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The Symbolism of FLCL: 1×06 “FLCLimax”

The last episode and big finale of the quirky sci-fi anime FLCL, “FLCLimax”, brings to a close our in-depth look on the deep symbolism of this coming of age story. Admittedly, the last episode is the hardest to make sense. Put aside all the zaniness, FLCL tells a story about a young boy coming to terms with his changing body, feelings, and world, and acknowledging he still has a lot of growing up to do. However, the finale has a lot of plot to it, and, in my view, struggles to balance the storytelling with pacing. Let’s leap onto our mopeds and zoom off into the mad world of FLCL one last time. At least until the second season comes out next year.

As a reminder, FLCL is about Naota Nandaba, a 12-year old kid who gets run over by the crazy Haruko Haruhara, and robots begin emerging from his head. Haruko becomes the family housekeeper, Naota developing feelings towards her. This complicates his relationship with Mamimi Samejima, the clingy ex-girlfriend of his big brother Tasuku. The fifth episode shattered that relationship for good, Naota realising that their co-dependence was unhealthy, only to be ditched by Haruko as her true goals were revealed.

See, as explained in this episode, Haruko has been searching for a powerful being named Atomsk, a notorious space pirate who can destroy whole planets with his mere presence. He was captured by Medical Mechanica, the source of the robots, but escaped by hiding within Canti, a robot who acts as a friend to Naota and Haruko. Haruko was using Naota’s unique brain, through which the robots emerge, to bring out Atomsk, assuming he was still held captive. Whenever Naota and Canti have fused together to fight the robots, their power has been boosted by that of Atomsk. On a symbolic level, Haruko represents puberty and young adulthood, while Atomsk appears to represent adulthood and the power that can come with it.

Naota is pretty bummed out, with Haruko and Canti both disappearing, and he is now avoiding Mamimi. He comments that the Medical Mechanica factory has been spewing out smoke across town for days, symbolising his life becoming bland and normal, wondering if there is anything beyond his town. The interesting parts of his life – Haruko, Canti, and Mamimi – are all gone, or at least now distant from him.

I think the relationship between Naota and Mamimi remains the most interesting part of the whole show. Mamimi used Naota as substitute for her “sempai”, who she revered and used as her emotional crutch in the world. Naota allowed her to use him, since he genuinely likes her, and uses her in return as a link to his absent brother. However, as the series has gone on, Naota has matured and become less helpless as Mamimi has noticed. She likes looking after those who are even less independent than she is, nicknaming them “Tak-kun” after Naota’s brother. Mamimi doesn’t want to, or at least can’t grow up and is unable to move on and mature like Naota.

Mamimi is at rock bottom, drenched in water by a passing motorcyclist, and has no one to turn too with Naota cutting off all ties. Even her adopted cat has left, shown to have found love himself. It is here that a strange little robot appears before her. The last episode featured a gun-toting robot that transformed into a hand, and was meant to pick up the Medical Mechanic factory to “iron out the wrinkles”. We’ll discuss this a little later.

Mamimi drops her phone that has Tasuku’s number on it. In a surprising move, Mamimi actually lets the robot eat it, destroying her last connection with Tasuku. However, this is not necessarily Mamimi deciding to let go, since she immediately christens the robot the new “Tak-kun” and decides to use him as an attack dog of sorts, getting revenge on everyone in town who wronged her. The robot can devour machinery and grows bigger each time. Mamimi has one again chosen not to face her issues and is instead lashing out at a world that she refuses to deal with.

Naota mopes around, having a brief chat with Commander Amarao, the bushy-browed government agent with a history with Haruko. Naota goes home, and surprise, surprise, Haruko has come back. Where did she and Canti go? Well, it’s never really explained. That night, Naota confronts Haruko about just who she, and as usual, she remains vague and charming. She invites Naota to run away with her, commenting that he is still just a child and has much to see. Naota then acts his age, breaking down and hugs Haruko, distraught by her departure and return. Haruko does pet him, but looks away indifferently. It appear she still needs Naota’s brain to find Atomsk. In a way, she is mirroring Mamimi, using Naota as a means to an end, in relation to a character she loves.

We catch up with Naota’s school chums. By far, the more mature character in this series is Eri Ninamori, who was the focus of the third episode. She tells her friends that she honestly expressed herself to her parents, and it improved their relationship. She comments that Naota must do the same with his loved ones to make a difference. Ninamori that jumps over a high pole in P.E., symbolising that she has overcome her own problems. Ninamori later comes across Naota and Haruko, who are sleeping rough, but does not intervene, likely leaving Naota to deal with his own problems.

Mamimi has had a fruitful night, with her machinery-crunching robot now the size of a tiger. However, it suddenly goes mental and goes on a rampage, devouring everything in sight. This could symbolise Mamimi finally snapping, though she actually tries to restrain the robot. The rampage attracts the attention of Amarao, who happens to run into Canti, who for some reason, is wearing a dress and now working as school patrol officer. The robot spots Canti and they suddenly combine. It turns out that Mamimi’s robot is called the Terminal Core, and its purpose appears to be to activate the factory.

Now here we go, it’s the climax! And, yes, that innuendo is deliberate. Just look at the episode’s title! Naota and Haruko dash in to stop the Terminal Core, but are confronted by Amarao, desperate to stop Haruko from releasing Atomsk. Amarao tries to convince Naota to come to his side, but he instead goes to Haruko, devoted to her as Amarao himself once was. Haruko bats Naota into the Terminal Core, activating the Medical Mechanica factory. Naota sees a vision, where Amarao explains that the factory’s purpose is to “flatten” the Earth and erase all independent thought, using Atomsk’s power to do it.

