FLCL - Volume 1 Review
FLCL, pronounced "Fooly-Cooly", means a number of things in this anime series devised by Gainax, or it may not really mean anything at all. According to the (fake) neurologist at the hospital treating an large protuberance erupting from our young protagonist Naota’s head, it could be an abbreviation for his unusual condition which is known as "Flictonic Klipple"; it could be the kind of "fooly-cooly"-ing around that leads to such a condition, according to Naota’s perverted father and grandfather; or it could be a mantra chanted by Mamimi, a covert arsonist obsessed with a handheld game who offers her "Furry Curry"’s to Cantido-sama, the God of the Black Flame. Whatever it means, the above situations should indicate that the enigmatic title is at least well suited to the abstract, surreal nature of this demented animated series.
Amidst considerable competition however, perhaps the most crazed and unpredictable character in the series is however the Vespa Girl, an alien on a motorbike wielding an electric guitar as a weapon, who according to the legend spread amongst the schoolchildren in the small town of Mabase preys on bad kids with naughty thoughts. Indecent thoughts could certainly be afflicting 12 year-old Naota, who finds himself hanging around with sultry, suggestive and flirtatious 17 year-old High School student Samejima Mimimi, the former girlfriend of his older brother who has gone to America to become a baseball player, to such an extent that the other kids call her his "wife". The disappearance of his brother has as much an impact on Naota as Mimimi, drawing them uncomfortably together.
It’s on one occasion when he is with Mimimi that Naota is assaulted by the Vespa Girl who bears down on him like a bat out of hell, the fractious encounter leaving the young boy with a huge soft horn sprouting from his forehead. It’s only when the embarrassing protuberance hatches into a dangerous mechanical monster that the true mission of the Vespa Girl (who has since revealed herself to be 19 year-old Haruko Haruhara and taken up residence in Nandaba household as a housekeeper) is made apparent. Her job is to identify and destroy the alien mechanical creatures that are appearing in the town, reporting their activity to her alien superiors by channelling her messages through her cat, Miyu-Miyu. The existence of the giant robots would seem to be connected with the mysterious steam-iron shaped factory that has recently been set up in Mabase, and it may also be connected with the growing unrest in the town caused by a series of arson incidents.
If this all sounds somewhat deranged, it because FLCL is a notoriously manic animated creation of the Japanese animation studio Gainax (with some collaboration by Production IG) under director Kazuya Tsurumaki, the team famous for the equally enigmatic End of Evangelion. FLCL comes across like a demented version of every manga-mecha-anime series combined, with its teen romance complications and adolescent power fantasies associated with burgeoning sexual awareness evolving into giant mutant monster robots that battle each other on an increasingly apocalyptic scale. This is done in FLCL in a very knowing and humorous way, referencing other OAVs, riffing off them, and exaggerating their characteristics, themes and conventions.
The frenzied pace and absurdity of the story is inevitably extended to the animation itself, which makes use of flash-cuts, freeze-frames, distorted angles, super-deformed figures, lots of speed-lines and cartoonish exaggeration, flitting between 3-D effects and still-frame manga pages, even leaping out of the story on one occasion to a behind-the-scene shot of the animated “actors” commenting on a scene. The rock music score by The Pillows is also worth mentioning, another factor that lends itself considerably to the whole drive of the film and its cult status. Although some knowledge of all the references and conventions employed here will no doubt enrich the series for anime fans, FLCL should be a highly kinetic and fun experience for anyone how is prepared to put up with a little bit of bafflement or willing to rewatch the episodes a couple of times to catch everything that goes on.
FLCL - Volume 1 is released in the UK by MVM. The disc contains just the first two episodes of the 6-part series, each approximately 25 minutes long including opening credits, end titles and next episode previews. It is 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.
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 players 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. 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.
There’s a decent selection of extra features to make up for the brevity of the two short episodes that make up this Volume 1 disc. Principally, there is a Commentary for both episodes by director Kazuya Tsurumaki. Interviewed in Japanese, he’s asked to explain a few references for the sake of American audiences, and goes into the development of story and characters, explaining what each of the Gainax team brought to the anime. Essentially, he sees it as a teen romantic comedy approached from an unusual angle. The Pillows Film Clip (2:28) is the band’s music video for the series’ end theme song ‘Ride on Shooting Star’. There are some gorgeous drawings included in the Character Sketches (19) portfolio. A Japanese Promo (2:46), featuring the familiar theme tune, advertises the Japanese DVD release. Japanese Closing (2:22) is the closing titles sequence featuring the original Japanese text. Cast Profiles are included for the characters of Naota Nandaba and Haruhara Haruko. Trailers are included for other anime titles.
The inclusion of only two episodes of FLCL on Volume 1 of MVM’s DVD release of the series is disappointing when the whole 6 episodes could have been accommodated on a single disc, but even so there’s an awful lot to take in with just 48 minutes of FLCL. The manic, unpredictable and fun nature of the show however should ensure that you’ll go back and rewatch it at least a few times and hopefully come back for remaining episodes. Apart from unreasonably spreading the short series over what looks like three separate discs, MVM’s presentation of the series on DVD is reasonably good, even if it comes with the usual issues associated with standards conversion.