FLCL Progressive – Episode 2 – “Freebie Honey”

The first episode of FLCL: Progressive did about as good a job as it could at exactly what it needed to do. “Re: Start” got us acclimated to the new characters, a relatively new setting, and some introductions to new aspects of the general mythos. Some might have bemoaned some of the overly obvious homages and nods to the original series, but I think it helped get things into place, at least for now. But now we’re onto episode 2, “Freebie Honey,” and we can now see this series start to expand and take on its own identity and concepts.

The intro to this episode is another dream sequence, but instead of the nihilistically poetic monologue from Hidomi, she instead offers a bizarrely enthusiastic narration overtop a grainy zombie apocalypse dream sequence, ending with her zombie self being torn to pieces by her zombie classmates before waking up startled. It’s a rather unique display of her inner thoughts, especially how it contrasts the imagery of mindless zombies (which could be comparable to Hidomi’s general apathetic state) with the hyperactive monologue laid over top. Credit has to go to Xanthe Huynh who has done excellently as the character in general, but shows off some great comedic chops here.

Later at school, Haruko barges in and drives the class insane with joy and praise, as she delivers a characteristically nonsensical sermon (quite literally, her outfit has a priest collar and everything) that enraptures everyone but Hidomi. To drive home how unimpressed and detached she is, when Haruko leaves the room, she leaves behind a yearbook that displays a great deal of significant memories for everyone, but our protagonist only sees barebones crayon drawings. Things progress a bit more when Hidomi, against Jinyu’s wishes, accepts a request from Haruko to deliver a worksheet to Ide at his home.

She eventually makes her way to Ide’s part of town, even running into his friends Goro (the blonde-haired one in the skirt) and Marco (the taller one with tan skin). Goro leads Hidomi to where Ide is at, revealing that outside of school, he works as essentially a slave in a scrapyard who also sells makeshift weapons and gear to people. This even involves an unpleasant scenario where he’s beat down by a group of foreigners for seemingly no reason, which ultimately drives Hidomi to overflow and be knocked unconscious, which does get Ide’s attention. By the way, it’s worth noting that the attackers are voiced in full Japanese and appropriately subtitled, a choice that will be inversed for the Japanese premieres of Progressive.

At this point, the episode shows quite a few interesting aesthetic touches on the way here. The background and environmental art really shines once sunset hits, emphasizing this sort-of oppressive haze that continues once Hidomi makes it to the slums where Ide lives, with many dingy living spaces layered on top of each other, almost looking like the type of towns encountered in Michiko & Hatchin. The reveal of Ide’s life outside of school has some particularly striking color filters, contrasting red and black shots against the general murky orange haze to really sell the harshness of the living conditions. There’s also some distinct editing shown off when Ide is selling his weapon to the foreigners, overlaying a hypothetical demonstration over the regular footage of him speaking, and it feels every bit as silly as anything we’d expect from this show.

Anyway, Hidomi comes to her senses as Ide helps with draining the blood from her nose in what is admittedly a bit of a charming moment between the two, with a brief bit of silence before Ide decides to be Ide and tries to invite her out on a date. The scene is naturally interrupted by Haruko in what is easily the funniest moment of the episode, adopting a film director persona and just casually declaring this a perfect take. Things escalate further when out of nowhere, Jinyu shows up to protect Hidomi and take on Haruko, who now battles with a Gibson EB-0 (or possibly an SG) in place of her classic Rickenbacker. Jinyu’s got a little surprise up her sleeve though, as her Chevy Bel-Air transforms into a mech/flying machine for the fight, but Haruko fights back by rag-dolling Ide around and using him to summon the machine monster from the past episode.

There’s a lot of great comedy to be had during this particular battle, the majority of which come from the ever-so-excellent performance of Kari Wahlgren as our favorite Vespa-riding alien. She always brings the right level of energy and charisma to any line she’s given, and this is shown off at full range across the episode. The preachy romanticism of her speech to the class, her more low-key mischievous delivery in one-on-one conversations, and her energetic battle dialogue is every bit as entertaining as ever. Case in point: before the battle starts proper, there’s a gag involving a word game that her and Jinyu play in which both of them have to start a sentence using the last syllable of the previous sentence. Only someone with as much fast energy as Wahlgren could make this work as well as it does, although credit also has to go to Allegra Clark whose stern straight-faced delivery as Jinyu adds a great dynamic for Haruko to play off of. It’s also worth noting that during the fight itself, Haruko fires off rapid-fire quips all throughout, the majority of which are a grab-bag of baseball analogies, but interestingly enough she doesn’t utter the one phrase that we’d all expect her to say in this context.

That last point is something that hovers quite a bit above the episode as a whole: how the episode plays around with possible audience expectations. This is shown early on when Hidomi is completely unimpressed with anything that Haruko does in class, and even extends all the way to the climax of the fight. As Haruko swings Ide around and around, seeing all the injury being caused to him makes Hidomi overflow completely. The situation is presented with about as much visual flair as possible, with massive blinding bursts of purple energy exploding out of her forehead/blood-formed red horn. As the dust settles, the payoff for all the spectacle is… Hidomi transformed into a tiny junkyard robot. It’s an almost perfectly set-up misdirection given how much we’re used to sequences like this resulting in city-sized creatures decimating everything, and she basically ends up looking like a low-level Persona with absolutely no power. I think it works pretty well as a visual metaphor, considering that the immense amount of stress that Hidomi is under forces her to reveal a sort-of deep inner vulnerability: the personality that is masked by her general apathy.

It’s highly intriguing how this all seems to connect to Ide, seeing as how it’s pretty obvious that Ide is not just a literal gateway for robot creatures, but also a metaphorical pathway for Haruko to get to Hidomi. The immense amount of overflow caused when he suffers any sort of torment comes across like she’s hiding some desire for an emotional connection (perhaps foreshadowed by the zombie intro’s manic narration), and I can see some viewing this as cliché and foreshadowing a potential obvious romance of some kind, but the moments between them are kind of charming in their own way. This is especially true of the last shot that has the two lying in the Bel-Air and she finally hands him the worksheet as they share a last laugh before the credits.

Overall, this episode is a definite step-up from the first. With the pieces now in place, we can see the season expand its own plot threads, themes, and character relationships. The toying around with expectations is definitely attention-getting, but I think it helps draw attention to what Progressive does both well and differently from the original series. On top of that, as mentioned before, there’s a lot of excellent dialog and performances that capture the kind of clever wordplay and energetic delivery that makes the series what it is for many. I’m definitely looking forward to next week now, as we head off to the beach for sun, games, and other shenanigans.

FLCL Progressive airs every Saturday at midnight only on Adult Swim. Episodes can also be streamed on adultswim.com the day after they air and also purchased on iTunes.

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