The war against Medical Mechanica kicks off for some reason, and everything is crashing toward some semblance of a conclusion. The final episode of FLCL Progressive, “Our Running,” does little to elevate the series above the mess of incompetent writing and direction that the rest of the series suffered under.
What went wrong? Finishing the final episode of this series feels akin to an investigator looking at the aftermath of a horrible motor vehicle accident. What’s left are the remnants of something that once was recognizable, but you can never fit these smashed pieces together to form the original thing again.
While that analogy may not be the most graceful, it’s way more elegant than the way FLCL Progressive ties up its plot holes and character developments. Hidomi and her mom reconcile with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer; there’s no clear answers about who Aiko (tubby Midori’s rent-a-date from a few episodes ago) is and what her relationship to the Amarou look-alike was; even the main plot thread of Haruko attempting to find Atomsk is left without explanation.
A whole lot of screen time is wasted on background characters fighting Medical Mechanica for no reason. Who are these people? Why should we care about them when our main characters are reaching the ends of their arcs? It’s like talking to someone who is trying to make excuses for bad behavior. They stumble over their words, change the subject, try to distract you from the real issues; this is exactly what the last episode of FLCL Progressive does. It has no excuse for itself, so it just mumbles on, hoping you won’t notice its transgressions.
The series attempts to add closure, but in the end manufactures a feeling of closure without any of the context. We haven’t gotten a chance to get to know any of these characters enough to feel anything for them.
Here’s a case study for you: In the last episode of the original series, there is an emotional scene between Haruko and Naota after Haruko returns from being away for a while. He cries into her chest wondering why she left in the first place as The Pillows’ “One Life” plays. As the Medical Mechanica building seeps white smoke, Naota has a quiet voice over monologue (“Every day we spend here is like a whole lifetime of dying slowly”).
At this point, we’ve seen Naota through many different lenses–aloof, moody, pensive, manic, posing as an adult. He’s gone through all of these changes throughout the course of the series. So when he finally breaks down and becomes vulnerable, it hits us extra hard. And seeing Haruko’s mysteriously calm, yet sad expression adds layers to her character as well, without her needing to say anything.
Contrast that with the end of Progressive. We get a scene where Haruko breaks down and cries for her failures, but there is nothing for us to hold onto in that scene. She’s just upset because she couldn’t find Atomsk again. But she’s already lost him before, and immediately after she has the attitude of “Whatever, I’ll just keep trying.” We haven’t seen Haruko change at all, she’s actually devolved into a shell of her character from the original series, so there’s no reason to become invested in her, especially at this point, during one of the last scenes of the series.
As the dust settles near the end of the episode, one old man comments, “There was no reason for any of it.” Yeah, sure. But that doesn’t really justify shoddy storytelling and flimsy character development. Thanks for the excuses, though, FLCL Progressive. Thanks.