Sunday 1 April 2018

First Impressions: FLCL Alternative

FLCL Alternative

If there's anyone who knows how to pull a good April Fools joke, its Adult Swim. In past years they've brought back Toonami for one night only (eventually leading to the programming block making a proper return), as well as air the Rick and Morty season 3 premiere months months ahead of its official release. So of course all eyes were on them for their 2018 rendition, and in a move that feels both surprising and somewhat expected all at once, this year brought along a sneak preview of the long-awaited FLCL (aka Fooly Cooly) sequel. Just why they decided to go with FLCL Alternative (which acts as the third season and due for release in September) rather than FLCL Progressive (which airs in the summer) is anyone's guess, but that's just part of the fun.With Gainax properly out of the picture for these sequels the animation is solely handled by Production I.G., in a joint venture with both Toho and Adult Swim. As such, the dub will be airing alongside the Japanese version in the States - the latter of which was the version on show for this teaser.

In an opening that plays out like a potential alternate world version of the original story (perhaps hinted by the "Alternative" in the title?), Kana Koumoto is a seemingly ordinary high school girl hanging out with her friends Tomomi (aka 'Pets'), Hijiri and Man ('Mossan'). Their ordinary life gets a lot wackier when a mechanical creature comes crashing down on them, followed a pink-haired girl who introduces herself as Haruko Haruhara. The next thing you know Haruko is pulling a 1967 model Mustang guitar out of Kana's head, and things will probably never be the same again.

There have been a lot of old anime revivals in the past few years, and though they're always guaranteed to create insurmountable levels of hype the end products have definitely been hit or miss. The news of more FLCL gave me as much concern as it did excitement, as not only does the original series end perfectly but it also very much feels like a case of catching lightning in a bottle. Any attempt to recapture it just wouldn't be the same, and could very easily miss what made the original so beloved in the first place. The first episode of FLCL Alternative hasn't done enough to fully convince me that a sequel was warranted, but it has convinced that it should at the very least make a pretty good watch.

In a way that's both true to its name and the fact that the Gainax element has been stripped away, FLCL Alternative has an overwhelming sense of "similar but different". With an almost completely new staff and a noticeable difference in style, arguably the only two constants tying Alternative to the original FLCL at this stage are Haruko (once again brought to life by the brilliant Mayumi Shintani) and The Pillows' soundtrack. Surprisingly what it's been replaced with doesn't feel all that bad though - the new cast of girls are diverse, immediately likeable and have already established a relationship that feels both natural and believable. FLCL's core values of adolescent experiences and opportunity are still very much alive and kicking, but in a more atmospheric wistful way.

All this sounds good in theory, but FLCL Alternative's premiere ultimately lacks the overwhelming exuberance of the original. There's none of the wild art shifts or over the top zaniness, or even the same kind of fast-paced energy that made the original so instantly engaging. When the episode finally comes to all the "weird" stuff, it very much feels like a case of having seen it all done before (and better elsewhere). Haruko is as fun as ever, but she's the outsider here and not the character we follow. Her motives are just as unclear as ever, and as frustrating that may seem that's not necessarily a bad thing. With FLCL the journey is far more important than the destination, so it isn't surprising to see that many cards on the table just yet.

FLCL Alternative certainly has both the style and characters in order to make it success, but its shortcomings become immediately obvious the moment it tries to follow in the path of its predecessor. But if future episodes can focus in on what makes Alternative different rather than the elements that make it the same, then there's certainly a glimmer of hope that this can be something great as well. Guess we won't find out for sure until September.


Lucas said...

Are you going to review Dragon Ball Super?

Alex said...

Definitely, I'm just being very slow and procrastinating on it because I know its going to be a long one and I want to do it justice. The plan is to start writing it this week though so if it hasn't gone up by the end of this week it'll definitely be early next week.