In the new season of FLCL, many years have passed since Naota and Haruhara Haruko shared their adventure together. Meanwhile, the war between the two entities known as Medical Mechanica and Fraternity rages across the galaxy. Enter Hidomi, a young teenaged girl who believes there is nothing amazing to expect from her average life, until one day when a new teacher named Haruko arrives at her school. Soon enough, Medical Mechanica is attacking her town and Hidomi discovers a secret within her that could save everyone, a secret that only Haruko can unlock.
But why did Haruko return to Earth? What happened to her Rickenbacker 4001 she left with Naota? And where did the human-type robot "Canti" go?
FLCL Progressive in every sense of the word is what people mean when they utter the phrase, “be careful what you wish for”. I should preface this review with a disclaimer. This isn’t the WORST show ever, but much like many sequels or reboots that are gravely mishandled, FLCL Progressive forgets that a sequel should not be a canvas for regurgitation but one for innovative ideas and building off old ones. But in the end this series ended up being pretty bad regardless. Now as I’ve grown older, I tend not to watch as much anime
as I used to, but FLCL is a series that has always had a special place in my heart. FLCL was one of the first series I watched when I was first getting into anime, so yes, I regret to inform some readers this review will be a bit biased and more so about my personal experience and taste rather than an analytical analysis. I digress however, let’s dissect exactly what went wrong.
Now when FLCL season 2 and 3 first got announced, I wasn’t exactly the most ecstatic. Don’t get me wrong I was optimistic, but I felt like I had been here a thousand times before with thousands of other series. Let’s all be completely honest, the original series came out almost 2 decades ago- the show is 18 years old at the time of this review, if there was anything worth doing with the material it probably would have been done already. This brings me to my first issue, Progressive has absolutely no reason to exist. When I finally sat down to watch the first episode, everything immediately struck me as …….”off ” to say the least. For people that don’t get as passionate (or for that matter as picky) about the series they watch as I might, the first episode may have appeared normal. However, I constantly asked myself questions throughout,
“Why is the animation so stiff?”
“Why is this the type of story they’re choosing to tell?”
“Why are these the type of characters we’re following?”
After doing a bit of research into the production of the series all the problems became crystal clear. The original series production involved efforts from both Studio Gainax and Production I.G., but you’ll notice one of these key components are missing in Progressive and Alternative. That’s right, Studio Gainax is no longer part of these series. No disrespect to Production I.G, these guys are legendary they’ve worked on Ghost in the Shell, Dragon Half, the cutscenes for some critically acclaimed games like Persona and others. Nevertheless, I feel as though it was the Gainax style that was truly missing from this series. Evangelion, Gurren Lagann, Medeka Box, Panty and Stocking (even Trigger with Kill La Kill) understood that these were series with distinct styles and messages that they wanted to convey, and they did it in the most extreme way possible. If you’ve ever watched ANY of those series in your life, even if you hated them you would NEVER forget those stories.
The original FLCL was a series about growing up and all the strange, conflicting feelings that come with becoming an adult. The series worked because we followed an honest-to-God, relatable protagonist, Naota. Naota, as a kid transitioning into a young adult was faced with many life problems and temptations that many actual young adults may face such as his own cynicism, neglectful or misunderstanding adults, boredom, promises of sex and a close-minded view that everyone is wrong but him. While it was weird, FLCL was comprehensive, yet subtle----(essentially all the shit on screen while non-sensical or over-the-top served a purpose to the overall narrative). Maybe this CURRENT series isn’t catered towards me or I’m no longer the intended audience, but it really feels like there was no effort put into these characters like with the previous cast.
The characters in FLCL Progressive are dreadful. Where as all the character motivations in the previous series were clear and easy to understand, while still maintaining mystery to characters like Haruko, all of that is thrown out the window here. I’ll be completely honest, I have no fucking clue what Hidomi’s issue is, the character is just so unrealistic and so unrelatable that the series refuses her the right to even establish herself as a character. Not even 3 minutes into the first episode her mother does some expositional bullshit where she must explain to the audience that she’s going for a ”tsundere angle….” This is a very indirect, yet lazy tactic used in a lot of modern anime and one that I hate with a burning passion. See, since a lot of creators for whatever reason lack faith in their ability to write good characters in anime anymore, instead of having their characters develop a personality by doing something interesting----they have to TELL you that they’re interesting and WHY you should like them.
