Beware of women on Vespa's. Plain and simple.
What They Say
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. She says she's an alien, and hurls Naota into the middle of a mega-corporation's secret agenda. Now giant battling robots shoot from his skull when he has naughty thoughts.
The audio presentation for this release gets both the Japanese and English language tracks done using Dolby TrueHD in stereo. The sound effects and music to the series is pretty key and they come across very well here though not on par with some other more recent stereo releases done in lossless. The music stands out very well but still feels a bit muted overall but it captures a lot of the energy overall and has a great overall feeling. Dialogue shifts between highs and lows very easily and there's a good deal of placement and depth across the forward soundstage. While not a huge upgrade, it's a significant one that serves the material very well.
Originally released from 2000 to 2001, the transfer for this OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p and is encoded using the AVC codec. The show easily fits on one disc and the bit rate is generally pretty solid as it uses the bright colors to good effect. There's a solid look to the majority of it with little the way of background noise or problems in the characters either. What holds the release back from looking really strong is all in the source material as this was a challenging time for anime releases that were transitioning to digital production methods. The panning sequences have a rolling effect to them that can be distracting at times but ti was also present in the previous DVD editions as well. It's simply a part of the show. Beyond that issue though, the show has a very attractive look to it and some of the more difficult scenes, like the manga moments in the first episode, are so much cleaner than we saw in previous releases.
This release is in a standard Blu-ray case that has a whole lot of color and pop to it outside of the blue of the case itself. The front cover uses a good blending of colors to it in the background which works really well with the illustration style image of Haruko in front of her Vespa with guitar in hand. It has a bit of a rock and action feeling to it that has a whole lot of energy that's almost surprising. The back cover works in similar style with bold colors and a large white tagline that works to give it a very fun feeling. The middle has a decent little strip of images from the series while the rest is given over to the minimal summary to convey the basics as well as a good technical grid that lists everything accurately. There is artwork on the reverse side which is welcome as the left panel has a good black and white shot of Haruko with a breakdown of the episodes below it. The right panel has a really appealing simple image of Mamimi with the cat in hand. Often you find reverse side artwork to be better than what's on the front and while I like what's here overall, the front cover has a really strong visual design to it that's very engaging.
The menu design for the release is rather slow and appropriate asi t's a black screen with the pencil roughs of the logo through the middle with floating white sticks behind it. The menu navigation below it is done in the same way just with blocks of gray behind it to allow it to stand out. The design if is really nice and fits in perfectly with the show that goes between the extremes of outright energy and soothing calmness. Moving to the submenus is quick and easy and the navigation overall is spot on easy and responsive. Language selection of course is as usual in that it defaults to English with sign/song subtitles while not reading our players' language presets. The pop-up menus use a variation of the main menu design that works rather nicely and feels like it flows into the show as a part of it.
The release has a lot of extras here that will please fans of the original releases by containing the directors commentaries and a lot of music video related material for the Pillows. In addition to that there are some very fun outtakes and the clean version of the closing sequence.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
FLCL was one of those shows back when it was first released that was unusual in a lot of ways. After Gainax had been out of the scene for awhile, they came roaring back with a number of properties and FLCL was at the forefront of it with the six episode OVA series. Interestingly, they remembered with the second episode that they had fans outside of Japan and started including subtitles for the remainder of the series, which people like myself started grabbing since we could get something fresh and new, in high quality DVD at the time when DVD was really starting to go mainstream, and be ahead of the curve a bit.
FLCL holds a special place for me in that respect, as it was the first as-produced series I imported and was able to enjoy as it came out. While Michael House did an excellent job of producing a subtitle track as quickly as possible for that release, the subtitles here are much more fleshed out, providing a richer translation experience. Of course, since the first episode was never subtitled in Japan, having that now really helps.
FLCL is an amusing little six episode tale, with the first two parts presented here. The story is of a relatively small number of people, with Naota arguably the lead character. He’s a twelve year old boy whose main complaint in life is that nothing ever really happens where they live, nothing amazing. Once, years ago, a company called Medical Mechanica moved into town, which made all the adults happy, but that’s even settled into normalcy. Even when this huge iron-looking building spews out massive amounts of smoke at a certain time during the day, it’s just accepted as is.
Naota usually finds himself in the company of Mamimi, a lonely seventeen year old high school girl who was in love with Naota’s older brother. That brother has gone off to America to play baseball, so Naota fills in some sort of gap in her life, though it’s not clear that Mamimi ever told Naota’s unnamed brother about her feelings. Naota isn’t sure why she hangs with him, but he often doesn’t care for it as she plays all flirty and seductive with him at times, making him very uncomfortable.
All this changes when Haruko arrives. And when she arrives, she does it in style, zipping down across a bridge on her bright yellow Vespa while swinging (with her left hand) her guitar, and promptly bludgeoning Naota with it in the head. Her arrival marks the beginning of something amazing, but Naota doesn’t see it that way at all. She’s come to look for something, and she expects it to come through Naota’s head. This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds, as not long after being bludgeoned, a fleshy horn appears out of his forehead. He can push it back in, but something’s wrong with him.
