Before we start this episode, its important to note the importance of the time-skip between episodes 5 and 6. At the end of episode 5, Haruko and Canti leave Mabase City. The amount of time they are gone in the anime is roughly one whole month. However, the time-skip could very well be a metaphor in the real world, for the time it takes for Japan’s economy to recover. Thus the time-skip in the real-world would have to be several decades. In that time, American culture has slowly been infiltrating Japanese culture to the point where they are pretty much mixed evenly.
This is evident in the first scene of episode 6, when Naota’s class is “learning” how to use chopsticks. Their teacher mentions that chopsticks are an important part of their old culture, but she herself has trouble using chopsticks. But enough of that, onto the actual episode…
The stage is set, the pieces are in motion. Canti and Haruko have finally returned to Mabase after they disappeared a month before. Haruko invites Naota to come along with her; together the two of them run away.
However, Mamimi has been unknowingly “feeding” the central core unite, to the point where it re-fuses with Canti. Amarao arrives too late to stop the terminal core from activating. The fate of Mabase City, and the fate of the entire world is now in Haruko’s and Naota’s hands.
Canti turns out to be part of the terminal core which is the missing piece to the “Giant Hand” sticking out next to the MM factory. Haruko revs up the vespa one last time in a fashion befitting of her chic attitude, dragging Naota along with her.
Amarao sees Haruko and shoots both of them down in the air, they land on the giant hand. Amarao, gun raised at Haruko (in a fashion reminscient of Gendo Ikari’s final scene in End of Evangelion), tries to convince Naota to leave Haruko and come back to humanity’s side.
Naota, having already made his decision long ago, turns and walks toward Haruko, much to Amarao’s dismay. Haruko gives one last swing to Naota’s head and slams him into the terminal core which swallows him up and starts activating the giant hand.
The situation is looking dire for humanity, until we see a faint red dot appear underneath the hand. It’s none other than Canti with Naota slowly emerging from within the TV screen, sparkling bright red, holding dual guitars, signifying that he has become a vessel for Atomsk.
In the show’s final battle, an enraged Haruko engages in mid air combat with Naota/Atomsk but is not match for the pirate king’s power. She is knocked out, and is about to face her doom, when Naota manages to forcefully dispel Atomsk from his body before ramming into her. Naota timidly professes his love for Haruko, much to her surprise.
Atomsk, now without a host vessel, is seen in his true form, a pheonix like creature who consumes the Giant Hand robot before lifting the MM plant with his talons. He then charges his N.O. to extreme levels and launches himself at light speeds to star systems unknown. Haruko, still in search of Atomsk, follows him on her Vespa, leaving Naota and the rest of Mabase city behind.
What a finish! In the show’s epilogue, we find out that life has returned to normal for Naota. He is attending school again, while Kamon is still working on his manga. Canti (aka TV boy) still resides in the Nandabe residence as an errand boy.
Mamimi has also left Mabase city to become a photographer. In the final scene of the movie, we are shown Haruko’s old Gibson 1961 Bass Guitar which replaced the bat in Naota’s room.
Freudian Sexual Relationship
One obvious theme FLCL employs over and over again is the freudian sexual relationship. The horns that Naota sprouts from his head are Freudian expressions for one’s sexual desires.
The horns usually resemble a phallus and appear whenever extreme emotions or sexual tensions are present between two people of the opposite sex (eg. Naota and Mamimi in ep1, Naota and Ninamori in ep3).
Guitars are a neo-stylistic representation of one’s libido (in a subversive manner, the female staff under Amarao all have nosebleeds after seeing Naota’s “bat”).
The guitars also serve as a medium of which to convey the emotions of the characters. In many ways, it resembles the “human passion” or “inner spirit” of the characters, akin to the likes of Black Heaven or even the drills or spiral energy present in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
Haruko uses a 1961 modified Gibson bass guitar, again a reference to her “alien” nature to the city of Mabase. When Haruko reaches into Naota’s head in episode 4, she pulls out a flying V for him, but when she tries to pull a guitar out of Amarao’s head, the result is a tiny object that only resembles a guitar pick.
