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FLCL: “Full Swing”

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As we approach the back half of FLCL, the story finally starts to explain itself. Even these explanations, however, are couched in the same elliptical and intentionally confounding strategies that make watching FLCL an exercise in puzzling out plot points from subtle clues. While the last two episodes focused on Mamimi and Ninamori, respectively, the story in this episode shines light on the character of Haruko, revealing a few of her ulterior motives and highlighting her indifference to those standing in her way. We already know that despite her wacky Manic Pixie Dream Girl persona, she is a remarkably selfish and immature individual driven by unclear motives, but we did not know until this episode that her reckless-Vespa-driving, head-smashing-with-vintage-bass-guitar ways included a willingness to leave Kamon to die or to threaten the life of everyone in Mabase by knocking a bomb out of the sky. Both of these gambits are to the same end: She intends to force Naota into action. She gives him no choice other than to grow up fast and transcend his fears. Luckily for everyone, Naota is finally ready to swing the bat.

Although the key to Haruko’s motives is still a mystery, some of the explanation come in the form of the newly introduced character of Amarao, the nori-eyebrowed Man In Black. Amarao starts to clear up a few things for Naota regarding the odd happenings in his life while hinting at the greater explanations to come. For one thing, he gives a name to Naota’s portal, calling it an N.O. channel and explaining that it uses both hemispheres of his brain, while the screen flashes to the first episode’s splash screen of a brain X-ray, presumably Naota’s. Amarao knows quite a bit about Haruko, although he mostly hints at this. He shares Naota’s preference for sweet foods over spicy ones, and hints that Haruko played a similar part in his childhood to the one she is playing in Naota’s. Amarao is also the first to mention the Pirate Lord Atomsk to Naota. Since, as we shall see, the capture of Atomsk by Medical Mechanica is the catalyst for the action in FLCL, Amarao will be instrumental in making sense of this story, even though his own understanding is limited.

Baseball plays its most prominent role in the whole anime in this episode, being both a signifier of cool—similar to the role played by all the vintage guitars—and, more importantly, a metaphor for Naota’s repression and growth. Haruko, by playing for the opposing team, is trying to make Naota jealous while also setting the plot into motion by beaning balls at the satellite she means to drop on Mabase. Her proficiency at the game is a direct counterpoint to Naota’s untested skills, which is also connected to his N.O. channel. Haruko initiated his N.O. channel the first time she hit him, when Canti, who is also an excellent baseball player, emerged from Naota’s N.O. channel. At the climax, when Haruko pulls from Naota’s head his “bat”—a white, 1967 Gibson Flying V which is, incidentally, 15 kinds of awesome—the display causes Amarao’s assistant Kitsurubami to swoon while all of the ladies in their secret alien-monitoring agency burst into sudden nosebleeds. Conflated in all of this imagery of baseball, vintage guitars, and sexual prowess is the connection between Naota’s powerful N.O. channel and his imminent maturity. When Naota is preparing to hit the baseball-shaped bomb, he starts to say his brother’s name (unless he is planning to call for help, as the Japanese word for help shares its first two syllables with Tasuku’s name), but, unlike when he fought the eye-hand robots in the first two episodes, he stops himself. At that moment, Red Canti’s symbol—which is, remember, a corruption of the symbol for “adult” in Japanese—appears on his forehead. Naota has decided that he does not need to invoke his brother to get through his fears. He is growing up.

The most disturbing sequence in the episode involves the Kamon-bot. Haruko’s quasi-sexual cavorting with the Kamon-bot is obviously meant to upset Naota and prepare him to swing the bat, but her callous discarding of the real Kamon is the truly upsetting aspect of this part of the story. The scene where Naota destroys the Kamon-bot certainly appears to be an Oedipal murder, although the only things destroyed are a robot, a TV, and a clock. Since Naota destroyed the TV, which caused the robot to explode, it is unclear how the clock was broken, but the symbolism is rather perfect. When the Kamon-bot confronts Naota, spurring his jealousy, Naota imagines Haruko saying “mouth” and then becoming a mouse to be batted around by Miyu Miyu until she dies. Considering how the Galactic Space Patrol Brotherhood use both Miyu Miyu and Haruko, this may be a realistic metaphor for Haruko’s role, although how Naota became the source of the vision is unclear. After destroying the Kamon-bot and having an odd interview with Amarao, Naota finds Kamon’s desiccated corpse at the bottom of a closet with roaches all over him. As he races to the bathroom to rehydrate the corpse (which leads to an explosion!), Miyu Miyu acts oddly during this sequence, racing with Naota and seemingly getting in his way. It is a mystery how warm water revived Kamon, but there is a certain dream-logic to it. When Kamon is himself again, he explains that Haruko discarded him because his head did not work right. Only Naota alone has a strong enough N.O. channel for Haruko’s plans. Her maniacal laughter at the end is because she thinks that she has figured out exactly how she is going to use Naota.

Stray observations:

  • Naota accidentally pulls Mamimi’s panties off when she races off to see Canti play baseball. As people do.
  • There’s a Dalek on Kamon’s shelf when Naota peeks into his room.
  • Haruko’s suggestive language is at a fever pitch during this episode. “I didn’t know that boys felt like this inside” is the mere tip of the iceberg.