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‘FLCL Alternative’ is Different Where it Counts

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Nearly two decades later, FLCL Alternative steps out of its predecessor’s shadow to tell a story of friendship, sadness, and saying goodbye.

The original FLCL holds an almost sacred place within peoples’ memories. First airing stateside in 2003, FLCL came at a crystallizing time in many adolescent lives. Its outlandish style, punchy soundtrack, and heartfelt story continue to enthrall audiences. Naota Nandaba, the broody 12-year-old protagonist, embodied a unique mixture of hormones and suburban ennui. His story resonated with kids who felt trapped in their lives, eager to see what lay beyond the fog of their hometown. Alternative moves forward to focus on the twilight years of childhood and how we come to terms with leaving it behind.

“Every day just drifts off into an orange light. It’s too bright for my migraine or my eyes that are swollen from crying all night… but familiarity can be a novelty. So, even if tomorrow is just a gathering of yesterdays, cracked and tangled, like my favorite nail art and worn out loafers… in this city – I. Will.” – Kana Koumoto

Can you remember every specific detail of your high school life? The streets you and your friends walked at night, spending more time than money. Is every pavement crack or every streetlight ingrained into your memory?

No, of course not. Yet you remember the feeling. The rise of the concrete, the yellow glow of the lamps, the energy that all of you carried into the night. It’s a feeling that’s stuck with you. It’s a feeling that you can recall vividly but never quite see with any clarity. Now just memories, but back then they were everything.

Time moved on and so did you. One of the best lessons we learn in life is to not let our past define us, but allow it to give us strength all the same. FLCL Alternative wholeheartedly abides by that philosophy.

Ride on Shooting Star

The story follows 17-year-old Kana Koumoto, an average everyday student content with her average everyday life. She goes to school, hangs out with her friends, and does all the things a teenager should. Why change anything?

Alternative tells a fairly straightforward narrative in six episodes. The first half opts for a traditional slice-of-life approach and centers around Kana and her three friends. The second half focuses more on Kana herself and how she comes to terms with her rapidly changing life. The season as a whole establishes a clear theme of not just “growing up”, but learning how to do so.

This third season follows on the heels of the second FLCL series, titled FLCL Progressive. While praised for easing fans back into the franchise, Progressive nonetheless suffered from a number of issues. Chief among them was the deliberate obtuseness behind the narrative.

The second season focused on expanding the existing world of FLCL. A somewhat puzzling endeavor, since that puts the cart before the horse. The absolutely bonkers lore of Medical Mechanica, N.O. powers, and giant space pirate birds is definitely fun, but should ultimately function as vehicles for the characters. All of that lore still exists in Alternative, but it plays a far smaller role.

I Think I Can

Lying at the heart and soul of season three is the friendship between Kana, Pets, Hijiri, and Mossan. They bring such a warm sincerity to the show that pops from the screen and truly convinces you these characters are close. Silly idiosyncrasies like lazing around on each others’ bodies or goofing off in gym class tell you so much with so little.

Making her third appearance in the franchise, Haruko Haruhara returns to the world of FLCL in a flash of sexy, snarky thunder. Unlike her previous iterations, Haruko in Alternative acts far more reserved and mellow. This works to surprising effect as a foil to the mild-mannered Kana.

Where previous protagonists Naota and Hidomi were hotheaded and demure, respectively, Kana is perfectly level and cheery. Much of her internal conflict lies in her coming to terms with adulthood. Haruko’s almost mentorly presence helps to ease that transition. She’s not as aggressive as she was with the other FLCL protagonists, but her smarmy teasing shows up now and then.

Haruko’s presence highlights everything that’s weird and wacky with FLCL. Her ultimate goal is to fight back against Medical Mechanica’s attack on Earth. In order to do so, she calls upon Kana for help. Deep within her lies a powerful potential, something inherently tied to her maturity. Haruko’s role as Kana’s mentor is to help her foster that energy and use it to beat back the aliens who want to iron out our planet.

In spite of that outlandish premise, Alternative’s focus on its characters keeps the story grounded. Kana’s rapidly changing life mirrors the impending attack of Medical Mechanica. The two reach their climax in a powerful final episode, where Kana draws strength from her love for her friends.

That campy conflict works perfectly because Alternative consistently puts the characters first and foremost. While the show weaves metaphors and themes into its narrative, its focus on the cast prevents it from being pretentious. It doesn’t wax philosophic towards some vague notion of adolescence (like Progressive did). Alternative attaches these strong themes to an equally strong cast. In just six episodes, the audience comes to care for its characters such that we believe not only in Kana, but her feelings too.

