I’ve talked a lot about the meaning and metaphors in FLCL. This may seem strange depending on how you view the anime. It’s an insane show, so maybe you’re not supposed to look for meaning in it. Most viewers acknowledge that FLCL is a rich anime, containing various anime references, parody scenes, exciting action, sexual humor, and great visuals for that time. Viewers who also see it as thematically and psychologically rich are a bit less common. Obviously I am one of the latter group. But is worthwhile to analyse a show like FLCL so heavily? Later, we’ll revisit this question. For now, we’ll review all the elements from the two previous posts and see how they come together.
Themes and Metaphors
The horn that emerges from Naota’s head can symbolize the difficulties of growing up. At that age, children become more self-conscious, and we see Naota trying to hide the horn. Humans change and grow a lot in preadolescence, sometimes resulting in shame, adjustments, and discomfort of the physical body. The horn likewise presents problems and pain for Naota. This is all closely tied to the start of sexual awareness and puberty. Anyone can see that Naota’s horn represents the beginning of a boy’s sexuality. (Insert pun about “horniness” here.)
Besides the horn, various other metaphors can be found in FLCL. For example, the monster-like robots that appear in nearly every episode can represent negative emotions associated with early puberty or preadolescence. They always appear at the most emotionally charged moments for the characters. Another metaphor is Haruka being the chaotic changes of life. She’s unpredictable and strange. With her coming, she shakes up Naota’s whole world. And it’s thanks to Haruka that the boy learned to adjust better to change.
We can’t forget the symbolism and meaning in episode 6. This episode revealed that Medical Mechanica is an organization that essentially destroys planets by leveling all the land flat. The leveling of planets symbolizes culture’s way of streamlining and standardizing the human experience– especially for school-children. The thick smoke emitted by the giant iron at certain intervals every day is an analogy for the suffocating sameness of normality. Since Naota fought Medical Mechanica and displaced the giant iron, he chose change and diversity over forced uniformity.
We discussed a few more meanings in the previous posts. (For one, “swinging the bat” signifies taking action in one’s life.) But let’s move on from analogies and review some themes present in FLCL. Uncertainty and embarrassing secrets were two themes in episodes 2 and 3, respectively. The element of sexual and emotional frustration appears throughout FLCL, with the peak of it in episode 5. In addition, the vulnerabilities and psychology of the characters are important.
There’s another theme that reoccurs in most episodes, with the climax in the final episode. That is change versus status quo, chaos versus strict order, or individuality over uniformity. We saw that with Naota’s victory over Medical Mechanica. But it shows in many other instances, too. My favorite example is in episode 1 when Naota decides to drink the sour juice instead of throwing it away. Now we’ve looked at a bunch of meanings and motifs in FLCL. I think the one thing that brings it altogether is the central theme of growing up and changing.
Since I don’t want this post becoming obnoxiously lengthy, I will only touch briefly on what we discussed for character psychology.
Naota’s psyche is like a hive swarming with wasps of emotional issues. First there is the way he doesn’t want to accept change in his life, and the way he feels so vulnerable and lost after his brother left. Along with a general lack of confidence in himself, Naota can sometimes have powerful bouts of anger and jealousy. Like so many overlooked children, he has a deep need to be respected and recognized that isn’t being met.
However, by the end of the OVAs, Naota has become someone who can finally “swing the bat,” make his decisions, and say what he wants to say. It took all those experiences with Haruka and Mamimi to help him finally get to this point; but most of all, it took his own courage. Naota’s change wasn’t sudden or dramatic, but happened little by little. I think this rather realistic. Naota keeps Haruka’s guitar just as he keeps his brother’s bat, reminders that he is not alone and there is a big world waiting out there.
Mamimi also has a host of issues. Her life is difficult, what with problems like poverty and bullying. She was also profoundly attached to Tasuku, and is using Naota as a way to cope. Mamimi also turns to escapism via video games and her obsession with the lore. After Naota stops hanging out with her, the girl instead gets obsessed with a mechanical monster, raising it and helping it destroy property. She calls her cat, Naota, and that monster by the name “Takkun” which is also what she called Tasuku. This means that deep down, she still can’t deal with Takusu being gone. Mamimi eventually finds out she wants to be a photographer, leaving the town to pursue her interest. I’ll include a few notes on that later.
Additional Thoughts: Haruka and Mamimi
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said much about Haruka other than her being a great metaphor for change and chaos. But she’s also her own character. For most of the show, we have no idea what Haruka is doing or what she wants. Once her agenda is finally revealed, everything is pretty straightforward. Haruka only cares about recovering the Atomsk power; she used and endangered Naota and his family and the town for her own ends. It doesn’t take a lot of discussion to conclude that her primary psychological issue is selfishness.
I’m not saying that I dislike Haruka or that there’s nothing more to her beyond this. Haruka is the life of FLCL and nothing would have ever happened if not for her. She’s hot, weird, and wild; she somehow makes you love her character. I believe that, to an extent, she does care about Naota. This subject as well as Haruka’s lively personality are definitely worth studying and mentioning. Since this isn’t a detailed character analysis, however, that’s all I’ll mention about her in this post.
Before the conclusion, let me mention a few other thoughts about Mamimi. Why did she suddenly leave the city to become a photographer? I don’t think Mamimi was only using Naota; she was also protecting him, staying by his side until he grew up a little more. But after the events of episodes 5 and 6, Mamimi realizes that Naota no longer needs her, and the best thing she can do to respect him is stop using him. She no longer sees him as a small child. The evidence is that when saying goodbye, she called him Naota-kun and not Takkun. Hopefully, this also means she is making progress with getting over Tasuku.
Conclusion: Free Interpretation
“I told you, it doesn’t matter what furi kuri means!”
-Noata, FLCL episode 6
Perhaps it seems odd to have analyzed FLCL this much when it’s a show so heavy on dementia and nonsense. Importantly, I don’t think my analysis is necessarily correct. FLCL is a show very much open to interpretation. Meanings and such may differ per individual. It’s also possible to enjoy FLCL without digging for anything deeper at all. There doesn’t need to be meaning unless you want to find some. I think it’s highly appropriate that in episode 6, Naota’s dad asks what “furi kuri” even means. Naota responds with the quote at the start of the section.
That being said, I’ll offer one other thought. Life as a whole isn’t that much different from FLCL in that it’s pure chaos and constant change. It’s hard to make sense of things. And just like with FLCL, life’s meaning is entirely decided by the individual. If there is one interpretation of FLCL that’s closest to being objective, it’s that we should embrace change even if it’s unusual, chaotic, or hard to understand. Consider this quote.
“When you live in a town covered in smoke, you forget there’s an outside world. Nothing unusual happens here. So we get used to a world where everything is ordinary. Every day spent here is like a whole lifetime of dying slowly.”
~Naota, FLCL episode 6
The smoke mentioned throughout the anime is representative of normality and the status quo. Since Naota destroyed the giant iron, the town is no longer covered in smoke at the end. So from here on out, Naota and everyone else can live more freely. They have opened themselves up to life , the world, and all the weirdness and insanity waiting within. Embrace change. Accept chaos. Love that which is strange. Do the furi kuri.
Thank you for reading. I truly enjoyed writing this series, and I hope it was a decent read. Sayonara for now!