FLCL Progressive – Episode 4 – “LooPQR”

Hidomi is precious and must be protected at all costs.

Following the events of “Stone Skipping,” we see the aftermath of the incident as the characters are all interrogated about Hidomi’s behavior. As a result of the headphones drilling into her head, she’s now become incredibly giddy and ecstatic about everything, much to the chagrin of Ide, Jinyu, and Haruko. The three of them get together at the Hibajiri Café to piece together a plan to attack Medical Mechanica and pry the headphones off of Hidomi, paired with musical accompaniment from a random group of bar patrons doing a hilariously off-beat choir sing-along. Meanwhile, Masurao and Eye Patch are also discussing issues involving Medical Mechanica, tying into the flower pot that Aiko had given to Goro during their date. The pot evidently has the ability to trigger the activation of N.O. channels in our protagonists’ foreheads, having been constructed from parts salvaged from a very familiar face: Canti, who is also hanging crucified in their meeting space wait WHAT?! Damn Canti, what did they do to you?!

In case you’re wondering, Aiko is still doing her “selling dates for cash” thing like last time.

Speaking of making money, we see Marco head off to his day job at an amusement park, only being interrupted by an unexpected encounter with the ever-so-chipper Hidomi (remember this, it’ll be important for later). The park is in the process of installing a new ride (one of those swinging Viking ship rides you’ve probably seen at a decently sized state carnival), and Marco is serving as the test dummy for the attraction. His entire job is just to sit in the ride with a camera strapped to his head and let his reactions to the ride be taped, even when the elderly man Tonkichi (a previously glimpsed patron of the café), inverts the boat’s seating and turns the whole thing into Action Point but with a budget, essentially. I just hope he’s getting paid enough for this.

Meanwhile, Hidomi is captured by the rest of our heroes and taken to the Medical Mechanica facility. Haruko and Jinyu get in a heated argument about their relationship with Atomsk while Ide attempts to look over Hidomi and keep her in check. Discovering the flower pot sitting somewhere in the Bel-Air, she throws it at Ide, hitting him in the face and triggering the N.O. channel which sucks in Haruko and Jinyu, transporting them to the inside of the facility. Their argument continues further as they ascend the structure, ultimately causing Haruko to snap and start yet another fight with her counterpart. As the two battle each other, Ide still attempts to protect Hidomi, who gives a monologue that brings many of her inner thoughts out into the open, including her use of the headphones to block out the anger and sadness of the world around her, echoing some of her dream sequences from prior episodes (doubly so when factoring in her sunshiney demeanor).

Back inside the facility, the battle reaches a turning point when Haruko destroys a massive brain-like structure contained within which shuts off the signal to the headphones and allows them to finally come off. Hidomi comes back down to reality for a bit, but not before she begins to overflow. When the channel opens up in her forehead, who should come out but Haruko and Jinyu, manifesting their physical forms through blue and red energy. What follows is easily one of the best action sequences ever produced in this series. The confrontation between these two succeeds in a number of levels. First is the actual build-up with the constant arguing between the two. Haruko’s had a habit of playing off her counterpart’s criticisms with her usual smug sarcasm, but here it’s clear that Jinyu is striking a very specific nerve, best embodied when Haruko angrily turns towards her with shark-like teeth flared and a stare of pure evil and contempt, simply declaring “I’m going to devour you.” It’s a fantastic building of tension into the explosive payoff, and an unexpectedly serious character moment from someone who’s often known for just humorously shrugging many things off.

There’s so much energy packed into each strike, conveyed by the color contrast of their energy forms against the naturalistic skyscape of the area, the excellent sound design, and the amount of chaos going on around the main fight. As things escalate, Marco ends up getting involved, as his encounter with Hidomi triggers an N.O. channel that spawns a giant bamboo shoot with a robot that fires missiles, making everything even more hectic. Meanwhile, Ide is doing his best to protect the now-recovered Hidomi from the effects of the fight, and much like with Haruko’s death glare, Ide’s antics during the fight (and throughout the whole episode) show off some absolutely fantastic character animation.

“LooPQR” embodies the amorphous “runny egg” style made famous in the original series, in which characters will morph back and forth between proper on-model forms and these abstract blobs with a few distinct features to draw attention to particular dialogue bits and focus on the behaviors being conveyed. Ide in particular is constantly freaking out over protecting Hidomi, shaking around frantically as he chases her around the surface of the factory. The funniest parts are when he has to scramble through the air to make contact with the Bel-Air, with his wild movements accentuated by some quite humorous voice work from Robbie Daymond (the brief moment where he has to take a breather while air swimming had me in stitches) and some comical slapstick sound effects.

Not to be outdone by Ide, Hidomi also exemplifies the great expressive animation work throughout this episode. Her bubbly personality, showcasing Xanthe Huynh’s best voice work yet in this series, is endlessly fun to watch as she stretches and compresses like a human wad of bubblegum or rubber band in order to accentuate the hilarity. By contrast, the scene where she overflows has her in complete and total pain, including a wide-angle shot of her face with dilated pupils and stress lines around her face conveying the sheer amount of trauma this is causing her. All of these big and small details work wonders in amplifying the expressiveness of every action. This even goes as far as the climax of the battle at the end. Haruko lands a fatal strike on Jinyu, delivering the final blow and once of the most instantly memorable shots of the series. Once they’re all back on the ground, and as Haruko grips Jinyu by the neck, we can get a better glimpse at the line work on her energy form, which has constantly shifting pencil-sketched outlines, perhaps representing the innate instability of her character. When she finally consumes Jinyu, she morphs into this vicious animalistic form that’s drawn and animated in a highly jagged manner, looking as off-kilter and evil as possible to symbolize Haruko’s bitterness and resentment of her other half.

Pretty much everything about the climactic final battle between Haruko and Jinyu is peak FLCL, from the vivd animation work and intense battle energy to the great bits of comedy that poke their head in and out of the action. That alone probably makes this whole thing worth it, in my opinion. Add to that some solid voice work from everyone involved and it just adds to the excellence of the episode, overall. We only have 2 more episodes left, and now that Jinyu is gone, there’s not much to protect Hidomi from Haruko’s attempts to use her to reunite with Atmosk. She’s rather deathly serious about her plans, but this won’t stop Hidomi from keeping the headphones away from her at all costs. Who knows where things will progress from here, but I’m still excited for whatever comes next.

FLCL Progressive airs every Saturday at 11:30 PM 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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