“I hope you happy” I say with my teeth clenched, angrily shaking my fist at the empty room that is my fanbase. In order to fully prepare myself for this review, I decided to go back and rewatch the original Fooli Cooli, or however the hell it’s spelled. For those of you unfamiliar with my opinion of the original Fooli Cooli, it’s like watching a Gorillaz music video as someone performs a lobotomy on me with a power drill, while decent Japanese music plays in the background. Fortunately, this time around I was over twenty-one, so I was at least able to sedate myself during this lobotomy, but I digress.
FLCL Progressive is the new attempt to bank on millennial nostalgia in order to keep Toonami from being pulled off life support so that it can continue to make poor decisions like screening Pop Team Epic and not moving Hunter x Hunter to a time slot earlier than 1am. It stars Kari Wahlgren as the iconic Haruko Haruhara ( in what is the first of many of her performances to give me a migraine).
The story of FLCL Progressive is that at some point in the past, our main protagonist Himawari Hibajiri was abandoned by her father due to some previous association he had with Medical Mechanica and he has now taken up the reins to fight them across the galaxy (are we sure the audience wasn’t left behind as well, that story sounds far more interesting than what we get). When her father left, he gave Himawari a pair of Cat-Ear headphones that inhibit her unique N.O. field which causes her to turn into a robot (I believe that sentence puts us at a six on the “how Japanese is this?” scale). This unique ability attracts the eye of Haruhko, who returns to the city of Mabase, only to clash with Julia Jinyu, Haruhko’s responsible half and Himawari’s self-appointed guardian (and preventer of anything fun or interesting). Also, Ide is there and he has a crush on Hibajiri for reasons.
This show in its entirety is rather safe; I was essentially able to understand the plot of the show rather quickly and characters had clearly defined and understandable archetypes (you hear that arthouse nerds? You can’t use this show to prove your intellectually superior to me). In contrast to the original OVA’s, which were able to serve as self-contained stories within an overarching narrative, Progressive is structured as a more streamlined narrative with each episode leading into the next one. As a result, characters are rather stagnant throughout the course of the series, with little development until their “growth as characters” gets dumped on us in the final episode. We are introduced to other characters as the series progresses, but they don’t really do anything other than occupy space. Ide has a couple of friends who I presume are supposed to form a similar dynamic to Naota’s group from the original FLCL (but the only thing they do is prove Yuri Lowenthal isn’t contractually obligated to do nothing but Rooster Teeth until he dies). The only character that seems to have any stake in the story outside of our main cast is Aiko, a girl introduced midway through the series who pretends to date boys in exchange for money (what I’m trying to say is she’s the closest thing a show presumably about sex has to a hooker, also she looks like she’s twelve because Japan). Later we learn Aiko is some robot, plant, thing made by the secret government organization from the first series (because this shows is trying to one-up “Rogue One” for most throwaway Easter eggs). At the end of the series, Aiko plays a pivotal role in defeating Medical Mechanica by turning into a giant plant (Not sure what I’m supposed to take away from that, maybe a warning about small women and the size of their bush).
The art style is rather stagnant as well. It’s aesthetically pleasing as one would expect from an I.G. project and the style of the original show is mimicked close enough. However, it lacks the randomness that the original series possessed. The original series would often switch art styles several times throughout the course of a single episode for no reason other than “because we can”. In Progressive, there’s always a method to the madness. It maintains the same art style throughout the whole series, only changing during dream sequences (a phrase I now type as often as Sky Portal) and instances the show really wants us to know it’s being bold and artistic. I found this to be rather ironic as the original series used its aesthetics to bury the more “complex moments”, while Progressive uses it to scream in our face about how deep it really is. The show does decide to change art style to something more akin to the original series’ clunky randomness in episode 5, only to revert back to the newer bland style the next episode (as if the animators realized they’d forgotten something and at the last moment desperately scrambled to undo their mistake).
FLCL Progressive serves as an example of the abuse of nostalgia goggles. It hits all the check marks of what fans claim made the original show great without understanding why they worked. It matches the look but lacks the passion and creativity of the original (like any singer Queen brings in to replace Freddie Mercury). Where the original show was about the growing pains of becoming an adult, Progressive attempts to deal with the unfortunate parts of adulthood like loss and not getting what you want, and at that point it excels. Fans of the original will find the return of the show they love to be a bitter disappointment, and I ended up having to say positive things about FLCL (what have you done to me?).