Life seems to drift by for Kana Koumoto and her friends in their small Japanese town. Every day is just like the last, and it feels like every new day will be the same. Kana goes to school, hangs out with her friends, and likes to paint her nails and listen to music, but it feels like nothing special is ever going to happen.
As a change of pace, Kana and her friends decide to design a bottle rocket and launch it into space, even though it might not get there at all. However, just when the rocket is completed, a robot suddenly crashes into and destroys it, shortly followed by a pink-haired woman claiming to be a "Galactic Investigator." Kana's life quickly becomes more exciting than she ever imagined, dealing with new feelings, changing friends, and even boy troubles. It turns out life can go by in the blink of an eye, fast enough to even miss it, so what's with these weird robots that seem to show up at the worst times?!
FLCL Alternative is an interesting show. Accidentally brought early for April Fool’s day, FLCL’s lax cousin was forced to bear the burden Progressive was supposed to have, that being the weight of being the sequel to a legendary piece of animated passion. It was stuck with that again after Progressive turned out the way it did and paid the piper for it in terms of reception. For bearing such a Herculean task, this show was oddly calm, even nostalgic in some ways. It’s a miracle it worked at all given its approach.
One obvious point in this show’s favor is that it actually tries to tackle
something different from the original. Progressive focused more on adding intrusive lore elements to Haruko while providing unnecessary and flawed critique for the sake of a character arc. It sidelined its own protagonist’s role, leaving its core messages and delivery half-baked. Alternative takes a new angle entirely, focusing on a group of four teenage girls on the verge of adulthood rather than the beginning of adolescence. From there, it begins studying our main leads one by one in the first half, while sandwiching them with the style and structure of FLCL.
What makes this work is the sense of chemistry our main leads have. Each interaction feels as lovey and genuine as these girls’ distinct personalities. This makes studying them individually and what makes them a part of this group so rewarding. It shows off all their jobs, passions, and struggles, which make each girl feel almost real. Adding onto this genuine feeling is how organically the show taps into teenage culture. These girls hang out at restaurants and malls, text each other, and visit each other’s houses to learn about each other and hang out more. Kana, Hijiri, and Mossan are particularly fun to watch and explore, and even Tomomi -the character who often just blends in while making humorous jabs- gets her time to feel like a true member of this lively cast. Seeing Mossan’s little siblings draw food to “pretend feed” her, and how tired she is while she works, tells us more about her than the exposition her mom gives to Kana. Kana’s bookbag charms and cracked phone screen tell us about her character better than any thankfully non-existent exposition dump does. Hijiri’s forlorn sigh after her break up tells more than any exposition dump does. Most refreshingly, some of the scenes of characters talking about each other reveal more about themselves and their dynamic than the people they’re referring to. It all melds together to forge this small community of girls to get attached to.
The fact that even with this, Haruko trumps all, is easily the most astounding part. She is what ties everything together in the nicest of bows. Her absurd occupations are as glorious as the fact that as long as she gets her job done, she legally has jurisdiction —in universe— to do whatever the fuck she wants. As such, she can go from being a nurse and a food truck vendor to someone slaying Bumblebee while shouting “Michael Bay” in a 3D action sequence! She’s every bit the force of nature she once was, now with an entirely different purpose and even more insight. The monumental performance by Kari Wahlgren truly exemplifies what a joy this incarnation of Haruko is to watch. Her main redesign also reflects this wonderfully while being as great as her original design. Not every appearance feels necessary, but they are generally some of the highlights of any given episode.
This isn’t to say Alternative’s writing is perfect, even in terms of living up to its predecessor. The writing can be a bit too blunt, even if it doesn’t always spell out each episode’s message. It doesn’t have the sense of subtlety the original had. At times, some dramatic scenes can feel boilerplate, as if they did it just to have one. The same also applies to some of their attempts at incredibly weird and visually varied sequences that really drag on and feel more awkward than bombastic. Another, more important issue is that for 2/3 of the show, there’s no real sense of escalation or reason to care about the grander narrative. What makes matters worse is that the middle section feels more undercooked and wasteful than anything else, especially since a short 6-episode series should have no reason to buy time. On top of that, the main reasoning behind the conflict of episode 5 really doesn't add up when you think about it, which is criminal considering that episode 5 is the turning point for the show. Thankfully most of these writing issues aren’t deal-breakers, especially compared to the more damning flaws in Progressive. It does further solidify how the original was the most solid installment.
On the subjects of improving, let’s address the visuals. The animation feels livelier, more fluid than the often stiff and awkward-feeling animation presented in Progressive’s action sequences. It isn’t as fluid as the original, and there are some rough moments —both in the animation and CGI department-- but the visuals are far more vibrant and less awkwardly restrained as they were previously for the most part. Additionally, the character expressions are far more lively here to boot. Combine this with Haruko’s numerous hairstyles and clothes this time around, and some more interesting designs for the one-off enemies of each episode, and it’s not hard to see how this was a step above the previous entry.