I don’t care why the characters think she’s amazing, I WANT TO BE AMAZED!
GUESS WHAT? SPOILER ALERT I’M NOT!
The story is equally as bad, as all of what Haruko and some random are involved in is pretty much the same shenanigans from the last series so all that leaves is the main characters to carry the show. Much like everything so far, you probably won’t be surprised when I tell you they don’t. The story is primarily just Hidomi and Robbie Da----I mean Ide, having weird shit happen as they secretly have a crush on one another even though they’ve barely said three words to each other. Their relationship or interest in one another feels in no way plausible. However, what’s worse is unlike the previous protagonist, Naota, they barely have any meaningful interaction with Haruko at all. They never really question who or what the hell Haruko even is, they’re completely disconnected from the world around them (THE WORLD THIS SHOW CREATED WHICH IS SUPPOSED TO BE INVESTING). Do you see the problem here?
Main characters that don’t have any chemistry? Check.
Main characters who don’t have chemistry with the supporting cast? Check.
A plot that not only retreads old territory, but story goes nowhere? Check.
What do all those make for? Answer, three hours of hating yourself.
The animation sucks. Oh no don’t get me wrong the show’s ART, technically looks well, but how it animates blows. I.G is just not adept to making wild and crazy action scenes like Gainax and that being the case the battle scenes lack oomph, pizazz, or “Wow” factor. It feels as though the people working on this series were told to imitate the style of the original as closely as possible and that’s what you got---an imitation. There is no soul, no desire, no aggression, no passion, no expression here just a step-by-step template, and to be fair to them they weren’t working with the best material. As for the music, there was no real point to bringing the Pillows back as the series lacks the same rustic and cool atmosphere. Its nice, but I can’t quite say it does its job when it doesn’t feel like it affects the series in any meaningful way……..its just there.
I didn’t want to have to write this review, but this series is a prime example of why I like writing them. I’m not sure if I conveyed what I was trying to say properly to every individual reader or if they’ll even understand me. However, as someone who has been a long-time fan of FLCL, I know someone out there must feel the same way that I do. See, FLCL Progressive is just one case out of thousands in which a bunch of studios reboot, remake, or re-imagine a franchise desperately trying to pull at the nostalgia heartstrings yet at the same time doing everything possible to alienate the original audience. “Why does this happen so often though?” you might ask. It’s simple, many revivals are just other poorly written stories under the guise or mask of something you love because they know you or the very least SOMEONE will buy it. Maybe I’m at fault and I just need to grow up, that’s what they’ll all tell me for not liking their crappy product. Fine, I’m okay with that and I’ll speak for only myself when I say this.
This isn’t the FLCL I love and if you love something, you have to let it go.
Nothing amazing ever happens in this sequel. Every second we spend watching it is like a whole lifetime of dying slowly.
Hyperbole aside, I'll just be upfront: I didn't want this to happen. For years I was happy and confident that FLCL was seemingly sequel-proof. It's a perfect little character piece that crystallizes its particular time and place, celebrates all the excess and id-groping of the anime medium, and does it with heart and literacy. Nothing about it needed any elaboration. You can just ignore bad sequels, yeah, but they somehow make the original less "special." I wanted FLCL to stay special. Leave it alone.
didn't. I worked up some extremely cautious optimism and gave it a shot, anyway.
You can count me among the disappointed. Maybe Progressive isn't FOR us--the original was for older millennials who inherited the sensibilities of gen X, this one is apparently for younger millennials/gen Z. Re-using the throwback 90s alt-rock of The Pillows doesn't exactly scream "2010s zeitgeist," but ok, let's go with that. Well, Progressive does at least perfectly capture the soullessness and creative bankruptcy of this decade.
