FLCL BD Review

 

FLCL Blu-ray CaseFLCL is a well-known OVA, which has been receiving a lot of love for more than ten years. It was a shockingly well animated OVA for its time with a big budget behind it and some crazy ideas implemented within it. But does the new Blu-ray version lives up to the standards raised by the (now defunct) Broccoli International USA DVD, or has FLCL lost its power to impress over the last ten years?

Naota lives a boring life in a boring city where nothing happens. One day a strange woman called Haruko arrives in town and strikes Naota on the head with a guitar. She then explains that she is an alien who intends to use Naota’s head as a transportation device for her own selfish reasons. Soon enough strange things start to burst out of Naota’s head, most of which are dangerous robots sent by an intergalactic agency called Medical Mechanica in order to kill him and Haruko (and destroy the entire city in the process). Moreover, since Haruko is an illegal alien who snuck to earth unnoticed she is also hunted by the earth’s alien migration bureau. Used by Haruko and targeted by these different factions Naota should be suffering from this ill of fates. But against all odds he finds himself attracted to Haruko and decides to help her achieve her goal.

Trying to sum up the plot of FLCL is a hard feat. This OVA’s story is so absurd, irregular and outright irrelevant to its content that it cannot sum the essence of FLCL up, no matter how good someone might try to describe it. Indeed FLCL is not about the story, it’s about the goofy antics of the characters, the presentation and the music that binds it all. FLCL has some interesting attributes that contribute to its overall impression. The Japanese dub is excellent. There is sheer delight of fun in hearing how the characters speak. Some phrases, like Naota’s monologue in the beginning of episodes 1, 5 and 6, are remarkably deep. The dub also makes some of the characters, such as Naota’s brother’s ex-girlfriend Mamimi, much more endearing than they first seem to be. The animation is appealing enough and the music by The Pillows greatly enhances the experience. FLCL is truly a joy to the eyes and the ears.

It all makes up for the fact that at no point in the OVA do you have a clear understanding of where the story is heading or why. FLCL is not a well though story, it is (as the director honestly points out in the commentary) a large sum of quirky ideas lumped together to produce a funny and endearing string of events. As such it defies plot analysis and definition. Naota lives with his father and grandfather, both of which are unreliable stooges. Men in general play a comical role in FLCL. And while Naota’s mother is not even mentioned in the OVA, the women around Naota have very strong wills and play an important role in FLCL’s plot. That is not to say, of course, that these women are depicted realistically. Haruko is an alien with no manners and a seemingly immortal body. Mamimi is a cultist and has an unstable, almost fanatic, personality. Naota’s schoolmate Minamori is the most leveled character of the lot, but she is too apathetic to all the crazy things going on, which allows her to fit neatly with the crooked world that is depicted within FLCL.

What is the point in the story then? What can a new viewer expect to find in FLCL? Mischief and coolness seems to be the answer. Most of this OVA is dedicated to nonsensical jokes and deeds. These are sometimes interrupted by amazingly photorealistic cool pictures. It amazes me to think that ten years have passed since its debut yet you can still say FLCL stands for Fooly Cooly. Somehow this creation transcended time and remains full of fun and spectacle to this day. Both the DVD and Blu-ray editions come with both English and Japanese tracks, but you should never watch it in English. That is because FLCL relies heavily on the use of Japanese puns and word games. Some, or perhaps most, of these jokes are lost on the average western viewer. For example episode 1 features a word play on the words mamimi, taboo and mimitabu (earlobe). In episode 4 there is a play of words on the word bat: BAT, BATake (field), BAT-dakke? (a bat, was it?) and Naota’s father’s butt is shown in some scenes. These are just two examples of an array of jokes which are well tuned to the Japanese viewer and are probably lost on all others. Yet the core jokes of FLCL involve action and are sure to invite a huge grin onto your face, whatever way to choose to watch FLCL.

The downside to all this fun-going fare is that FLCL can at times be intellectually insulting. While episodes 1, 2 and 6 are downright masterpieces and episode 3 is entertaining I found episode 5 to be forgettable at best. Episode 4 is plain horrible. It is the most boring, cliché and messy episode of the bunch. It comes as no surprise to know that this episode is the only one directed by a different director altogether. But should you choose not to take it seriously you might find some enjoyment in it.

The new Blu-ray does a great job at presenting FLCL. The box comes with a dust jacket portraying a colorful picture of Haruko. The Blu-ray menu is minimalistic, with the text appearing as white chalk on a blackboard and blue rock music running in the background. It fits great with the more serious tones in FLCL. The scene selection option is no longer available. So if you missed that one line in the end of the episode and want to catch it again you’ll have to forward the entire episode. The music of FLCL receives a great boost and is now lossless. It feels very refined and sharp. The picture quality of FLCL has also been improved, but is still far from perfect. I happen to be the owner of the original FLCL DVDs from Broccoli International USA, so I know the original DVDs were plagued by all sorts of jagged lines, stains and movement blurs. The Blu-ray fixes some of these and improves the sharpness and overall colors admirably. You will still see jagged lines popping out from time to time, but the fact that the Blu-ray manages to limit these instances to a minimum is admirable. The video itself plays at an aspect ratio of 4:3 which will leave a big chunk of your wide HDTV screen with black bars. A widescreen option isn’t available for the Blu-ray version (as opposed to the DVD) but since FLCL was made in a 4:3 ratio to begin with it looks fine that way. Thankfully the old yellow subtitles are now white. The actual content of the subtitles is virtually unchanged, which is a good thing. The Blu-ray extras include a music video by The Pillows, some custom AMVs (created with footage, music and lyrics from the OVA), the English dub track bloopers and some FUNimation trailers. I’m happy to say that the director commentary tracks that were available on the original Broccoli International USA DVDs can also be found in the new FUNimation Blu-ray. All six episodes have these commentary tracks and they do a great job of explaining the creative process behind FLCL and shed a little light on some strange things that tend to pop up. Taken as a whole the FLCL extras are mighty good. In fact my only real grief about the Blu-ray extras is the lack of the booklets found in the original DVDs. These contained some explanations for the Japanese jokes and references, as well as reproduced the manga-inspired sequences from episodes 1 and 6. Sadly they were not included in the new release.

Overall, as a classic slapstick OVA FLCL has remained a fun experience. The picture is sharper, the sound is crystal clear and the goofy antics remain full of both foolishness and coolness. The new Blu-ray delivers in spades and is definitely the best way to enjoy this evergreen masterpiece.

 

Pros:

-          Great Music and high animation quality.

-          Still manages to be both funny and cool.

-          Blu-ray contains most of the original extra content.

 

Cons:

-          Graphical issues still plague the OVA.

-          Episodes 4 and 5 are badly made compared to the rest.

-          The Broccoli DVD booklets have been removed.

 

Final Score: 9.5/10

 

 

Product Information: FLCL Blu-ray Complete Series. Published by FUNimation Entertainment. Release Date:  February 22, 2011.

Review Equipment: Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a PlayStation 3 using an official Sony HDMI cable.


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