Finally, we arrive at the audio improvements. The dubbing here was even better than before. This includes both the main and/or returning characters, and with the glorious additions of Steve Blum and Patrick Seitz. However, the biggest step up is in the music. Where Progressive only really had one track of note —that being “Thank You, My Twilight” by The Pillows— Alternative doubles that with two of the best tracks in the franchise. “White Summer and Green Bicycle, Red Hair and Black Guitar” is easily my favorite insert song in the franchise, with a wonderfully nostalgic feeling to it that makes reflecting on a walk or bus ride a marvelous experience. None of the other tracks match up, but they are at least serviceable. The absolute splendor of these two tracks by The Pillows is already enough to show how much more effective this show was than its predecessor.
FLCL Alternative may not match the original’s sheer passion, subtlety, skill, or visual splendor, but it keeps the spirit moving in a new direction. It switches gears organically, embracing itself as its own justified identity while keeping true to its roots, even if it isn’t always successful at that. This laidback alternative is as unnecessary as it is welcome, and welcome's all it ever needed to be.
Written and edited by: CodeBlazeFate
Proofread by: Peregrine
You know the one thing I wanted in an FLCL sequel? A Kardashian reference because that will surely age well.
FLCL Progressive and Alternative tell the familiar story of being a teen and the all the troubles that come along with it… except without any of the subtly or charm of the original.
Sequels are usually a bad idea to begin with, but sometimes they are tragedies with both Progressive and Alternative unsurprisingly falling head first into the latter. It is not so much because they are outright terrible, but how heartless they and mediocre they are as they go through the motions. I know it
is not completely fair to judge things by comparison, but I’m about to do a lot of judgement by comparison. The original FLCL is truly one of a kind. It balanced over the top wackiness with heart felt drama making for an entertaining and surprisingly touching coming of age story. It shouldn’t have worked as well as it did but here we are with FLCL cemented as a cult classic which is impressive in its own right. It was unique and refreshing, even if flawed, and it’s hard to argue it didn’t stand out regardless of how one felt about it. FLCL Progressive(ly Shit) and Alternative(ly Shit) on the other hand soullessly copy certain aspects from the original in an attempt to recreate the magic and fail grandly, ending up with no identity or personality of their own and worse yet forgetting basic elements of storytelling in the process.
There are no interesting characters in either Progressive or Alternative. Hidomi, the main character of Progressive, seems to have the most interesting if not familiar story out of all the new cast yet this is blundered by lack of focus making for a less than satisfying ending. Instead, focus is shifted to Haruko who has now been reduced to nothing but a prop with her crazy antics taken to an obnoxious level as if that was what made her interesting in the original series and not her interactions with Naota. Worse is Kana, the main character of Alternative, who is so generic and uninspired in every way it makes one appreciate Progressive’s characters. While Hidomi’s story of an absent father at least had potential Kana’s story resorts to your typical power of friendship clichés which feel so forced I wanted to throw up.
The other issue Nu-FLCL suffers from is the terrible pacing. The original FLCL was quite effective at conveying a lot of information succinctly and by the end of the first episode we understand Naota’s troubles and motivations. By comparison Progressive opens with nonsensical dream sequences while Alternative opens with narrations similar to the original except without the nuance. From there both are so disjointed and poorly structured that only the last two episodes seem to matter. While Progressive’s ending is serviceable at best Alternative’s ending is so contrived and out of left field that it works against it.
If there is one thing Nu-FLCL is guilty of it is being absolutely forgettable, which despite its flaws, the original wasn’t. Equal in mediocrity I can’t say Progressive is ultimately better than Alternative or vice versa. I guess if I had to choose I would choose Progressive because it wasn't as on the nose as Alternative and Hidomi is cute, but neither cute hime cut grils nor The Pillows could save either of these two messes in the end. So, unsurprisingly, another unplanned sequel that never needed to exist to begin with flops and everyone moves on with their lives. I guess the only thing to do now is to wait for when they announce the timed Toonami exclusive sequel to Cowboy Bebop featuring a new multicultural cast of all female characters so I can finally hang myself.
"One of the hardest things in life is to be average."
- The MC who blushes a lot
Conveniently - or was it ironically - the easiest thing in the anime industry is to be average, but that is not what FLCL Alternative is. After the disaster that Progressive was, no one could have expected this, but Alternative manages to leave the common mediocrity level and surprise with its quality positively. As an FLCL sequel, this series is still a shameful and embarrassing piece, but when viewed as a franchise reboot / spinoff starred by Haruhara Haruko's downgraded clone, we can't complain too much. In fact, we
can go praising it for its achievements.
Our story centers around a group of 4 girl friends called blushes a lot, kinda fatso, really normal and the pretty one. This is unarguably what every female friend group looks like except on average there are only 3 of them - needless to say the normal one is missing. Their outlook is not the only painfully accurate thing about these girls. They are also living pretty much the most normal and assumably well-adjusted life of a teenage girl, fitting the mold, being like everyone else. That kind of awesomely average stuff, hence the quote seen in the beginning. However!!!
