If you think about it, a coming-of-age story about first masturbations, puberty, and preteen social anxiety definitely has the potential to resonate with the life experience of aged viewers. The problem is, high school drama already gets on enough people’s nerves for taking itself more seriously than adults do; the internal, monologuing struggles of a 12-year-old dealing with rising libido and changing social awareness would not easily connect with the audience. This invites the question: how do you exploit the potential of such themes while not coming across as lame, immature and cringeworthy?
The answer to this, if you haven’t guessed, is FLCL. Starting FLCL, I was expecting a brilliant team of animators at their most free and creative combined with gorgeous nostalgic 90s rock. Those were high expectations, and surely, they were met. What I didn’t expect was to get a powerful, cathartic coming-of-age story as a bonus.
Take internal struggles, change them into giant robots and ridiculous characters. Reduce life lessons to their essence and rewrite them into over-the-top plots to destroy the earth. Defuse overly suggestive scenes with animator insanity, comedic innuendos and glorious action scenes. Well, it works. Naota and Eri’s brutal and difficult transition into adolescence is puzzlingly engaging, cathartic, and easy to relate with.
I know that many people did not see much meaning in FLCL. Though I know that many people did. I don’t want to try to convince the unconvinced that FLCL hides meaning in robots popping out of its MC’s forehead. It’s my belief that a show hiding its story for any reason should remain enjoyable on a surface level. Partly this is because a story needs to compel its audience to look deeper in the first place. Partly this is because I believe that a viewer who doesn’t connect personally with a hidden story still deserves to be well-served. And thankfully, FLCL happens to be just as awesome whether you see FLCL’s bloody monsters as a girl’s first periods or as pure animation craziness.
Which about closes this post — short this time, but there was only one point I wanted to make. I tend to spite shows that purposely obfuscate their story or use symbolism gratuitously: the plot is not the story told by the symbolism but rather the symbolism itself. However, FLCL fulfils all the conditions for appropriate use of symbols in my book: it’s awesome whether or not you connect with it on a personal level, and its great achievement is not the beauty of the symbols themselves, but the coming-of-age story they tell. It just happened that the topics it addresses were best tackled in a chaotic way.