10 years ago today, on October 24, 2000 (correction: actually October 25, 2000), the 4th episode of Gainax’s OVA series FLCL was released to DVD. This is part of a series of posts I’m making on this show. In my first post, I covered how I came upon this series and my reaction to the first 2 episodes. My second post was made a day late and covered episode 3, Marquis de Carabas. This one covers what my initial reaction was to the 4th episode, Full Swing. (note: for the purposes of this post, I did not rewatch the episode. The last time I watched it was some time in the summer of 2009)
What is there to say about Full Swing? Quite a lot, probably. I could talk your ears off about this episode. It is unequivocally my favorite episode of any anime, all time (so far). Others have come close, such as The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the final episodes of Gunbuster, Diebuster and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and Bakemonogatari episode 12, but Full Swing still holds the number one place in my heart.
The question, of course, is why? As with all of these types of questions, there are many answers. I’m sure part of it is that I was a huge fan of baseball at the time, and the entire episode was about baseball. Or rather, it used baseball as a metaphor for all the events taking place in the plot. In typical FLCL fashion, it was not at all subtle about this, with the ongoing theme of “swinging the bat” which was blindingly obvious and resonated with me. Indeed, I still consider the adoption of Haruko’s attitude regarding “swinging the bat” – that is, trying even if it means showing everyone that you fail – to be a key component for becoming a mature adult. As an episode of a coming of age story, Full Swing hit it out of the park (sorry, this is the one and only baseball related pun in this post).
Then there was the scene in which Naota confronts his father and hits the TV. It was masterfully directed, surreal, hectic, and, yes, haunting. The build up to that was fittingly erotic and inappropriate with Naota watching his father and Haruko at night, the release of destroying his father was fittingly unsatisfying and confusing, and the redemption of finding his real father and bringing him back to life was fittingly wacky and off-the-wall.
But I think we’ve beat around the bush enough. The real reason I loved this episode so much was the thrilling climax featuring The Pillows’s Crazy Sunshine. That entire sequence may be my favorite in any work of moving picture.
From the very start of that sequence, when Amarao asked Naota to ask Haruko to hit another one out of the park, the scene was just plain cool. The music started off quiet as Haruko quietly contemplated the situation and commented that “doubleheaders are tough,” before taking Naota up to the top of the plant, but it quickly came more into the forefront as the anticipation of the impact kept building.
And during all the intensity, FLCL retained its unique sense of humor. There was Mamimi, sitting atop Canti, celebrating the satellite’s fall and wondering whether they’d have school tomorrow. There was Haruko, fitting a shampoo cap on Naota and pulling out his squirming guitar, commenting that “boys feel weird inside.” There were Amarao’s subordinates at his base, inexplicably getting nosebleeds.
Then, as the satellite neared its final approach, it suddenly and seamlessly turned into a gigantic hand throwing a just as gigantic baseball. Amarao called out, “It’s a sinker!” It was hilarious, but I didn’t laugh, lost in the intensity of the moment.
The intensity just kept building and building, all the way until the release. As the ball became a bigger and bigger object in Naota’s sights and Haruko abandoned him, her comment, “This might as well be goodbye” seemed like it just might come true. Of course, our hero swung the bat, his own bat. But it wasn’t over yet. The music had reached its peak, and there was more work to be done. Amarao watched nervously, also knowing that it hadn’t been enough. And just as the ball looked to explode and all had been for naught, Haruko made her triumphant return, giving the ball that extra hit to leave the atmosphere.
It was just… awesome. The visuals were spectacular, true to form for FLCL. The way the sky lit up and shimmered as the ball neared its final approach still sticks with me. So does that scene of the moment of second impact, when we were treated to single-color frames of Haruko, Mamimi, and Naota reacting. The explosion at the end, the air pressure pushing apart the clouds and objects on ground, was just icing. Both the music and the music editing throughout the sequence was masterfully handled. Thanks to this episode, Crazy Sunshine was my favorite song for several years afterward. Or maybe it was because of that song that I loved this episode so much. Doesn’t matter.
The episode was nearly over at that point, but the serene denouement made for a fitting finish. Naota lying in Haruko’s Vespa, reveling in the feeling he just had, wondering if Haruko felt like this all the time. Haruko, laughing her ass off for no obvious reason. The soft start up to the now-familiar Little Busters. And the final shot of Amarao’s fake eyebrow falling off. It was bizarre, but just like what Naota was feeling at the moment, it was satisfying.
Maybe it was the fact that this episode followed the 3rd, which had left me a little negative on the series. Maybe it was that I had watched episodes 4, 5, and 6 in quick succession, and I had taken all the positive feelings about the entire last half of the show and transferred it to the 4th. I think it was just that one Crazy Sunshine sequence, one that wasn’t topped even by the numerous other excellent sequences that would come in the last 2 episodes of the show. Regardless of the reason, I still consider Full Swing to be the best directed, most entertaining episode of any anime.
So now I turn it to you, if you’ve read this far. What do you remember about Full Swing? Did it leave as big an impact on you as it did me? Did you like that song, Crazy Sunshine? Do you still like it? Do you think the show did things better in other episodes, particularly in episode 6, the true climax of the show?
- This episode featured the introduction of characters Amarao and Kitsurubami. Kitsurubami was played by Chiemi Chiba who, along with Yukari Fukui, was one of the few voice actors in FLCL who remained in the anime voice acting industry. This season, she plays side characters in both Star Driver and More To LOVE-Ru.
- If you watch carefully in this scene, when Mamimi gets up to go to the baseball game with Haruko, you can see her underwear being pulled off by Naota. One of the hints at just how far their relationship went.
- This episode revealed that Haruhara Haruko’s real name was actually Haruha Raharu. Also, it explained the concept of NO, which explained why Naota had been targeted by Haruko and why robots had been coming out of his head.