It's important to note that Studio I.G stated they planned to use young, somewhat inexperienced animators in order to capture the same kind of creative spontaneity as the first FLCL. Basically, trying to recapture lightning in a bottle--because that always works out, right? In the original, the approach was similarly improvisational, but it served a purpose: testing out then-new digital animation methods. Here though, it's just amateur-fetishism. The result is complete inconsistency--one episode looks like it could be any generic sterile looking moe SoL from this year, the next episode's brimming with off-the-wall animation and nice, hand-drawn looking linework. You can't really say Progressive looks good or bad, because it looks good and bad in about equal measure.
Working on a FLCL sequel should be an artist's dream--you can come up with all kinds of fucked up, evocative imagery and find crazy ways to work it into the plot and make it thematically relevant. The original nailed "magic realism with sci-fi overtones," maybe play around with some new genre combinations in this one. There's infinite possibilities besides just having robots come out of people's heads, right?
Nah. We get more robots coming out of people's heads, more phallic imagery, and more blabbing about "overflowing." Mamimi used that word at one point in the original to express how she felt in a dramatic scene with her limited vocabulary, but sure, let's have everyone use it now. Because ideas are hard. It's kinda sad seeing a show that gave so little of a fuck about what anyone expected being reduced to some kind of rote brand recognition checklist.
This might be contentious, but FLCL was never weird for the sake of it. It annihilated any border between highbrow and lowbrow, it was anarchistic, freewheeling, and almost felt like a 3 hour music video--but, it made sense as a story on an intuitive level because the creators grasped the basics of visual storytelling. The weirdness was there to give a visual logic to the convoluted web of sci-fi meta-narrative floating over the more central coming-of-age story, not to obfuscate things. There was always an emotional throughline in the craziness that kept you invested in the confusion.
Here, the pittance of novel ideas that weren't just stolen from the original take the opposite approach: the weirdness is weird for the sake of it in that generic "duuuude, LSD" sort of way that dumb people tend to falsely attribute to the first FLCL. In the original, you might have had a hard time explaining to a friend why Mamimi was walking a giant car-eating robot-dog like a pet in that one scene, but it made sense in the context of things. In Progressive, when that one side character is spinning around on the viking boat ride and some mechanical thing comes out of another mechanical thing and starts shooting missiles on a green vine thing, you're just as confused as your friend. The crazy shit is no longer there to accentuate the intimate character moments, it's there to REPLACE the character moments and to distract you from the fact you don't care about anything that's happening.
I remember all the theories about this sequel floating around online based on concept art and some animation snippets, and the interesting thing is nobody really got anything right. Not because Progressive defies expectations, but because it completely falls in line with them. Does that make any sense? It's the kind of stuff you'd never successfully predict because it's just too stupid and too obvious. You can imagine the writers sitting around in a boardroom coming up with this stuff a week before deadline, it's so on-the-nose.
"The original had a vintage vespa, so this one..."
"A vintage car."
"So we all know Haruko was this unpredictable manic pixie girl who used her sexuality as weapon to get what she wants. How do we quickly re-establish that here?"
"Uhh... I dunno... maybe, she can force high school students to watch porn on a laptop like some kind of escaped sex offender."
I'm serious, that happens. It's so dumb. Then she spends the next couple episodes barely connected to the plot, standing around and making the Dreamworks face as if to say "I'M HARUKO! Remember my memorable personality from the surprise hit OVA FLCL 15 years ago? I'll be relevant to the story by the 4th episode, I promise!"
In the original, Haruko was an awful, manipulative person, but she was oddly endearing, and you understood Naota's attachment to her. Conversely, you eventually got the sense she started feeling guilty over how she was using him. Not guilty enough to stop using him, but still, it felt like an actual human relationship, full of conflicting motives and ambiguity. There's nothing like that here. Watching Progressive, you just scratch your head and wonder "why are these kids still hanging around this creepy rapey hag who just ends up molesting and/or attacking them every episode?" Way to take one of the most alluring, dangerous, ALIVE characters in anime history and make her boring and washed up. Fuck.