Pretty much exaggerating up there in the end with that last word and the !!!^, but there is a catch to it, which pretty much everyone who has seen the original FLCL could have come up with whilst writing fanfiction. Work, date, school, boys and hanging out with the sis sets its sails towards real space ships, robots, brain flowers and more abstract coming of age stuff because aliens and chainsaw-guitars. Logic can't be found from this narrative, but it does contain beauty, and at the end of the day, any reasonable person can be logical, but it takes much more to be beautiful, so it is easy to appreciate what FLCL Alternative does.
"The days flew by even though nothing took off."
-One character, probably really normal or blushes a lot (forgot)
To talk about the production, we have 3 directors here who all are doing their best. Some shots are polished with some creativity and effort was put in the editing and making department. Stuff such as live action on-stage type of music video playing while the life and important events from the cast's daily life is told in the forms of fast-paced visuals, is unarguably a decent idea and well-executed scene as a whole. It would be fair to say that lots of love is put in the making of this 3rd part, and this time around, it feels much more like a tribute to FLCL than an insult which the 2nd part represents. Not to be confused with "a good sequel" which I still think this isn't, but a successful tribute it is.
The animation and overall style in art is bit closer to the original FLCL than last time around. It gets a plus mark if not two in today's industry for sure. It managed to occasionally even remind me of the coolio that Punch Line was with its amount of animation detail, which I guess is explained by one of the directors directing that series. Either way FLCL Alternative has style and it deserves credit for it.
The OST is extra neato, but I am still not completely satisfied with the sounds, mainly because the English voice acting sounded rather monotonous and bland at times, even out of place occasionally. This is a downgrade from Progressive (the downgrade actually since it's the one and only) where the seiyuu work was decent as a whole. Perhaps the Japanese version will be superior this time around(?).
As a conclusion: I genuinely enjoyed watching this one. While it was mainly just a momentary experience with no long-lasting impact, and its biggest achievement is lessening the negative after taste caused by Progressive, it surely is a noteworthy piece from its production year if not all that much more. I wholeheartedly recommend this to people who hated Progressive because this one is a major improvement. As for die-hard FLCL fans, I can't promise you will like what you see. As an anime, Alternative achieves more in 6 episodes than most shows from currently industry achieve with 12.
I hear people like numbers so here are some,
Voice acting 5/10 (English)
Art and animation 7/10
Besto curl: 3 (I said numbers)
As a bottom line, judging this based to Progressive and prejudices caused by it, is not cool, nibbas. This better by a landslide or two.
*Please note that I saw the 6 episode long OVA series that was broadcasted on Adultswim, and not the original Japanese full length movie. In case this entry will be changed from Movie to OVA in the future claiming I only saw part 1 of 6, that is not correct: I saw all the parts*
This latest incarnation in the FLCL franchise is a significant improvement over its immediate predecessor, Progressive, in virtually all aspects, with vastly superior writing, art, animation, editing and even sound mixing. It also manages to deliver on its "Alternative" namesake, taking a significant departure from the stylistic choices hitherto established by the franchise. Make no mistake, this is not "Furi Kuri", and fans expecting to see more of the wildly experimental animation and frenetic pacing of the legendary Gainax OVA are bound to be disappointed. Instead, Uemura Yutaka and his team at Production IG have created a solid, slow-burn, slice-of-life melodrama featuring
four female leads, which is only occasionally intruded upon by the irreverent chaos and destruction that accompanies Huruhara Haruko.
The choice to try something different within the established tropes and parameters of the franchise was a smart move, and allows the story to focus on substantive characterization and thematic development, which is what was really at the core of the original story to begin with. In contrast, Progressive's choice to double down on the lore of the series' universe felt pastiche and uninspired, and resulted in something of an aping fanfiction that wasn't quite sure what it wanted to say. The relationship between the four friends is interesting enough to watch, if a bit tedious, the humor and pop-culture references are funny enough to laugh at, and Kana, the lead, is a surprisingly compelling protagonist with a highly satisfying character arc. The thematic elements of the show, with an emphasis on the uncertainty and change that accompanies late adolescence, aren't handled with quite as much nuance as the original but are still presented very well, in a sometimes moralistic way that remains resonant nevertheless.
The art direction stands out as one of the show's high points. Sadamoto Yoshiyuki's character designs shine here, and the backgrounds display strong composition and color choices that are immersive and serve to recreate an aesthetic of magic realism that FLCL is known for. The ED, animated by Uekusa Wataru, and set to The Pillow's "Star Overhead" stands out in particular for its fun and dynamism. The Pillows' soundtrack is used to much greater effect in this season, though it remains perhaps a bit too sparse and subdued.
Without spoiling anything, the ending to this season is something that has to be mentioned, and will undoubtedly divide fans of the series for years to come as a point of contention. The finale resolves itself in the last few minutes of runtime in an out-of-left-field, bizarre fashion that is sure to leave heads scratching. It is a classic Gainax ending that outdoes the original FLCL in both scope and absurdity, that plot-wise, it is incredibly open ended and leaves room for a variety of theories.
In short, Alternative is an entertaining show and a solid entry in the FLCL franchise that deserves at least one viewing. It will make you laugh, it will make you think, it will make you feel things, and most importantly it will leave you confused, which is pretty much anyone could ask from FLCL.