When my friends first introduced me to FLCL about four years ago, their description of what we were about to watch was “a show that doesn’t make any sense until the last ten minutes of the last episode”, which is quite accurate. The show doesn’t really explain much of its context until the second half of the series, and a good portion of it at the last minute in the second half of the last episode. It also demands a second viewing, at least, before the whole thing really starts to come together.
Yet for all the complaining most people do, FLCL is really straightforward enough. Basically, it’s a show about (spoilers) a boy named Naota’s coming of age story set in the middle of an intergalactic war between an organization attempting to defend the earth from an extraterrestrial corporation named Medical Mechanica that “flattens” worlds. Medical Mechanica has somehow also captured a powerful alien named Atomsk who has the ability to instantly transport anything across the universe, who an alien named Haruko is attempting to free, apparently working for another extraterrestrial party, but by the end it is revealed that all along she only wanted to free him to gain his powers for herself. Along the way, she interferes in Naota’s life and relationships with his family and his semi-expatriate older brother’s ex-girlfriend that now he’s sort of dating, using them as pawns to progress her plan.
Like I said, straightforward enough. Obviously, there’s quite a lot of holes in there, but they can largely be accepted as things we don’t necessarily have to understand. Medical Mechanica wants to “flatten” planets in order to “remove the wrinkles” so they “can’t think”, which makes absolutely no sense, but in an acceptable, out-of-our-control kind of way. It’s beyond the realm of Naota’s knowledge, so there’s little reason for us to have to understand it either.
However, there are a number of things that happen that still make no sense whatsoever, such as:
1) Where are the robots coming out of Naota’s head coming from?
As part of her efforts in the war against Medical Mechanica, Haruko takes advantage of Naota’s N.O., which is his previously unknown ability to instantaneously transport objects across space through his head.
Most of what comes out of Naota’s head after Haruko opens it up as an N.O. channel are Medical Mechanica robots. Except who’s sending them?
It’s sort of implied that Haruko is pulling the robots out of Naota’s head, but this only accounts for a small number of instances. Most of the time robots are just kind of popping out of his head whenever they want to.
So who’s sending them? Is Medical Mechanica sending their robots through Naota’s head to try to kill off the person who opened up the N.O. channel, because then that seems like an incredibly poor tactical decision on Haruko’s part, especially since many of the robots that come through are integral to the progression of Medical Mechanica’s plans, not hers. It would seem, then, that Haruko has quite a bit of explaining to do, or at least she would, if it wasn’t for this other thing that doesn’t make sense…
2) Who is Haruko talking to?
Throughout the series, Haruko appears to be using cats to communicate with her authorities. Fair enough.
But what about by the end of the series, where we learn that she’s not actually taking anybody’s orders? Is she only pretending to work for some organization and betrays them at the last minute, never having intended to help them at all? There seems to be little incentive for her to do this, since she’s still free to do whatever she wants after revealing her true colors. So is she just making up halves of conversations to mess with Naota?
And speaking of messing with Naota…
3) Why does Amarao let Naota do whatever he wants?
Amarao is the man who represents the earth corporation trying to stop Medical Mechanica, although it would seem that they’re incredibly bad at doing so, since they let them build a factory there and allowed a young boy who they knew was key to either sides success just kind of do whatever he wanted.
Now, obviously the reason for this works metaphorically, since the story is primarily about Naota coming of age and trying to learn how to be an adult, but this explanation would have to look pretty bad at Amarao’s performance review when they ask him why the earth was almost destroyed.
So far, it’s basically a show where everybody has very clear objectives that they’re absolutely terrible at following. Although it could be argued that Haruko intentionally draws out the Medical Mechanica robots (which, to remind you, are trying to kill her and everybody else) to activate the factory in order to free Atomsk. But in that case…
4) Why doesn’t Medical Mechanica just release the robots themselves?
At the beginning of the show, Medical Mechanica has already put something on earth that does the flattening, but nothing that actually activates it. The thing that activates it is in multiple parts, and only arrives on earth when Haruko, their possibly insane enemy, brings them there herself.
So Medical Mechanica, the only entity that’s a clear enemy throughout the entire series, seems completely uninterested in actually following through doing anything bad. They literally have everything they need to take over or destroy the planet or whatever it is that they want to do, but apparently can’t be bothered to actually do it themselves. But at least they’re just apathetic, whereas, once again, Haruko just makes terrible life choices…
5) Why does Haruko train Naota to defeat her?
Haruko makes a number of baffling tactical decisions throughout FLCL, such as how in the middle of her grand plan to trick Medical Mechanica into putting Atomsk in a position where he can be freed, she more or less just decides “fuck it, I’ll just blow everything up instead”.
She (apparently) changes her mind at the last minute, however, when she realizes that the timid Naota actually ballsed up enough to save the town from the bomb, and goes back to help him finish the job. Now, of course, it’s entirely possible that this was her plan all along, but why?
There’s absolutely no reason for her to make Naota stronger. In fact, there are many fantastic reasons to not make him stronger, primarily so that he doesn’t undo her entire plan when she puts the success of the whole thing in his hands. So why spend the entire series intentionally putting him in situations that offer valuable opportunities for personal growth?
So not only is Haruko insane, but her clever plans to screw everybody over also completely lack any sort of logic. And as long as we’re addressing characters with little to offer but insanity…
6) What does Mamimi’s cigarette mean?
This is kind of right on the border between things that don’t make sense that don’t need to make sense and things that don’t make sense and actually make it difficult to understand what’s going on in the show. On the one hand, pretty much everything Mamimi does is just to showcase her insanity. While Haruko is a wild and dangerous insanity, Mamimi’s is a broken and self-destructive one, and easily makes her the most heartbreaking character in the show. When Naota asks her how much she likes his brother and her response is “watermelon” and then a series of other things that have absolutely nothing to do with how a sane person would describe emotions, that’s totally okay. But the writing on her cigarette towards the end of the first episode is just baffling.
Oh my god, if I could have any one question about FLCL answered, it would be what the hell does this mean? It’s different than anything else Mamimi says that doesn’t make sense, because this is just so damn enigmatic.
Is it only part of a sentence? Was there a word that has since burned away that never knew best? Is it a complete sentence? Does the concept of “never” somehow know best? How? To me, this one image flirts with profundity is almost better than the way the entire show does.