IT’S FINALLY HERE!
Following the battle between the amusement park and Medical Mechanica, Atomsk absorbs the buildings and debris beneath him, forming a massive birdcage in the sky, atop which Hidomi and Haruko continue their battle. Haruko berates Hidomi for being selfish and entitled, enraging her further and continuing the fight before both get absorbed by Atomsk’s giant phoenix form. Meanwhile, the Mechanica building spouts massive balls of white sludge that freeze citizens in place (according to Masurao later in the episode, it’s apparently mochi). Miraculously, Aiko avoids much of the carnage, eventually going back home to find him and Eyepatch trapped underneath the wreckage of their home. She’s given her money and some parting words before the mocha encases the two agents, and Aiko decides to track down the potted plant, teaming up with Hinae and Goro to track down Ide, but when they reach his home, he’s naturally nowhere to be found.
Hidomi and Haruko awaken inside a strange pocket dimension inside of Atmosk (which looks quite similar to Hidomi’s dreams from earlier episodes), where they also happen to run into the elderly woman from the Immigration Bureau’s satellite as she attempts to get Canti up and running. Eventually, Canti does power up and form a video connection with, surprisingly enough, Aiko, as it turns out she is an artificial human intelligence created by the Immigration Bureau. This allows Hinae to reach out to Hidomi, as the two share a deeply personal and emotional conversation regarding the closing of the café and Hidomi’s missing father (who’s stated to have given her the headphones and is implied to have been a worker at the Mechanica plant). Hinae resolves to be a better mother to her daughter once she gets back, and this gives Hidomi the resolve needed to confront Haruko once more, having managed to retrieve her iconic Rickenbacker bass. The two are besieged by a massive army of robotic alien creatures, but thankfully Canti helps fight them all off, buying enough time for him to meet with Hidomi and crush her headphones into pieces, which causes her to form into the powerful robot suit from her dream at the season’s start.
Goro, Aiko, and Hinae manage to reach the Medical Mechanica plant with the flower pot, and upon smashing it to pieces, Aiko sprouts massive tree branches/roots, encasing the entire plant and halting its attack for good. Meanwhile, Hidomi, Haruko, and Canti manage to narrowly escape Atomsk’s clutches and land on top of the satellite, now overlooking the town. However, Canti ends up absorbing Atomsk within it, as well as revealing that Ide is trapped within as well. Our heroines fight once more in order to decide who will achieve their desired outcome as it ultimately culminates with both of them smooching the robot until something happens. In the end, Haruko finally manages to absorb Atomsk’s power within her, but much like with what we kept witnessing in the end credits, she is unable to contain him and is forced to vomit him up. In a happy twist, Canti also is forced to barf up something as well: Ide, who is restored to his normal self after all this time. Haruko is deeply distressed by the situation and her failing yet again, being brought to the point of tears as she’s comforted by him, who then morphs into Jinyu as his true essence floats off into space. Following all of this, things settle down and slowly return to normal (as normal as we can expect in this show): Haruko heads back into space to pursue Atomsk yet again, Jinyu ventures off to parts unknown, a new Aiko is born from the remains of her roots, the Hibaji café is back up and running with Canti as a new server but sans an actual building (an unfortunate casualty of all the mocha), and we close on Hidomi and Ide on a date together, sharing a kiss before fading to black.
There’s a lot to talk about in regards to how everything plays out here, but something that I kept coming back to when thinking about the episode was the motif of emotional vulnerability across the many characters in question. In particular, there are two big highlights that stand out above much of the action and bits of comedy. The first is the conversation between Hidomi and her mother, which helps bring our hero’s arc full circle by presenting her at her most honest and direct, even going as far as to call her mom “mommy,” something that she’s never said before in the series. It may seem like a minor dialogue quirk, but given how this ties back into her earlier conversation last episode, it shows a lot about just how much this situation is affecting her. Hinae’s responses are really heartbreaking, revealing her desperation for her husband to come back so she can actually start being a good mother. Her endless optimism at the start of the series is revealed to be just her own shield from the emotional pain of her reality. It’s a scene that is both heart-warming and heartbreaking to watch, as the two finally come to a genuine understanding of each other’s struggles and are finally honest with each other about the situation. Some of the framing in this scene is also great, especially the split-screen effect where the two are shown facing away from each other, further highlighting the persistent disconnect that’s existed between the two up to now.
