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FLCL: The Complete Series
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When the three powerhouse creators of Eden of the East, Gurren Lagann and Neon Genesis Evangelion bumped heads, they spawned the series that broke all the rules - then broke the mold. Naota is a detached sixth-grader afflicted by the pangs of puberty. He's fooling around with his brother's ex-girlfriend when a crazed girl on a motor scooter runs him over, brains him with a bass guitar, and moves into his house. This pink-haired girl, Haruko - who claims she's an alien - hurls Naota into the middle of a mega-corporation's secret agenda. Oh, and now giant battling robots shoot from his skull. Mix in mind-bending animation and tunes that echo through your cerebellum to top off the trip that will have you falling hard for FLCL.
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What's the benefit then to owning this show on BD instead of DVD? Artifacts. I own the original SyncPoint DVDs. Despite only having two episodes per disc and being derived from a digital master, those DVDs are ridden with very visible and distracting macroblocking and mosquito noise. It's a matter of how old the discs are and how inefficient the MPEG-2 codec is.
This BD presentation of FLCL is not perfect. It's been sharpened a bit, so the line work stands out a bit more than I think it's supposed to. The colors are also more saturated than they were on the DVDs and I found it a bit distracting. Aliasing is present, but that's unavoidable with SD material. The aliasing is far worse on the DVDs.
Despite being an imperfect upscale of SD source material, the BD for Fooly Cooly is by far the best available presentation we have stateside thanks to the elimination of artifacts and the reduction in aliasing. And at the friendly pricing (the whole series for the same price as what a single one of the three DVDs used to cost) here on Amazon, there's no reason at all to avoid this release.
Oh, and the lossless stereo track is wonderful. Anyone who watches this show will fall in love with The Pillows.
But for sheer strangeness and kookiness, the winner has got to be "Fooly Cooly (FLCL)." Even as it pokes fun at typical anime, it tells the surrealist story of a very odd coming-of-age, complete with strange plots, oddball characters, and robots sprouting out of a young boy's head.
Naota is a young boy living what he sees as an oppressively dull existance, in a quiet city dominated by the Medical Mechanica building. The closest thing to excitement is fending off the advances of his brother's troubled girlfriend Mamimi.
Then sudenly a girl on a Vespa runs him over, resuscitates him with a smooch, and then bashes him over the head with a bass guitar. That evening, Naota finds that instead of a bump, he has a horn growing out of his head, and no idea what it is or how to get rid of it.
Despite his efforts to avoid her, Naoto's kooky father has hired the crazy Vespa girl, Haruko, as a housekeeper. To make matters worse, his "horn" turns out to be a robot and a giant mechanical hand -- springing out of a channel in his head. And you thought YOU had problems.
The five episodes that follow don't get any more normal, as Naota must deal with the Mayor's daughter getting his strange power, cat ears, more robots, baseball, bombs, the Pirate King Atomsk, seaweed eyebrows, and the interplanetary Medical Mechanica which may or may not be intent on galactic domination. It all clashes in the final episode.
For newbies, "FLCL" is probably the WORST anime to start with. It's a parodic mishmash of anime in-jokes -- giant robots, fanservice, boy falls for kooky abusive alien girl -- and a storyline that is bizarre to the point where you may not be able to understand what's going on. But oh, is it a fun ride.
As if the plot weren't hyperactive enough, the animation is exaggerated and crazy, full of distorted faces and wild robot battles. Lots of action and overdramatic dialogue ("OH NO.... OOOOOOOOO... an American GIRLFRIEND!"). As if it weren't funny enough, the director sprinkles in homages to other shows, ranging from other anime to "South Park."
And the characters are as bizarre as the story itself. Naoto starts off as a typical bored preteen, but slowly gains confidence and guts as he gets immersed in the weirdness. Haruko is a completely off-the-wall kook who is apparently an alien. And there's a bunch of other weird characters -- troubled pyromaniacs, wistful robots, preteen pervs, and a guy from Interstellar Immigration.
"FLCL" is perhaps the strangest anime in existance. It's also enough to blow the top off of your head, with the strange characters and wildly surrealist plot. Fooly Cooly!
If you already own the series though and it didn't change your life as a teenager or lead to you finding your unified theory on life, then its debatable if the $20-30 for the Blu is worth it. Its good but I would only go for it if you can't shut up about the show if someone mentions it.
If you don't own it though.... BUY!!! NOW!!! and buy the Blu since the DVD isn't that much cheaper and the Blu is an improvement.
What is it about? Well, in the typical Gainax fashion the story is not that straightforward and rather convoluted, but let's at least try to get the basics out of the way anyway. Naota, a typical 12 year old grade-schooler, is hanging out with his older brother's horny delinquent girlfriend when a strange pink-haired woman on a Vespa scooter runs him over, gives him CPR and then whacks him upside the head with her Rickenbacker bass guitar right before moving into his house with his family. Afterward things start getting very strange for our hero as robots start springing out of his head and he starts getting confusing feelings for Haruko, the weird, bass-wielding alien lady responsible for all of his troubles. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it is a lot of fun.