Oh, yeah, his brain is also missing. All that’s there is something like a small black hole.
This is actually an advantage, as it allows things to come through and expand out of his head, such as the horn that actually turns out to be a finger from the robot named Canti that eventually comes out. Canti’s a whole nother ballgame right there, with his own odd mission and worldview adding to the strangeness of everything going on. But Canti isn’t what Haruko was expecting to come through, so she’s decided to move in with Naota and his father and grandfather, both of whom have no problem with it. Only Naota does.
As the show moves into the center arc of the series, Ninamori gets her time to shine as she ends up being pivotal to Naota’s life. His father is starting to be the cause of trouble with his community zine and there’s all kinds of scandal about Ninamori’s father the mayor having an affair with his secretary and the potential of a divorce and general scandal about it. To compensate, Ninamori is really pushing the Puss ‘n Boots play that the school class is putting on, so much so that this normally straight laced class president rigged the casting so that she’d have the lead and Naota would play the cat. There’s a budding relationship there.
Naota, unfortunately, has cat ears going on as the latest thing to grow out of his head.
After that, the show then turns towards Naota actually taking on the lead role in things and focusing more on him. He’s initially all closed up as he’s been brought onto his brothers baseball team but has a general lack of belief in his abilities, so he’s never swung his bat. What makes it worse is that the opposing team now has Haruko as their pitcher, which brings their relationship to a whole new level of competition and distrust.
Naota ends up being approached by someone who seems to have a clue about what’s going on as well as being involved in some sort of very powerful organization that’s monitoring what’s happening with Haruko and the things that come from space. With his large eyebrows, Nato has instant distrust of him and it feels fully justified as they continue to talk. He keeps warning Naota away from her and in general being very cryptic. But in the end, Naota doesn’t really care much about what he says.
Between the mix of the baseball game and the things the Eyebrow man brings to the game, Naota’s continually told that all he has to do in life is to swing the bat, but also given the impression that you can get by without doing that. This all leads up to a very big picture dramatic moment, but one that plays out in a hilarious way when it’s all said and done. But the important thing is that Naota’s beginning to change and take charge of his life and his situation. Maybe his saving his father from near death had something to do with it as well.
When it moves towards the end, it starts to really tie thigns together as well as it deals with Naota and his father engaged in mock war over Haruko’s heart. She’s been caught trying to play up to Naota, though his father only sees Naota in Haruko’s arms, and he challenges his son to wargames. This is all initially setup with some very amusing battles between the two men throughout the house as well as Haruko getting involved. The part that just floored me is how much of it was pure beautiful Lupin homages, including a sequence from the 2nd TV series opening. I never caught that during the first time I saw this since I hadn’t seen any Lupin TV.
Much like Otaku no Video, FLCL has so much inside it that the more anime you see, the more jokes you get and the higher the value of watching it again after some time.
The fifth episode is a pretty action filled one, since we are close to the end of the series and things are usually wrapped up by providing fast paced and tense action. A lot of it centers on Amarao and his attempts to get Haruko to stop what she’s doing. Between sending his assistant to try and take Canti down to badgering Naota, he tries everything. What does become apparent though is that he definitely knows more than is letting on, even some amount of jealousy over Naota’s relationship with Haruko. Then again, most adult males in this series seem to have that problem.
One aspect of episode five that plays out great and floored us the first time is the use of the South Park method of animation as we see Amarao going into that mode as well as other characters during a few early scenes. It becomes a touch more subtle in the same area when we have regular anime style back but you have Naota pulling his hood tighter, to the point where his eyes bulge, and we get a Kenny. I just thought the entire way it played out was perfect, letting the show really cross a few boundaries that are normally never crossed in the anime world.
The show then starts barreling towards its conclusion, as we get the honest revelation about why Haruko is here on Earth and why she really needs Naota. The concept for it, bringing the Medical Mechanica folks into play, is amusing and almost cartoony enough to be right at the edge of ideas. Amarao’s reactions to it all when it starts is hilarious, combined with the massive hand that had recently been placed by the main Mechanica complex. All in all though, this show continues to be rather hard to describe. I know I like it since I spent sixty minutes sitting there with a goofy grin on my face.
FLCL is something that allowed those involved to try a wide variety of styles and techniques and does come off as quite experimental. But nearly everything worked in their favor and you end up with three hours of nearly breakneck speed action, comedy and commentary on modern life. FLCL is a show that for all its comical trappings, provides a number of interesting topics for discussion. But much like at the end of the sixth Japanese volume, I find myself unable to really find the right words to describe why this show resonates with me so well. After not seeing it for almost a decade at this point, and with it having reached a larger audience than ever before with its Adult Swim run that seems to happen again and again, FLCL is one of those top notch shows that needs this kind of release. FUNimation did a solid job with what they have here for materials and it's great to check it all out again.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Director Commentaries, Music Videos, Outtakes Clean Closing
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.