“FLCL: Progressive” is an utter disappointment.
Its predecessor, “FLCL,” is a wildly creative and infinitely rewatchable joyride of striking artwork and youthful emotion. Eighteen years later, the polished yet forgettable “FLCL: Progressive” is, save one standout episode, a stale cash grab. Whereas the original evoked the essence of adolescent ennui, its sequel feels like the half-baked product of it.
The art lacks character; the characters lack depth. The pacing drags, and the plot is drab. Themes at which “FLCL” only hints are beat to death without nuance in “FLCL: Progressive.”
For example, “FLCL” treats sexuality as an alien, uncomfortable concept. The preteen protagonist, Naota, grapples with it on his journey toward maturity. Haruko, the extraterrestrial psychopath whose arrival kick-starts the plot of “FLCL,” uses it to manipulate Naota. Haruko’s victim is never sexualized, and the immorality of Haruko’s conduct is a central theme.
In “FLCL: Progressive,” Haruko reprises her role as the catalytic antagonist, forcing students to watch pornography and strip their clothes. But the sliver of regret that humanizes her in “FLCL” is missing, leaving a supremely annoying cartoon.
Furthermore, Haruko’s victims are moaning, squirming, nosebleeding tropes with little motivation beyond their blossoming urges. Consequently, “FLCL: Progressive” seems more like a flimsy romance than a poignant character study like its predecessor. Rather than delve into the motivations of any of its characters, the show opts to do a beach episode. Throughout, “FLCL: Progressive” panders to the lowest common denominator with a shameless parade of oversexed fan service.
The mediocrity of the art in “FLCL: Progressive” is another major shortcoming. The series premiere, “RE: Start,” has a single, brief highlight, when Hidomi, the protagonist, is replaced by a pink blob, representing her teenage moodiness. Other attempts at experimental animation, for the most part, don’t go far enough to make an impression. A black-and-white sequence in which Hidomi is hit by a car is shoplifted almost exactly from the original series. Intended as a knowing wink, the scene instead reads as laziness.
The dream sequences that prelude the first and second episodes feel completely unnecessary. The charm of “FLCL” is in the flexibility of its animated world; each scene is aesthetically self-contained, giving the animator free reign to experiment. “FLCL: Progressive” severely limits this inventive spirit by separating “dream” from “reality.” The scenes of reality are insufferably bland, and dream sequences feel pointless.
The show falls short even when it lets loose. The fight sequences in “FLCL: Progressive” are unimaginative clichés. Sky battles somehow border on dull, failing to capture the Bugs Bunny mayhem of “FLCL.” Scenes that parody genre mainstays move so slowly that they lose their satirical edge. The Pillows return to provide parts of the alt-rock soundtrack, but the band is so muffled it might as well be absent. At least it shines on “Spiky Seeds,” the ending theme, which bangs hard.
The only episode of “FLCL: Progressive” with any real entertainment value is also a masterpiece. “Fool on the Planet,” the fifth in the series, is beautiful from start to finish. Different art styles are employed to coat the episode in a nostalgic sheen. A manga-like sequence harks back to similar techniques in the original series while adding a new twist. For the first time, Hidomi’s alienation feels tangible. So does the exasperation she feels toward Haruko. The surrealism of the original show is on marvelous display here; unfortunately, it’s a fluke.
Generic and underwhelming, the rest of “FLCL: Progressive” never comes close to justifying its own existence. It mimics the quirkiness of the original without the emotional substance. What remains is a mere shell of the original. Should “FLCL” have been rebooted? The answer is clear: N.O.
Contact Seiji Sakiyama at [email protected].