Well, we’re finally here. After 2 years of speculation and build-up (and one very well-done April Fools Day stunt), Adult Swim has finally premiered its latest anime project: FLCL Progressive. The new sequel to the classic anime OVA from the early 2000s has a lot to live up to, as many would argue that the mere concept of doing a follow-up to one of the most beloved series of the century is as bat-shit insane as the original 6 episodes themselves were. A lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon such as the first season can leave many wondering “where can they go from here?” But now that the premiere episode has been broadcast, we can finally start to answer how it turned out.
And after thinking about it for a couple of days… pretty good, if you ask me.
The episode opens with an introduction to our protagonist, Hidomi, as she navigates… a dilapidated cityscape, with her flesh rotting away as she attempts to outrun the massive threat of a fleet of Medical Mechanica buildings. Eventually coming across a giant one-eyed creature, she suddenly sparks a transformation into a giant robot courtesy of the red horn on her head, and proceeds to take out several of the Mechanica buildings, all the while narrating some very familiar bits of dialogue in an apathetic monotone:
Nothing amazing ever happens here.
Everything Is Ordinary.
Thankfully, the whole thing turns out just to be a weird dream, and the episode proceeds to take us through Hidomi’s usual routine. She attends high school during the day, often staying as detached as possible from everything going on around her, whether it be her classmates’ spastic discussions or her unusual homeroom teacher trying to provoke a reaction via pornography. Afterwards, she heads over to the café owned and ran by her overly joyous mother to help with serving customers, all the while keeping a blank expression and rocking a rather fancy-looking pair of cat-ear headphones. Everything is as normal as can be.
… and then Hidomi gets slammed by a woman driving a Chevy Bel-Air.
Immediately afterwards, this leads to a suspicious conversation with the driver that lines up oddly with Hidomi’s dreams. Later that night, she looks out of her bedroom window to see lights and alarms flare up around a Medical Mechanica structure in the center of town, and then she’s immediately attacked by a bizarre robotic creature. As she attempts to escape, the robot spits out her classmate Ide, and the both of them escape into a junkyard in the area. As the chase escalates, Hidomi suddenly starts generating intense energy from her head, but before she reaches the point of “overflowing” (sound familiar?), the woman from before interferes just in time to smash the creature to pieces with a guitar. The menace is now defeated, but the encounter leaves Hidomi with a red horn in her head and several warnings about “a woman on a Vespa.” The next day, the mysterious visitor reveals herself as Jinyu and takes up residence with Hidomi and her mother as the house maid. Then at school, things take an even stranger turn as her teacher begins ranting nonsensically at hyper-speed before tearing off her face and revealing herself to be none other than Haruhara Haruko!
Or “Haruha Raharu,” as she’s listed in the end credits.
There’s quite a bit to take in with this episode, but the first thing that will come up immediately will be comparisons to its predecessor, which is understandable. There’s quite a few motifs both big and small that return here, as well as a few specific references in spots, such as Hidomi’s usage of familiar dialogue like “everything is ordinary” and talk of “overflowing” with power from her forehead. The sequence of getting run over by a car in stark black-and-white, the mysterious stranger who fights using a guitar (which according to our resident guitar expert Alex may either be a Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster), creatures spawning out of foreheads (the monster of the week emerged from Ide’s head), etc. is all there as well. One of the last scenes of the episode even uses the very specific music cue of The Pillows’ classic “Little Busters,” and while some may consider that too on the nose given the other nods present, it’s an awesome song that I love hearing on matter what.
While on the subject of The Pillows, one thing that stands out immediately is their soundtrack is still as fitting as ever in the series and very well-utilized in spots. The intro scene in particular starts right away with the title track from their album Thank You, My Twilight (originally released the year before FLCL’s original western broadcast), and it’s excellently utilized as it carries this contradictory sense of triumphant apathy that fits well with the apocalyptic imagery. The song’s recurring bleeping synth melodies are even used as a transition between the dream and reality via Hidomi’s alarm, which I have to admit is quite the clever segue. And while I don’t know if the Pillows themselves recorded it, there’s a particularly aggressive hard rock track that plays during the first encounter between our protagonist and Jinyu that’s just plain cool.