Crazy Sunshine

Alternative’s animation is rather tame compared to the two seasons prior, but it still carries that signature FLCL flair. The first and second season have a bouncy quality that utilizes cartoon logic. Uzis materialize and shoot endless streams of bullets, while headphones drill into a 14-year-old’s skull. The stylized animation kicks reason to the curb to hilarious effect.

That doesn’t happen so much in Alternative. Even with its share of monster fights and comedic asides, these visually dynamic sequences don’t always mesh with the slower paced slice-of-life tone. However, given the context of a heavily character-driven season, that works out well enough.

When the show does break out its big visuals, they act as emotionally crystallizing moments for Kana. This dichotomy between action and slice-of-life may not give the most dynamically interesting animation, but it plays perfectly towards Alternatives broader themes. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the gorgeous ED.

The Pillows have a somewhat muted presence this season, but they come out swinging full force for Alternative’s ED. The band delivers an energetically wistful performance with “Star Overhead”. A thumping drumbeat carries forward dreamy vocals and bright guitars as the singer recalls memories from his past. It’s the perfect bookend to a series like Alternative, made even more effective with the visuals.

In a nod to the original FLCL’s ED, Alternative’s features a paper cutout of Kana moving in stop-motion through various parts of town. Unlike Progressive’s ED, Alternative’s doesn’t make any attempt at shoehorning in explanations for the “lore”. This ED is all about Kana.

Star Overhead

Like Naota before her, Kana is so familiar it’s painful. She reminds us of days gone by, lost in the twilight of youth. Days that we didn’t realized we’d miss until they were gone. Through the vehicle of cute anime girls, frenetic action, and offbeat dialogue, Alternative embodies that exodus into adulthood.

In so many ways, Alternative takes after the original, but never does it rely on that connection as a crutch. It explores themes and ideas intimately tied to FLCL but from a different viewpoint. Adolescence covers a broad spectrum of youth, and all three seasons aim to capture their essences.

Alternative puts Kana Koumoto at the cusp of adulthood. Unlike Naota or Hidomi, she’s far from eager to race forward into the unknown. It terrifies her. Most terrifying of all is how her life and friends are changing. That fear holds us back, a silent pain within our hearts. It’s the pain of knowing you’ll never have a day at the beach together again. That life is splitting you all off in different directions. That you have to say goodbye.

Kana opines that “familiarity can be a novelty”, and there’s truth to that. Familiarity offers a routine sense of joy, comfort, and belonging. It’s dangerous, though. The bonds that tie us together are the same ones that hold us back. We can’t think to move forward if we’re too focused on the past. So we cut ourselves loose, gritting our teeth against the pain.

But that’s part of growing up, isn’t it?

Kyle grew up with a controller in one hand and a book in the other. He would've put something else in a third hand, but science isn't quite there yet. In the meantime, he makes do with watching things like television, film, and anime. He can be found posting ramblings on liketherogue.tumblr.com or trying to hop on the social media bandwagon @LikeTheRogue

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Izzu

    May 30, 2019 at 11:24 pm

    this is a good commentary on alternative which i enjoyed more than prog ( i refuse to call prog canon). The only gripe I had about alternative is that the show really could have been carried a notch higher with more from the Pillows’ amazing song collection many still unused in FLCL, and made sleeker with better animation. Ultimately, its still a good show!

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Anime Ichiban 24: Forecasting the Anime Awards

Matt and Kyle have some fresh hottakes on Makoto Shinkai’s newest film, Weathering With You.

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Weathering With you

Matt and Kyle have some fresh hottakes on Makoto Shinkai’s newest film, Weathering With You. The Crunchyroll Anime Awards are also a thing happening which means it’s time for the crew to demonstrate once again how off their tastes are.

TIMESTAMPS

13:41 – Satoshi Konposthumously honored
18:14 – TRIGGER’s Brand New Animal project
28:20 – Netflix adds the entire Ghibli library to their catalog!… in some places
31-37 – Weathering With You impressions and thoughts
1:02:33 – Crunchyroll Anime Award Predictions
1:38:36 – Closing remarks

TRACKS

Intro – “Kiss Me” by Vo.Nai BrXX&Celeina Ann (Carole & Tuesday opening theme)
Outro – “Drown” by milet (Vinland Saga ending theme 2)

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‘Weathering With You’ Isn’t Quite the Storm It Wanted to Be

Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You delivers a gorgeous film that doesn’t quite resonate as much as it wanted to.

