Studio Gainax’s FLCL was a one-and-done OVA that became a legend. In 2018 two sequels co-produced by Production I.G. and Adult Swim broadcast on Toonami. These sequels attempted to take an experimental six-episode romp about going through adolescence and turn it into a franchise with differing results. Once again Production I.G. and Adult Swim are expanding the franchise with two additional derivatives. The first of which is FLCL: Grunge and it will make its world premiere on Toonami on September 9th at Midnight. What does the latest spin on the FLCL, animated at Studio MontBlanc have to offer? The first episode does not exactly give a clear picture.

In the opening act, FLCL: Grunge directed by Hitoshi Takekiyo (After School Midnighters) introduces Shinpachi (voiced by Casey Mongillo), a boy fed up with his aimless life in Okura. He monologues that Okura is a literal garbage dump that wealthy and important people flee from in rocket ships. The griminess of the town is the most grunge aspect of production. Something smells and it isn’t teen spirit. The water is murky, the fish look poisonous and you can’t avoid the flies.

Shin has just two friends: Orinoko (Michelle Marie) the daughter of a knife artisan who isn’t in good health and Shonari (Luis Bermudez) a rock person who casually lives among the masses with no explanation. They’re all working because their teachers don’t think there’s even a point in continuing their studies. Shin hopes that at least one of them can escape from this putrid place but their prospects seem nonexistent until a certain crafty space woman starts stirring up trouble.

Haruko (reprised by Kari Walhgren) enters the scene and immediately leaves Shin smitten while she toys with the local mayor (Dino Andrade). She tries to get a rise out of Shin while working other angles. The episode escalates quickly from there and weaves in a few action sequences along the way to an inconclusive ending. That feels like an odd choice compared to prior FLCL seasons where each story is episodic and tends to finish with a cool down after something bombastic happened. It remains to be seen if that means episode two will pick up right where the first left off or not. It would be a major change in the common structure of FLCL seasons for it to play out as six pieces of a movie.

While I would say the episode rushes toward the action there are a few quiet and thoughtful moments. Mainly the times when Shin interacts with his friends. They’re both brief scenes but they allow the pace to relax a bit before it ramps up. However they are so brief that we only get tidbits about Orinoko and Shonari and some things that weigh on their thoughts. The focus of the episode is Shinpachi but future episode titles imply each of them will get an episode that focuses on whatever they are going through. If that is the case then they probably should have more thoroughly explored Shinpachi in the first episode.

Shin’s opening monologue offers his perspective on how crummy life is in Okura but there has to be more to him than just discontentment. He has a strained relationship with his father (Arthur Romeo) but possibly aspires to follow in the man’s footsteps as a sushi chef. The one thing that stands out about him compared to all prior FLCL protagonists, is Shin comes off as the most assertive and ready for change. While the others are generally reluctant to get involved in Haruko’s shenanigans, Shin jumps right into assisting Haruko as her scheme starts catching up to her. He might only be doing it because he’s so tired of his status quo but the other FLCL protagonists usually wanted nothing to do with Haruko when they first meet her.

So far, Grunge is not trying to ape the plot beats and memorable moments from the original FLCL, Haruko hasn’t even busted out a guitar yet. Still, it has at least a few nods and incorporates not only Haruko but also Atomsk, Amuro (voiced this time by Aaron LaPlante) and Medical Mechanica. There’s also a character that looks more than a little like the robot Canti. Of course the other aspect that will attempt to draw out your nostalgia is the soundtrack composed of several familiar needle drops from The Pillows and I can’t be the only one who feels Casey Mongillo’s performance as Shinpachi is reminiscent of Barbra Goodson’s Noata from the original OVA.

The visual aesthetic works better than I was expecting. There’s nothing impressive about the look of the first episode but it has a certain charm to it. There are choices that were probably made for budgetary constraints or because the animators thought they would be fun. There are attempts to recreate the manic energy that FLCL is known for but they tend to come off as half-baked at best . In the two heavy action sequences, there are moments where the motion is fluid but at other points, the movement becomes choppy and hard to follow. This might end up being the most violent FLCL iteration to date at least the one with the most blood splatter. The gritty moments don’t play out nearly as well as they could if they didn’t under-cut the motion at critical points in the action.

The setup is fine. There’s nothing egregious but not much that inspires me to keep watching beyond my own curiosity. I find it hard to put my finger on just what this FLCL is trying to do and am left wondering how the character arcs of Shin, Orinoko, and Shonari will play out. So far it’s not particularly grungy besides the setting nor is it particularly anything else. Both FLCL: Alternative and FLCL: Progressive at least had me engaged from the jump. More than any prior FLCL, this one is asking the viewer to trust the process. Maybe over the course of the next five episodes, it can find its footing and tell a compelling story juxtaposed by a unique visual aesthetic but FLCL: Grunge does not make the best first impression.

But that’s just my opinion. You can come to your own conclusions by tuning in for the world premiere of FLCL: Grunge this Saturday (September 9th) at Midnight, ONLY Toonami.

Pros:

  • Visual aesthetic works for what it is
  • Doesn’t try to reiterate much from the original FLCL
  • Great soundtrack from The Pillows

Cons:

  • Overall feels rushed and a bit aimless so far
  • Visuals are only serviceable

Andrew “Sketch” Hingson is the C.O.O. at Toonamifaithful.com. Feel free to follow Sketch on all things Toonami, Adult Swim, and show predictions on Twitter @Sketch1984

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