The other moment is during the climax, when Haruko vomits up Atomsk and hysterically begins to wail on his humanoid form, ultimately breaking down crying for once again having failed to successfully retain his power. Now this was an immediately out-of-left-field moment, given that Haruko has only ever been either seductive, sarcastic, or hyperactive. Sadness is not an emotion that she’s been known to express in the past, but when thinking back on it, it’s extremely relatable. Throughout the season, and especially in this episode, she goes on and on about having to actually work and make sacrifices to get the things you want in life, and this may sound like solid advice to some. However, this gets immediately turned around on her with the realization that despite everything she’s done to get to this point yet again, it still wasn’t good enough: a feeling that I personally find all too relatable in my own life. The reappearance of Jinyu only serves to drive this further home, given that she exists as a perpetual reminder of Haruko’s failure.
On top of all this, the scene also highlights Haruko’s own lack of real emotional growth after all these years. Setting aside the fact that she heads back into space almost immediately in order to try yet a third time to track down Atomsk, her cover as Hidomi’s homeroom teacher is put into new context with this moment. She tries to act all mighty and superior like she knows so much more about life than her students, but seeing her break down in tears shows us how little she’s progressed since the original series (pun intended). Case in point: the second that Atomsk and her hugged in a tender embrace, my mind *immediately* jumped to the finale of the original series, as I couldn’t help but think of when Haruko returned to the Nandaba household after a lengthy disappearance, leading to Naota breaking down crying in her arms as she attempted to comfort him. It goes without saying at this point, but Haruko is every bit as emotionally stunted and trapped in her vices as the various adolescent characters that populate the series, and if this wasn’t obvious enough, the cast literally spells out that she only really wants Atomsk because she continuously fails to contain him. It’s a startling but appropriate way of emotionally dressing down her character.
Aside from those two fantastic character moments, there’s a lot of little moments throughout the episode that are just as welcome and appreciated. While the persistent Pillows tracks are always a delight to hear, from the triumphant melancholy of “Thank You, My Twilight” to the old classics like “Last Dinosaur,” the episode also includes some more aggressive hard rock pieces that fit in really well with the intensity of the proceedings. These come courtesy of the composer credited as R・O・N from a production company called VERYGOO, and they do a really good job of adding some grit and bite to contrast the Pillows’ more tuneful catchy melodies. There’s also some great gags littered throughout, such as the obvious revelation that Masurao is the son of Amauro, Canti trying to speak without using his screen (maybe his A/V cables got unplugged), and of course the many wonderful Haruko-isms that Kari Wahlgren provides. The funniest of these has to be during the Atomsk smooch-off, as her every noise made sounds less like making out and more like she’s reading the comic book sound effects that would represent making out.
So with the story now wrapped and (almost) everyone getting a happy ending, how did FLCL Progressive fare? Surprisingly, much better than I was expecting. This new season was an absolutely joy to watch from start to finish, and while it’s tough to say how exactly it compares to the original this soon after it ended, there was a lot of great stuff to be found here. The voice acting is as fantastic as it’s ever been, the animation is gorgeous and allowed to get quite experimental at times, the themes and emotions felt by the characters feel completely honest and sincere, and the music is on-point, whether it be The Pillows or R・O・N. I may have to do a full series review later on down the road once this has had time to settle a bit more, but I’m glad this season got made, and I’m now completely on board for FLCL Alternative in September. See you all then.
FLCL Progressive airs every Saturday at 11:30 PM only on Adult Swim. Episodes can also be streamed on adultswim.com and also purchased on iTunes.