Considering how much the original feels like true lightning in a bottle, reviving FLCL for 2018 always looked like a dicey prospect. At its core, the 2000 series is a fairly cut-and-dry puberty allegory. But with its frenetic pacing, unexplained shifts in animation style, space robots, space pirates, intergalactic bounty hunters, and a big helping of the type of meta-humor that’s since had its edges worn off by Deadpool’s ubiquity all squeezed into a six-episode run, well….There was an excellent chance FLCL would collapse into a brightly-colored heap of self-indulgent gibberish.
That didn’t happen, and it became an all-time classic instead.
But if Adult Swim and Production I.G seem like they’re playing it a little safer so far with the relaunch, FLCL: Progressive, they’re probably making the right decision. Episode one, appropriately dubbed “RE: Start” dials down the fourth-wall-breaking, stream of consciousness elements of FLCL’s first incarnation, and tells a relatively straight-ahead story (by FLCL standards, anyway). Maybe that disappoints fans who showed up expecting to have their minds blown, but making a cool, fun anime show based in FLCL mythology sounds like a smarter move than expecting this franchise to hit the lottery more than once.
Now in his early 30s, Naota Nandaba has hopefully moved far beyond his sleepy hometown of Mabase, so FLCL: Progressive documents the adventure of a Rei Ayanami/Daria Morgendorffer hybrid named Hidomi Hibajiri. Bored senseless at school and alienated from her ostensibly well-meaning, bubbly mom, Hidomi’s haunted by dreams in which her skin rots off and she turns into a mecha robot warrior with a TV face. Y’know, typical teenager dream stuff. Nothing foreshadowing to see there, right?
Soon she’s mowed down in the street by a guitar-wielding enigma driving a vintage Chevy Bel-Air, much like Naota was by a similar stranger riding a Vespa at the onset of his story. But before intra-dimensional android threats can emerge from Hidomi’s noggin, it’s revealed her classmate Yoshimi Iide is also experiencing problems characteristic of an FLCL main character, i.e., giant monsters coming out of a portal in his head. There’s also a new Medical Mechanica plant in Mabase, and a big reveal at the end of the episode that frankly, you’re kind of stupid if you don’t see coming.
Apart from a misguided gag about one of Yoshimi’s fellow male middle schoolers wearing a skirt — which is transphobic at worst, and at best dates FLCL: Progressive by needlessly adhering to what passed for irreverent during the era of the Y2K virus — “RE: Start” indicates smooth sailing for the remaining three episodes of the season. If it doesn’t quite live up to the genre-transcending magnitude of the first FLCL, it’s a perfectly worthy entry into the series canon. As a spoilery character commands Hidomi and Yoshimi’s class at the closing, “Be as adequate as you can!” Sometimes, that actually is good advice.