FLCL Vol. #1 - Mania.com

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A+
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Synch-Point
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 60
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: FLCL

FLCL Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     August 31, 2002
Release Date: September 03, 2002

FLCL Vol. #1
© Synch-Point

What They Say
Produced by GAINAX (Neon Genesis Evangelion) and animated by Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell), FLCL takes animation to yet another level. Get ready for this shocking, funny, and right out freaky show about adolescence, expectations and alien intrigue.

Naota wants to be normal. But with a talented brother leaving Japan for the US to play baseball, everyone now looks at him a bit differently. His brother's girlfriend is acting strange and now there's an even stranger girl hitting on him.

With a bass guitar.

Oh, did I mention the robots that keep springing from his head?

Episode 1: Fooly Cooly
12-year-old Naota already has enough to deal with at home. Both his father and grandfather are more than a little eccentric and less than a little mature. Not to mention the girlfriend his brother left behind, who is now making advancements on him. Now to top everything off, a self-proclaimed alien, Haruhara Haruko, comes bursting on the scene. Naota is the key to her mission and the weirdness has only just begun.

Episode 2: Fire Starter
Masked by semi-innocent teasing and flirting, 17-year-old Mamimi is a girl with a past; harboring secrets that Naota doesn’t fully understand. There is definitely something about her that seems more complex than she lets on. For some reason, she’s obsessed with Fire Starter, a video game about fire and a god named Cantide. And nothing is the same after she sees a black winged deity.

The Review!
Love it or hate it, FLCL has finally arrived and it’s just as whacked as everyone had said.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. It’s presented in a pro-logic mix but there’s nothing really noticeable going on in the rear speakers (and since the original Japanese DVD release was in gorgeous PCM stereo, there shouldn’t be anything going there either). The track sounds solid with no noticeable dropouts or distortions throughout it. We also took in both the English track and the Commentary track and had no issues there either.

FLCL marked the move to serious digital work for Gainax, and it shows with a stunning piece of work that utilizes colors masterly. The transfer here appears to be just as gorgeous as my imports, and at places seems to be even better as there doesn’t seem to be any cross coloration at all. At most, there’s some slight rolling in some line work during slow zooms, but that’s attributable to its source. Colors are simply lush in many sequences, such as when Canti the red robot shows up or in many of the backgrounds, particularly of setting skys.

An early cause for debate and speculation on our forums was how the packaging would be done. Settled just as early was that it would be done like this, a clear keepcase that provides a reversible cover, with the covers from the respective Japanese releases being provided. For the first volume, the front cover is from Japanese DVD #1, with Haruko holding up her guitar set against yellow. I believe this piece of artwork was done in full color for one of the NewType covers by Sadamoto as well. The back cover shows off a number of small screenshots and asmall summary for each of the episodes, which has their episode numbers clearly listed as well as titles. Technical and production information are clearly listed as well. The reverse cover follows up with Japanese DVD#4 which has Harukoin a baseball outfit with bat set against a green background. The back cover of it is set like the other side, but with chapter listings being placed inside and removing the technical and production information.

Also included is an impressive 20 page booklet that provides translations of various interviews from the Japanese inserts, four pages worth of translation notes for both episodes and the entire manga sequence (presented left to right) to go over in more detail than is possible during the show. I certainly wasn’t expecting that, but it’s a perfect addition to this.

The menus are all solid static pieces, with the opening menu having a good image of Naota in the foreground with Haruko walking towards the Medical Mechanica that’s off in the background while some instrumental piece from the Pillows plays. Moving about the menus is a breeze and it’s laid out just right. It’s as if they read my list of how I like menus and followed it to the letter.

In addition to considering the aforementioned booklet as an extra, there’s two on-disc extras included here. The first is a six piece image gallery which contains some excellent pieces of artwork such as the promotional posters for these individual OVA releases in Japan as well as some NewType cover artwork. These are far better than providing stills from the show, as people generally just zip right past those. The other extra is among the best kind of extra that can be produced, and that’s the director’s commentary. For both of the episodes here, we get to listen to Kazuya Tsurumaki talk about this show from some of the planning concepts to how they changed, to the actors involved and how they were cast and to the way the characters are grouped by how they’re either right or left handed.

Commentaries for anime seem to be rare going by the Japanese releases, but are very sought after by a number of fans on this side of the ocean. Having listened to a couple hundred Hollywood commentaries over the past decade, it’s interesting how similar most of the problems tend to be (“the effects guys said it couldn’t be done/they did it/they asked never to do it again”) as well as the unique issues that crop up. Gainax commentaries so far seem to be among the more enlightening when it comes to their shows, and this one is no different. Tsurumaki does have a few dead areas throughout, but as it seems as if there were a few other people in the room asking questions, they got better as they went along in keeping him talking. The amount of interesting trivia in these two episodes is great, and has really enhanced my enjoyment of the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Since getting this disc, I’ve now watched it six times in various ways. Japanese with English subtitles. English with English subtitles. English with commentary subtitles, Commentary with subtitles, and a few of them repeated. While my understanding of the show still falls under “what the?!”, “huh?” and “cool!”, I’m doing far better than when I saw these episodes as they came out in Japan.

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.

All of this is really scraping the surface of things as there are so many layers of story being told here, all serving a bigger story that does get resolved at the end of the series. The characters here are just all over the place with their humor and their outlooks. Naota is bothered by al of this while Mamimi you can almost instantly classify as a suicide case ready to happen. Haruko provides the manic moments but also some of the more subtle pieces as well. The supporting cast of Naota’s family and schoolmates fleshes things out nicely.

I was exceptionally pleased with the dub for this release. This is probably one of the best ones I’ve heard in a long time, and I’m likely to watch the remainder of the series in English. Barbara Goodson as Naota did a fantastic job, so much so that I was surprised to see it was actually voiced by a woman. One of the harder roles I thought that would have to be done was Mamimi, as she’s the one with nothing left to lose and sort of just moving through life at the moment. Jennifer Sekiguchi did an excellent job of keeping the feel of the character as I had originally known it and making it a strong performance here. Of course, the most watched role is Haruko’s, which Kari Wahlgren pulled of perfectly. The character definitely feels like she’s nearly twenty and has that sarcastic almost punkish feel to it with the way the lines require their delivery. She’s got the know-it-all tone to her voice when dealing with Naota down perfectly.

Another aspect to this series that just completely resonates with me is the work of the Pillows for the soundtrack. According to Tsurumaki, they’ve been performing for around fifteen years but are little known, and he had in fact only known their music for a few months but felt they were perfect to get away from a more traditional anime score. He nailed this one perfectly, and with the Pillows essentially saying “use all our stuff!”, the soundtrack for this series is highly infectious. As soon as certain tracks start up, I can’t help but to shake my head to it.

FLCL is an intriguing piece of work, heavy in symbolism, style and substance. There is a lot to it here on several layers, but it’s not all apparent right away. It was one of my most looked forward to releases when it was coming out in Japan, and I’m now reliving that excitement and anticipation. Excellent stuff, and just a fantastic package all around. I couldn’t be happier with this release.

Japanese Language,English language,English Subtitles,Booklet,Image Gallery,Directors Commentary with Kazuya Tsurumaki

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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