FLCL Progressive – Episode 3 – “Stone Skipping”

So it’s been a few weeks and already, we’re at the halfway point of FLCL Progressive’s run. As the plot continues to develop, things are becoming a bit clear about how the moving pieces fit together, but there are still plenty of mysteries being introduced that keep the intrigue going.

Hidomi’s opening dreams sequence has her up against a hazy red dilapidated city backdrop instead of the white and gray hues of the past two episodes. Her personality and narration adopt a more overly chipper and enthusiastic tone (let’s just say “kawaii” in nature) while giving a morbid narration about wanting to have her skin ripped apart from her. Eventually, an army of micro-Jinyus point her in the direction of a giant hand in the sky crushing people floating upward, and after she floats up herself in hopes of being destroyed, she’s instead knocked back down to the ground before waking up. So far, I think this might be the funniest and most interesting of her dreams so far, as it perfectly symbolizes the core of Hidomi’s personal conflict: her inner emotionality wanting to be let out by even the most extreme means possible.

“Stone Skipping” mainly focuses on a good old-fashioned trip to the beach. Ide, Mori, Marco, Hidomi, Haruko, and Jinyu are all present and ready to have some fun, especially Haruko as she gets rather flirty with the boys. During this trip, we also found out that Mori evidently has a girlfriend that he invited to the beach with them all: a shy young girl named Aiko. They’re all having fun as the usual beach shenanigans ensue, which mostly amount to Haruko being her usual mischievous self while trying to have fun. There’s a lot of great back-and-forth between Haruko and the rest of the cast here, especially with her and Jinyu. There’s a funny visual gag involving Jinyu covering Haruko in tanning oil, and then the funniest joke in the episode which as Haruko burying Jinyu in sand… and concrete, as she just leaves her like that throughout the entire episode. As always, it’s the straightforward no-nonsense delivery of Allegra Clark that makes the joke work, especially considering how the concrete burial extends through the whole episode and makes for a great long-term gag.

As the sun sets on the beach, things take a turn for the unusual (as is, well, usual for this show), with the boys noticing that Hidomi has disappeared along with Haruko. Ide goes off to investigate as Mori has to take Aiko back to the train station, giving us the surprise reveal that Aiko was, in fact, a paid escort that Mori hired to make himself look cool. She takes his payment and hands him over a potted plant that she had been carrying with her the whole day as part of the exchange before leaving. It’s a pretty funny reveal, mostly owing to how well Aiko’s VA, Christine Marie Cabanos, bounces back and forth between “innocent and naïve” and “just looking for a quick payday.”

Meanwhile, Ide finally locates Hidomi inside of the ruins of an abandoned Medical Mechanica building, discovering that Haruko’s donned her classic nurse attire and is trying to get her to overflow. Instead, the stress of the situation causes Ide to overflow and unleash a giant green slime monster to fight Haruko. As always, the fight escalates all the way to the skies as our two students get rag-dolled around a bit, ultimately culminating in Hidomi colliding with Ide’s shirtless chest, which causes her to both overflow and blush in embarrassment. Her overflow summons a giant mass of junk and debris into which she is absorbed, forming something resembling a brain (?) formation. Jinyu manages to fly in, rescuing Ide and giving him the advice he needs to rescue Hidomi, taking a prime opportunity to attack with a guitar which reveals where she’s located within the gnarled mess of steel.

As he holds her in his hands, Haruko takes the opportunity to taunt Ide and challenges him to take of Hidomi’s headphones to bring her back from unconsciousness. Despite Jinyu’s warnings, Ide tries to remove the headphones, but this just causes another overflow state that forcefully drills them into her skull and leads to the debris mass falling apart, forming an island in the beach’s ocean. Everyone manages to land down safely, and as Hidomi comes to, Haruko and Jinyu share a brief moment of compromise as they both agree that, despite questionable differences in methodology, they both have the same end goal: Medical Mechanica.

Okay, so despite the fact that half the episode is dedicated to fun in the sun at the beach, there is actually quite a bit to take in with regards to the overarching plot. Case in point: Medical Mechanica takes on even more visual prominence, not only being the building where Ide finds Haruko and Hidomi, but also having several buildings far out into the ocean of the beach. The closing dialogue exchange between Jinyu and Haruko lists Mechanica as the shared enemy of the two, which is natural to expect given that they are stated to be one and the same. This has been glimpsed primarily in the ending credits sequence, which shows Haruko having absorbed Atomsk before losing his energy and Jinyu splitting off from her.

Jinyu may represent some sort of underlying emotional desires from Haruko. This is further expanded upon during a particularly attention-getting dialogue sequence between Jinyu and Hidomi, where Jinyu is venting a bit about her own interests and goals. Part of this includes explaining that she is chasing after someone that she does not feel strong enough to compare to but feels hopelessly drawn to, anyway. It’s hinted to be possibly romantic in a vague sense, and while it’s easy to guess that she’s likely referring to Atomsk, I like how this sort of hints that she might just represent the core emotional honesty of the ever-so-sarcastic and deceitful Haruko, which makes for a great parallel to our own protagonist.

Speaking of which, Hidomi’s core personality becomes extraordinarily clear at this point, even if there’s still a bit of mystery with the headphones themselves. Hidomi wants to desperately connect with others in her life (in particular, Ide is painted as a rather explicit friend/love interest), but her general attitude as is just refuses to let that happen. As such, her underlying emotionality constantly tries to force itself out at whatever point it can, as we can see with the dream sequence at the start, and also with the constant overflowing in relation to whatever is happening with Ide during a fight. It’s a very strong characterization that’s quite relatable as someone who may have been very similar to her in high school.

As far as the plot mysteries, there’s one big surprise in regards to Mori’s “girlfriend” Aiko, as she arrives home to reveal that her father is Masurao, who was previously glimpsed as a patron of Hidomi’s mom’s café. This one scene reveals that he’s also in some kind of correspondence with the elderly eyepatch man who’s been seen in both previous episodes. Whatever the two have going on remains to be seen, although Masurao looks suspiciously familiar to a certain eyebrow man from the past installment, but maybe that’s just me. It makes for a pretty interesting hook that will likely be further expanded on in the back half of the series.

The episode also shows off some of the finest animation and comedic chops yet in Progressive. Kari Wahlgren’s voice acting really drives home the snarky essence of Haruko’s personality, and there’s tons of moments of great delivery throughout, especially when playing off of the stone cold persona of Jinyu. The animation also works excellently, as the major battle at the end is one of the most visually spectacular yet, with constant visual energy being conveyed in every movement and attack as everyone rides around wildly in the sky. Haruko’s facial expressions are also a visual treat in this part, as she is visibly more annoyed and bitter about everything near the end, reflected with more exhausted-looking eyes and angular facial expressions. That is all the icing on the cake of what’s been yet another really damn good episode of FLCL Progressive. Three more episodes left, and there’s still plenty left to see, and as always, I’m really looking forward to it.

FLCL Progressive airs every Saturday at Midnight 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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