FLCL Progressive – Episode 5 – “Fool On The Planet”

…Well that escalated quickly.

Hidomi may be back to her normal apathetic self after the events of last week, but things around town are only getting stranger. Haruko announces her retirement from teaching to Hidomi’s class, specifying that she’s getting married (and is already pregnant, it seems) and makes a rather unusual command for all students to attend the local amusement park for couple’s day. This naturally excites everyone in the class, but Hidomi is indifferent as usual. However, Ide is noticeably unphased as well, and he even goes as far as to request a one-on-one encounter with Haruko later on the roof. Straying from his frantic shy self, he puts his foot down and demands that she stay away from Hidomi at all costs. Haruko casually dismisses his concerns, as expected, leading to a bitter fight between the two as she mocks Ide’s manhood with his every attack. He’s decidedly more confident than ever, up to and including even challenging Haruko’s womanhood in a rather unsubtle reversal of the sexual tension between the two.

The fight ultimately ends when Hidomi catches the two in a rather compromising position, leading to an overflow that causes Ide’s… “soul” (that’s my best guess) to leave his body, leaving behind an empty black morph suit-style husk with a couple of speakers left, and Haruko naturally bails before having to answer herself. Meanwhile, all the couples are having fun at the amusement park (save for Goro, who’s waiting for Aiko), but things are not as happy as they may appear. As it turns out, Tonkichi (the park’s owner) is also involved with Masurao and Eye Patch’s surveillance of Medical Mechanica, and the couple’s day promotion is nothing more than a front for the last part of their plan. Once everyone is suitably oblivious to their surroundings, Tonkichi has a security force fire on the crowd, absorbing energy from their minds to power a sort of MegaZord-style weapon out of all the attractions in order to combat the Medical Mechanica building. Naturally, this has no effect on it and the building just fires back, but things aren’t quite over just yet.

As Hidomi carries Ide’s remains (?) away, a voice cries out from the speakers that begs for water. As she hydrates the husk, she flashes back to a conversation with her mother about closing down the café, something that greatly upsets Hidomi. The husk then floats up in the sky to a satellite belonging to Interstellar Immigration Bureau (a base of theirs is also visited by our investigators earlier in the episode) where he is fed like dog food to… a puppy version of Canti.

…who’s a good boy?

During the Mechanica fight, Hidomi finally decides to confront Haruko on top of an old roller coaster, but she’s now morphed into a partially robotic form who is extremely angry at how things have been going, viciously attacking Haruko while demanding Ide back. Before the fight can finish properly however, a massive red glow descends upon town from the sky, which only means one thing: the return of Atomsk.

There are quite a lot of questions raised by the plot progressions of this episode, especially considering the developments of Masurao and company’s efforts to fight Medical Mechanica on top of Hidomi’s own overflows at this point, but that would only be a fraction of the point. The real focus of the episode is really more on how the story and character developments are told, as the production was handled primarily by a somewhat different studio. The animation production is credited to Signal.MD, a subsidiary of Production I.G. formed 4 years ago that, perhaps most notably, handled the production on last year’s Recovery of an MMO Junkie. They’ve also done some in-between animation for some shows from these past 2 anime seasons, such as Megalobox, Darling In The FranXX, and of course Pop Team Epic. The direction on the episode is credited to Kei Suezawa, who’s gotten around doing key animation for shows like Space Dandy, Kill la Kill, Guilty Crown, and more. He and his team went as nuts as they could with the visuals in this episode, and it is definitely welcome here.

The episode’s intro alone is a visual sight to behold, as the opening dream sequence is done using an incredibly hand-painted art/animation style, flowing breathtakingly through a rather quiet and soft-spoken post-apocalypse sequence. The first half of the dream is incredibly dark, relying on saturated black lighting and backgrounds, only broken through by the slightly lighter shades Hidomi is painted in, and it’s contrasted perfectly by the rest of the dream relying on more white and gray color palettes, including a standout full-color shot that is easily one of the best-looking frames of the entire series.

