, but with the common conversion issues from NTSC, it is certainly less than perfect.
Not counting the director’s commentary track, there are three soundtrack choices – a Dolby Digital 2.0 English dub, the original Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese track and an Dolby Digital Isolated Music Score track. The English and Japanese language tracks are fine, clear and strong, coping reasonably well with the complex overlapping voices, music and sounds on a busy mix. The Isolated Music Score doesn’t seem to be listed on the menu options, but can be switched on the fly through the DVD player’s remote control. It basically drops the voices and leaves the marvellous soundtrack from The Pillows, though it also retains sound effects.
The subtitles, like everything else on this series, are a complicated affair. There is the option of having only signs translated, if you are listening to the English dub, or full translation for the Japanese track. The subtitles (not dubtitles) are in a yellow font for the main dialogue, but as there are often parallel conversations going on, secondary subs are presented in grey. Occasionally, when necessary, they appear also at the top of the screen or even diagonally on background signs. There’s no denying their fullness, but it is certainly over-complicated to read, and may take a few run-throughs to capture the sense of some scenes. Since there is also so much going on visually on the screen, the English dub may be a more viable option here, and the American voice-actors seem to do a reasonable job on the sample I made of it. The third subtitle track is for the director’s commentary.
Extra features are inevitably limited for an animate series like this, but an effort has at least been made. Again the director Kazuya Tsurumaki steps up to provide a Commentary for both episodes. Interviewed in Japanese, he again explains a few cultural references for the sake of American audiences as well as clearing-up a few obscure plot points and bizarre episode titles. Inevitably there’s a bit of indulgence involved in animating and including his favourite things. A Poster Art Gallery includes 5 DVD cover designs and a magazine cover, done in a variety of styles. The Australian Trailer (2:20) presents a dynamic montage of the high-points of the series, inevitably to the accompaniment of the ever-present Pillows theme song ‘Ride on Shooting Star’. This also features in the Japanese Closing (2:22), which is the closing titles sequence featuring the original Japanese text. Cast Profiles are included for the characters of Mamimi Samejima and Eri Ninamori. Trailers are included for other MVM anime titles.
The two middle episodes of the series included in FLCL – Volume 2 manage to keep up the imagination and the momentum of the first two episodes, while at the same time providing variety in technique and pace that responds to the circumstances of its young characters and the madness in their lives. The shortness of the 6 part series and the average quality of the DVD presentation however certainly doesn’t merit it being spread out across three individual single-layer DVDs. A collected edition, should it become available, would be the much better option for this still fun and adventurous animated series.