Episode 1: Fooly Cooly

For such a whack show, the care given to create a coherent plot is remarkable. It’s the reason FLCL never gets old. Beneath the surface of outlandish, anything-goes story is a narrative with interesting connections and characters that evolve.

The first episode doesn’t have a lot going on. Naota, our hero, gets macked on by his brother’s girlfriend, Mamimi (while his brother’s in America), when he gets run over by Haruko, the Vespa girl. He gets a bump on his head, Haruko comes to live with him, and a giant robot flies out of his bump. Important to note: In the closing monologue, Naota insists that nothing out of the ordinary happens in town – this, while a robot, fresh from beating up the giant hand of a second robot that didn’t make it out of Naota’s skull, helps knead bread in his dad’s store.

This should be weird, inexplicable, the sort of thing anime nerds like because other people don’t. But FLCL doesn’t have time for that sort of solemn, obscure BS (which is surprising, because it was produced by Gainax, whose Neon Genesis Evangelion is the ur-solemn-and-obscure-BS anime). It’s too busy telling a story.

There are mysteries in the first episode (though, when asked, Haruko admits she’s an alien), but more intriguing are the narrative parallels that link character and environment. Take Mamimi. Apparently, she makes out with Naota, who’s younger, because she misses his brother. When asked why she does it, she says that she would overflow if she didn’t. Just then, Medical Machina, the local factory, shoots out its daily gout of steam (the building looks like an enormous iron). Later, when Naota says that his brother has a girlfriend in America, Mamimi indeed overflows, which somehow makes a giant robot come out of Naota’s head.

The giant robot comes from a bump he got when Haruko hit him on the head with a bass guitar. The bump is a big horn, which Naota had covered with a bandage. Before he got hit, Mamimi gave Naota a hickey, and asked him how he’d cover it. Parallel actions run throughout FLCL: Haruko comes to live with Naota because she ran his dad over, just like she did Naota.

Besides being the main character, Naota is the key. The focus of the story is him and his disillusionment with his brother. Narrating, he mentions he used to admire his brother. Sitting on the desk in an open envelope is a photo of his brother with a new girlfriend, “I got me a blonde chick!” written on it. His angry rejection of Mamimi and Haruko, his insistence at finding everything mundane – these are all manifestations of disappointment with his brother. The one time he gets excited, using the Japanese word for amazing or neat (sugoi!), is when Haruko rescues him from the robots, and Naota for a moment thinks she looks like his brother.

Naota misses his brother. He thinks he hates him, and he’s conflicted like he never has been. That’s why he’s so bitter about his dad acting weird – he wants grown-ups to be grown-ups. He needs to find a grown-up way to deal with his grown-up distress. He doesn’t let Haruko sleep in his brother’s bunk, which he left the way his brother did. His role model has feet of clay, but he can’t bear the idea of a replacement.

At the end of the episode, he drinks a lemon soda even though he hates it. He’s a little more grown up – just because he doesn’t like something doesn’t mean he won’t have to deal with it. And sometimes bitching won’t do him any good.

Rating :A

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com