By Erin Caine
This past April Fool’s Day, Toonami unexpectedly aired the first episode of “FLCL Alternative,” the much-anticipated sequel to the raucous whirlwind of adolescence that was the 2000 original, “FLCL.” As the continuation to a franchise nearly two decades old at this point, and moreover a series that has garnered so much praise amongst both Western and Eastern audiences, “Alternative” certainly has a legacy to uphold. The original series focuses on 12-year-old Naota Nandaba, whose ordinary life is thrown into chaos after the appearance of a space alien on a yellow moped, Haruko Haruhara. What follows over the course of six, hilarious episodes is one, big coming-of-age metaphor wrapped up in giant robots, stylish animation, and an unforgettable soundtrack from Japanese alternative band, The Pillows.
What made “FLCL” so iconic to begin with was its unconventionality in every regard, from its artwork and dialogue to its zany brand of humor. A more palpable shift viewers might detect between the first episode of “Alternative” and the original first episode is the change in direction style. Kazuya Tsurumaki in the director’s seat (and as a protégé of anime legend, Hideaki Anno) gave the 2000 iteration its bizarre angles and shot compositions, a directing style so averse to practically anything else on TV at the time. Even by today’s standards, “FLCL” still maintains a singular presentation.
The scene where Naota first meets Haruko, for example, uses some of the most outrageous expressions and techniques to date in animation, all of it happening in the midst of relentlessly fast pacing. This expressiveness and daring eccentricity, however, aren’t completely absent in the first episode of the sequel, though it’s difficult not to feel as if—in terms of pure comparison—“Alternative” has become more a bit polished and less remarkable as a consequence. As a sequel that is airing more traditionally (the first was an original video animation, or OVA, and not aired on Japanese television) perhaps it’s only natural that it has become more accessible.
That said, “Alternative” definitely seems like a series to watch if you’re looking for something more down-to-earth and character-focused than its predecessor. Until Haruko returns to make her sequel debut, the first half of the episode focuses on a tightly knit group of high school girls, each with her own distinct personality. Our new protagonist and narrator, Kana Kawamoto, is bursting with both youthful energy and weighty insight, and her opening monologue contains some of the franchise’s smartest writing.
The first episode begins with the four main characters trying to build a rocket that will reach outer space, and their antics, though not as wild as those in “FLCL,” are still charming and compelling. True to form, though, the real excitement begins when the giant robot shows up, and the show-stealing Haruko shows up out of the blue to pummel it with her electric guitar. The animation in this sequence is pulse-pounding and well-choreographed; one can only hope that scenes like this one will show up in the other episodes.
While “FLCL Alternative” may not have the same kind of impact as its predecessor, it’s still a startling, rare, and bizarrely charismatic series that captures quite profoundly the experiences and feelings of adolescents trying to find their place in the world. Not to mention, the new ending credits sequence is way more adorable than the last one.