Can we just forget that FLCL Progressive ever happened? If this second set of episodes were the follow up that was shown first, the world would be a better place. FLCL Alternative‘s first episode, “Flying Memory,” introduces us right off the bat to a stronger cast of characters, more focused presentation and storytelling, and a version of Haruko that isn’t a complete caricature of herself.
Originally broadcast in Japanese with English subtitles on April Fool’s Day as 2018’s version of Adult Swim’s yearly programming prank, FLCL Alternative starts off as a much more laid back experience than the manic confusion of Progressive.
This series sets itself up much more tactfully than the first sequel series. Main character, Kana, and her group of friends are extremely likeable, each with their own distinct personalities that play off of each other well. Even though they seem to be coming from different places background-wise, they all gravitate toward one another in a natural way. It feels like they are actually a group of friends instead of an awkward mix of irritating personalities. **cough**Progressive‘s main cast**cough**
While some may bemoan the more mundane start, it actually allows for more breathing room to introduce elements both old and new. For instance, the way Haruko is introduced in this episode feels way more natural than it did in Progressive. Instead of being trumpeted in front of the viewer with wild shouts of fanfare, here, she just simply walks into a noodle shop in the background of a shot. It’s an infinitely more interesting and exciting reintroduction thanks to its subtlety.
The episode works best when it’s introducing us to the new cast and allowing them room to just be. But it just wouldn’t be FLCL without some giant robot monsters to fight. If they were going for a jarring transition in mood from the rest of the episode, they definitely nailed that. Also, having the monster land on the girl’s location from space by taking on the form of a giant pin from a Google Map is clever and funny.
It also just wouldn’t be FLCL without Haruko smacking (or in this case kicking) an adolescent in the head. Kana sprouts a flower from her forehead because of this, and Haruko ends up pulling out a 1967 model Mustang guitar. As the FLCL faithful know, the more vintage the guitar model, the more powerful the N.O. connection is with that character.
Speaking of N.O.–the mysterious power that works like an interstellar portal, except the entrances can be formed through people’s heads–this series seems to be balancing its deeper lore against its character development much more tactfully than Progressive did. From the little glimpses we get into Haruko’s motives, as well as the people and shadowy organizations that are moving around her, this series, like the earlier sequel series, appears to be focusing on the Medical Mechanica aspects of FLCL. So far, it’s pulling it off better than Progressive, but it’s only the first episode so let’s not get too optimistic yet.
The animation for this episode is fairly standard, but because everything is so well presented and the setup is genuinely engaging, I’m willing to forgive the lack of experimentation. In all honesty, I’d be willing to forgive the production team if they’re going to take less animation risks and instead get the story and characters working smoothly this time around. There are still 5 episodes left, so we’ll see where they end up taking things.
The last important piece of the FLCL puzzle is the music, and in Alternative, Japanese rock band The Pillows‘ songs are used much more effectively than in Progressive. Each track fits the scene and nothing feels like it’s thrown in just for the sake of having to use the Pillows music for the series to be considered FLCL.
Overall, I was well-entertained throughout this first episode. It’s infinitely more engaging and less agonizingly pandering than the first episode of Progressive. I’m actually excited to see where this series is headed, and that’s a better compliment than I gave to any of the episodes of FLCL Progressive, so we’re off to a good start.