Well, here we are. 5 months after a cool April Fools stunt and just 1 ½ months after FLCL Progressive concluded its run, we now have the official premiere of the 3rd season of this franchise: FLCL Alternative. Since I’m sure we all remember some of this from April 1st, let’s not waste any more time getting back to the swing of things.
Our hero, Kana Koumoto, is unsure of where her life is possibly going. At age 17, she’s not comfortable with being expected to chart out the entirety of the rest of her life from this point. Thankfully, she’s at least note alone in these concerns. Kana pals around at school with her closest friends Pets, Mossan, and Hijiri, rarely ever separating from each other during or after school. They all have varying ideas of what their lives may have in store after high school, with Hijiri banking on her prospective modeling path hopefully leading her to marry a famous rapper. The only time the girls seem to separate from each other is when Kana has to go off to her after-school job as a waitress in a small restaurant, oddly enough echoing Hidomi from Progressive.
During one seemingly slow day at work (there’s only really one customer being served at the moment who *definitely* won’t come back later), a certain special someone just walks into the restaurant, and HEY LOOK, IT’S HARUKO! After taking a seat, she gets into a conversation with Kana where she breaks down her concerns about being 17 and not having any major plans for the future. This unusual conversation sticks with her as she meets back up with her friends after work. Before they can get more in-depth regarding the encounter, the rest of the group’s attention is drawn towards Mossan pondering on building a bottle rocket, having collected several empty soda bottles to do this. The prospect of this immediately excites them all, and the girls proceed to spend the next day or so collecting the materials they need to build as big a rocket as they can muster.
Eventually, they complete their big bottle rocket, and it’s a pretty nice-looking rocket to boot. However, the moment of triumph gets cut short when a giant Google Maps-style pin crashes directly into the area, unleashing an energy that transforms a nearby soldier toy into a giant mouth monster… thing. The girls attempt to run away, but Kana unfortunately gets caught in its pathway. At the last minute, she is… “saved” by the sudden appearance of Haruko, who kicks her in the head right out of the creature’s path. She manages to fend off the creature long enough for Kana to awaken, with the expected unusual forehead protrusion from this kind of scenario. Haruko finally introduces herself proper to the girls, and then proceeds to pull the flowery energy from Kana’s forehead, revealing itself to be a 1967 model Fender Mustang. With her new weapon in hand, she proceeds to smash the now fully-grown monster into pieces. Explosive pieces! The day after all this occurs, the girls finally take their bottle rocket down to the beach to launch it into the skies, and it works… very briefly, as it soon after falls apart back down to the ground. The girls all start playfully roughhousing with each other as the episode ends.
I quite enjoyed this episode the first time it aired back in April, and so I was looking forward to seeing again now that it would be dubbed, along with the benefit of being in a proper state of mind now that Progressive had aired twice on the block. Watching the episode again, I found myself having just as much fun with it as before, especially now that I could take in everything from the pretty character designs to the fun characterization. What stands out most immediately is our new protagonist, Kana, who stands as a complete polar opposite to both Naota and Hidomi. While she expresses a sense of uncertainty at the future, her general personality exudes a giddy and boundless optimism that is immediately engaging and entertaining. She’s a ridiculously fun and charming lead, and she’s made even more enjoyable by her chemistry with her friends.
The interplay between Kana, Pets, Mossan, and Hijiri is a central focal point of the episode, especially with the primary focus of the plot being their group efforts to build a bottle rocket. The characters are voiced in the dub by Megan Harvey, Marieve Herington, Marianne Miller, and Erica Lindbeck respectively, and their performances, along with the quality of the writing, is what makes them all so appealing. When the characters speak, they’re written with a believable degree of sarcastic interplay, constantly cracking playful jokes about each other in a way that’s fun without ever feeling overly mean-spirited. The closest reference point I can think of would be last year’s adaptation of Stephen King’s It, in the sense that there’s a believable sense of honesty to how the characters all talk with each other, which makes for a great group to follow around.
Bolstering the quality of the voice acting and dialogue is some consistently wonderful character animation throughout the episode. The main cast all have unique designs to them with many standout aspects, from their facial features and wardrobes to their statures and physiques. Kana’s eyes always exude a curious and outgoing nature, while Mossan has a more mischievous nature to her facial expressions. The expressiveness of the main cast is shown to great effect during the montage scenes of them building the rocket, as we get many scenes of them alternately making progress and goofing off. Some of these moments are innocent and playful, like Kana air-guitaring with a broom when no one’s looking, and other moments are quite mischievous, such as when Pets snaps some naughty upskirt shots of Hijiri when she isn’t looking.
The music work throughout the episode is excellent, as is to be expected with this series. Compared to the immediately recognizable use of licensed Pillows tracks in the premiere of Progressive, Alternative opts to focus heavily on unique soundtrack pieces that flow really well with the tone of the episode. There’s this floaty post-rock ambiance to the music that mixes excellently with the uncertain nature of our lead characters, and it also plays well against the orange-tinted sunset hues of much of the lighting and background art. There’s of course room for some heavier pieces when the action heats up, and they work to pump up the energy of these scenes.
As far as the overall plot details, Haruko is once again trying to hunt down an N/O channel, which definitely is the one in Kana’s head now. The episode wastes no time introducing her into the story, as she quite literally just wanders into the restaurant nonchalantly in one of the funniest moments of the episode. Meanwhile, she’s being spied on by the man glimpsed in the restaurant earlier, named Tsukata, who is part of the Interstellar Immigration Bureau. The organization will appear to play a pretty big part in the story, as there’s glimpses of bans on human interstellar travel (with quite a bit of on-the-nose political language at play) amidst everything going on. And honestly, with Haruko constantly giving them a hard time, I can’t really blame them too much, but all of that will have to wait until further down the line. For now, this was a greatly enjoyable first episode that has me quite excited to check out more.
FLCL Alternative airs every Saturday at 11:30 PM only on Toonami on Adult Swim. Episodes can also be streamed on adultswim.com and purchased on iTunes.