FLCL (pronounced “Fuli-Kuli” and usually seen as “Fooly-Cooly) is about fifteen years old. Anything that can be said about it has probably already been said somewhere else. If you haven’t seen it yet, you really don’t need my recommendation. You just need to watch it. It’s six episodes clocking in at about two hours in total. You have no excuse.
The reason I bring it up is because I think found a new favorite. Maybe a new favorite anime, maybe a new favorite show-in-general, maybe a new favorite thing ever made.
To some, the non-stop high-energy occasionally-incomprehensible nonsense of a show like Fooly-Cooly might be a bit too much to swallow. But by the end of the first episode, I knew that this was going to be exactly what I wanted out of an anime.
I don’t want to go into the details of the plot of FLCL, because there are too many to even begin with. I don’t want to talk about the art direction and animation, beautiful and frenetic though it is. I don’t even want to talk about how every character serves a purpose, has a unique personality, and develops in a compelling and interesting way. Instead, I wanted to talk about one overarching theme, and only one: ordinary life.
The protagonist, a 12-year-old boy named Noata, says of his suburban home town, “Nothing amazing ever happens here.” The show trying and, in a way, failing to prove that statement wrong is something that goes on in the background of every episode of FLCL. It motivates the plot, hanging in the air of every scene, especially the really crazy ones (which is basically all of them)
The most interesting thing about this isn’t just that Naota begins and ends the show believing that nothing amazing ever happens in his hometown, but that he spends the entire middle of the show with its robot-fighting-head-exploding-alien-fighting-flying-vespa nonsense *also* believing that nothing amazing ever happens in his hometown. That seems like a really interesting way to think about FLCL: that everything that happens *has* to be ordinary, otherwise it wouldn’t happen. It adds a level of depth to the depiction of Naota’s adolescent mindset. He’s convinced himself, basically, that he’s the most responsible and intelligent human in the world and his town is the worst place ever and nothing cool ever happens. That sounds exactly like me at 12. It sounds like most people at 12. I’m not sure where to go with this, but this whole idea that Naota is forcing himself to see everything that happens to him as ordinary by definition seems to make everything about FLCL mesh a little bit better. And if everyone is engaging in this fantasy, then this coming-of-age story gets a new wrinkle.
Maybe that’s really how everyone grows up, by learning to see the absurdities of the world around them as normal. Mamimi, Haruko, Naota, his father, and his grandfather all represent different stages of young adulthood. Naota is getting hit with the jarring, world-shattering truth that he won’t be a kid forever, so he tries to be the best little adult he can be. Mamimi is the natural extension of that mindset. After losing a serious love, she is consumed by loneliness and tries to compensate by forming one-sided relationships with persons, animals, and objects. Maybe she was once like Noata, desperate to grow up before she was ready. Haruko is a possible development from Mamimi’s situation. She’s rebellious and self-determined. She knows herself and her own desires. She isn’t beholden to anyone or anybody. Someone like Mamimi, desperate to love and be loved, can certainly react in a way that embraces solitude and self-reliance over interpersonal attachments. Haruko is a representation of youth: individualism to the point of carelessness. Naota’s father and grandfather, through their dialogue and particularly Naota’s father’s sexual attraction to Haruko, represent adulthood trying to recapture youth.
And that’s really interesting to me, because if these characters represent different steps in human growth, then it just highlights how we all engage in the same kind of mental gymnastics that Naota does when he suggests that nothing out of the ordinary happens in his town filled with alien-hunters, space-pirates-and-police, flying Vespas and TV-headed robots. Just like Mamimi and Naota, we are all desperate to grow up. Just like Haruko and Naota’s dad, we are all desperate to become kids again. And maybe that’s the weirdest thing of all.