Speaking of Hidomi, what I liked most about the premiere of Progressive is how it portrays and reinforces her core personality trait: apathy and indifference. The episode incorporates a familiar motif similar to how it portrayed Naota’s persistent anger and bitterness by contrasting it against the behavior of the parent. In this case, Hidomi’s mother Hinae is ridiculously chipper most of the time, even if it seems like the context wouldn’t call for such an attitude. I’d be lying if I said this didn’t hit really close for me, as someone who often feigns indifference in the face of everyone else’s over-excitement. Additionally, the occasional scenes where Hidomi is portrayed as a purple ghost blob with cat ears are pretty charming in their own way, further reinforcing her dissociation from the world around her.
There are also two interesting design choices that contribute really well to Hidomi’s apathy: the headphones and her skin tone. The latter may seem like an unusual think to focus on, as characters in this show are sometimes drawn with very fair skin tones, but Hidomi practically looks like a ghost in comparison to everyone around her, perhaps doubly so when paired next to the tanned appearance of her Haruko-style guardian Jinyu. On top of this, there’s a dialogue exchange between the two that reveals Hidomi isn’t even listening to anything through her signature headphones, and if drowning out the world around you with headphones is not the most relatable thing ever, then I don’t know what is.
The animation quality is naturally upscaled from the quality of the original works, being handled by several talented people at Production I.G. The opening scene contains a great deal of striking imagery painted with the pure white hues of the decaying city, and there’s a surprisingly level of detail in every little character movement, from major action beats to even the minor act of scrolling through a smartphone. The framing and shot composition is quite strong here, from eye-catching visual angles during chase scenes to the use of lighting to convey the apathetic darkness of Hidomi’s bedroom. One of the standout moments for me is the introduction of Ide and his classmates, as we’re introduced via a POV shot locked within his perspective, with the camera swaying and dashing around with his line of sight as he engages in spastic discussion about a variety of topics, including a humorous tangent about unisex fashion choices.
If there’s any fault to be had with the episode so far, it’s that for all the great choices it makes, it can feel a little restrained throughout. Now given that one of the core aspects of FLCL’s enduring appeal has always been the shotgun blasts of over-the-top energy poured into each second, it can feel a bit restrictive. There’s a handful of dialogue tangents near the beginning and end of the episode (especially the reveal of Haruko as the teacher) that carry the rapid conversational energy that’s appropriate for the show, but much of the episode can feel a bit muted as it takes it time introducing us to the new cast and setting. As a counterpoint though, I think that the appearance of Jinyu uses this sort of tone to surprisingly great comedic effect. Despite functioning as the guardian figure to Hidomi, she’s more serious than everyone’s favorite Vespa-riding alien badass, but she’s put to great use as, essentially, a comedic straight-woman. The funniest part of the episode for me was, weirdly enough, after she runs of Hidomi and assesses the situation, declaring her to be “unfortunately still alive.” That’s the type of dialogue that works like gangbusters when delivered with as straight a face as possible. It almost kind of reminds me of how the anime adaptation of Persona 4 handled the portrayal of Yu Narukami: a straight-faced character who gladly went along with some of the most ridiculous things imaginable. I hope Progressive can continue to mine some great comedy of out her.
So with all that said, I can comfortably assert that I quite enjoyed the first episode of FLCL Progressive. There’s a lot to like at first glance, from its solid direction and action to great character portrayals and music usage, and while some may bemoan that it’s not coming out with the big guns already, there’s still plenty of time left to expand on the foundation laid so far, especially given certain threads about Hidomi’s father being out of the picture for the moment. But for now, much like on those fateful nights with 10-year-old me in 2003, count me along for the ride.
FLCL Progressive airs every Saturday at midnight only on Adult Swim. Episodes can also be streamed on adultswim.com the day after they aired and purchased on iTunes.