I bet that mustard was made with The Last Dab.
Hijiri seems to have found herself in a new relationship, getting involved with a college student named Toshio who does professional photography on the side. This stirs up quite a lot of people at school, not the least of which is Kana who finds herself in awe of Hijiri’s maturity. However, many of her male classmates are put off by this, even demanding that Toshio “give her back,” whatever that means. As the girls hang out in the stairway, Hijiri remembers something Toshio mentioned, and she decides to invite her friends to do a photoshoot with him. They all gather in a local park and proceed with the shoot, donning cool outfits and having fun all around, and there’s even dogs involved at one point. Later on, Toshio treats them all to lunch courtesy of, surprise surprise, Haruko running a food truck selling kebabs. Despite his relationship with Hijiri, Toshio finds himself enamored by Haruko’s gorgeous beauty, even asking to take some photos of her. In fact, he’s so smitten by her that later that night, he makes the decision to break up with Hijiri, much to the dismay of her friends.
The next day, the gang begins to interrogate Hijiri about what just happened as Toshio texts her about a necklace he gave her that he wants back. The girls try to cheer her up by stopping in at her workplace, a karaoke bar, and they eventually manage to convince her to join in a round or two of singing. Later that night, Kana’s on her way back home when she eventually comes across the unsettling sight of Haruko throwing herself all over Toshio in his car. She frantically debates with Mossan and Pets about what to do with this revelation, and they all arrange to meet with him in a parking lot outside a stadium. The girls confront Toshio, much to his confusion, as he was expecting to meet up with Hijiri about the necklace. Things only get more hectic when not only does she show up to the scene, but Haruko is hanging around as well, waiting for her new boy toy to finish. Despite the issue getting resolved, bursts of green energy begin to appear, transforming Toshio’s car into a menacing robot and forcing the girls to go on the defensive. Kana helps Haruko chase it down after she knocks the food truck out of her head, and they ultimately manage to defeat it. Following the chaos, Toshio tries to get back together with Hijiri, but this thankfully falls through, and after Haruko knocks him out cold, the episode ends with the girls having a laugh and munching on some complimentary kebabs.
What immediately stands out about this episode of Alternative is how it handles its overall plot. In a manner that feels very much akin to the original series, the episode tells a story that focuses on repeatedly enforcing a specific thematic motif: in this case, the concept of maturity. Right from the start, Hijiri’s relationship with Toshio is overwhelmingly impressive to Kana, who desires to reach that level of maturity. This is expressed throughout the episode in big and small ways, with one of the most charming moments being when Kana tries on Hijiri’s make-up to look more grown-up. While the difficulties of growing up are a constant throughout each season, this is an episode that is perhaps the most explicit about the futility of trying to grow up too fast.
What makes this episode pull that theme together so well is Hijiri’s characterization throughout. She’s seen as the portrayed as the calmest and most collected of our leading cast, but it’s fairly obvious from various cues that something’s off about her attitude. Kana expresses constant worry about her relationship, but she plays it off like everything’s fine, even though we can see with moments like her initial freakout in the karaoke bar that the Toshio situation is eating away at her. There’s some great moments like that across the episode where she’s conflicted about her need to appear mature in front of everyone. Perhaps the most telling moment of this is during the climactic final battle when we get a moment of her biting off one of her nails that she got to look pretty for Toshio, complimented by a phenomenal shot of her standing triumphantly and framed in the middle of an explosion. There’s also various background details expanding on the theme of maturity, especially during a scene at Kana’s job where the Interstellar Immigration department is giving an absurd speech about maturity on television while Tsukata is back eating his usual order… and making the same mistake with the spice as last time.
The Hijiri plot also helps drive home a rather distinct aspect of the character dynamics in this series so far: a heavy amount of narrative agency among our leads. In the previous two series, while protagonists Naota and Hidomi did take some action in the story, the plot often just tended to happen *at* them, with the two reacting as necessary while Haruko got to push the plot forward much more. In this season, the girls are very active in pushing the plot forward, with most of the narrative beats coming from their own actions. In this respect, Haruko’s presence is still there for important plot beats, but she’s more of an inconvenient deterrent that throws things out of whack at the most inopportune times. Naturally, she gets to do her usual badass thing of fighting giant robots in a food truck with a guitar, featuring both the mandatory “black-and-white shot of our hero getting smacked in the head by Haruko” moment, and what will surely be the most quoted line of the season:
Women are from Mars
Men are from Venus
I don’t know about you
But I got a giant penis
If that isn’t one of the all-time great Haruko lines, then I don’t know what is. What makes it such a great moment, aside from the over-the-top nature of the quote, is that it’s such an incredibly immature thing of her to say, something that sort of feeds back into the theme of the episode: it’s important to be honest with yourself and enjoy the moment instead of forcing yourself to act more mature than you really are. This is also happening amidst a prolonged riff on Transformers that ends with her screaming “MICHAEL BAY” before stabbing the Bumblebee look-alike in the head with a slab of kebab meat. Now come on: would you rather have a mature relationship or fight robots with meat?
Of course, the chemistry of the cast is still on-point as always. Kana still has an infectious energy and enthusiasm to her, embodied by her usual fantastic animation. We get to see more of their day-to-day lives, including Kana’s relatively stable home life, something that stands out radically from previous seasons. Her entire family is in the picture, and they all seem to enjoy each other’s company, which sets her well apart from the past two seasons. The karaoke scene was just pure joy from start to finish, with Mossan rocking the mic and everyone else there to provide needed musical support. As a matter of fact, of the main cast, I think Mossan might be my favorite character aside from Kana herself. She gets many of the best quips in the episode as a being of pure sass, as well as some hilariously animated visual gags, and the moment where she threatens to beat up that douchebag Toshio was pure catharsis, thankfully punctuated by Haruko finishing the deed. She is definitely someone who is willing to stand up for her friends. There’s also a particularly distinct scene where we see the girls all texting each other about the situation with their conversation projected into the sky and represented by unique symbols: Kana as a four-leaf clover, Pets as a field, and Mossan as a slab of meat. It’s the little details like that which help the girls feel endearing and fun to watch, and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing 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.