One Stage, Three Plays: The FLCLs

Okay, so after a decade and a half, give or take (mostly give) someone decided that FLCL needed sequels.

No, I don’t know why. FLCL is unique, a tornado of hectic action driven by a pink-haired who-gives-a-shit named Haruko Haruhara. It mixed different animation styles, sci-fi wierdness, hard rock music and non-stop motion together willy-nilly to create something that makes you go, “What the F(ire tr)uck was that??”

Well, I actually do know why. Want me to tell you?


(Yup, I found the yen symbol.)

One neat thing about all three FLCL series, though, is that they are all classic cases of Stealth Storytelling. Look at Haruko! Look at Haruko whack a monster with a Rickenbacker bass! And what’s all this stuff about Atomsk and NO and Medical Mechanica? That must be some kind of wild science fiction story, if only I could figure it out.


The original FLCL, when you scrub all the nonsense out of it, was a basic tragedy: Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl. Yup, twelve-year-old Nauta discovers girls in spite of himself: at the start he rejects Mamimi’s advances, and when he finds himself putting his head on Ninamori’s shoulder in a moment of tenderness, he immediately levitates in panic. But at the beginning of episode six (and last) he buries his head in Haruko’s bosom and professes his love for her.

Alas, in the end she leaves him behind to ride her Vespa off into the sunset. Boom. Boy loses girl. Tragedy.

The sequel series, Progressive and Alternative, don’t keep up, not quite. Haruko is on hand and if anything she’s crazier (and in the second series, FLCL: Progressive, she has a foil in Julia). The music is by the same band, the Pillows (alas, they are a couple decades older and don’t rock quite so hard), and the direction lacks the manic energy and stylistic shifts that gave the original much of its momentum.

One of these days I need to break down FLCL’s animation on a style by style basis. But right now I have my writer’s hat on.

What I found interesting is that the same context is out there: there’s Haruko, and Atomsk, and NO, and Medical Mechanica, and Haruko’s bass whacking people and big ole machines growing out of peoples’ heads and all the same razzle dazzle that they used to keep us from looking at the story line the first time around.

As a writer what I found really cool was that they used the same setting and context to tell three different stories. We weren’t supposed to notice it, but the stories aren’t about Haruko, except that in the first she’s the “Girl” in “Boy meets Girl.”

In the sequels she’s not even that involved in the meta-plot, even though she’s all over the screen.

FLCL: Progressive, when you strip it to the bones, is a comedy. A what? Yes, a comedy: Boy (Ko) meets Girl (Hidomi), Boy loses Girl, Boy gets Girl. The antics they go through are amusing, but there’s no real meta-plot apart from what goes on with Ko and Hidomi.

And FLCL: Alternative…hoo boy! Poor Kana has to face up to the fact that she’s not an especially good friend to her friends, and has to be better. Boom. Overcoming the monster.

Same setting, same basic look, same flashy pink-haired nose-picker screeching “Look at me look at me look at meeee!!!!” Three totally different stories.

To be honest, I enjoyed Progressive but didn’t think it was anything special. Ko gets abused pretty badly throughout the series as he tries to rescue Hidomi, but after all, it IS an animated comedy. Hidomi is mildly interesting (and her mom is more interesting but has nothing to do) but she also internalizes a lot and so she is somewhat subdued on screen. There’s a little too much Princess in Peril in Hidomi for my tastes. Instead, we have the Haruko/Julia conflict raging all over, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with the plot.

I liked the story in Alternative better, in part because it avoided the clichéd Boy/Girl dynamic. In fact, Alternative explicitly rejected the whole romance plot, when Hijiri chooses her sisters before her misters (being a model, she could hook up as she liked, but she prefers to stay with her buds).

FLCL Alternative2

Sisters before misters: From left, Mossan, Hijiri, Pets, Kana

And so you have this group of high school girls, liking and supporting each other throughout all the shenanigans Haruko can get up to with and around them. They’re clearly all good friends with each other: they spend all their time together, play games together; they even curl up together. There’s a lot of physical contact between them in a non-sexual way that suggests great familiarity and a lot of ease with each others’ presences. I genuinely appreciated the way the skinny, pretty girls included large, plain-faced Mossan as an equal member of their crew. In fact, I liked the way everyone, including the director and writers treated Mossan. She wants to be a clothing designer, and they let her be good at it, and let her look good modeling her own clothes, when they could have treated her as a comic character.

Neither Progressive nor Alternative can lay a hand on the original, but it’s interesting how they were able to take one setting, one background, one entire context, and tell three very different stories in it. That am pretty damn clever.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

NaNoWriMo count by close of play, 4 November: 13209 words.

2 thoughts on “One Stage, Three Plays: The FLCLs

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