I'd be fine with Haruko being recast as more of a typical antagonist if they remembered to fill that void with something, but the new characters have no soul. I know, "soul" is one of those buzzwords, it's hard to explain, but if you've seen the original you know what I mean. Naota and Mamimi had chemistry and felt like real people. They had flaws, but they weren't defined by those flaws; Naota was an angsty little ball of self-consciousness listlessly drifting through adolescence, but had a range of expression beyond just ennui. Mamimi was probably meant to either be slightly mentally retarded or somewhere on the spectrum, but I don't mean that in a derogatory way--she was like some weird wayward girl on the fringes of society you might have actually known at some point in your life. She had serious issues that the show convincingly sold to the audience--unlike a certain someone I'll get to in a moment--but again, there was more to her character than just brooding. She had an emotional range, and in the middle of that range she had her own unique "normal."
In Progressive, we're stuck with a fanfic.net self-insert "quirky" sadgirl protagonist with no apparent motivations, interests, goals or ability to make facial expressions. She has no genuine problems and looks like she could be a fashion model, but for some reason she's apparently drowning in nondescript existential malaise. The obligatory thematic undercurrent of her budding sexuality is wrapped up in miscellaneous gore/mallgoth imagery--she grins in her sleep as she dreams of zombies and dismembered corpses, etc. Because she's so QUIRKY and LITERALLY ME IRL XD :3. If you were worried that adult swim money might pressure the staff into pandering to Western sensibilities, your fears were 100% justified. This is the exact sort of fashionable fake depression bullshit that has no place anywhere outside tumblr.
I'm not saying you can't have a compelling character arc about depression or working through teen angst, I'm just saying it's all about execution. Again, just look at Mamimi in the original--her thousand yard stare, the way she tried to fill the holes in her life with countercultural debris and occult hocus-pocus, her freudian transference obsession with the name "Takkun"... She felt real. Hidomi is no Mamimi. Hell, Hidomi isn't even as interesting as Ninamori, and Ninamori was a side character who had one episode devoted to her before sinking into the background.
The less said about Jinyu, the better. She has zero personality and she looks like someone hit the randomizer in some shitty fighting game character create mode. Her voice actress stinks up the dub with the most hammy, melodramatic delivery in the show, but I can't really blame her because she didn't have much to work with voicing this bland cipher of a character. I can imagine the English audio director trying to explain Jinyu's personality to the VA in the recording booth: "she's, um... cool? And strong? And she's, uhh... uh... she wears pointy anime glasses?"
No good characters = no good character dynamics. That all-important adolescent romance angle falls flat because late in the plot, you still don't really get what Hidomi and Ide see in each other. They're both boring alphas (as much as Hidomi tries to pass herself off as some sort of maladjusted loner), they never really crack each other's shells, and they just don't have any "moments." I guess he likes her cuz she's a hot chick, and I guess she likes him cuz he's a hot guy...? Compelling stuff, right?
The first FLCL could convey so much more than that with visuals alone. Remember that part near the end when Naota and Haruko are riding on the vespa, smiling and talking about nothing in particular? No dialogue, just some song by The Pillows jangling away as their mouths flap--it's a casual but intimate conversation that we're not invited into, emphasizing how close they became. Remember Ninamori silently judging them the next day as she notices them slumming in a cardboard box? You can't have a great show that's only 6 episodes long without this kind of natural synthesis of visuals and story; everything from framing to body language communicating story and characterization.
To give you an idea of how Progressive stacks up, as soon as Jinyu first appears, she shoves the symbolic value of Hidomi's headphones down our throats in a clunky monologue. Later on, Ide--initially portrayed as this carefree class clown type character--has his "sad" backstory infodumped on us by a side character in about 10 seconds. At first I wasn't sure if it was for real or some kind of parody/meta-commentary, it was so badly done. The storytelling doesn't get much less mechanical and prosaic as it goes on.
The pacing is just baffling. How do you make a 6 episode absurdist comedy action sci-fi boring? Notice how every episode's structure is the same: we get a dream sequence intro to fill the "experimental" animation quota, then 90% of the episode is just there to set up climax. Then after the big explodey climax, we're left to assume that our questions will be answered in the next episode (they usually aren't). Rinse and repeat until ep 6.
