I am… not a fan of the original FLCL, unlike my girlfriend whose video comparing these two you can check out after this for a different perspective. No, it’s never done anything for me. Back when I first watched it at 15, it was simply a mess, so confused in its direction that it failed to reach me on any level. It wouldn’t be hard to chalk my inability to understand its appeal up to a simple lack of maturity — though the sheer amount of other young people it connected to immediately puts that belief in doubt — if not for the fact that I had watched and loved Evangelion’s finale months earlier. No, I got it just fine. As I said, it simply didn’t do anything for me and at that stage, where I truly couldn’t understand and appreciate the intricacies of animation, there was nothing of substance in it from my point-of-view.
What does this have to do with Progressive? Well, and I’m surprised to be saying this, I like it. Quite a bit, actually, easily more than the original. I would not hesitate to say that this series is a significant step up over its source and I’m likely to think the same of Alternative given what we got out of the first episode. It’s easy for me to acknowledge that the initial series is notably superior when evaluated by most technical criteria, so what is it that makes me so disinterested in it? What drives me to prefer the works that most people see as pale imitations at best, offensive cash grabs at worst? And why do I feel so little for FLCL when the other works of its creator are so dear to me? To get to the bottom of these questions, we’ve got to start with my initial viewing of the pivotal OVA.
I think it’s important to understand what kind of person I was at the age of 15, because otherwise, my mindset when I first watched the show is utterly impenetrable. To any observer at the time — yours truly included — I was a relatively normal teenage boy, a bit nerdy and awkward but capable of making friends. I didn’t know exactly where I was going in life, like most at that point but I wasn’t worrying so much that I lost any sleep over it.
However, unbeknownst to both myself and others, I was not, in fact, a boy. And while this didn’t have a direct and apparent effect on how I perceived the wider world, it has, in retrospect, explained a lot in regards to how I felt about certain media. This shows up for many works I watched at the time but it’s no clearer than in male-centric coming-of-age stories. The reason FLCL and shows like it remain so popular with the audience they connect to is their seemingly-universal appeal to young adolescents. But works like this are oh so often aimed at adolescent boys, focused on male puberty, the path men should take in life, how masculinity should be dealt with. And that’s fine, everyone needs art that can speak to them about that stuff. But it was without a doubt not something that was made for me, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
FLCL exemplifies this better than any similar series. On a purely technical level, it does an absolutely excellent job at fleshing out Naota’s particular situation, crafting a person who’s general enough for most to relate while specific enough that there’s more there, an actual character from amongst the traits. Naota’s adolescence and puberty are superbly portrayed, allowing the viewer to feel much of what he feels. But there’s nothing I want less, now and especially back then. For Naota and many of those who love the show, this adolescence is difficult to deal with but ultimately a positive step. Going through my teenage years “as a boy” was not that for me. Male puberty has not been helpful in the slightest sense of the word, it’s the reason I so often get referred to as “he” by the comments, the reason I’m often afraid to use the bathroom in public. At the point I’m at now, watching FLCL is just a slightly sad reminder of what I went through. At the time I first saw the show, it was off-putting on an almost intrinsic level, forcing me to examine how I felt. And yeah, trying to understand your emotions is important, but a show can hit too deep. FLCL didn’t make me go “wow, I need to reconsider myself”. It was just fucking painful. Naota reflected me in a number of ways, sure, but he didn’t represent me in any positive sense. He embodied a me that dealt with the encroaching maleness with acceptance — no matter how hard-fought — not with an upset resignation. While I may not have truly gotten why at that point, nothing could have been more disgusting.
So, I simply could not come to like Naota, and as a result, I couldn’t come to like the rest of the show all that much. Haruko and Mamimi are primarily seen through Naota’s eyes, the eyes of a young straight boy, something I absolutely did not want to be. They’re interesting characters who can be quite fun, for sure, but their struggles were unable to grab me because they were far too bound up with Naota’s, conflicting goals aside. Ninamori, standing more disconnected from the broader narrative, served as the only character I could truly latch onto. I needed a girl’s perspective, or at the very least one that felt less strongly gendered, and her episode was the little I got of that in the whole show. Yeah, Mamimi is growing up too, but her situation is entirely too dissimilar from mine for me to relate to it at all.
The humor, much like the characters, did squat for me. While some of the gags are certainly funny and inventive, lol-so-random humor is not exactly my cup of tea; and yes, it is lol-so-random, perhaps a well-done version of that style but it’s hard to deny that the series relies on its jokes being totally out-of-left-field, if elevated by the admittedly superb visual and vocal direction. At this point in my otaku escapades, I was hardly attuned to the actual animation of the anime I was watching, so every element of the series fell flat.
Of course, coming-of-age stories do not universally fail to make me emote. Diebuster comes from the same mind and is all about growing up and yet it clearly centers a female — and dare I say queer — perspective in its storytelling. Similarly, Flip Flappers focuses on how it feels to decide what path you’ll take in life as a closeted queer girl with so much pressure pushing you to hide your true self. These works reflect a part of myself that doesn’t disturb me, spinning tales about characters who I don’t feel sick to look at and as a result, they mean a lot.
Which is really what makes FLCL not my thing. Watching it, now and then, forces me to bring to mind my own adolescence, particularly the worst parts of it. And if you’ve watched my Lain video, you’ll know that isn’t exactly a pretty picture. Hell, writing this script is enough to make me tear up because, well over a year into HRT, it’s become clearer than ever how truly miserable I was “as a guy”. Just, fuck.
Of course, not every coming-of-age series starring a boy was as hard for me to enjoy as FLCL but in specifically focusing on the heterosexual aspects of that experience, it could only ever be unappealing. Yeah, I liked girls but not like that. Nowadays, I can appreciate that it’s one of the best-looking anime I’ve ever seen. But that raw experience doesn’t change, even if it’s less immediately painful nowadays, so I can’t see myself ever coming to love it. FLCL seems to work best for those who encountered it at the right time, so it’s no shock that I can’t enjoy it as someone who encountered it at the wrong time.
Given that, it really shouldn’t be hard to see how I prefer Progressive. Yeah, it’s not as inventive and outstanding visually, but it’s certainly a step above the average show I watch. Yeah, its themes aren’t as brilliantly portrayed but do they have to be? Better to see well-done material that I can actually enjoy than perfectly-done material which feels grating to my very core. Yeah, it relies too heavily on its predecessor, but I never called the show perfect. Progressive isn’t an amazing anime by any stretch of the imagination but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be a good one.
For those who loved the original, complaints are more than understandable. I’d go so far as to say that I’d be shocked if someone were to prefer Progressive or Alternative while still considering the first work important to them. But to me, merely by focusing on a girl, it’s able to be far more than the original ever was. I didn’t end up saying all that much about the show in question but I hope I’ve made it clear how someone could prefer it. Not everyone grows up as an adolescent boy and some who did were not fans of the experience and that, simply, is why I like FLCL Progressive more than the original.
One thought on “[Script] Why I Like FLCL: Progressive More Than the Original”
I, too, was once an adolescent boy. I had different issues. While I didn’t long to be female, to this day an anime that reminds me of that time can leave me weeping, especially if they get the happy ending I never did. And my adolescence was a long, long time ago.
Kimi no Todoke is an example. I identify with Sawako as an Asperger personality type. Her gender and sexual alignment were irrelevant. If her character had been a gay boy or girl, it would have been just as powerful as a straight boy or girl or a trans boy or girl. Being friendless and having no self-esteem for reasons beyond your control is always sad, no matter who you are.
I think everyone has an issue that resonates inside more than any other.