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Weathering With You Hina

Climate change and global warming have been topics of concern and discussion for years now, with melting ice caps and rising ocean temperatures being some of many signs. Director Makoto Shinkai — acclaimed the world over for his 2016 work Your Name — aims to show just how at the mercy humans are to the weather with his newest animated film, Weathering With You. Although he presents a visually stunning depiction of Mother Nature in all her various moods, Weathering With You ultimately lacks the storming power it seeks to bear upon its audience.

Tokyo has been having a particularly rainy year, seeing precipitation almost every day and nary a sight of the sun or clear blue skies. It’s during this unusual time that high school boy Hodaka arrives in the metropolis seeking escape from the suffocating life he had on his island. The young teenager naturally has trouble finding his bearings on his own in the oftentimes unforgiving hustle and bustle of the city. It’s in these early scenes that Weathering With You has some of its strongest moments, depicting the uglier side of Japanese society not often seen in anime, while also highlighting Hodaka’s strength of character to make it on his own. 

Weathering With You Hodaka and Hina

As Hodaka gradually carves out his own place in the city, he eventually has an encounter with a young girl named Hina. Matching her sunny and cheerful disposition, Hina has the ability to make it stop raining and have the sunshine in very localized spots by praying to the sky. In a place where the rain never ceases, it’s easy to see why Hodaka latches onto Hina to use for the greater good (while also making a little pocket change along the way).

“The hand-drawn rain is downright mesmerizing in all its forms — fierce and calm — while the sunshine that follows seems to hang in the air caught by the leftover humidity.”

Gloomy skies and damp grounds can take their toll on one’s mood and psyche, which someone who lives in such a climate can surely relate to. Even the briefest moments of sunshine revitalize us and give a glimpse of the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Hodaka and Hina’s “100% Sunshine Girl” services to those in need of that light boldly underscore that fact, and make for a strong argument for how the weather affects us all beyond its objective physicality, along with providing some much-appreciated levity to the story. 

That power of weather is beautifully illustrated by CoMix Wave Films’ stupendous animation efforts. The hand-drawn rain is downright mesmerizing in all its forms — fierce and calm — while the sunshine that follows seems to hang in the air, caught by the leftover humidity. Tokyo itself isn’t to be outdone either, with its streets running the gamut between peaceful neighborhoods to grimy and dark back alleys with dilapidated buildings. The animation is punctuated by the return of Japanese band RADWIMPS, who create numerous memorable tracks to complement the wild swings in mood that weather can elicit.

That makes it all the more unfortunate, however, that the greater narrative is so weak.

The progression of Weathering With You is made painfully obvious right from the outset of the story — so much so that it’s hard to wonder if it’s actually the set-up for a bait-and-switch. As a result, much of the first half of the film is simply waiting for the other shoe to drop, making it difficult to really settle in and become intimate with its characters. 

Weathering With you Hodaka and Hina

This would be less of an issue if the cast had smaller interactions that were a delight to watch, but they fall short in that regard as well. All of the characters have a charm to them for sure — with Hina’s younger elementary school brother, Nagi, putting modern playboys to shame being a particular standout — but the story never quite makes a compelling case as to why they are as close as they are, especially Hina and Hodaka. They’re fun enough to watch be together, but don’t quite make that emotional attachment with the viewer that the story wants to create.

That lack of an emotional connection is distinctly felt in Weathering With You’s second act, when unnecessary confrontations and bizarre plot directions converge to create an artificial sense of stakes amidst a central conflict that would have been fine on its own. What’s meant to strengthen the impression of the characters’ bonds instead cheapens it, undermining the already faulty progress the first half did make. The result is a narrative that’s hard to care about, although its ending does leave the viewer with some potentially interesting questions to ponder.

Weathering With You is far from a bad movie, however. It has a clear direction and vision with a message to say about our climate crisis. The characters are endearing enough, and there are a handful of heartfelt scenes because of that. It also cannot be understated just how drop-dead gorgeous the animation is. The story, however, is simply too straightforward for its own good, resulting in an experience that is at times enjoyable, and at others plain boring.