There can multiple ways to interpret this. Medical Mechanica can represent the mundanity of life, the repetition and boredom that adulthood can be. Hence, why the factory is shaped like a gigantic iron. An old school symbol of work and labour. The need to work to make money can iron out the more spontaneous wrinkles in life. Another interpretation is that it represents Japanese society, and the need to conform to tradition. School life and education can be an extremely stressful time for Japanese students, and differentiation can lead to severe bullying. No wonder Japan has such a high suicide rate. Yikes, this is starting to become depressing.

Haruko makes it clear she doesn’t give a toss about what happens to Earth as long as she can free Atomsk. The gigantic hand moves to grab the factory and crush Amarao. However, Canti appears, blocking the hand. Naota then clambers out of Canti’s head, now fused with Atomsk himself, now glowing bright red. Atomsk has a symbol on his head, which is the broken kanji for “adult”, confirming he does indeed represent adulthood and its power. Likely having heard Haruko’s selfish words, Naota takes a stand to defend his home. Haruko flips out, enraged that Naota ate Atomsk’s power and engages him in a battle.

Naota disarms Haruko and confronts her. But, rather than kick her ass, he instead does the more, well, humane thing. He confesses that he loves her, and gives her a snog. Naota has come a long way since the first episode, now willing to try new things, be more honest with both himself and others, and is more mature than most of his peers. He has embraced his puberty and taken a bold step in his life. Puberty is the step taken to go from childhood to adulthood, and is symbolised by Naota kissing Haruko, allowing him to grow up as he likes.

Atomsk then bursts out of Naota’s head in dramatic fashion, appearing as an enormous, godlike bird of sorts, his very presence causing chaos with the town’s gravity. Atomsk destroys the giant hand, dumps the factory on the hillside, before rocketing off to the stars. Haruko watches him go, her position a sheer picture of defeat and loss. Haruko’s desire for power and adulthood is quite relatable. She can easily be associated with the often suppressed need to be spontaneous, creative, and unusual. Things which are still discouraged in Japanese society.

We never really get to know Haruko much as a person, or at least about her background. But, we do know she is older that Amarao and used him the same way she used Naota, to try to obtain Atomsk’s power. It is possible she is perhaps trapped in permanent puberty herself, prone to mood swings, causing trouble, and is associated with parts of culture that has been associated with social upheaval (i.e. rock ‘n’ roll). Perhaps she is trying to reach adulthood and maturity herself. But, Haruko being Haruko, immediately leaps onboard her moped and decides to take off after Atomsk. She invites Naota to come with her, but then decides against it, deciding he still has a lot more growing up to. And so, Haruko Haruhara takes off into the ethos, leaving Naota behind. I suppose no words need to be said between them.

Mamimi emerges from the rubble in one piece, witnessing Naota climb up a pile of debry to retrieve Haruko’s dropped guitar. He stands atop the peak in an iconic pose, looking skyward, perhaps towards the future. Mamimi watches in awe, and then her faces softens, perhaps into a quiet acceptance. She finally realises it is time to let go, to stop clinging to others, and to grow up herself. Naota standing above her reflects the difference in maturity between them, with Naota having let go of Haruko without a fuss. And now, Mamimi must do the same. She takes a photo of Naota, not for fun or her own amusement, but for a better, bigger purpose.

The episode jumps to some time later. Naota narrates that Mamimi left school the right way, and said so long, referring to him by his actual name. This hints that Mamimi ultimately did grow up and let go of Tasuku. Naota, Ninamori, and their friends appear to have entered high school, and Naota is now acting like a child without having to put on an exaggerated mature attitude. Mamimi is revealed to have left town and become a photographer, her photo of Naota appearing in a magazine. Canti is still around, acting as a caretaker for Naota’s family. And Haruko…well, the episode ends with her guitar strums itself, hinting that our favourite housekeeper may not be gone for good.

The final question to ask after this whole thing is one. What exactly does “Fooly Cooly” mean? Well, that’s open to interpretation. The phrase is thrown around a lot when characters are making sexual innuendo, so it could easily be associated with the act of having sex. It could also be related to adulthood, or a symbol for puberty and personal development. To me, it represents the natural growth from child to adult, and all of the challenges and baggage that can come with it. The unwanted changes physically and emotionally, how a person’s opinions and views can change towards the world and to people around them, puberty and all of its horrors, the growth in sexuality, and the decision to either embrace or reject adulthood.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this stretched out, beleaguered, and often opinionated six-part review and analysis of FLCL. Whenever the second season comes out, perhaps we’ll do this all over again. To me, FLCL is an anime that can be complex to understand, but has some wild, crazy ideas, characters, and breathtaking animation. It took me a few times to really understand what was going on, and like I said, the finale does make things a little confusing at times with the plot. I do hope in the sequel series that some questions are finally answered. Like, where did Haruko come from? What became of Naota, Mamimi, and Canti? And what is the true motivations behind Haruko and Medical Mechanica?

Have you enjoyed this analysis of FLCL? Are you a fan of the anime, and how have you interpreted it differently? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed if you like.

About the author

Mark Russell