Graphic Arts as Literature

Anime series addicting
despite its weirdness

The spirit of El Kabong lives. For those of you who remember Hanna-Barbera's old "Quick Draw McGraw" cartoons, you'll recall that this was the clumsy Western sheriff's alter ego. Clad in a mask and cape, he would walk up to a criminal and -- kaboooonnnnng! -- the evildoer would be dispatched with a guitar smashed over his head.

This flashback from animation's past comes courtesy of a similar situation in the anime series "FLCL," where female space alien Haruko Haruhara comes out of nowhere and, after running over young sixth-grader Naota Nandaba with her Vespa scooter -- kaboooonnnnng! -- she promptly smashes her bass guitar over his head.

With another girl looking on.

Taking pictures.

It only gets stranger from there. To say that this six-episode series, available from Synch-Point on three DVDs and currently airing weeknights on Cartoon Network at 9, defies conventional classification would not even scratch the surface in describing it.


For starters, forget about figuring out what the title "FLCL" means. It's been alternately interpreted as "Fooly Cooly," "Furi Kuri" and "that whacked-out Gainax anime." Indeed, this series is yet another product of Gainax, the studio whose strength lies in high-energy, complex shows like the cryptic "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and the romantic comedy "His and Her Circumstances."

"FLCL," by contrast, would be what you'd get if you took those series, mixed them up in a blender and threw in a heavy dose of hallucinogenic drugs.

Perhaps Naota makes the most ironic statement of the entire series when, in the first episode, he says, "Nothing amazing happens here, only the ordinary," as the camera pans over his hometown ... with a building in the shape of an iron spewing smoke atop a hill.

And that's before he gets whacked on the head by Haruko, who insists that she's waiting for something specific to pop out of it; robots and other weird objects start bursting from his head; a secret organization headed by a man with nori strips for eyebrows steps up its pursuit of Haruko; and his brother's high school girlfriend falls in love with him, a small cat and a little four-legged mechanical device that stumbles out of the river one day.

Remember, this story is weird. It's these qualities that make this series funny, both in the "strange" and "ha-ha" senses of the word.

Yet for all its strangeness, the entire production has an endearing, addictive quality to it. Part of the credit goes to the unconventional soundtrack, with the electric guitar stylings of Japanese rock band the Pillows. Part of it is seeing just what sort of anguish Naota will endure as the robots and the ensuing robot battles grow larger in each episode. And part of it is watching Haruko ride in, leaving chaos in her wake, swinging her Rickenbacker at anything that moves.

An added bonus available on all three discs is an audio commentary track by director Kazuya Tsurumaki, in which he explains various production elements like why the Vespa, the guitars and a robot with a TV for a head play such prominent roles. (The answer: He really likes that stuff, so since he was the director, in they went.) And the tidbit he reveals about a prominent anime figure serving as the Japanese voice of Miyu Miyu the cat is worth the price of admission alone.

Synch-Point deserves praise for its quality handling of this series, with the company even going so far as to temporarily halt localization work on "Tenshi ni Narumon" ("I'm Gonna Be an Angel!") to work on getting "FLCL" out the door.

This show, with its Japanese dialogue loaded with cultural in-jokes, doesn't seem like an obvious candidate to present to American viewers. For the company to not only provide extensive liner notes on the jokes, but also flawlessly integrate new, culturally relevant jokes into the English dub without any jarring transitions is quite an accomplishment.

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