Now I’m hungry for soba.
Things start off with a bang as Haruko is seen fighting a previously unseen model of Canti on top of the Medical Mechanica building. She temporarily gains the upper hand in the fight, but her victory is short-lived as a massive hand emerges from the sky and grabs the handle of the building, preparing to iron out the city. As a matter of fact, all of the Medical Mechanica buildings across Earth are preparing to flatten out the planet, but Tsukata is left behind to deal with the mess in Japan, as Kitaki is already set to join the Mars expedition away from everything much to his chagrin. Things aren’t going much better for Kana as she’s still emotionally devastated from her encounter with Pets last time. Even trying to maintain her usual routine with work at the restaurant doesn’t seem to help, as her inability to struggle with change is still gnawing at her.
As she leaves work, she runs into Mossan and Hijiri in the empty streets, having skipped class as everyone has seemed to skip town completely. They take this time to go down to their usual chill spot down by the beach, singing songs and playing around in the water, and even taking time to bid farewell to the rockets launching evacuees to Mars. The moment is interrupted by the sudden arrival Haruko running over Kana and taking the girls along with her in the Vespa. As it turns out, Kana’s N.O. channel is naturally the key to stopping the carnage, so she’s taken to the site of the Medical Mechanica building. After some motivation from Tsukata and Haruko, she begins to proudly declare her love for her friends and everyone in the world in an attempt to overflow and activate her latent powers. However, her proclamations don’t seem to be working as intended, and things don’t get any better when the group is ambushed by a massive squad of the black Canti robots from earlier.
The group does their best to fight off the robots to buy time for Kana as she still struggles to activate her powers, but after an intense shouted declaration of her insecurities about being liked and appreciated, things finally pay off. A familiar symbol appears across her forehead as she generates massive amounts of energy, firing a beam straight up into the sky that opens up a massive wormhole. In the ensuing chaos, the Medical Mechanica building gets sucked up into the portal and away from the town, with Kana generating additional bursts of energy that blow away everything around her and sending Haruko through the wormhole as well. In the weeks afterward, everything seems to be back to normal or at least more stable. Kana goes back to her usual school routine with her friends (sans Pets), but Haruko is displaced by the wormhole and finds herself on Mars, which now closely overlooks the town from the sky.
I remember when my best friend moved away, first for college in another state and then to the west coast after graduation. In both instances, I found myself struggling to process my feelings about the situation. I knew it was something I had to accept since she had career aspirations that couldn’t be fulfilled in our home state, but it was still hard to accept when the time finally came. I bring this up because watching these past two episodes and seeing Kana struggle to come to terms with these inevitable changes in her life and friendships… honestly hit me like a truck, although at least there’s no animosity between me and my friend the way there is between Kana and Pets. Further expanding on this, a buddy of mine on twitter charted out the thematic progression of the franchise like this: FLCL classic is the beginnings of puberty/adolescence, Progressive is the awkward messy middle of it all, and Alternative is the equally messy transition out of that into full adulthood. This is an observation I happen to agree with, reinforced heavily by the visuals and the melancholic defeatist attitude of the characters and their dialogue.
I think each FLCL is supposed to be a phase. The first is when puberty starts, the second is smack dab in the middle of it, and Alternative is when you're about to smack head first into adulthood. #FLCLAlternative
— DigiRanma (@DigiRanma) September 23, 2018
The hazy orange tints of the series’ color scheme permeate the episode more intensely than before, complimented by the moody shadows of its nighttime sequences. When we first see Kana in the episode, she’s lying in bed scrolling through old photos of her friends filtered through her cracked phone screen, symbolizing the dissolving nature of her friendships in a great bit of visual symbolism. She has to bail on work because Tsukata decides to get a different order of soba from his usual one, interrupting the flow of her work routines. Things are mildly helped when she gets to goof off with her friends near the beach, but Mossan’s reminiscence of a silly song interrupts the flow when Kana remembers the lyrics “I wanna travel to another country.” Even the good times with her friends that are still her are tinged with moments of doubt and uncertainty. Change is a very tough thing to deal with, especially when there’s no avoiding it. The episode accentuates this further with a good amount of drifting post-rock music cues mixed into the usual selection of Pillows tracks.
One of the best scenes in the episode is late at night when Tsukata is drinking and smoking on the sidewalk near a vending machine. Haruko approaches him and the two have a conversation about their past experiences and the state of things at the moment. The scene is startling at first but also a bit refreshing, as we get to see the wild card star of the franchise sit down and have a very frank discussion like an actual person and not a cartoonish entity. There’s a disarming sense of sincerity expressed between the two, especially with Tsukata’s admission of his bad smoking habits and the two musing about life in general. This is how the entire first half of the episode feels with all these factors in place: vulnerable, sincere, and uncertain.