This symbolizes the strong inner will of Naota, a 12-year old, compared to the defeated, “adult” spirit of Amarao. During the final battle, when Naota merges with Atomsk, he pulls out twin guitars and merges them into a double neck symbolizing Atomsk’s absolute power as the pirate king.
Haruko’s yellow Vespa is a symbol of Italian craftsmanship as well as the non-chalant attitude that goes hand in hand with riders of said vehicles. A quote from Author Umberto Eco, “…the Vespa came to be linked in my eyes with transgression, sin, and temptation – not the temptation to possess the object, but the subtle seduction of faraway places where the Vespa was that only means of transport. And it entered into my imagination not as an object of desire, but as a symbol of an unfulfilled desire.”
The Vespa, in essence, symbolizes Haruko’s ever-lasting search for the Pirate King Atomsk. The anime began with her seeking Atomsk which led her to planet Earth. By the time the anime ended, she essentially made no real progress towards her goal and ended up where she was at the beginning.
All of the “alien technology” and MM robots represent the growing need in materialistic societies for commercial possessions to satisfy oneself. The Medical Mechanica factory, ominiously shaped in the form of a giant clothes-iron, is the origin or producer of these MM robots.
The shape of the facility represents an ironer’s ability to smooth out the wrinkles in ones clothes. A giant iron such as the MM factory would “smooth” out the wrinkles of the city; a metaphor for smoothing out the wrinkles in society and in effect each of our brains, turning us into mindless slaves to capitalism.
When Canti is born, his head is shaped like a Sony television set. Sony obviously a popular Japanese brand across the world. The second robot, the one to arrive alongside Canti, takes the form of a teapot, which is reminiscent of the traditions of Japan. Canti’s battle and victory over the first MM robot signifies Japan’s cultural movement forward.
This is referring to the wrinkles of the brain, believed to enable the person to think intelligently; thus by smoothing out the wrinkles, people won’t be able to think for themselves.
The title itself is never fully explained. However, the Japanese pronunciation “Furi Kuri” is very close to “Kuri Kuri” which is an onomatopoeia for the noise made when fondling breasts. The title in and of itself is a self referencing sexual innuendo.
It should be noted that screenplay writer for FLCL Enokido Yoji also served as screenwriter for Revolutionary Girl Utena which in all respects is just as sexually charged, if not more so. All of the innuendos serve a key purpose in advancing the plot or characterization. Never is a single scene wasted on mere titillation of the audience.
One can find many instances of post-modernism in FLCL. Post-modernism can be defined in the media studies sense as a reaction against the elitism of the modernists. FLCL was one of the first to utilize major elements of self-reference, and parody.
In the very first episode, after the slow motion kiss, the scene shifts to the main characters talking amongst themselves about the scene which just transpired, effectively breaking the 4th wall. The black and white manga sequences from episodes 1 and 6 were a brilliant way of converting an otherwise boring table conversation, to perhaps some of the most interesting scenes in the entire episode.
The show uses the character Kamon as a means for self reflection at times. The fact that Kamon is a manga artist and wrote his senior thesis on the Evangelion is a tribute to Anno and the original Gainax team as well as poking fun at the popularity of Evangelion. The entire Daicon V sequence in episode 5 is a self referencing parody of Gainax’s Daicon IV. Also, one cannot forget the South Park references involving Amarao at the barber shop, essentially using the style of animation to symbolize Amarao’s childlike behavior.
Art and Animation
FLCL is the anime celebrating the turn of the Millennium. Thus it goes without saying that the show is in part a homage and celebration of all the different works of anime from the past. The art and storyboard team consisted of a multitude of anime greats each bringing in their own individual art style.
