FLCL. FuriKuri. Fooly Cooly. Nyow.
A lot of people who are resistant to watching anime cite its strangeness as a reason for its inaccessibility. They're afraid they won't "get it", or they think animation is for children and are turned off by the more adult themes, or they saw a bunch of out-of-context clips one time and think they can write off all of it.
To which I say, anime is not a genre. It's a medium, and like all artistic mediums it includes several subsets and genres. Some of it is aimed toward children, but a lot of it is for adults and while some anime can seem culturally strange, most of the stuff that makes its way over to America is mainstream enough that even a casual viewer should be able to understand and enjoy it.
This being said, there is some truly whack-a-doo stuff coming out of Japan, and a lot of it is inaccessible unless you know some things about Japanese culture, and even then it can seem pretty wild. I've refrained from talking about anime on this site for that specific reason; even in 2015 it's still regarded as a subculture in America (and in a lot of Japan), and I didn't want to alienate anyone.
Then I thought, screw that, there's some really great anime out there and I want to be able to freely talk about my favorite stuff without feeling like my average reader won't "get it". I spent most of my time when I was between the ages of thirteen and twenty inhaling anime and manga, and it's had a profound influence on my personal style. So today, we're going to be looking at a series that is undeniably strange, artistically fascinating, emotionally resonant, and a superb example of what anime can be.
Here's something I love. Here's Studio Gainax's "FLCL".
"FLCL (Forget Logic, Consume Liquor)": The Rules
It's tasty, too.
1. Drink for Title Drops. That's the full title, "FLCL" (pronounced "Fooly Cooly").
2. Drink when they drink
3. Drink for Daddy Issues
4. Drink when someone is called by a nickname. This gets tricky because of honorifics and crap, but generally if someone's first name is shortened or manipulated, that counts.
5. Drink when someone eats something
6. Drink when a robot appears in a scene. You should be aware at the time that it is in fact a robot.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink when someone talks about things being "ordinary" or "strange".
2. Drink for gunfire. This only applies to one episode, but man it's a great payoff.
3. Drink for references to other cartoons or anime. Some of them are obscure, but it's mostly easy to tell.
4. Drink when Haruko "uses" her guitar.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink when someone says the words "sweet", "sour" or "spicy".
2. Drink for allusions to sex
3. Drink when the song "Little Busters" plays. This is mostly only here because I love that song.
4. Drink when someone's body does something it shouldn't be able to do.
5. Drink when you see a cat.
Krissy Pappau: "I don't know where the truth ends and the lies begin." (Medium)
Bride of Buggerlas: "Go on and prove that you love me!" (Easy)
Velma Jinkies: "Now, Cantido-sama! Bless me with your kiss!" (Easy)
Shirley Whiskas: "Relationship? How do you MEAN?" (Hard)
Dijan De Nero: "Where are your eyebrows? Why did you take them off?" (Hard)
Vicky the Raptor Queen: "I'm about to overflow." (Medium)
Abstract, Not Random
Which is why I'm ashamed for not realizing before that "FLCL", at its core, is a coming-of-age story.
Okay, I'm going to stop explaining the plot, because the plot DOES NOT MATTER.
The actual structure of this story is nonsensical, and it's that way on purpose. The creators of "FLCL" have no illusions that you'll follow the chain of events (at least not on a first watch-through). They're more interested in style and theme. Style the show has in spades, and it's that sense of experimentation that led a lot of folks to believe that the writers were just writing down whatever came into their heads. That they were making shit up.
This is clearly not what's happening. "FLCL" is made with too much craft and knowledge of the art form to be the random scribblings of Japanese writers. So, beneath all the action, what's actually happening?
Well, a few things. The major themes all hinge on the experience of going through puberty and becoming an adult, specifically as a young boy. At the beginning of the story Naota is no longer a child, but he doesn't feel comfortable being called a grown-up either, especially since his immature father and his brother's absence have forced him into becoming the man of the house. The aliens emerging from his brain are abstracted forms of the chaos inside him, the battling desires to stay young and grow older. There's some blatant phallic metaphors happening too; the robots appear at the worst possible times and do a lot of damage, and the young women of the show are fascinated by the growths that emerge from Naota's forehead and his desperate attempts to hide them.