Then it comes time to get into the climax where everything gets appropriately bombastic, finding time to mix in a bit of levity and fun to the proceedings, starting with obligatory “vehicular manslaughter via Vespa” and continuing into the Canti ambush. This scene is every bit as fun as any other action beat through the series, with Haruko tearing through waves of robots, and even Mossan and Hijiri getting to beat up a bot or two. It’s good to know that Kana at least has these two sticking up for her like that. It’s here when the dialogue begins to further amplify the themes of change and transitioning to adulthood, as Kana continues to bear her emotional insecurities amid reinforcements from Tsukata about needing to preserve a sense of joy amidst such changes. There’s a particularly great moment when Haruko simply declares “Shout your feelings! You’re 17!” leading to the moment when Kana finally unleashes the power held within her, driven home by a very familiar music cue in what is easily an intensely cathartic moment. If there’s any issue I may have here (and this is admittedly a pretty minor one), it would be the use of “Thank You My Twilight” in this scene. It’s a great song, and the way it flows with the scene works pretty well, but it feels off considering that the song is so deeply tied across the whole of Progressive. It also unintentionally highlights that while Alternative has a fairly solid general musical vibe, there’s no real specific in-series song apart from the great closing theme that the season can call its own.
I would wrap up here normally, but there’s been a recent development around the reception of the series that I think is worth commenting on (and also gives me a good platform for a series send-off). In a response to a fan on Twitter who was confused about the finale, executive producer/Toonami co-creator Jason Demarco gave the following reply:
Ill just say it’s all there, it just requires a little puzzling through. 😉 remember, FLCL Alternative was designed to be a prequel to the original…
— KING ATOMSK DEMARCO (@Clarknova1) October 14, 2018
Naturally, a great deal of my own Twitter feed was baffled by this. It’s weird to think that the original series is now taking place in the middle of this supposed timeline, and all sorts of miscellaneous theories and ideas emerged (and likely still will after this goes up). Now, I get that this sort of fan theorizing is inevitable, especially when quotes like this emerge, and I admittedly mused on it for a few moments. As a matter of fact, there’s one or two details to catch on a repeat viewing that could support this idea. Aside from the sequence in the wormhole where Haruko and the Vespa are overlaid with rapidly edited montages of footage from the original series, the Vespa itself doesn’t really appear until this final episode, which could be seen as how she obtained it in the first place. In addition, there’s a minor detail in the dialogue (or lack of it) that’s really easy to miss if you’re not paying attention closely. The climax of the episode features a mass of Canti-style robots *and* Kana’s powered-up state generating the symbol that represents Atomsk… but no one in the episode actually says the names “Canti” or “Atomsk” out loud at any point here. Now it could be argued that because it’s clearly not that exact individual robot we all know and love that he wouldn’t be named as such, but there’s pretty much no way Haruko could go without making the Atomsk connection unless there was some sense of unfamiliarity. Then again, we’ve seen both so much that such a thing doesn’t really need to explicitly pointed out.
However, at the end of the day, I don’t want to dwell on chronological theorizing much. It can be fun to watch people thread these points together in fun ways like with the Legend of Zelda timeline, but for me, doing so feels really weird. It feels a bit antithetical to the spirit of the franchise and runs counter to why I connect with the series as a whole. I don’t see FLCL as a puzzle box to be broken down and put back together in that kind of manner. Rather, the franchise exists as an embodiment of the turbulent nature of adolescence, whether you’re my age and reflecting back on those moments in hindsight, or you’re at the age range of its protagonists and experiencing these kinds of growing pains right now. FLCL is blunt, confusing, hilarious, and occasionally heartbreaking, and that’s because life itself is blunt, confusing, hilarious, and occasionally heartbreaking. There was a lot of talk in the run-up to Progressive and Alternative’s airing about how sequels to the original classic should be handled, and the results afterwards were somewhat mixed. For me, all I could ever really ask of any sequels is that they connect with me on that deeply honest and emotional level the same way the original did back when I was 10 (alongside great comedy bits, thrilling action, and wacky inventive animation), and these two series did exactly that, making them worthy of the name FLCL.
Also, whatever happened to Haruko’s poodles? Where’d they go? I hope someone’s taking care of them.
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.