Oct 14, 2018
CodeBlazeFate (All reviews)
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