"Oh!" said Bride of Buggerlas. "I know about sporks and Japan!" Indeed, an urban legend states that General McArthur popularized the spork in Japan during the post-war occupation. While denying the Japanese chopsticks, he feared to give them forks and knives, fearing the Japanese citizens would reappropriate them as weapons and rise up against their occupiers. The spork was seen as a compromise, civilized enough as a utensil but too useless to be used to do much of anything else. There is little to no evidence that supports this story, but it's still popular enough to stick in people's heads, and even without that piece of faux history the spork is a symbol of convenience and modernization. It's a common gripe amongst older Japanese that the youth of the country can't hold chopsticks correctly.
None of this is handed to you on a plate. The creators of FLCL are carefully coding and sheathing their intentions underneath layers of anime references, poop jokes and sexual innuendo. And none of it would mean anything if there wasn't a beating heart underneath.
Manic Pixie Dream Bitch
We've discussed the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" trope on this site before; an MPDG is a quirky, free-spirited woman who exists in a story to help the male hero overcome his emotional issues and show him a way to live life to the fullest. Haruko Haruhara is NOT an MPDG. Although her character functions in similar ways in "FLCL" to a pixie, her actions give her depth and autonomy.
First, Haruko doesn't just say she's a free agent; she is one. She comes and goes at a whim, and has been doing this all her life. Her arrival in Mabase was predicated on a personal mission that she doesn't let anyone in on, even the one person who's most deeply involved. Not a single character on the show can tell her what to do, except for a commanding officer of some kind that we never see.
It's deep, man. This show about robots and super spicy curry is deep.
Sub vs Dub
But when you do, should you watch the show in subtitled Japanese or in English? Good question.
The practice of dubbing and localizing Japanese cartoons has a long and storied history that requires a lot more time to discuss than I have right now, but the basic gist of it is that until about five years ago, most dubs were shit. American studios didn't have the budgets or incentive to hire decent voice actors or create faithful translations, so a lot of the stuff they brought over just didn't sound right in English, and some of the shows were changed entirely to "better suit" an American demographic. If a show got brought to Toonami or Adult Swim, maybe the English actors sounded weird, but the dub was still better than most. Other shows weren't as lucky.
I watched the dub first, and watched the subtitled version on every re-watch afterwards because when I was younger I was a sub snob. I thought the Japanese audio would be automatically "better" than the American one, and while now I acknowledge that with this show it's not necessarily true, I still enjoy watching this show with Japanese performers. It's such a Japanese story, filled with in-jokes and other things that don't translate, and while I can't claim to get all the references I don't feel distracted by changes the American translation made to the script.
Because both audio tracks are so strong, we decided to alternate between the sub and the dub as we watched the series. Bride of Buggerlas strongly prefered the sub; she soaked in a lot more of the plot by reading the dialogue and used the words as an anchor. Velma Jinkies, on the other hand, seemed more drawn in by the visuals and was more engaged while the dubbed episodes were playing.
Drink when steam comes out of the iron.
I'm kicking myself for not including this rule in the original set. The iron is possibly the most important set piece in the show, so ignoring it isn't wise.
Drink when someone indulges in a vice
I'm mostly talking about smoking, but I think Grandpa Nandabe has a porn addiction that gets mentioned sometimes. See what else you can find!
Drink for stuff that doesn't translate.
There's a ton of jokes that don't make sense in English. And some cultural references that might seem a little...off color for American viewers.
For Your Inebriation is written by Krissy Pappau (Hollis Beck). All "FLCL" images are owned by Gainax and FUNimation Entertainment.
Special Thanks to my patrons, Caroline Kittredge Faustine, Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin and Antonia Beck! Your support helps me keep this blog up and running. Join their ranks today and donate to my ongoing Patreon campaign!