The result is a piece of work that commemorates and celebrates the diverse art styles of anime past, present, and what will become in the future. Hiromasa Ogura acted as Art Director for the series, his unique drawing style is especially evident in the grey scale scenes in episode 4. Others artists include Hiroshi Gouroku, Masahiro Kubota, and of course, the great Kobayashi Osamu (who worked with Tadashi on Kemonozume).
The animation in FLCL was revolutionary for its time. Tadashi and Imaishi drew every scene as if they were of equal importance. Even some of the most mundane scenes and situations featured the most innovative and advanced animation.
Of particular note are the manga scenes in episodes 1 and 6. It was perhaps the first time in anime such an animation style was attempted. The production cost was huge, enough that the production studio almost scrapped it. The moving camera work coupled with dual layers and moving backgrounds were the first of its kind.
Tadashi had to fight and beg the production studio to include this scene in its original form. The result turned an otherwise boring 2-minute dinner conversation to one of the funniest scenes in FLCL.
Music in FLCL
The soundtrack of FLCL is among the best. The entire composition was recorded before the animation even began (save for two originals “I Think I Can” and “Ride on Shooting Star”), thus Tadashi and Imaishi were able to draw the scenes in accordance with the music.
The band who composed the soundtrack was 90s alternative/punk rock band The Pillows. It is almost unbelievable how well the music fits in with the anime. In an interview, Tadashi said that he didn’t want a classical soundtrack, but rather a contemporary one that captured the spirit of the younger characters. Some of the most iconic scenes would not have been so if it weren’t for the music. Some examples where the the songs captured the essence of the characters:
FLCL did not make the same mistake Evangelion did by going too heavy on the religious references. In a past Evangelion panel, Anno and Imaishi admitted to have chosen the name “Shin Seiki Evangelion” because they thought it “sounded cool.” It was the first time anyone had tried reaching so far into western religious doctrine, and for the most part, the religious symbolism was a good supplement to the main story.
However, the western audience is inherently more “religious” than the Japanese audience. Thus, Anno was forced to downplay the religious imagery in subsequent QA panels since the American audience was taking it too seriously and missing the actual point of the story.
Contrary to what many people may think, the directors of FLCL have stated that Canti is not a ‘god of death’ like Mamimi makes him out to be. He is a god in the Japanese sense, which is basically saying he’s really important to her and she respects him.
Relationship with Evangelion and Diebuster
Evangelion was a mess. A carefully orchestrated masterpiece of a mess, but still a mess. FLCL takes many of the core themes of Evangelion and compresses them into 6 episodes. The 12-year old Naota draws many influences from the 14-year old Shinji Ikari. There’s even a WMG theory going around that Naota is one of the re-incarnations of Shinji taking place within instrumentality. Of course, all this is mere speculation with no real proof to back up the claim.
However, one other Gainax series may tie in with FLCL in canon: Diebuster. In both FLCL and Diebuster, the organization known as the “Intersteller Immigration Bureau” is mentioned. Could Amarao’s base of operations perhaps be the “Earth” branch? The argument comes from the fact that in Diebuster, the timeline is never explicitly given.
Diebuster may very well be set in the same universe as FLCL just at a different point in time. Many of the robots in Diebuster, especially those part of Noriko’s army, are reminiscent of the MM robots in FLCL. There is also speculation that Canti may very well be a Buster Machine from the Diebuster universe who was accidentally pulled through the N.O. channel and appeared on Earth.
The Final Battle, and Naota’s Confession to Haruko
Medical Mechanica can also be viewed literally as an army base for the United States. It symbolizes the grudging acceptance of American culture after the war. Even though America’s true intentions are helping Japan get back on its feet by helping them industrialize, the Japanese view it as an intrusion upon their territory and values.
Thus, Naota’s relationship with Haruko symbolizes Japan’s relationship with the United States. In episode 1, Naota represents the defeated Japanese nation after losing the war. In episode 6, with guidance from Haruko, Naota is finally back on his feet, with a clearer view of whats ahead of him.
