The second episode of FLCL Alternative, “Grown-Up Wannabe,” continues the trend of solid characterization and pacing that was introduced in the first episode of this second sequel series to the groundbreaking FLCL from the early 2000s.
This episode focuses mostly on Hijiri, the most mature of the circle of four friends who were introduced to us in FLCL Alternative. She’s dating an older guy who really only cares about one thing: photography (Oh, and dating cool, “mature” girls).
A lot of the events and dialogue toy with the concept of maturity. What does it mean to be mature? Is it all just a facade? The episode illustrates this in many interesting ways, most notably through food metaphors. FLCL vets should of course know that spicy foods are a taste specifically designed for grown ups.
Back to the plot: Hijiri’s college student boyfriend, Toshio, is the typical pretentious university type. He fancies himself a photographer and of professional skill at that. The episode makes it clear, through showing off his amatuerish photos, that he is just a college student with a huge ego. His actions and dialogue also go to great lengths to show that his outward snobbishness and grown-up posturing are a ruse for a character who is ultimately the definition of immature.
He breaks up with Hijiri after seeing Haruko working in a kebab truck (of all things), demands back a necklace that he gave to Hijiri as a gift, and cares more about his broken camera than his or Hijiri’s safety during the last act of the episode.
Speaking of how things are written, Alternative can be characterized by a much more subtle approach to both scenes and characters. Even though this series and Progressive were written by the same man, Hideto Iwai (whose writing I called in a review of episode 5 of FLCL Progressive “vapid, incompetent, and idiotic drivel”), it almost seems like he was under orders to write a certain way for Progressive, while here, his dialogue and situations feel much more organic.
This episode also captures the feel of the original series much more than anything else I’ve seen come out of these sequel projects. The climactic robot battle in a parking lot late at night hearkens back to the nighttime fights in the original series without just blatantly ripping off their story beats.
Speaking of that final robot battle, it’s also a fairly shameless homage to Transformers, and it’s excellently done. It’s great to see FLCL back in the mode of parodying other properties. It’s something that the original did really well.
Much like the first episode, “Grown-Up Wannabe” doesn’t take too many risks animation-wise. It’s fairly subdued and straightforward throughout. It would be nice to see a little bit more experimentation, but the story and characters are so well executed that it doesn’t bother me that much.
Also, like the first episode, the use of the Pillows music feels appropriate. The song selection enhances the scenes where they are used instead of feeling like they were slotted in just for the sake of it.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if this was the only FLCL sequel series in town, I’d be happy. FLCL Alternative may look and feel a bit different than the original, but that’s what makes it so great. It’s not afraid to work from the foundation of the original and head off in its own direction. It nails the key pillars of what made FLCL so enjoyable and what kept viewers riding through the madness: solid characters and clever writing.
So I retract my declaration wishing that Hideto Iwai “never works another day in his life.” I just wish he would burn all his scripts for FLCL Progressive. They were definitely the lowest point in his career.