FLCL: Grunge's Premiere Lacks Its Own Identity

FLCL: Grunge’s Premiere Lacks Its Personal Identification

Did anyone require or desire FLCL: Grunge? The first FLCL, released in 2000, was a massive, generation-defining work that appealed to a large segment of the populace while also appealing to the particular sensitivities of its Heisei audience as a story of male sexual development. Its self-contained six-episode runtime didn’t stop it from being immensely popular among American viewers, as evidenced by its numerous successful runs on Adult Swim. The network chose to bring it back twenty years later, probably in an attempt to reclaim its popularity, despite the fact that the original production studio had long since degenerated into a hollow shell. And the follow-ups, Progressive and Alternative, were just okay? Five years later, I hope I could say the same about this turn.

I can assure you that the animation in Grunge will be the first thing viewers notice. It completely rejects any hand-drawn aesthetic in favor of 3D computer graphics created by MontBlanc Pictures, a motion capture outfit with just a few independent animation projects to its credit. It’s ugly, to put it mildly. Put another way, the animation is as lifeless as it is unimpressive in its attempts to capture the outrageous spirit that characterized the original. Even the more realistic-looking characters have oddly projecting lips and awkwardly huge hands; it’s a little too rubbery and smooth. The lineless painting frequently, if not always, mismatches the color selections, giving the effect a decidedly eye-smarting appearance.

The narrative and visuals seem to be caught in a conflict between attempting to do their own thing and wanting to stick to the original’s beats. Ideally, this would have highlighted the distinctions and affinities between Shinpachi and Naota; alas, that is not the case in this instance. Rather, the tension gives the impression that it is going through an identity crisis, knowing of its history but too afraid to create a new identity. Shinpachi’s town is haunted by the ghost of an iron that is spewing steam, and it is populated by both humans and rock-bodied aliens that resemble the Thing from the Fantastic Four so much that I’m surprised it doesn’t violate copyright. Serving questionably edible fish to yakuza members with identical faces, he assists in his father’s restaurant. He goes to school, but not many kids do—even adults have given up on their own prospects. Then, like the puberty fairy herself, Haruhara Haruko flits into his business and his life while wearing a sultry red dress and perched on the arm of the Boss Baby, yes, mayor. From there, it’s essentially a parade of well-known images: Canti-sama, the man with the eyebrows, Shinpachi’s head erupting in a phallic symbol, scooters, and a gigantic hand reaching down from the sky to grasp the iron’s handle—all of which are connected by a mediocre script that falls short of compensating for the shortcomings of the visual storytelling. The Pillows’ soundtrack is also worn out.

All is not lost, though. Though its attempts to mimic the crazy energy of the original are as ludicrous as Timothee Chalamet’s Gene Wilder impersonation, Grunge excels when it becomes contemplative and slows down. Although it makes references to the 1990s and Shinpachi’s Walkman, its most effective aspect is how it depicts a certain type of Reiwa/Gen Z ennui. Few children bother to attend school because they have no hope for the future. The adults had given up as well. It makes me think of how helpless the present generation feels in the actual world, watching as the world crumbles around them and anticipating growing up in nothing more than a destroyed wasteland. It might develop into something valuable if it can embrace that sensibility and its inherent uniqueness.

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