The final battle between Haruko and Naota symbolizes the industrial battle between competing nations on the world stage. Both are now in direct competition with each other and each hold valuable footing in the world market. However just when Naota is about to destroy Haruko with Atomsk’s power, he finally realizes that without her help and encouragement to “swing the bat” he never would have gotten this far in the first place.
When Naota finally says “I love you,” everything comes full circle. Japan acknowledges the effect American intrusion had on its society, and American culture finally realizes that its done enough and is no longer needed.
Naota’s kiss opens up a gateway for Atomsk to escape the clutches of Medical Mechanica. With that, the two of them part ways. Haruko still in search for the ultimate power that is Atomsk while Naota is left in Mabase City. Haruko takes the double neck with her as a keepsake. She also leaves her Gibson base guitar behind so Naota can always be reminded of her.
Coming-of-Age and a Look Towards the Future
Finally, FLCL is a coming-of-age story. Below the multitudes of intertwining layers and media styles, you’ll find a simple coming-of-age story of one boy, Naota. Regardless of what happens in the boring, secluded city of Mabase, Naota is still a 12-year-old boy looking for answers amidst a world of uncertainty.
Should he follow his brother’s lead and accept an American influence or go even farther and be swayed by Haruko’s alien nature? Or should he stick to the traditional Japan personified by Mamimi or work toward the upper class like Ninamori? Naota takes many steps throughout the series that shows his conflicting emotions. He is challenged with making the tough decision which will determine the path of his future, and the future of all Japan.
In episode 4, Naota summoned the courage to use his newfound powers and face the plummeting satellite. He saved Mabase city from certain destruction and earned the respect he deserved from his peers. He learned to drink the sour drinks and eat the spicy curry. He gained valuable experience from his relationship with Mamimi, his attempt to kiss her, and her ultimate rejection.
He saved Mabase again in episode 6 after freeing Atomsk from Medical Mechanica by using himself as a vessel. He saved the entire world from having the wrinkles in their brains ironed out by stopping Medical Mechanica’s plans. After all this time, he has made peace with his mother figure, and even managed to fall in love with an Alien, Haruko. In what was shaping to be one hell of a final battle, Naota finally scrounges up the courage to tell Haruko he loves her.
In the end however, after facing and overcoming so much adversity, Naota realizes that he does not have to decide just yet. There is still time remaining in his life and he refrains from making a decision. Thus, he chooses to remain a kid for a little while longer and let the events of the future help him decide what kind of person he is to become. The last scenes in FLCL depicts Naota wearing his new middle school uniform, deciding once and for all he does not like sour drinks.
In the same way, Japan has no real need to hastily make a move in the world of the 21st century. Like Naota, who chooses not to choose, Japan can wait a while longer and let the events of the future shape its decisions as a nation. For now, it can remain content in its current place in the world stage.
Its time will come.
Thus concludes my look back at the modern classic FLCL. Hopefully, you learned something, were enlightened, or entertained. For fans of the show, I hope this post served as a confirmation of sorts to your personal tastes. For non-fans, hopefully this post will have changed your minds, or perhaps offered a new perspective on an old series.
Be sure of one thing, FLCL will not be forgotten in the years to come. It will remain alongside the anime giants of old as a series synonymous with an era. Five years, ten years, fifteen years down the road, we will look back and recount the classics that slowly shaped anime into what its become.
We will remember Astro Boy and Mazinger Z as the ones who pioneered the anime medium. We will remember Gundam as the constructor and establisher of real robot mecha. We’ll remember Macross and Robotech as the original advocators of anime overseas to the American audience. We will remember Akira as the catalyst that set the stage for the decades to come. We will remember Evangelion as the first series to push the limits of storytelling and exposition. That same year, Ghost in the Shell redefined the science fiction genre. We will remember the late 90s for its explosion of diversity and the classics it produced, namely Cowboy Bebop and Serial Experiments Lain.
And finally, when we look at the year 2000, the turn of the millennium, and the one series who sought to once again redefine anime for a new generation of fans. Make no mistake, FLCL will not be forgotten.