The rest of the episode proper is equally as distinct in its aesthetic. The character models are all drawn with heavily emphasized pencil sketch outlines, and the overall palette is quite heavy on pastel color shades. The sketchier look of the character models actually feels quite appropriate, as the episode plays pretty fast and loose with their movement animation, echoing some of the great character animation in the last episode. In particular, the sequence where Haruko explains how she met her “husband” (really just Atomsk but not referred to by name) has her facial expressions contort and twist in really fun and unique ways that emphasize her seemingly genuine infatuation with him. This also brings back the gag of the crayon drawings of what is basically her own self-insert fanfiction. There’s also some excellent shot composition during a lot of these sequences, especially in the fight between her and Ide which relies on a lot of comedic bouncy movements and visual angles. The scenes show off some cool use of depth perception and overhead shots, framing Ide’s actions in memorably disorienting ways, illustrating just how off-kilter the fight is for him and how chaotic a fight with Haruko can be. The assault on the Mechanica building uses some attention grabbing perspective shots, including a sort of Go Pro-styled visual angle really close to one of the assembled weapon’s cannons.

The other standout visual sequence in the episode comes courtesy of a staple of the classic FLCL experience: the manga scene. However, it’s handled extremely different here. In the original series, the manga sequences were rapid fire high-energy gags with lots of crammed visual details and parts that move rather erratically. The sequence here is drawn and presented more in the style of a typical shoujo manga, as the focus is more on a rather emotional conflict between Hidomi and her mother regarding the closing of the café. The panel construction here is more elegant and smartly constructed, allowing a great deal of breathing room between the necessary visual details. This goes along with some very clean editing, as smaller panels move in and out of the bigger panels and never obscure the major sequence details, and the visual flow is textbook, with your eyes drawn to the information in a way that naturally makes sense if you were actually reading this in a manga, and this all culminates in a sequence that is very visually satisfying to follow along.

Not to be outdone by the wildly experimental animation, there is some really on-point writing and voice work at play here. Haruko is back to her usual hyperactive snarky self after being pushed to her breaking point last week, and her talking about her marriage to Atomsk is pure gold, especially bolstered by her always fantastic voice work. The banter between her and Ide during their big fight is quite amusing as well, with every line of dialogue laced with layers of innuendo and sexual tension that you’d need a machete to slice through. One of the best gags in the season comes through when our investigators try to contact each other through a confusing menu interface, with some great banter between them all to make things amusing. But the true standout here is Hidomi, as her performance and dialogue shows off the most range of her character yet. The manga scene shows off some real versatility, as Hidomi actually gets noticeably upset and hurt by the conversation about the café (and about her missing father as well).

Her confrontation with Haruko is also quite revealing in a few respects, as this is clearly the angriest she’s ever been in the series, and she truly lets that show off here. Much like with Ide’s confrontation, she cuts right to the bone when it comes to Haruko’s actions, accusing her of being nothing but a hopeless romantic risking everyone around her for her own selfish desires. What’s interesting about these accusations is that, while they’re most definitely true, it also feels like Hidomi getting close to admitting her true feelings for Ide to herself. It’s very clear the two care deeply for one another, but Hidomi’s normally apathetic attitude doesn’t let her care about many things. However, we’ve seen her grow into someone who’s a bit more honest about her emotions when necessary, especially when arguing with her mother over not just the café, but their missing father as well.

If there is a point to be made against the overall quality of the episode, it’s how it seems to handle Aiko’s presence in the story, There’s a continued importance placed on the flower pot as necessary to the story, but it feels like Aiko only existed to get it into the hands of our protagonists. However, the narrative still keeps her and Goro in the story, and since they are linked to each other, their presence feels kind of unnecessary, with Aiko only really existing to reinforce an admittedly cheap gag about Goro being a sad dateless loner.

This episode is an absolute triumph of pure visual inventiveness, throwing as many unique animation styles as possible at the viewer in a creative fury that is easily the closest that Progressive has gotten to emulating the energy and spirit of the original series while still maintaining its own vibe. To that end, the episode even relies on some familiar music cues to enhance the proceedings, most notably “Last Dinosaur” during the climactic Mechanica assault. All the pieces are now set in place, and with Atomsk’s return imminent, I really can’t wait to see how this all ultimately ties together. However it ends, I am here for the end of this wild ride.

FLCL Progressive airs every Saturday at 11:30 PM 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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