How To Show, Not Tell: FLCL and its Cultural Significance

FLCL: How To Show, Not Tell

A Rickenbacker 4001 bass guitar, a bright yellow moped, and a pink-haired manic pixie dream girl. The combination of the three randomly appears and bashes you in the head as you try to tell your brother's ex-girlfriend that he's got a new girlfriend. If that description leaves you with little to no clue what is happening, that is the point. It's the opening of FLCL (pronounced "Foo-Lee-Coo-Lee"), a phenomenal anime series from the year 2000 and illustrates why it is a near-perfect example of the storytelling principle "Show, don't tell". Naota Nandaba, our protagonist, likes to think that he's a grown-up, mature individual, stoic to the world when, in reality, he's a twelve-year-old kid starting to discover the vast complexities that make up our everyday lives. His discoveries are chronicled over six episodes, with each diving into the uncomfortable truths Naota faces to realize what growing up means. While the show routinely devolves into chaos and spits at any attempt to seem cohesive, the messages it carries can still be seen beneath the flashy action and the heaps of innuendos. Everything points to what the show is really about: how Naota is experiencing the world around him.

Put the guitar-wielding dream girl aside for a moment though, and put yourself back in the shoes of your twelve-year-old self. Regardless of the time period or cultural fads at the time, age twelve is around a turning point in most modern people's lives. Simply, life begins to get complicated; issues begin to tail your past when they pop up, relationships start to take on more weight, and the steadfast images of the older individuals in your life start to fade when you begin to understand their vulnerability. In those feelings of daunting uncertainty, we find Naota and the rest of our characters laid out before us. Naota's father can't hold a serious conversation and whimsically chases whatever thought pops into his mind, utterly opposite to what Naota considers a responsible, mature adult. His brother has left home, leaving Naota to find his own way forward. And the only prominent females in the show, his brother's ex-girlfriend and the manic pixie dream girl, use Naota as a stand-in for the things they want. All of these relationships are confusing to say the least, and if you had to deal with them at the age of twelve? I imagine you wouldn't know what to do or how to approach it. What if someone, or something, could just appear from nowhere and help you, hell, even solve these conflicts with you in your moments of crisis? This is where FLCL hits the gas, and absolutely breaks from anything like it.

Let's refresh our opening scene again; you're out walking with your absent older brother's ex-girlfriend, and he inevitably comes up in conversation. You go to tell her that she's essentially been replaced, but the air is tense since you both know what will be said. All of a sudden, the pink-haired, moped rider comes out of nowhere and smacks you up upside the head, knocking you unconscious and stalling the conversation. It doesn't get resolved, and you get to figure out what to do the next day. When you find her, the topic gets brought back up again, but this time you're able to get it out, and you're starting to feel relieved, and, and… Then the robots start erupting from your head. Wait, wait, what? You were able to get it out, overcome those uncomfortable feelings and get the weight off your chest; what's happening now? Well, you're twelve, and you didn't expect your brother's ex wouldn't be taking this well. Now a battle between a robot and another robot's severed arm needs to take place to serve as a metaphor for the conflict between people in uncomfortable situations.

I can't describe the battle in any way that would do it justice, but I can assure you it's something to watch if you have a spare few minutes. FLCL is a rare experience where the action sequences perfectly complement the emotional intensity that the show gives you. The frantic pace that guides each action scene is really only something you can visually experience. Everything I described above is only the first episode, and each of the following five episodes only builds and expounds upon the points I bring up. FLCL shows us what the world looks like to a twelve-year-old experiencing all of the emotions, challenges, and interactions that come with it. The show doesn't need all of the over the top action pieces, all of the robots, guitars, innuendos, fourth wall breaks, aliens, secret government organizations, or fake eyebrows, but it uses all of those to show us an idea of what Naota is experiencing in these pivotal years. I'd like to think that it succeeds because even if we don't know what's happening on screen, it doesn't matter. If our main character is confused about the world exploding around him, why should we experience it any other way?

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Article by:Based__

Based__ is an OG anime watcher, watching his first anime back in 2008 on Toonami at night. Since then, he's gone on to watch over 360 anime across all genres, and plans on making his own anime in the future.

Fun Fact: He will rewatch all of Monogatari if you make the slightest reference. Don't ask him to, please, for the sake of his plan-to-watch list.