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FLCL: Anime Classics Complete Series(TV) (2000-2001)
Naota is a normal Japanese 6th grade boy (although a little cynical), but when his older brother leaves for the U.S. to play baseball, his brother leaves his homeless 17 year old girlfriend Mamimi behind. Mamimi is sending mixed signals and advances to Naota, and he doesn't know what to do about her. But to make matters worse, Naota's world is totally turned upside down when he is run over by a woman on a Vespa. During their first encounter, she hits him over the head with her guitar, which then causes a horn to grow out of his forehead. She calls herself "Haruko" and her presence changes Naota's life to even further insanity.
For more about FLCL: Anime Classics Complete Series and the FLCL: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray release, see FLCL: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on February 23, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jun Mizuki, Mayumi Shintani
» See full cast & crew
FLCL: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray Review
ôNEVER KNOWS BESTö
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, February 23, 2011
There's never a shortage of outlandish productions in the world of anime, but every now and again something comes along that simply can't be described on paper. No matter how many times you try to rationalize it, dig for deeper meaning, or mold it into an end product that's easily digestible, you'll simply come away shaking your head in bewildered amazement. Such is the case with FLCL, a six-episode original video animation (OVA) series, written by Yoji Enokido (Ouran High School Host Club, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Neon Genesis Evangelion) and directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki (Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone, His and Her Circumstances). Produced as a joint project between anime studios Production I.G. and Gainax, the series is often considered one of the most memorable and highly regarded anime productions of the past decade, earning high marks for its frenetic pacing, originality, and underlying emotional themes. Now, ten years after the initial release of the series, fans have the opportunity to get their hands on a slice of anime history with FUNimation's upscaled Complete Collection on Blu-ray.
The synopsis as listed on the back cover of the Blu-ray release:
Naota is a detached sixth grader afflicted by the pangs of puberty. He's fooling around with his brother's ex-girlfriend when a crazed girl on a motor scooter runs him over, brains him with a bass guitar, and moves into his house. This pink-haired girl, Haruko ľ who claims she's an alien ľ hurls Naota into the middle of a mega-corporation's secret agenda. Oh, and now giant battling robots shoot from his skull. Mix in mind-bending animation and tunes that echo through your cerebellum to top off the trip that will have you falling hard for FLCL.
No matter how many times I took a shot at the synopsis of FLCL, I could never quite put my finger on an adequate outline. The one you just read was provided by FUNimation, and although it fails to scratch the surface of what viewers can expect during the 150 minute runtime, I feel it accurately conveys the abstract nature of the series. Those of you who've already been exposed to FLCL at some point in the prior decade will need little convincing when it comes to the sheer joy found in this series, but for all others, I'll do my best to establish the framework for what you can expect.
In order to appreciate FLCL, you should bid farewell to the part of your brain that requires conventional theory in order to make sense of something, and embrace the idea that entertainment can be found in the most abstract of ideas. Once you do that, it becomes easy to sit back and simply enjoy the outlandish nature of the series, without getting caught up on what does or doesn't make sense. Back when I was originally exposed to the series during a run on Cartoon Network, I fell prey to the notion that everything should be tied up in an organized fashion by series end, and came away feeling a little underwhelmed as a result. A short while later I gave it a second shot, and found myself enthralled by the pure, unapologetically zany nature of the show. Perhaps this turnaround was the result of more defined expectations the second time around, but I'd attribute my adoration for the series to the level of complexity on which the entire production is built. In a nutshell, FLCL isn't meant to be easily understood, and therefore can't be classified among traditional genres.
So what can you expect during the course of the six-episode run? Short of answering "You have to see it to understand it", viewers should be prepared to embark on a journey into the life of a confused 12-year-old boy, who finds himself frustratingly fascinated with two older women. This attraction becomes more complicated as the series moves forward, but subsequently plays second fiddle to strange events that start occurring around the boy's hometown. Troubled by these recent events yet unaware of his relationship to the weird phenomenon, the boy searches for meaning where there is none and emerges with a newfound appreciation for life. Given such themes, it's easy to understand why many consider FLCL to be a coming-of-age tale in the most basic sense. While I can certainly appreciate this, I feel such a description is a bit too ordinary for a film of this nature. It would be one thing if we found only heavy emotional themes like young love and tragedy infused in the plot, but when you get giant robots, guitar machine guns, alien invaders, giant baseball bombs and enough comedy to keep you in stitches from start to finish, "coming-of-age" doesn't quite cut it.