I gotta touch on the visuals. The first FLCL was an early digital production that proved you can capture the expressiveness of well done cel animation in a digital medium. Even its color palette is more tasteful than anything coming out these days. Early digital resolution quibbles aside, it looked amazing--I didn't expect a post-Gainax "FLCL" to look as good, but I didn't expect it to be a total mess either. The female character designs could be cribbed from any interchangeable slice-of-life anime from the past few years. Everything in the first half of the show lacks shading and looks cheap. Besides a few animation bumps here and there, the action is floaty and stiff with no sense of weight or kinetic energy, thanks to a combination of poor directing and a surprising amount of studio outsourcing. The characters frequently jerk around with no in-between frames during serious action scenes, almost like those intentionally bad looking comedy budget-saving scenes in Kill La Kill--except it's not stylized or meant to be funny here. It's just bad.
The original FLCL was crammed full of fluid, stylish animation the whole way through and hidden single frame gags that served no practical purpose other than the animators having fun, since you have to pause to see them... and most of the time, this new one can't even be bothered to animate facial expressions and basic movement.
Admittedly halfway through the show, after the nth visual director switch, something happens: it starts looking... kinda good! The animation suddenly recaptures some of that sketchy, dynamic bounciness that was glaringly absent in the first three episodes; characters actually move around for the sake of it like actual humans in expository scenes; the action scenes are suddenly fluid and full of lovingly rendered mechanical gore; even the character designs are massively improved as the artists jump off those hideous early episodes' models and start imitating that classy old Gainax look. Hidomi gets an actual nose that's not just a thin line (for god sake Japan, give your fucking character designs noses again), Haruko starts looking like Haruko again, etc. It doesn't last long--they cheap out on the last episode--but give whoever directed that 5th ep a raise.
To reiterate, Progressive is a mess, and not in some inspired jam session sort of way--it seems to be a victim of budgeting and the production grind. It's like the full first half the show had to be sacrificed to make a couple episodes look good.
Anyway, a brief upswing in visuals can't make up for terrible writing and extremely formulaic episode structures. Progressive just doesn't have the humanity of the original, and you can't hide that with emotionally manipulative tactics like recycling "Runner's High" and "The Last Dinosaur." In fact, it just highlights how empty this show is when those familiar chords that used to make you feel like you were breathing sunshine suddenly evoke absolutely nothing.
When has American money getting mixed up in anime production ever led to anything you can praise without a dozen asterisks attached? By all accounts, adult swim brute forced this thing into existence, and the joylessness of much of the production process is palpable. Those Japanese tweets by some animators floating around complaining about having to deal with "stupid foreign companies" gave me a bad feeling from the getgo.
There's a resentment toward the audience permeating the whole thing. Occasionally they break the fourth wall and patronize the viewer with not-so-subtle lines about how you eventually have to "throw away your old junk" (read: "we're gonna shit all over this beloved intellectual property and you better not whine about it, you manchildren"). Art is a process of constant creative renewal--if something disappoints you, go create something yourself and do it better. That's the healthy approach, I know. But it's not the job of a mediocre cashgrab sequel to tell us that.
The first stage of grief is denial, so expect lots of faint praise for a while. Disappointment takes a while to sink in, I think. Maybe it's a kind of light Stockholm syndrome, like, we know this is what we're permanently stuck with, so we better try to enjoy it, right? I'll just be honest and say it: FLCL Progressive is bad. It could have been worse, and there's about half a decent show's worth of ideas floating around in the ether, but it just doesn't come together. It probably won't be remembered as some kind of legendary blunder, but on the other hand, it probably won't be remembered at all.
Matrix 3 was a masterpiece so why won't we give FLCL also a sequel it deserves.
- The team behind nu-FLCL, probably.
Our "sequel" is such an amazing piece that even its main character's personality is in contradiction with the point of the series. Naota wanted to be something somewhere else. He had several hard subject to deal with from love interests to his brother. His story was not only about coming-of-age, but a trip where he learnt to cope with himself and the world. In this nu-FLCL, Girl-whose-name-I-forgot is the epitome of emptiness. Person whose greatest merit is how little she cares about anything that
is going on and how she never reacts to anything that happens. That's also pretty accurate way of describing myself when watching this anime.