And that’s only when being judged in a vacuum on the movie’s own merits. When compared to Shinkai’s recent masterpiece that is Your Name, it’s hard to see Weathering With You as anything but a disappointing follow-up. That’s perhaps the film’s greatest weakness, but fortunately, it’s one that Shinkai’s next work won’t have, and we can still look forward to it because of that fact.

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How Rimuru Tempest Changed the Game for Isekai Protagonists

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime shines within the vast sea of generic isekai thanks in no small part to protagonist Rimuru Tempest.

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that time i got reincarnated as a slime

The core premise of the isekai genre–a character being transported from their everyday life on Earth to a parallel universe–has become wildly popular for a reason: it’s an immensely appealing fantasy. Just as audiences everywhere fell in love with the seminal Spirited Away in the early 2000s, it’s still exciting to fantasize about discovering a new world and going on all manner of crazy adventures. However, the incessant flood of new isekai every season to capitalize on this trend has resulted in some of the most generic, overly-manufactured protagonists in any genre.

Though this sea of formulaic main characters is vast, it makes it all the easier to recognize when one bucks the typical conventions and actually proves that there’s room for unique takes on the genre. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime adheres to a few cliches, but it also manages to set a new bar for what a captivating isekai protagonist can be.

Rimuru in That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

Breaking the Mold

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is as wholesome and optimistic an anime as they come. The tone can be deceptive at first; when Satoru Mikami is suddenly stabbed when trying to protect his junior, his dying wish is for his computer’s hard drive to be destroyed. But after being reincarnated as a slime–and gaining the new name Rimuru Tempest–his true desires become clear: world peace and a simple, comfortable life with friends.

What’s immediately striking about Rimuru as the main character is that he starts off as an average 37-year-old man. He spent his life working hard and appeasing his higher-ups to climb the corporate ladder. Shady hard drive aside, he lived a respectable and long life compared to the vast majority of protagonists in the genre. This significant age difference is evident in nearly every action and major decision Rimuru makes; he looks at situations practically before jumping headfirst into conflict.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

When Rimuru gets a drink poured on him by a noble in a bar, for instance, he quells his anger in consideration of the bar and the friends around him. When someone asks for his aid in an impending battle, he pauses to go over all the available information and reaches a consensus among everyone before agreeing. And when protecting a goblin village from a pack of wolves, he doesn’t just mindlessly slaughter all the wolves; he looks for the way of least resistance (killing the leader of the pack) before ultimately integrating them with the goblins as equals. Though his human form looks young, it’s the wisdom behind his actions that makes those around him respect his leadership.

This is especially impressive considering just how overpowered Rimuru is. His transformation into a slime came with resistances to fire, cold, electric currents, pain, paralysis, and the ability to absorb, analyze, and take the form of anything he wants. In other words, he could go down the path of the typical shounen protagonist and solve his problems with his fists, but he never lets his overwhelming power dictate his decision-making process.

Rimuru meeting with his commanders.

Leading a Nation

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is as much about Rimuru’s adventures as it is about the rise of the independent monster nation he helps establish. Instead of running off in search of adventure, the little slime decides to nurture the goblin village he protected at the outset. He helps the goblins and wolves “level up” by naming them, shows them sustainable ways to gather food and build makeshift defenses, and even brings back dwarves to introduce blacksmithing and carpentry.

Through expansion, industrialization, and conflict, Rimuru manages to orchestrate the creation of his country in a way that’s genuinely believable. His ambitions for a peaceful and integrated world play out in his willingness to accept other goblin tribes, ogres, lizardmen, and even friendly humans in his country. Being able to rationally read situations makes forging alliances and negotiating with neighboring nations possible. When a major calamity threatens all life in the forest, Rimuru wastes no time in holding a summit and allying with other forest dwellers over a common interest.

None of this would be possible without the uncanny, Luffy-like ability to inspire a sense of trust and reliability in those he comes across. Just like the members of the Straw Hat Pirates follow Luffy out of respect and loyalty, Rimuru’s commanders follow him because of his sound judgment and dedication to seeing everyone in his nation be happy. It’s satisfying seeing members of Rimuru’s guard take personal offense when others talk poorly of him because it’s clear that he’s earned the respect he’s given.

If isekai is to continue growing in popularity and thriving long-term, room must be made for different types of protagonists. Be they depraved, refreshingly honest characters like Kazuma or upstanding yet easygoing leaders like Rimuru, both demonstrate how valuable it is to shake up the formula and try new approaches to the genre. If the constant barrage of isekai has bittered your tolerance to it as a whole, That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime is well worth giving a shot.

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