Now that we’ve reached the end, it’s time to look back and smooth out the plot of the series, Medical Mechanica-style. We’ve already established that major theme of FLCL is Naota’s passage into maturity, but with the story ending, it’s time to answer the age-old question: What’s the deal with the giant robot hands and the iron and the TV-faced thing and the crazy girl from outer space? Commander Amarao, who works in the exposition business on the side, clarifies some of the story, although it is always important to note that his perspective, like that of any character in this story, is limited.
Let’s start with the Pirate Lord Atomsk, whose N.O. channel is so powerful that he can steal entire star systems. We only see him once in this story, where he appears as a great phoenix-like bird of prey bursting from Naota’s head. Amarao has previously pictured him as a naked, striped, Jack Kirby-style space-dude, but Amarao was blinded by jealousy. Long before the story began, Medical Mechanica, an intergalactic corporation (or something like that) captured Atomsk and has been using his N.O. channel to power its hand-bots. (Yes, I just wrote that sentence.) Medical Mechanica’s mission is to use their giant irons to smooth out planets and, through some dream-logic corollary, the minds of the people living on them. This is clearly a classic metaphor of conformity versus individualism, and it more or less sums up the sci-fi backstory.
Haruko, who was possibly telling the truth about her role as a First-Class Space Patrol Officer, is on a mission to capture and consume Atomsk, unless, as the show also suggests, her mission is personal. There’s a little joke here about how the super-evolved space alien (who is constantly shown picking her nose) believes that consuming her prey will give her Atomsk’s powers, but maybe that’s how it works in the space-opera side of FLCL. She seems entirely indifferent to Medical Mechanica’s domination and destruction of worlds, although her plan seems to involve using Naota’s powerful N.O. channel to create a situation where Atomsk can pull himself free of his captor’s grasp. However, Haruko’s plan worked better than she expected, and she messed it up herself. Canti, one of the first two robots to emerge from Naota’s head, contains Atomsk when he is red. If Haruko had not immediately smacked him with her bass and broken his head, she could have captured Atomsk in the first episode. Of course, then we wouldn’t have a story. Unfortunately, with his head broken, Canti needs Naota’s N.O. channel to cause Atomsk to materialize inside him. This is speculation, but we can assume that when Haruko and Canti ran away together at the end of “Brittle Bullet,” she intended to extract Atomsk from Canti, but could not figure it out in time. When Canti was unable to continue manifesting Atomsk without Naota’s help, she returned, telling Naota that his head is the only one that works.
Her delivery makes this statement seem tender, but it’s actually a rather cold manipulation of a child whom she means to use as a tool in a plan that might destroy his world. The child, however, has been becoming a more mature and wiser human being over the course of this story. This is more than a matter of going through puberty and becoming an adult. Naota, precociously jaded, becomes wise enough by the end to accept that he is still somewhat of a child. He can admit his feelings to Haruko and have it mean something, even if their backgrounds are too different for those feelings to go anywhere. It wakes her, however, to some of the consequences of her actions, and instead of dragging Naota off with her, she leaves without him, telling him that he’s just a kid. When she left Amarao, it was almost certainly without any hint of concern for his welfare.
Naota’s journey toward wisdom has separated him from Mamimi for good, which sets into motion the events of this episode. Without him, she has nobody. Even her kitten Ta-kun has found another cat to play with. Her loneliness is so obvious that Amarao notices it and suggests that Naota show her kindness, but Naota is too wrapped up in his own sadness at the moment. Without any other pet—and part of Naota’s problem with her is that she treated him like a pet—she is extremely susceptible to the playful little terminal core. The fact that she can use it to exact her revenge on the town is only gravy to her, although it should be noted that her vengeance leaves her haggard and exhausted even before the terminal core tries to destroy the planet. Although she and Naota do not exchange words during this episode, he mentions at the end that she spoke to him before she left town to become a photographer.
Naota’s journey reaches its climax when Haruko feeds him to the terminal core, which has already absorbed Canti. She expects Red Canti to emerge, giving her Atomsk once and for all, but instead Naota climbs out, the band-aid on his forehead peeling away to show a red, glowing Atomsk/adult symbol, carrying both his Flying V and Atomsk’s EB-0. Haruko is enraged that he has absorbed Atomsk’s energy and proceeds to fight him, although she is no match for the red, glowy guy who merges his two guitars into a double-neck that combines elements of both. Instead of striking her down, though, Naota professes his love for her and frees Atomsk. That’s maturity: choosing his life over power, being man enough to let the woman he loves go without a fight, and accepting himself for who he is.
- Another little pun with the terminal core being intended to terminate the people of Earth. Or, at least, their minds.
- I didn’t mention Kamon, but there are two points that are significant: 1) in the manga section, he is devastated when Naota tells him that he isn’t cool and 2) when Miyaji visits his house out of concern for Naota, Kamon can only rattle on about an incident where he let a hamster starve to death in sixth grade, dismissing his son’s abduction by the insane oversexed housekeeper as “enjoying his freedom.” He is truly a shitty dad.
- First Amarao has a conversation with Kitsurubami about the obviousness of a hand grabbing the iron, then Amarao sits next to her in a car, obsessively squeezing a little red stress ball in his lap, which certainly looks like, well, that he’s obsessively squeezing something else. Speaking of obvious! As I was!
- “Vacation alienation Japanimation manga conga Naked Lunch Hawaiian Punch Fruit Juicy—It’s Not Funny!”
- I have to confess that the scene where Ninamori finds Naota and Haruko asleep on the bench is one of my favorites in the whole series. It is wordless and full of messy ambiguity. Here is her crush, who has run away from home with an older girl some days before, sleeping in public on a park bench. Ninamori, a rich girl, must be a little horrified by this, but she has also shown quite a bit of empathy for Naota, suggesting that if he talk about his feelings, he will feel better. Her face is blank when she looks at them, but the series has made it clear that Ninamori has a complex mind, and the way that the camera focuses on her suggests any number of emotions behind those eyes. The facade drops for a second to show something flash across her face that may be disappointment or frustration or a broken heart. I love that FLCL has so much feeling for Ninamori that they would give her this moment.
- When Canti merges with the terminal core, it sprouts the eyeball-covered jaws that he uses to swallow Naota in earlier episodes.
- Every episode has made incredible use of The Pillows’ songs, but one of the my favorites is how the spacy part of “I Think I Can” syncs with Atomsk unfolding from Naota’s head.
- Breaking the fourth wall with manga! That does sound exhausting. I love how that scene and the next both echo and parody the first episode.
- Naota’s tears when he confronts Haruko about abandoning him are touching. The poor kid has been abandoned by everyone he looks up to. After all, she reminded him of his brother in the first episode.
- The double-neck winds up looking like a Jag-stang with an SG-style cutaway. This moment of guitar enthusiasm has been brought to you by my misspent adolescence.
- There has been some question of what all of this has to do with Avatar: The Last Airbender. That’s a good question! Besides the oft-reported fact that FLCL was required viewing for the Avatar staff, the major influence appears to be in the animation, with similar facial expressions, camera angles, and the occasional glowing, all-powerful child. There is some thematic similarity between Naota’s journey into maturity and Aang’s, although FLCL is more explicitly an entertainment for adults, and if Aang had solved his problems by kissing Fire Lord Ozai, then Avatar would likely be banned in many of the Southern states and Kansas.
- Beep beep, beep beep, yeah! Thanks for joining me for this coverage of my favorite anime. Next week in this spot: Avatar, season three.