Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

FLCL: “Brittle Bullet”

Illustration for article titled FLCL: “Brittle Bullet”

It is not immediately obvious that pieces are falling into place, but they are. Amarao, limited though his perspective may be, spells out some of the plot in his confrontation with Haruko. N.O. channels like the one in Naota’s head are connected to Medical Mechanica, which is transporting robots to Earth in an attempt to trigger the plant. Amarao also tells her that when Canti turns red, he is channeling the Pirate Lord Atomsk, and the quest for Atomsk is why Haruko has come to the planet in the first place. Since Haruko broke his head in the first episode, Canti needs Naota’s N.O. channel to become Atomsk, which is why he is blue until he swallows Naota. The next episode provides even more clarity about the relationship between Medical Mechanica, Canti, Atomsk, and Haruko’s mission. Also, the guitars are a manifestation of N.O. power, which is why Haruko was so impressed when Naota sprouted his mighty Flying V and is so dismissive of Amarao’s tiny slingshot Flying V.

Although Naota doesn’t realize the extent of this yet, he is only a pawn at this stage. Amarao, who had a similar childhood to Naota, tries to warn him, but Amarao is also quite damaged by his relationship with Haruko. Her inappropriate behavior with adolescents like Naota—and, presumably, Amarao—is tantamount to abuse, and Amarao behaves like a survivor of childhood abuse. He obsesses over Haruko, wanting to impress her and destroy her in equal measure. She has nothing but contempt for him, though, and the show’s willingness to treat him like comic relief can mask what a tragic figure he is.

Despite all that happens, this episode has fewer moving parts than most of the others. For example, there are only a three major scenes. First, there’s the pellet-gun fight, which is interrupted to show the two confrontations leading up to it and the interaction between Naota and his classmates. Then there’s the confrontation between Haruko and Amarao, which is interspersed with Naota’s bid for romance with Mamimi. Finally, there’s the fight with the giant hand robot where Canti demonstrates conclusively that he contains Atomsk. Each major scene revolves around gun violence, which the show explicitly compares to John Woo flicks. Guns are the major symbol of the episode, with Naota’s Fooly Cooly manifestation of the week appearing as a trigger in his head. Other than Canti’s transformation into a cannon, no prior episode has contained any guns at all, which is understandable since Japan has stringent gun control laws. All of the major characters hold a gun at least once in this episode, although most of those are pellet guns or a water gun; most notably, Haruko’s Rickenbacker becomes a gun.

All of these guns mean different things to each character. Naota’s pellet gun is a toy that embarrasses him in front of his friends, demonstrating his childishness while they are engaged in the more grown-up activities of driving a car and working at the liquor store. Ironically, the pellet-gun battle is the most childlike fun that we see Naota having during the whole run of FLCL. The gun in his head, though, is triggered by ego and id, with each compliment he receives cocking the trigger further back until Mamimi’s rejection causes it to go off. This is also a display of immaturity, although it is on a different level. Naota believes that he is being mature by accepting praise, when it actually drives him to act falsely mature, to pretend that he is old enough and desirable enough to take Mamimi on a real date. Mamimi, though, has been using him as a unthreatening stand-in for his brother, and she is quite put off by his show of bravado.

The biggest reveal involving guns is the final one, though, where the glowing ammo that Canti fires turns out to be a superhot, superdense Naota. While his ego and, let it be said, his bravery led him to believe that he was an integral part of the Red Canti, this is only partially true. Red Canti needs his N.O. channel to open the door for Atomsk, but once Atomsk has filled Canti, Naota is relagated to a bullet. Further adding to his indignity is Haruko’s indifference, stomping down on his face with her stiletto heels as she makes googly eyes at Red Canti. From a larger metaphorical perspective, both this scene and the scene where Naota is rejected by Mamimi depict the emotional blows that adolescent males experience followin humiliating crushes on older girls and women. If the series ended here, Naota would most likely turn into Amarao, emotionally scarred but forever playacting the macho role, too tied to the past to effectively take advantage of his hard-won knowledge.

Naota’s emotional life changes following his confrontation with Mamimi. When they first chat, she faces away from him while boosting his ego about his actions in “Full Swing.” This causes his N.O. trigger to cock again. She then shoots him with his pellet guns because she is annoyed that she has lost so much control over him, which she attributes to his feelings towards Haruko. Attempting to show her both that he doesn’t care about Haruko and that he is a real love interest, Naota grabs her wrist and pulls her to Cafe Bleu, which is, as the sign says, a place to rest. Blue is the color of broken Canti, Naota’s hoodie, and Mamimi’s school uniform; it is a symbol of adolescence for her, and a sign that Naota is not ready yet. Moreover, his independence is upsetting to her and she rejects his attempt to kiss her. She has always been the aggressor in their relationship. If Naota is becoming a man, his affections are too real. Her rejection sets off all of this pent-up ego in Naota’s head, though, firing off the giant trenchcoat-wearing hand-shaped robot. As they both cower on the robot’s hat, she calls for Tasuku, leading Naota to his bravest and most mature moment yet, when he demands that she respect him for who he is and never call him Ta-kun again. It is only right and natural that his moment of bravery be immediately followed by his utter degradation. Without the fall, Naota might never learn to control his ego, which is an integral part of becoming an adult. 

Stray observations:

  • First, apologies for running late today! Life intervenes with work sometimes in unexpected ways.
  • The two appearances of Haruko’s boxing-glove-on-a-spring popping out of her crotch remind me of a series of screenshots from “Firestarter.” I did not see any frame that shows her similarly pulling her Rickenbacker out of her underwear in the scene where she faces off with Amarao, but I suspect that this is how she suddenly has her bass.
  • Kamon’s clothes in the first two scenes are allusions to Lupin III. He mentions that he could change his look to the green jacket the character wears in the film Castle Of Cagliostro, which was altered (by director Hayao Miyazaki) from the red approved by Monkey Sensei—a reference to Monkey Punch, which is the pen name of the creator of Lupin III.
  • When Haruko’s boxing glove knocks Kamon into the TV, the pigeons from the John Woo film that Naota and Shigekuni were watching fly out.
  • When Naota walks in on Haruko with Miyu Miyu, she is telling her superiors that she does not have feelings for Naota—but she has delayed her mission because his N.O. channel is still open. Whether or not Haruko actually has feelings for Naota is something that comes into play in the next episode, but at this point, she is quite willing to use and discard him. She is not as interested in Naota as a person, but as a tool to help her capture Atomsk.
  • The South Park animation is a sign of immaturity. The first South Park reference was a toy that came out of Junko Miyagi’s car when Canti destroyed it in “Marquis De Carabas.” Here, it shows how Amarao is trying to boost his image, contrasting with the more dynamic superhero style of animation when he is talking with Kitsurubami. Later, Naota is drawn to look like Kenny from South Park when Mamimi suggests that he is growing up.
  • When Red Canti opens the N.O. channel to produce his 1961 Gibson EB-0 bass, it is significant that Naota has already been knocked aside. Naota is necessary to let Atomsk materialize in Canti, but once Atomsk is in the robot, he/it can use its own N.O. channel.
  • Is there a better sound effect in any TV show than the truly satisfying “bboooooiinnnng” of an electric bass smacking its target? I think not.