FLCL is a show that really needs no introduction. In the US, it gained a lot of popularity in 2003 thanks to its airing on Cartoon Network with an excellent dub. But of course, this 6 episode OVA existed for quite a while beforehand in Japan.
In fact, it was 10 years ago today, June 21, 2000, that the 2nd episode was released on DVD. While I didn’t watch it until over a year later, I figured that this 10 year anniversary was a good time to write a little something on the 1st 2 episodes of this show. Why didn’t I do this on April 26, the day the 1st DVD came out? Well, to be honest, I didn’t even think about the fact that this year is the 10th since the release of FLCL until a few weeks ago. But it turned out pretty convenient for me, because I had experienced the 1st 2 episodes together as a set.
I first watched it in the fall of 2001. I had heard about this little 6 episode OVA some months before, but it took me a while to get curious enough to actually download it. This was in the days before bittorrent, and downloading shows still took some commitment, both in time and effort. I managed to find someone sharing it on IRC and downloaded the 1st 2 episodes and watched them, one after the next. Then I watched them again. And again. And again.
Okay, I don’t remember how many times I watched those 2 episodes of FLCL before the 3rd episode finished downloading, some days later. Somehow, those 2 episodes grabbed my attention in a way that no other piece of work had before – or since. I don’t know why then, and I’m not sure why even now. I could tell you why I still consider that entire 6 episode OVA to be the best work of motion picture I’ve ever seen, or how masterful the direction, cinematography, and pacing of the show was, especially in the last half of the show.
But just the 1st 2 episodes? It was an incomplete body of work to me at the time. yet I had already fallen in love. In retrospect, I think maybe the mood of the episodes captured me. Yes, the art, the story, and the characters were unique and compelling. But it was the atmosphere that these 2 episodes were absolutely drenched with that made me feel so strongly about the show.
Note: for the purposes of this post, I chose not to rewatch the episodes. Please excuse and point out any errors I might have made.
It started with the very first scene of the show. Mamimi and Naota together under the bridge after school. Just by the way they interacted in those couple of minutes, I could tell what a plain, boring scene this was for them. It was something that happened every day, and the frustration Naota felt at the constant same old became my frustration. The glistening wavelets on the river and Mamimi’s playful bite of the earlobe from the back looked special, but Naota’s words and reaction rendered them meaningless. And as the camera zoomed out from Mamimi and Naota to show an overview of this boring town that trapped these characters, the haunting tune of The Pillows’ One Life began to play and hit a crescendo. As magnificent as everything looked, it all felt too comfortable, as if it was something that I had seen before countless times.
Another scene that took ahold of me was the well known Never Knows Best scene. Again, the music was absolutely integral to the mood of this scene. I remember feeling very emotional the 1st time I saw it, but I had no idea why. It felt like a beautiful climax to some cute love story, just inserted in the wrong place. The darkness of the night, the faint sounds of the cars passing over the bridge, the peculiar tune of Bran-new Love Song, that dead look in Mamimi’s eyes as she stared at the out of breath Naota. They could have run at each other and kissed, and it wouldn’t have felt out of place.
But they didn’t. This was actually a far more depressing scene, as Naota struggled to tell Mamimi the truth about his brother, and Mamimi refused to face the fact that she surely already knew. It was sad to see them like that, especially given the new information that Mamimi was living off scrap bread from Naota’s father’s shop. To feel so strongly about characters about whom I knew so little, it’s no wonder I felt so confused. And it’s a testament to how well the scene and the whole episode leading up to it had been directed.
There were places in episode 2 that hit me hard as well. The standout scene, the one that I think of when I think of Fire Starter, is the Hybrid Rainbow scene that finished the 1st half of the episode. It wasn’t depressing, but it was powerful. Juxtaposing Mamimi’s discovery of Canti with Naota’s trip to the beach, it was filled with a sense of wonderment.
It was a scene filled with hope. The rain had just stopped. Mamimi was discovering a new idol just as the sun was coming out. And the music came to the front at just the right moment, the energetic, Engrish based chorus shouting out while the rays of sunlight hit Canti as if he were the lion king. In the case of Naota, he was earning his reward for saving Haruko. His monologue showed that despite the fear he showed in the ride to the beach, he had enjoyed it. The scene ended with the shot of a rainbow over the sea that was glittering with the sunlight that had just come out. What joy Mamimi and Naota must have felt from these diversions from their otherwise lonely and plain lives?
Perhaps that made the night scene in the 2nd half of the episode that much more impactful. Right after the show revealed the reason behind Mamimi needing a new pair of shoes earlier – being bullied – it hit me with another depressing scene, in which Naota was following the bare footed Mamimi. Like with the Never Knows Best scene, the darkness felt pervasive. The repeating strums of the guitar in the background was haunting. And as Naota went through his memories sand thoughts to discover that Mamimi was actually the arsonist, I was presented with this sad, bullied, abandoned girl whose sole sources of light were the glow from her cigarette, from the screen on her game system, and from the mass fires she set all over town. The feeling of pity and sympathy was something that stayed with me long after the episode was over.
