FLCL Alternative – Episode 5 – “Shake It Off”

A pool day sounds really nice right about now.

Things are heating up, quite literally, as the increased presence of Medical Mechanica in town is raising the temperature to an uncomfortable degree. The Immigration Bureau is trying to deal with the situation as best they can, which apparently means planning migration trips to Mars for a select few, but Kitaki is stressed out by having to deal with public scrutiny. Tsukata is also getting pretty fed up with this job, especially with Haruko always getting in the way for her own reasons. Over at the school, Kana and her classmates are given time to goof off and cool down in the pool, but this only temporarily alleviates the situation, and soon the school is let out of classes early. Mysteriously, Pets disappears amidst the confusion, and we soon find out that she may be joining the Mars migration efforts, given that her family is supposedly incredibly wealthy. Kana’s caught off guard by this, as she’s the only one of her friends who didn’t know about Pets’ financial situation.

Kana walks home as she texts Pets in hopes of getting some kind of a response when she’s suddenly approached by a car with an older woman seated in the back. She asks if Kana’s a student at the local high school, quickly revealing that she is actually Pets’ mother. The two drive back to her house, as she reveals that Pets had taken some time off from school due to medical concerns, but she had evidently disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. Once they reach the house, Kana is shown her friend’s room which is oddly reserved in décor, save for a childhood photo of the two. In the middle of the conversation, Pets’ mom grows increasingly disturbed, believing that Kana knows where she is and pestering her about her whereabouts. Kana manages to escape the house but trips, eventually getting picked up in a car by Haruko.

As the two drive away, Kana thinks back on how little she actually knows about her life and her friends. Meanwhile, Pets is revealed to have wandered off to the building where they completed the bottle rocket at the start of the season, encountering the remains of the robot that nearly ate them. Surprisingly, the creature snaps back to life, consuming the debris and transforming into a gargantuan creature that absorbs her and heads towards Medical Mechanica. Kana and Haruko manage to catch up with the beast, as the former attempts to free Pets from its clutches and the latter begins striking away at the giant, with the Immigration Bureau’s own assault coming in shortly after. Amidst the battle, Kana confronts Pets about how secretive she’s been lately, which leads to Pets verbally eviscerating her supposed friend, relentlessly chewing her out for being annoyingly self-absorbed while always claiming to help others, even regretting saying hi to her as children. Kana trips and falls in mid-air, but she manages to absorb the creature into her N/O channel, eventually waking up on the riverside with her friends, as everything seems like it’s at peace. However, this is just a dream, as Kana lies unconscious amidst the wreckage, with Pets merely observing in silence before walking away, only getting confronted by Haruko asking if she really plans to leave.

This was certainly an emotionally intense episode to take in, mainly due to how it puts Pets and Kana at odds with each other. With Pets being the last of the main characters to not be a focus of an episode yet, it was surprising to see her used as such a blunt critique of Kana’s actions from the start to now. To achieve this effect, the episode marks a pretty significant shift in tone with its visual presentation. While not radically different like how episode 5 of Progressive was from the rest of that season, this week’s episode focused on significantly less comedic animation than usual. The few gags in place involve a handful of the usual Haruko one-liners and one or two funny faces from Mossan, but apart from that, the visual motifs and metaphors at play are fairly serious. There’s an unnerving melancholic tone to everything, accentuated by the constant hazy orange tint of the setting sun filling up the screen, as well as musical pieces that focus on drifting aimless post-rock guitars.

The conflict of the two friends is painted in the most explicit visual terms possible, and this is communicated in the opening flashback where they meet for the first time. Kana stands in the middle of a set of stairs walking down, turning back up to see Pets greeting her, with her face mildly obscured by unnerving shadows. This visual motif is repeated during the climax when Kana tries to rescue Pets, standing beneath her like before. The choice of position here drives home the severity of her harsh words loud and clear: Pets, throughout her time knowing her, has always looked *down* on Kana, with recent events only exacerbating her feelings. While episode 3 already pointed at the idea of Kana being a bit self-absorbed in her intentions and ambitions, seeing it painted in these terms is one of the most brutal moments in the franchise to date.

In addition to this harsh character interaction, there’s also some moments of mild surreal horror at play, mainly when Kana meets Pets’ mom. The uncomfortable nature of this situation is made clear right away, as the shot composition, combined with some deliberately slow-paced camera pans, highlights the distance and sense of unease between the two during the trip. Once they reach the house, things escalate further as Pets’ mom exudes feelings of paranoia, stress, and even anger with her pained intense facial expressions, switching from keeping her eyes closed in a serene manner to opening them up in desperation. The shots become equally as unsettling, focusing on off-center framing of faces and even cropping upper bodies out of shots entirely. There’s quite a bit of on-point visual work during these scenes, and the music gets equally uncomfortable, incorporating dissonant guitar melodies that would feel at home in a David Lynch production.

Outside of these scenes, the stress of the situation is running high for several other members of the cast. The most obvious of these is with Tsukata, who is absolutely just fed up with everything at play. The animations and voiceover work used perfectly convey his exhaustion, first coming up with his dismissal of Kitaki’s complaints while sloppily eating soba, with a few drops of the broth splashing up on his face. The most explicit portrayal of this is given when he confronts Haruko trying to blow up the Medical Mechanica building, relaying the Bureau’s plans to migrate a select few (read: rich people who can afford it) to Mars and leaving everyone else stranded back on land to deal with things. The contempt and apathy for the situation is extremely palpable, capped off with a straightforward declaration of “I hate this job” at the end of the conversation. That attitude sums up a significant chunk of the episode as a whole: there’s a lot of emotional exhaustion and bluntness amidst the usual bursts of action (the climactic battle against the giant hand-shaped robotic creature is a dense visual feast in its own right), but there’s some interesting and compelling material at play here, and it sets the stage nicely for the final episode of the season and the series.

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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