This episode is the most unusual of all FLCL episodes because it is the most straightforward. While some of the context for the story takes place offscreen, “Marquis De Carabas” drops most of the series’ elliptical storytelling strategies and shows or directly mentions most of the major events. Like “Firestarter,” it turns its attention to another of the young women in Naota’s life, his classmate Eri Ninamori. Unlike “Firestarter,” which shared its focus on Mamimi with Naota and his story, “Marquis De Carabas” puts Ninamori so far into the spotlight that there are only a few scenes without her. Strangest of all, the fight scene is scored to Kabalevsky’s “Comedian’s Galop,” a popular piece of orchestral music that, as one might notice, is not an excellent rock song by The Pillows.
The Marquis De Carabas is a brilliant analogy for how Eri Ninamori sees adulthood. As she describes the story to Naota in their most intimate scene, the story of the Marquis is about lies becoming truth and the truth transcending the mask, all of which brings happiness. In the story, of course, the Marquis is the fictional nobleman invented by Puss In Boots whom his owner first impersonates and later becomes. Ninamori sees a reflection of her life in this fake nobleman, which is partly why she is so desperate to play that role and have Naota play the cat who saves her. She is also desperate to present herself as cool and aloof, the main components of her perception of adulthood, which the adults of Mabase affirm to her more than once. In fact, though, the strife in her family and the indifference of her crush, Naota, are both eating her alive. She hates Naota’s relationship with the older girls and despises the adulterous secretary who has not only embroiled her family in scandal but actually dares to try to give Ninamori advice. She is, in short, a kid in a tough place, much like Naota, and FLCL’s shift to her in this episode illuminates not only her character, but Naota’s as well.
Ninamori also has a parallel in Mamimi this week. Part of Ninamori’s reason for wanting the play to go well is that her parents are coming to see it together. Mamimi makes the same comment about her own school plays from several years earlier: her parents used to come see them together. Left unspoken is that Mamimi’s parents are no longer together and no longer interested in her life. In her scene, Mamimi is also wearing cat ears, which sets her up as a parallel to Naota’s manifestation this week, but also to Ninamori, who brings that manifestation to fruition.
Kamon is at his worst in this episode. Dreaming of regaining his former journalistic credentials, he has launched the zine that salaciously broke the story about Ninamori’s father and his secretary. Later, he invites Ninamori to spend the night after learning that Haruko has run her down with her Vespa, but he is not motivated by concern for the girl but fear of reprisal. Then, in his creepiest scene, he spies on Ninamori during her bath, asking her if she thinks he’s a bad persona and telling her that she’s so mature for her age. Adding to the creep factor, he is hidden in shadows during this scene, with the camera shifting to his perspective of the naked little girl covering herself with her arm. He tries to hand her a ring for her hair but holds it out only so far, so that she will have to reach for it. It is hard to say what motivates Kamon during this scene, assuming that he isn’t a pedophile, but the implicit thrill he seems to get from the power imbalance is an extreme example of his established immaturity, one so far from normal adult behavior that it deserves special mention as the creepiest scene in FLCL’s parade of sexuality.
The two most important scenes are Ninamori’s flirtatious reveal to Naota that she rigged the play and the fight that causes her robot to manifest when she accidentally takes Naota’s portal. In the former, Ninamori is willing to reveal quite a bit of herself to Naota, wearing her glasses, grasping his hand, and leaning toward him on his bunk as she opens up about her plans. Although Naota rejects her, pulling away and then taking Haruko’s side, for Ninamori to open up to someone is a tremendous show of trust. Naota betrays that trust almost immediately when Ninamori’s jealous frustration comes out at school the next day, which precipitates her robot manifestation. During this fight, Ninamori reveals to Naota that she cares about her parents and she cares about him, but Naota is too self-involved to understand. She also tells him one of the important lessons that he will learn during the series: he is actually still just a kid like her, but he is not quite ready to hear this.
A careful viewing of the earlier scene where Haruko knocked Naota into Ninamori would show the moment when Naota accidentally transferred his portal power to Ninamori, as both of their heads turn red at the crown. The robot that Ninamori draws forth, though, is unlike the robots that Naota has produced. Where Naota’s robots have been angular and dominated by hands or Canti’s TV eye, Ninamori’s robot is bulbous, flexible, and expands into a flower when prodded by Haruko’s bass. Perhaps it is obvious how Ninamori’s manifestation represents female sexuality while Naota’s is distinctly male, but it bears a mention, anyway.
- Since my prior reviews have been so far over the recommended word limit in The A.V. Club Style Manual, I’m making a conscious effort to cut my word count back. Apologies to those looking for more annotations.
- In the scene where the media crowd Ninamori’s house, one of the cut-out heads that pops up is that of Kazuya Tsurumaki, our visionary director.
- “Don’t touch it! A young girl like you shouldn’t touch it with your bare hands!”
- Ninamori: “I don’t think it’s any big deal,” followed by a bite of curry. Repeat four times. Later, as Haruko provokes Ninamori in Naota’s bedroom, the same catlike smile creeps across Haruko’s face four times in a row.
- This is the first appearance of Naota’s teacher, Junko Miyaji, another of Mabase’s silly and preoccupied adults.
- “Ukulele no good.” I always say that when I smash a ukulele on a robot.
- Two things about Canti in this episode: In the scene where Haruko catches him trying to put together a red cover for his head, she substitutes a plain box in its place. There is something I don’t understand later, though. He is concerned about Ninamori at dinner and Naota has to placate him with yet another assurance of her maturity. What is Canti’s concern?