The Children of Gainax: Promare and FLCL 2

I have escaped from my corporate slavery to deliver you reviews of two theatrical engagements that I saw… well about four or five months ago at this point. Both of these works can be considered offspring of the now on-life-support Gainax, and unfortunately neither of them particularly excited me. In one case, it was just because I am a slowly dying old man being whipped hard by corporate life. In the other case, the show just sucked.

Find out which is which below!

Promare

I love the golden dream team of director Imaishi Hiroyuki and script writer Nakashima Kazuki. I was one of the loud and annoying Gurren Lagann fans back in the day, and I really got a kick out of Kill la Kill when it dropped… well at this point, also “back in the day.” These guys are great at telling stories that deliver with swift and strong punches, establishing immersive worlds, and polishing it all of with slick design sense. I really dig their stuff.

Headlined by the same team, Promare does this as well; extolling the tale of the Burning Rescue Fire Department and their fight against the flame-inciting BURNISH mutants. However, rather than being a really loud and flashy 2-cour TV series, this is a really loud and flashy 2-hour movie.

Promare looks great. It has a very solid visual style, with poppy character designs by Shigeto Koyama, a bright color palette, and a simple game-like world that brings to mind a more sleek Katamari Damacy. The movie definitely has its own unique and defining look, which is crystallized in the title logo design by Masashi Ichifuru–designer extraordinaire who designed the Kill la Kill font and did the FLCL titles, among many other anime projects.

With its cinematic production values, the film also moves well–a big change from works like Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill, which made heavy use of limited animation between their grand moments. In Promare, every single moment is brought to life with extreme care, and action scenes in particular are taken exceptionally over the top. An epic soundtrack by Sawano Hiroyuki of Kill la Kill and Shingeki no Kyojin fame compliments the proceedings, swelling at just the right moments.

But, I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting old? Maybe I needed more caffeine in my system? Anyway, what I am trying to say is that I came out of this way less enthusiastic than all of the teenage-to-20-something otaku who packed the theater. Yeah, it’s great that it’s big, flashy, and energetic. But my slowly decaying body needs down time, and this film had very little of that. As a result, I felt the audience never really gets a chance to get acquainted with the characters or become immersed in the obviously quite well-thought-out world. As a result, the story feels over-complicated, especially when it starts heaping on heavy helpings of lore in a rushed monologue in the lead-in to the film’s denouement.

While still breakneck and crazy, titles like Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill work because they’re spread out over several episodes, giving the audience a chance to soak themselves up in the world, and become attached to the characters. In the case of Promare, it barely gives you a chance to breathe. Don’t get me wrong–it’s great that this got made. While we are seeing an increase in original anime films in recent years, many of them are trying to cop Miyazaki–and very recently, cop Shinkai. But for how ambitious, original, and energetic it is, Promare is an overdose for my old, dying otaku corpse. I’ll give it another chance after I snort a bunch of coke, or something.

FLCL Alternative/FLCL Progressive

While there is a tendency among mainstream manga titles to run their story and characters into the ground, a lot of original anime titles tend to end succinctly in some way or another. Being used to never-ending nerd franchises, I feel as if western fandom has always been keen on keeping a lot of these series continuing forever, despite being fine as shorter works.

Every nerd remembers forum arguments about potential sequels to favorites at the time. On occasion this fan fervor has brought to life great sequels like The Big O II and, eventually, the Trigun movie. So who knows–maybe the track record for anime sequels made in response to fandom enthusiasm among anime titles is good?

Well, not so fast. Another one of these projects that only just came to life was the new FLCL— a sequel to a series that was a lightning-fast moment in time nearly 20 years ago. This being the case, the quality of this new work is as you expect.

That being said, both Alternative and Progressive start out as nice, fresh takes on the original FLCL story. They both introduce new casts, and seem keen to mix things up from the get-go. Hell, I liked the new characters in both of them, and the crazy action was on par with the original–big kudos for that fight with the kebab truck.

The problem with these two sequels is that they take a tale that originally unexpectedly twisted and turned in the first FLCL, and make it into a formula for these two shows to adhere to.

In 2000, FLCL knocked our socks off because we didn’t fucking know that Naota was going to go super at the end and engage in mortal combat with Haruko. Issue is, both Alternative and Progressive hit the very same story beats, and basically have the same ending. So by the time you’re at episode 5 of Progressive (it was shown as the second of the two sequels in Japan–I believe the order in the US was reversed) you’re bored of seeing the same lead-up to the same ending for the third time. The end of Alternative doesn’t even bother to get creative, and just shoehorns in the “main character goes super” climax with no epic battle or anything. This all backed up by the same Pillows songs, and it’s like, “yeah, that song was cool the first time we heard it in 2000.”

And it’s a shame, because they both look great–especially Progressive, which brings Sadamoto Yoshiyuki’s sharp designs to life in a striking way and makes use of intense, nightmare-inducing experimental animation. And while both shows have great new characters, way more could have been done with them. The issue is, the positive effects of these new elements are watered-down because the story feels it has to force itself into the “FLCL Formula” — something which should have never even become formulaic, because that first series was known for being so unique.

You can’t capture lightning in a bottle again–it’s impossible. FLCL worked because you had Gainax vet Tsurumaki Kazuya at the helm, forging a new style for the studio, which would be refined in works to come, such as Re: Cutie Honey and Gurren Lagann. Under him you have Enokido Yoji exercising his regular musings on puberty in the script, and a young Imaishi Hiroyuki volunteering his insane story-boarding and animation chops to an exciting, new production. Then you have The Pillows, who were enjoying a rush of popularity in the late 90s, providing a majority of the musical accompaniment. This all came together to create a firecracker of a production that leveraged the popularity of a major band at its peak, and told a very poignant story of youth in a new, developing style for the studio.

However, Alternative and Progressive are devoid of this context. As a result, by the time you reach the trippy endings of both productions, they just feel like pale imitations. Kind of like how Evangelion Q tried so damn hard to recreate The End of Evangelion but just failed, hard. The thing is, you can’t just make more FLCL, because its production is so dependent on the context in which it was made. If you take that away, it just feels like a bad cover album.

If there was an organic desire on the production side to make more FLCL, I would be all for it. However, in this case, it was just a bunch of dumb nerds who didn’t know that sometimes it’s good to keep wanting more, as opposed to actually getting it. The original FLCL had the right combination of staff at the right time, which fortuitously came together to make something amazing. While both Alternative and Progressive are admirable attempts to bring FLCL back, they should have just made something new.

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