FLCL began life as a collaboration between GAINAX and Production I.G, two of Japan’s most popular and successful anime studios. A six-episode OVA series, it was first released in Japan in 2000 as a succession of six, one-episode discs. Free from the constraints of working for television, Director Kazuya Tsurumaki and his staff allowed their imagination to run riot. The result was a highly experimental, challenging, and fascinating series. 8 years later, the show has finally hit UK shores. It has been collected into 3 volumes, the first of which came out last month, and the second will follow next month. I recently got my hands on Volume 1, and I’m going to use my blog today to talk about the show’s impressive visuals, story, and soundtrack.
For starters, FLCL looks phenomenal. It is one of the earliest examples of a wholly digitally animated series. This allowed Tsurumaki to push the boundaries of what is visually possible in an anime show. Aesthetically then, FLCL is brimming with impressive effects and creativity. For example, some scenes use a seamless mix of 2D and 3D techniques, and the effect is superb. For another scene, Tsurumaki needed a simple dinner-table conversation. It seemed a little dull, so he had the scene play out as a series of flowing, partly-animated manga panels. It’s a visually striking and memorable scene, and as Tsurumaki has pointed out, it would have been impossible with standard cel animation. It must be said, however, that not every single frame is a cornucopia of visual treats. In some scenes, the backdrop is very sparse, almost non-existent in some cases. But I think this helps focus your attention on the action, and also makes the more impressive scenes stand out even more. Clearly Tsurumaki didn’t worry about achieving a consistent feel and style, he just used whatever styles and techniques he felt most suited any particular scene. Some of the backgrounds are sparse, but then others are wonderfully detailed. This melting pot of aesthetics helps the show achieve another unique quality. Speaking purely in visual terms it’s hard to take your eyes off it, because you have no idea what’s coming next, and in this sense it certainly bears repeated viewings.
Impressive visuals will only get you so far though, and a good story is still required to back it up. FLCL’s narrative is genuinely bizarre, deliberately confusing, and on my first watch through episodes 1 and 2, almost utterly incomprehensible. Aliens, robots, a missing brain which is a portal to another world, a factory shaped like an giant iron, these are just some of the strange plot devices used in the series. It is a fast-moving, vibrant show, packed with creativity and ideas. It would be easy and tempting for some people to write it off as pure nonsense, but something pulls you back. Speaking for myself, I watched Volume 1 once, and I couldn’t piece the action together. I was left with a furrowed brow and a well-scratched head. But I mean this in a good way; all I wanted to do was to do was pop it back in my DVD player and watch it again. I didn’t understand what had happened before me on the screen, but I knew something had happened. I just wanted to get to the bottom of it, so I watched it again. And as you watch it a few times, everything begins to fall into place. It pretty much demands repeated viewings, but ultimately, it is all the more rewarding for that. There is a lot of discussion about the themes, messages, and symbolism behind the show. I can’t really enter that debate until I’ve seen the whole series. But two episodes in, I can see underlying themes developing, such as adolescence, growing up, and letting go. FLCL’s plot is definitely thought-provoking and just as impressive as the visuals, if not more so.
So with these core elements of great animation and an excellent story in place, FLCL already has the makings of a fantastic show. But the auditory icing on the anime cake is the genuinely brilliant soundtrack, by Japanese lo-fi rock band The Pillows. Director Tsurumaki chose them because he wanted a ‘band’ type of sound, and also because they were a veteran, established band, but they were not massively commercially successful. They were pleased to get involved, and told Tsurumaki to use any of their songs. So tracks were picked from throughout their discography, and two new tracks were commissioned – ‘Ride on Shooting Star’ and ‘I Think I Can’. The soundtrack is totally in-tune with the show, and even more than that – it doesn’t just ‘fit in’ with the show, it actually serves to enhance it. The music weaves in and out, and the cool and edgy lo-fi sound is the perfect compliment to the bizarre story and visuals.
So FLCL has got the lot, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of this wonderful series.