Naota Nandaba is a disaffected 12 year old who lives in the rural city of Mabase with his widowed father Kamon and grandfather Shigekumi. Although he has some acquaintances his own age, Naota spends most of his time hanging out with 17 year old Mamimi Samejima, the ex-girlfriend of his older brother Tasuku, who has left for America to play baseball. One day, Naota is hit by a vespa being recklessly driven by a young woman named Haruko Haruhara; Haruko revives Naota, only to strike him a painful blow to the head with her Rickenbacker 4001 bass guitar. Subsequently, Naota is horrified to discover that Kamon has taken on Haruko as a housemaid – although he obviously has lustful designs on her – and that the blow to the head has caused Naota to develop a strange, horn-like hump. From this lump emerges a robot named Canti, whom Haruko subdues with a blow to its head with the guitar; this reduces Canti to the status of a docile domestic servant. Haruko tells Naota that she is an alien in the service of the Galactic Space Police, and that she is on earth to battle a sinister organisation called Medical Mechanica – the very same Medical Mechanica whose strange, iron-shaped factory dominates Mabase’s skyline. Robots continue to emerge periodically from Naota’s head – whom Canti battles by temporarily consuming Naota in order to turn into a powerful fighting machine – and his life is further complicated by the arrival of Commander Amarao, who claims to be from the Interstellar Immigration Bureau, and who insists that Haruko is a criminal seeking to gain control of a time-manipulating being called Atomsk. Events gradually build to a climax with the sinister Medical Mechanica lurking in the background, until Naota has to decide whether he believes Haruko – with whom he has a love/hate relationship – or Commander Amarao, and the fate of the earth hinges on his very young shoulders…

An original video animation co-produced by studios Gainax and Production I.G., along with music company King Records, FLCL originally appeared on Japanese television between April 2000 and March 2001. Renowned for its anarchic narrative style and surrealist aesthetic, the series was also noted for the soundtrack by iconic Japanese indie rock band The Pillows. There’s not a lot that makes sense in FLCL, and following the plot – such as it is – may take more than one viewing over the series’ 6 half hour or so episodes. However, the anarchism is also emblematic of the confusions and makes-no-sense reality of a tween-aged boy trying to come to terms with his dysfunctional family, his emotional awakening, and the dislocation that often comes with the transition from childhood to teenagerhood and, eventually, adulthood. This is especially the case when the adults don’t seem to be much to be either inspired by or to emulate; and the competing demands placed on Naota by Haruko and Amarao especially are indicative of the pull of different directions and divided loyalties which make this an especially confusing time of life. Brash and unapologetically in-your-face, FLCL has become iconic in anime history not least because of its capacity to confound audiences and defy description; but beneath its manic exterior there is a solid coming-of-age story. Two sequel series – FLCL Progressive and FLCL Alternative – co-produced by Production I.G., Toho and Adult Swim premiered in 2018, while two further series – FLCL: Grunge and FLCL: Shoegaze – are reportedly scheduled for a 2023 release.

Text © Brendan E Byrne 2023. All rights reserved.