But I don’t want to present FLCL as if it were some depressing, moody show. Because it’s not. It had those aspects, and it used them to powerful effect. They certainly left on effect on me. But if that’s all there was, I doubt I would have watched those 1st 2 episodes obsessively like I had. And the most common word associated with the show wouldn’t be “lolrandom.” Indeed, I haven’t even mentioned yet the most recognizable character from the show, the very face of FLCL, Haruhara Haruko.
Haruko herself was more of a catalyst than anything else in the 1st 2 episodes, as her character remained shrouded in mystery and unexplained fantasy. She was an enigma, but she made possible the some of the iconic scenes that also fascinated me.
I think my favorite scene with her in those 2 episodes was her introduction. Yes, you’ve read countless times already just how lolrandom it was to have a woman come out of nowhere on a yellow Vespa, trying to hit the main character with a guitar while yelling a variation of “itadakimasu!” But, well, there’s a reason that people remember that scene. Thinking back to it now, I can’t help but crack a smile, even though I didn’t find it all THAT funny at the time. I remember noticing that Haruko was swinging the bat left-handed – I was and am a big baseball fan – and wondering if that was something that would remain consistent or was just based on convenience of the animators (turns out, director Kazuya Tsurumaki had made her a lefty on purpose). The opening scene in which Naota criticized the way Mamimi was holding the bat probably primed me for that thought as well.
And that line, “Stop, the native girl!” I found very funny for some reason. Maybe it was the poor Engrish. Or how it reflected Haruko’s view that she was in some foreign land, whose populace could be called “natives” from her perspective. Or just the physical gag of seeing her hand spin around and around in an impossible manner, something Mamimi clearly took note of. In any case, with the sporty high tempo Runners’ High playing in the background, it was an energetic and wacky introduction to a character who also fit that description. The violent high speed sketched scenes, the Matrix rip-off featuring the kiss (ironic because Naota had just purposefully avoided an indirect kiss), the cut to the trailer in which the “actors” discussed filming that scene – they showed that anything could happen in this show.
Like another well known scene from the first episode, the manga-style dinner scene. I learned later from the commentary that Tsurumaki had done this to make an otherwise plain dinner scene interesting and dynamic. And it had worked on me. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the scene, but it somehow captivated me. It was fast, it was different, and, at times, it was funny. The show had grabbed, no, demanded, my full attention. It is an iconic scene from the series, one that people remember, one that got me watching those 1st 2 episodes again and again.
Then there are the action scenes. They were effortlessly beautiful. That is to say, the production quality was very high, but the show didn’t try to flaunt this fact. Rather, it used the music, choreography, and cinematography to create fun and memorable moments, ones that I wanted to watch over again. Even back then, I knew just how corny that moment was when Canti turned red and stopped the oncoming robot, just as Little Busters started playing. But god damn it, it was still fucking awesome. Despite every cell in my brain telling me I was supposed to be bored, it still sent chills down my spine. And when Haruko ended the 1st fight by smashing Canti in the head with her guitar, Naota’s inner monologue said exactly what I was thinking at the time: “Amazing!” I don’t, and I didn’t, consider the action scenes to be highlights of the 1st 2 episodes of FLCL. But they served as fittingly over the top climaxes to the episodes and provided me with incredible moments that I wanted to experience again.
Maybe in all the drilling into the scenes I’ve done, I might have glossed over the main thrust of FLCL. That is, it’s a pretty straightforward coming-of-age story. Being a growing teenager myself, perhaps I latched onto it as something I could sympathize with. The full story wasn’t told in the 1st 2 episodes, but already, there were changes that Naota was going through. It was seeing him take a swig of the canned coffee at the end of the 1st episode. Listening to him commit himself to Mamimi at the end of the 2nd. Those horns, especially the particularly phallic looking 1st horn, that were so clearly metaphors for an adolescent’s uncontrollable erection. No one will accuse FLCL of being subtle. But I found that brashness refreshing. When something changed in Naota, when his character developed just a little bit, it was simple and easy and, probably due to that, satisfying.
Then there was Mamimi, who was a high schooler like myself. I wasn’t bullied, and I didn’t have to go through the kind of shit she had to. But somehow I could connect with her loneliness. It stuck with me as something universal. The desire to be loved and wanted. Her desperation that showed through her latching onto Naota, then the cat, then Canti. I could sympathize with the dead look in her eyes and her almost forced ambivalence to everything around her.
I cared for these characters. I loved them.
Maybe that’s why I had been obsessed with these 2 episodes. With minimal effort, the show had accomplished in 2 episodes what few shows could ever do. It was a pleasure simply to watch Mamimi and Naota in those 2 episodes, see them interact with each other, with Haruko, react to the things happening around them. They didn’t feel real, but they felt lifelike. Unconsciously, I rooted for them. Unconsciously, I shared their pain, their joy, their confusion. I wanted to feel that again, to understand what I was feeling, and why I was feeling it. Maybe it was just a perfect storm of who I was at the time and what the show was about. After writing this post, I’m not sure I’m any closer to understanding why I had felt compelled to watch those 1st 2 episodes of FLCL over and over again. But I kind of feel like I am.
Anyway, that’s my experience with Furi Kuri and FiSta. That’s my attempt at explaining just a little bit of what I got out of them. I guess if you’ve read this far, my question would be, what was your experience with them? Did you get anything out of those episodes, and if so, what?
- I just noticed that Anime Diet also had a post on the 10 year anniversary of FLCL.