I just watched it a third time.
No, not in a row. The first time I saw it was about four years ago. I was incredibly high on psychedelic mushrooms, and a friend decided that was a good time to put it on. It probably wasn’t? FLCL is hard to follow when you’re totally sober. My brain was in pieces, so trying to piece together what was happening on-screen was basically impossible. I hated it.
I hated it, and I could articulate exactly why, too. It was all style, no substance. It had this air about it, like it was trying to say something important, but it was really just a façade. It didn’t mean anything. And not everything has to mean something, but I felt like FLCL was pretending to. I felt tricked. I felt lied to. Those opening 2-3 minutes make it seem like the show is going to be nothing but a kid saying cool stuff in monologue.
It’s not that.
I held these extremely negative opinions of the show for a while, but decided to give it another shot about a year or so after. By then, I had exposed myself to a lot of weird Japanese stuff. In the time between then and my first viewing, I had gone from someone who didn’t like anime at all to someone who can spit game about obscure, fan-translated visual novels. I figured if I was ever going to figure FLCL out, it would be then.
I watched the first two episodes before putting it down again. It didn’t make me as passionately angry as it did the first time, but it didn’t do anything for me, either. I had an understanding of why other people were into it, at least. I assumed it just wasn’t for me. And it wasn’t. At least not the me I was back then.
Cut to about four hours ago, when I decided to give it one last shot. I felt like there was something there that I was missing. There had to be, right? That vibe it gave me, the first time I saw it; the one that put me off so hard… there was something there. Definitely.
I watched the opening scene that I love so much, waiting to cringe at Haruka’s appearance. But then she showed up, and I didn’t cringe. It was cool. It worked. The rapid ups-and-downs and impossible pacing of the show finally made sense. FLCL doesn’t work without the crazy.
You see, FLCL is the anime Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s all chaos, all the time, except when it’s not. And when it’s not, it’s really good at being not. There’s a scene in Fear and Loathing that takes place in a wrecked hotel room. Our Hunter S. Thompson surrogate and his companion have both gotten unbelievably, uncontrollably high, to the point of violent and destructive behavior. After an extremely unsettling first meeting with their soon-to-be work-partner, there is a pause in the insanity; a moment of clarity, if you will. Our hero muses about the hypocrisy of the 60’s drug culture, comparing it to a wave, growing taller and taller until it finally breaks, collapsing on the shore. It’s a beautiful scene, and FLCL is built to create those.
“FLCL is the anime Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s all chaos, all the time, except when it’s not.”
But something else about it worked this time, too. The coming-of-age story finally connected with me. Before, I thought it just thought preteen boners were really funny (and it definitely does.) I’ve now connected the rest of the dots.
FLCL is about adolescence, and why it kind of sucks. Noata, the main character, is being tossed around by people at every turn. At first, it’s his older brother’s girlfriend, who can’t cope with his absence. She plays around with Noata, in spite of the fact that he’s much younger and in spite of his own protests. She doesn’t really care what Noata wants. She’s just trying to numb the pain.
After her, Haruka shows up, tossing a wrench into his life without so much as an explanation or apology. His father is oblivious to… everything. When the show finally brings the spotlight onto a girl Noata’s own age, they get in a fight and have a continually awkward friendship from then on.
Eventually, people start to recognize Noata for the cool shit he’s done throughout the series, and he gets cocky. He acts full of himself for only a short while before all hell breaks loose. Everyone he cares about stops caring back. He’s changing, and the people in his life like the person he used to be better than whoever he seems to be becoming.
That’s one of the things that stuck out the most to me on this viewing. The “coming of age” metaphor that FLCL portrays is a pretty obvious one, but I liked this aspect of it. Puberty changes you. It changes who you are, and people don’t always like the person you become. And they don’t stick around to see you through the changes.
And then it comes to light that Haruka, the person Noata has been changing because of and changing for, doesn’t seem to care about him in the least. She was using him, too. And she disappears. Then she comes back. And Noata does the brave thing; he runs away with her. He does the exciting thing, the cool thing, the beautiful and life-changing and romantic thing. And you know what?
It doesn’t really work out.
He stops whatever calamity was about to happen. He professes his love for Haruka. He does a bunch of cool shit. But no one cares. He’s just a kid. That’s the last thing Haruka tells him before leaving forever; that she’d bring him along, but he’s just a kid.
That’s what adolescence feels like, man. You try so hard, and you might even accomplish everything you set out to do! But it doesn’t matter. No one takes you seriously. You’re not old enough. You’re not mature enough. Noata gets this spat at him again and again, in spite of his achievements. In spite of all of the adults in his life being less mature than he is.
And it kinda ends after that. Which is what it should do. Adolescence doesn’t end with a bang. No one comes by to give you a hug and tell you that you did it, or did it right. Life just keeps going, like it never happened at all. I think that’s what stuck with me the most on this viewing. The chaos, the supposed void of meaning: that’s what adolescence is. Adolescence is the fruitless search for meaning. It’s looking for something important, only to find out that what you’re looking for isn’t out there. That façade I accused FLCL of wearing after my first viewing: that was the point. I couldn’t see it back then because I was still in the shit; I was still looking for it.
I guess that sounds pretentious. It probably is. All in all FLCL is also just fucking entertaining to watch, and if you’re not looking for meaning out of it, it will deliver on everything you need. But if you are looking for it, and not finding it… That’s what I think it’s trying to say. It’s trying to say that, well, you kind of don’t ever find meaning. And you don’t. And that’s just part of growing up.
[I got the featured image from http://animewallpaper2014.tumblr.com/post/136028826581/flcl but they probably got it from somewhere else, so, uh, yeah. Tried to find the original. Couldn’t.]