And this anime IS a lot of fun - FLCL manages to blend surreal comedy and drama and present it at a good, quick pace. And a warning to those of a more conventional mindset: this anime is *weird*, with jokes and non sequiturs coming out of the blue to hit you square in the face with oddity after cartoon oddity. This is just what a group of animators needs to make after having to grimly animate teenage girls being eaten alive by giant gruesome killer cyborgs. FLCL is a return to Gainax making anime as a group of anime *fans,* with the patented Gainax Homage Method in full play for the first time since 1988's "Gunbuster": parody an anime trope, celebrate it, then turn it up to 11. And just like in that seminal sci-fi OVA from the previous decade, Gainax's love of animation is on full display here: all sorts of techniques are employed to give FLCL a real kinetic quality, a sense of *life*. Gainax's love of anime and animation in general comes through every frame, every shot of every quick gag, every classic anime reference, every fight scene, every application of a lovingly rendered vintage guitar to the head of a giant rampaging robot. In short, FLCL is glorious.
However, what makes FLCL stand out is not only the great animation (because after all, well animated garbage is still garbage) or the great comedy - it's also the dramatic themes running through the show. FLCL is basically about sex and growing up, and how both will screw you up. Far too many TV shows and movies with a "coming of age" theme don't sit well with me as they usually seem too sentimental and not real enough. Kazuya Tsurumaki accomplishes something amazing here: he imbues this OVA with a wistful, nostalgic quality; at the same time he shows how much adolescence suuuuuucks. Speaking as a male who has made it through puberty (thankfully quite a while ago) I can say that I identified with Naota while watching this: having your body do weird things and feeling an increasing confusion for the world around you is not fun. And having weird feelings for women is not fun either (actually, it's still not fun). Haruko is the perfect symbol of how women seem to boys Naota's age: strange, infuriating, indecipherable, and yet strangely interesting and enticing. At one point she examines an X-Ray of our hero and declares that his brain is missing - all the while a massive horn (hmm...) is sticking out the back of his skull. Yeah, being a teenage boy feels like that - all hormones and no head. Tsurumaki also doesn't give any pat endings or solutions: I won't spoil anything but I will say that Naota does not have a completely hunky dory super happy ending (although it *is* a happy ending - this is not Eva).
This new Funimation DVD of FLCL is very nice indeed. Although it does not have all of the special features of the previous Synch-Point release, it does fit all 6 episodes onto one disc - meaning no swapping out discs after every two episodes like that previous 3 disc version. This makes shotgunning FLCL in one sitting a little bit easier (providing of course that you can handle that much FLCL in one sitting - I can!). Video is good: presented in the original aspect ratio of 4:3 and free of any obvious defects. Audio is also good, if not earthshattering with both the original Japanese and the English dub presented in 2 channel stereo. Speaking of the English dub, the one on this disc is surprisingly good. I normally don't watch anime in English but the dub for FLCL impressed me. In fact, I think it can enhance one's enjoyment of this particular series as FLCL is a highly kinetic show, and reading subtitles can distract from the barrage of images on the screen. I caught some visual details on the second viewing in English that I missed the first time in Japanese.
Special features include a director's commentary for all 6 episodes (interesting tidbit: the Vespa in the end credits is actually Tsurumaki's) which is worth listening to once. A warning though that you have to watch the commentaries for each individual episode one at a time - there is no "watch all" commentary option. Also included: English dub outtakes (nonessential), textless ending and some music videos with tunage from the show by the Pillows (the Japanese rock band that supplied the unique soundtrack), in addition to the standard trailers for other stuff by Funimation. The only downside is that the packaging for FLCL is nothing special: a thin cardboard slipcase housing a clear standard single-disc DVD case. The case is a bit flimsy, actually. It seems like everyone is moving towards using the "eco-friendly" lighter cases nowadays and Funimation unfortunately is no exception. If you want something sturdier to put your disc into you're going to have to replace the case.
Pluses - Very, very fun! Great story, great animation, good music, a joyous return to form for Gainax and a chance to get their ya-yas out after the grisly Anno angst-fest that was "Evangelion."
Minuses - May be too weird and convoluted for some.
Conclusion - This is a classic, truly creative anime made by people who love anime and love making anime. I recommend this highly for anyone who is a fan of Gainax, as well as anyone who likes off-the-wall anime in general. If you like this I recommend Nobuhiko Obayashi's House and the BBC sitcom The Young Ones which are in the same vein. In fact, it was watching these that immunized me so that I was prepared for the insanity of FLCL!