FLCL Alternative – Episode 4 – “Pit-A-Pat”

This NBA Jam sequel looks pretty damn cool.

The Interstellar Immigration Bureau continues monitoring Medical Mechanica’s activities, finding themselves baffled by the continued appearance of the giant red pins from episode 1 all around the country. Haruko and Tsukata are both in close observation, but Haruko quickly bails on him because she has other business to attend to: namely, she’s got a new boy-toy. Her latest romantic interest is Sasaki, a high school basketball player and one of Kana’s classmates… that Kana herself also has a massive crush on. She finds herself in an annoyed and bitter mood given that Haruko is assigned to be the team’s assistant coach, meaning she’s all over Sasaki like moths to a flame. This ultimately comes to a head at the team’s next game, where Haruko’s persistent flirting distracts the entire team and throws them off their groove. The girls are all watching from the balcony, with Kana seething mad at the situation, eventually being pushed to the point where she begins to overflow, forcing her to leave the gym before things get worse.

Kana’s stress isn’t improving much, storming out of work after the usual bizarrely coincidental televised speech from Japan’s Prime Minister, Maki Kitaki… who then shows up at the soba restaurant to speak with Tsukata about the Bureau’s progress. Later that night, Kana meets up with the other girls in the park seeking advice, but they receive an impromptu visit from Sasaki himself, forcing everyone but Kana to hide out of sight. He manages to clear up that there’s not really anything happening between him and Haruko, but right before things can get resolved, her N/O channel acts up again and forces her to leave.

The next day at school, Haruko is trying to track down Sasaki, but to no avail. Luckily, Kana manages to find him hanging around in the gym, leaving them with another quiet moment alone. Just as they seem like they’re about to resolve their romantic tension, a massive explosion comes out of nowhere, revealing a giant pig-nose robot that swallows Sasaki and transforms into a giant robot ant/pig hybrid. As the situation escalates, Haruko steps in to challenge the robot to a game of basketball, ultimately defeating it and freeing Sasaki from its clutches. Afterwards, Kana finally manages to be straightforward with Sasaki, saying that she doesn’t want to pursue anything serious at the moment. Once everything is said and done, everyone goes about their usual day, but not without one last ending reveal: a burst of sirens that usher in the appearance of, what else, the Medical Mechanica building.

This episode is a bit of an odd one to talk about in terms of quality. There’s quite a lot that works about it, and then there’s aspects of it that feel not as well-executed as they could be. While the past couple of episodes centered on the personal stories of Mossan and Hijiri, this one centers on Kana and her relationship with Sasaki as the main plot focus. While she’s already the lead of the show, it makes sense to give her an episode of her own by this point. However, there’s a bit of an issue to take with her role here, as she seems oddly passive when looking at how things play out. In the past 3 episodes, regardless of whether or not she was the center of the plot, she took a very active role in pushing events forward. In this episode, the events more or less just happen *at* her, as much of it consists of Haruko stressing her out and her just walking and running away. To a certain extent, I can see this making sense for the purpose of building to the eventual resolution of the conflict, but the fact that she makes no other key plot decisions other than running away feels a bit underwhelming.

This also includes episode’s climax where she just sits on the sideline with everyone else and watches the game between Haruko and the robot play out. It sticks out when considering the basis of the story is heavily reminiscent of the 2nd episode of Alternative which has nearly the same plot: one of the girls gets involved in a romantic conflict where Haruko acts as the major obstacle to overcome. It’s quite deliberate, which calls to attention the fact that Kana got to be an active participant in that episode’s big climactic action sequence, driving Haruko’s food truck around. Given the deliberate evocation of those events in this episode, it’s underwhelming that she doesn’t even get to jump in on the game and play 2-on-1 against the robot. That being said, the narrative isn’t all bad, as despite Kana’s lack of agency, the scenes between her and Sasaki come across with the kind of clumsily awkward sincerity that most of us associate with high school crushes/romance.

On the other end of the spectrum, the episode is absolutely fantastic on a visual front. There is a lot of time spent playing around with visual gags and character animation, especially the incredibly expressive faces of the various characters. As a substitute for her somewhat diminished agency, Kana gets to carry the bulk of the great comedic faces, constantly shifting into incredibly exaggerated expressions of joy, concern, agitation, and complete anger. The major standout moment is during the encounter in the park in a scene almost partially foreshadowed by the episode’s title card. When Sasaki leads the conversation into a pleasurable direction, Kana’s face instantly shifts into an incredibly detailed romanticized art style, reminiscent of the shojo manga style of Sailor Moon and Ouran High School Host Club. It easily ranks as one of the best gags in the series so far.

Not to be outdone by Kana, the rest of the cast gets plenty of playful visuals to add to the fun of it all. The park scene has the girls trying to signal directions and advice to Kana, and their various reactions and projections of info are nothing short of hilarious. Haruko, naturally, gets to be all flirtatious, but her animation relies on cat faces and persistently wiggly movements, making her look less like a master seductress and more like one of those inflatable tube often seen outside car dealerships. It also helps that Kari Wahlgren naturally melts into the role for the more sensual dialogue moments (the word “groin” comes up in the script and she absolutely nails it). There’s also some great moments that play around with visual filters and scene transitions, with the intense shocks of blue and red between Haruko and Kana, as well as a neat scene transition between an egg in the soba restaurant and Haruko bathing somewhere in the Immigration Bureau facility. While the comedic highlights are great, it’s a bit unfortunate that the main plot felt like it took a bit of a backseat, but now that Medical Mechanica’s out in the open, things will surely pick back up again next time.

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.

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