Beyond the themes and storyline of the production, one of the greatest strengths in FLCL's corner is the animation itself. Switching on a whim between traditional character designs, zany exaggerations, and hyper-kinetic action sequences, the series is a perfect example of the artistic freedom we look for in the realm of anime, and holds up surprisingly well for its age. I'll spare you a lengthy discussion of the nuances in the hand-drawn artwork, but recommend any newcomers to FLCL take the time to browse through the entire collection of twenty screenshots included with this review.
FLCL: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 28Mbps), FLCL throws the door wide open for debate over issues of quality. Considering it's been at least three years since my last viewing of the series, I can't recall whether grain and/or texturing were more prevalent in the animation, making it difficult to assess the use of digital noise reduction without an exact side-by-side comparison. What I will say is the series looks surprisingly crisp and well-defined throughout the majority of each episode, often appearing far more appealing than the customary upscale. Painted backgrounds rarely appear murky, line definition in the foreground is precise, and even the most frenetic of action sequences display a fluid level of detail. Continuing with the positives, the color palette of the series is often bold and striking, highlighting the crimson hue of Canti's metallic body, while simultaneously creating a backdrop of sickly browns or yellows in the surrounding countryside. The contrasting use of tones is effectively reproduced in each frame of the transfer, delivering what's likely the greatest gain over the DVD competition.
Now for the moment you've all been waiting for. DNR speculation aside, the new Blu-ray release demonstrates weakness in a few key areas. First and foremost, there's the issue of shimmering lines, which plagues much of the first episode, but seems to diminish as the series progresses. If you pay attention to the Manga art around the twelve minute mark of episode one, you'll notice substantial shimmering among the dot-shaded sections of the picture. Likewise, many of the panning shots that move from side to side during that episode (and found sporadically in others) show substantial line movement that quickly becomes distracting. Adding to those issues, I noticed stairstepping diagonal lines on fine character outlines (the thicker the line, the less there's a problem), and edge halos in a handful of sequences. Naturally, your sensitivity to such defects will largely dictate the degree of frustration you'll feel while witnessing the transfer, so I won't downplay the presence of such deficiencies. Instead, I'll merely provide my opinion that this is the best the series has looked thus far, and acknowledge this is the version to own at this stage in the game.
FLCL: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Similar to the visual presentation, we're dealing with dated source elements that deliver a satisfactory audio experience, but won't come close to the immersive nature of a full-surround option. Switching back and forth between the native Japanese stereo track and the English stereo dub, you'll notice a bit more disparity than we often find on anime audio mixes. In this case, the English track comes across a bit more muffled, with the dialog registering more prominently than it should in the mix. At first I simply thought this was a volume issue, but even after making some adjustments before switching back and forth, I still came away with the impression that the Japanese version is a bit more robust. Digging into the superior offering, we have adequate separation from side to side (pay attention to a bridge scene around minute 17 of the first episode as cars enter our field of vision from either side), good volume balance between various elements in the mix, and a level of clarity that leaves little reason for complaint. One of the many highlights in FLCL is the use of music throughout the series, which consists of melodic rock numbers performed by the Japanese group The Pillows. Considering the significant role music plays in the series, I anticipated a bit more strength from the soundtrack given the transition to lossless audio, but I suspect part of my disappointment is rooted in the lack of a sub channel to jazz the songs up a bit.
All in all, this is a passable audio presentation that benefits from the upgrade to lossless compression, but I'll still admit the lack of a surround option is difficult to get over.
FLCL: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
FLCL: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I expect debates over presentation quality to swell in the coming days (as more folks have a copy of the Blu-ray release in hand), and I'm certainly not the only opinion you should seek out when deciding whether or not an upgrade is worthwhile over the prior three-disc DVD set. However, based on my recollection of the prior DVD offering, and my analysis of this single-disc upscaled release, I'm willing to say this is currently the best presentation of the series to date, and the one to own if given the choice. That's not to say we have a definitive offering on our hands (with no room for improvement), but when you acknowledge the limitations in moving from native standard definition to upscaled high definition, perfection will always remain out of reach. I'd hate to see anyone pass on such a wonderful series because they're hung up on a handful of visual flaws, but I understand if the more visually-sensitive among us choose to abstain on a matter of principle.
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