The writing is utter nonsense. Random rent-a-whore girl comes out of nowhere to connect two plotlines because it wouldn't have happened otherwise. Past story used as a mystery element. The character development (or rather, sudden personality changes cast upon the main character) don't seem to have any purpose at all, other than working as plot elements in the narrative. The pacing and screen transitions are awful. Our main girl loses consciousness just so the series won't develop anywhere quite yet. Same thing is used as an excuse to teleport the series from place a to place b. All of this is so very noticeable and amateurish. I am not sure what the opposite of "solid" is in English, but I don't even have to thanks to this anime being the perfect representation of it.
The voice acting is good enough. The OST has the same songs by The Pillows and they are all great. The series sucks for its other merits, the problems don't lie here the least. The art and animation could be praised if they were the production values for any other anime than this one.
As a conclusion: I would call this series a masterpiece if I had hated the original and wanted to give it the best and most disrespectful insult imaginable. This is nothing but an artistic remaster by some self-proclaimed nu-auteur who clearly thought the fans of FLCL would let it slide because the content is supposedly 2deep5anyone to understand. It isn't and it wasn't in the original either. There was nothing -outside few obscure references- in the original FLCL for the viewer to get past what was directly told and shown. Whoever made this, obviously thought the original just "fooled" people into thinking the series is amazing. Regardless whether it did or didn't, this sequel surely didn't fool anyone. Take a trip to /a/ and witness not a single shitpost about nu-FLCL because the series is not even worth of that.
Have you ever had that moment when you are in utter awe with how animation flows past your eyes with an interesting story? That's what I got in this wacky adventure. There has been a lot of complaints, but I will only address one of them right away. Its animation is creative and imaginative and it has the pacing like Gainax shows in the past. Where it falls, however, is that this animation is not consistent. What I mean by consistency is that at the start of every episode there is a dream sequence done by a new animator. SO I DO NOT SEE ANIMATION
BEING A COMPLAINT IF IT'S DIFFERENT BECAUSE THERE IS A DISTINCTION BETWEEN A REALITY AND A DREAM. Ok now that's out of the way I need to explain why FLCL Progressive is worth checking out.
FLCL Progressive piggybacks the story from its prequel. If you haven't watched the prequel, then I will say that it is about teenagers growing up. Some grow up too fast, while others grow too slow. Our main protagonist, Hibajiri, is a girl who seems to have grown up too quickly. What I find interesting is how the story is a journey for her to become both younger and older. She becomes more emotional like a kid and she also becomes more mature like an adult. The story is also filled with a plot behind the scenes that make up for the climax in episodes 5-6. WIthout giving too many spoilers to a short 6 episodes, I think everyone would come out with a joy ride. As for its originality, it is not really anything new for people who have watched the prequel, but otherwise from that it is noteworthy considering how the rest of the 2018 Spring and Summer are made of sequels and isekai shows. If you want a breath of fresh air then this is your best bet. (8)
As a show with a Gainax feel, things seem to flow in an imaginative way. The creative powerhouse of Gainax may have left their work with Production I.G., but I think FLCL Progressive shows that the Gainax spirit has recovered by at least a considerable amount since then. I especially liked the dream sequences in which the animation and art style was drastically different from how the show usually presents itself. In each of these moments they are not only visually appealing but also thought provoking. This combination did not fail me at all, and from beginning to end I was pleased by the presentation. (9)
I cannot say the characters are that strong because they seem mostly flat. It was hard to cheer for Hibajiri because she is a very aloof character and our other main character, Iide, doesn't seem very consistent. I will say that Haruko, the eccentric adult, carries the show until she eats someone she shouldn't have. Haruko and Hibajiri act as total opposites of one another and help make the show more coherent, yet the downside is that I'm never too sure what side these two are on all the time. Are they against each other, going toward a common goal, or does it even matter? Sometimes they are enemies, teacher-student, love rival, I will let someone figure that part for me. It's not average by any means though. Have you seen an anime with characters experiencing a multitude of relationships? So it is just fine. (6)
I do not put enjoyment as a part of the score, but I can promise you that FLCL Progressive is not a waste of time. It is a breath of much needed fresh air from generic shows.
Some girls like to have pink dresses and dream about unicorns, but these ladies prefer to spend their time being one of the boys. If you like ladies who don't mind getting their hands dirty, have a love of combat, or enjoy cussing like a sailor, then look no further.