FLCL - Volume 3 Review
When the average Japanese anime series usually runs to hundreds of episodes, it’s uncommon when a six episode series comes along with no tie-ins or spin-off connections, raising the suspicion that it’s not very good and has been cancelled before it had a chance to take off. Nothing could be further from the truth with FLCL, whose story is so compact, pace is so furious and animation style so dynamic that it would be seriously wearying if it were extended any further. As it is, the six episodes, wrapped up with the final two episodes in this third DVD volume, create a little package of perfection, leaving the viewer wanting more, but at the same time knowing that the creators have given everything there is to give.
The love affair between Naoto’s father and their Housekeeper Haruko (AKA The Vespa Girl, an alien combatant of mechanical constructs invading the city of Mabase) is over (if it was ever on in the first place), but when Naota is caught in a compromising position with Haruko (it’s not his fault that he got the horn – quite literally, since appendages have a tendency to sprout from character’s heads at significant moments in this series), his father inevitably feels duty-bound to challenge his son to a duel. With the Bureau of Interstellar Immigration authorities getting in on the action in their pursuit of Haruko, and Naota’s father inexplicably turning up for the battle wearing a Nazi greatcoat, madness inevitably ensues...
The fifth episode of the series sounds like deliberately wacky material, and it is indeed given a completely wild and over-the-top animation treatment with more anime references than you can possibly process (or even understand) as they fly past at the ferocious pace of the episode (the South Park sequence is one of the more obvious), the manic qualities are balanced well with the other characteristics that are part of the series. As the imagery, uncontrollable energies and protuberances that sprout from our young protagonist suggest, FLCL is (like the majority of anime series) about the onset of puberty and the changes that go along with it in the body and in one’s outlook on the world.
The dynamic expressed in every second of FLCL fully captures this experience in an imaginative way, not only capturing the explosion of unknown sensations and the confusion that comes along with them and of life starting to move very quickly indeed, but it also touches on the beauty of the experience with the moments of sadness and reflection for lost youth and innocence that come along with it. This is wrapped up wonderfully in the perfect final episode, which takes us full-circle towards closure in Naota’s coming of age.
Symmetrically, the sixth episode has many echoes of the first, with another frenetic manga page sequence of Naota’s perverted family fooly-coolying around, a return to Mamimi’s obsessions, and more knockabout action between Haruko’s guitar and Naota’s head. The appearance of a huge right-hand near the iron-shaped Medical Mechanica factory has ominous implications, with not only the town, but the whole galaxy under threat of being ironed out of existence. The truth about Haruko’s mission comes out, Canti’s purpose is revealed and Naota fulfils his role in the whole scheme of things when his "wife" Mamimi finds another Takkun as a vessel to feed with her sense of loss and grief for Naota’s brother and its turns into an insatiable monster.
Wrapping it up neatly in this way after only six episodes, FLCL turns out consequently to be a perfect little piece of animation. The story is a familiar one in anime series of adolescence and coming of age, but it is given a different spin, a knowing one that references many other series, but despite the apparent random craziness, there is a coherent and meaningful subject underpinning it all. The short series moreover never outstays its welcome, says all it has to say and says it in the most entertaining and dynamic way possible, displaying a wealth of ideas, imagination, brilliant animation and just pure entertainment in each episode. The power of love shouldn’t be underestimated not should the power of the imagination, and that philosophy is applied as much to the form as to the content.
FLCL - Volume 3 is released in the UK by MVM. The disc contains the final two episodes of the 6-part series, the fifth running to 23:35 and the sixtgh extended slightly to 30:54. The two episodes are presented on a single-layer disc, in PAL format, which 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 and FLCL – Volume 2.
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 a Dolby Digital 2.0 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, translating even wording on blackboards. 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 Japanese cultural and anime/manga references for the sake of American audiences as well as clearing-up a few obscure plot points, talks a bit about the casting for voice actors and the tight deadlines the animators worked to on the final episode, though they didn’t make things any easier for themselves with the complicated animation techniques. An Art Gallery includes promotional poster and DVD cover designs. Cast Profiles are included for the characters of Amarao, the Special Agent for the Bureau of Interstellar Immigration, his junior Kitsurubami, and for Canti. The Textless Closing (2:21) is included, as is the Australian Trailer (2:20) which presents a dynamic montage of the high-points of the series and introduces the characters, both inevitably to the accompaniment of the ever-present Pillows theme song ‘Ride on Shooting Star’. Trailers are included for other MVM anime titles.
The final episodes of FLCL fully live up to everything you would expect from the series and from the Gainax and Production IG studio personnel involved in its creation, here given free rein to let their imagination loose on familiar material and take it to another level entirely. This is sexy and cool Japanese animation of the highest quality. While it often doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, there is an underlying theme and coherence to the story of Naoto’s growing up, but what is most important here is the notion of having fun, which is basically the underlying philosophy of the whole series, and one that you should give yourself over to with complete abandon. The series must be highly recommended, whether you buy it across its three separate DVDs or wait for a collected edition to come out.