Thursday, June 6, 2013

Animation Appreciation: FLCL / Fooly Cooly

“Anime is weird” is a stereotype I consider shed. With it might go a lot of the sense that anime is an inherently “cool” thing, but at the same time, now you or I can’t consider anime as this foreign, impenetrable thing. When there is a weird anime, it’s weird on an individual level.

And boy, is FLCL (read as “Fooly Cooly” or “Furi Kuri”) weird. But I mean that in a good way (when don’t I, really?) because it’s tremendous fun to watch and there is a story to be told.

Naota Nandaba is a very serious junior high student, trying so hard to be mature for his age, especially when the adults around him are so immature. Unfortunately, he has to contend with the inappropriate affections of Mamimi Sameji, his absent brother’s (ex) girlfriend (?), and the fact that a pink-haired, yellow-eyed woman on a Vespa has smacked him with a guitar and now robots come out of his head sometimes. And just what IS Medical Mechanica, the mysterious organization that’s set up shop in town with giant steam iron-shaped headquarters?


The message of FLCL isn’t profound: learn to act your age, or you’ll end up a wreck of a human being like Commander Amaro, a guy who thinks he’s grown-up but really isn’t. Naota should be a kid now, so that he’ll grow up later. But the series is stuffed with so much vivid imagination and bizarre innuendo that many can walk away happy.

There are many things I love about FLCL: its strangeness and the way it all manages to hang together despite that, the distinctive look and feel of the animation and art, the soundtrack by Japanese band The Pillows (“Ride on Shooting Star...”), and of course the robots. But the best thing is Haruko Haruhara, aka Raharu, that alleged alien who blindsided Naota in more ways than one.

After whacking Naota, Haruko comes to live with the Nandaba family, claiming to be a wandering maid. In some other anime, this would be a dream, but FLCL makes it that much MORE awkward because of Naota’s younger age and Haruko’s clear self-interest. She flirts with Naota outrageously, but her true purpose is far more mercenary.

All of this is disturbing, and doesn’t come off as entirely ironic, but parts of it are funny. Yet what truly saves Haruko is what her agenda is, and the fact that she is so delightfully uncouth. She picks her nose, wriggles her toes, and scratches herself...when she’s not involved in a frenzy of destruction or sexuality. A female character with this bearing is sadly rare, but Haruko manages to pull it off. Even when she’s obviously fetishized, Haruko comes off as totally in charge and totally hilarious.

Haruko’s entrance into Naota’s life ironically reveals his need to be a child, and she seems to have some genuine affection for Naota, but she also likes messing with him. I’m glad that she wasn’t just a special “alien girlfriend”, or purely evil, but was a complex character.

FLCL is only six episodes long, but it tells you..not everything, but enough to follow the story once you realize what’s happening. There is a beginning, middle, and end, and the entire thing is a damn joyful ride. Haruko is the best thing about FLCL, but everything else hardly lags. There’s nothing else like it, and that’s why it’s impossible to forget.

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