A post in The Epic Journey. Contains major FLCL spoilers.
After I rewatched FLCL with No Name yesterday, I didn’t know how I was going to post about it. I didn’t feel like I was done with the series, and I knew I had a lot to say about it. Luckily, the DVDs have a commentary track (I’d say they may be worth buying for this alone) so I immediately watched the series again the the commentary, which was monumentally helpful and informative. I decided that in order to get out everything I want to say about this show, I will do 7 total posts including this one. The other 6 will be episodic examinations.
It’s easy to be confused about who did what when you see the large list of people and companies who worked on FLCL, but don’t be fooled. This is Kazuya Tsurumaki‘s show. Okay, to be fair there is a lot of influence by the animation directors and key animators who brought their unique styles to the show and ideas the staff put together, but for the most part, everything is there because Tsurumaki wanted it there. Just to give you some quick perspective, the vespa is his vespa, the bass is his favorite bass, the giant hand is a 3D render of his hand, and the Pillows are a band he likes that he wanted for his show. The commentary interviewer described the show at one point as Tsurumaki’s ‘treasure chest’ and I doubt I could put it any better.
For this post, I’ll mostly be talking about the production parts of things brought up in the commentary, like who came up with what, various visual motifs, and the vocal cast. Stuff that pertains directly to the story will be used as notations to support me when I do the episodic posts.
Throughout the commentary, Tsurumaki continually tells about his personal connections to everything in the show. For starters, he loves baseball (as a proper Japanese man), especially minor league baseball, which is a fundamental part of the story. He goes into detail on the right or left handedness of the characters, especially in how they hold a baseball bat. He says that in his experience, the left-handed people he met have always seemed more laid-back, carefree, and fun. He’s pretty jealous of them, and finds them somehow amazing as if they had a power to them. Naota’s brother and Haruka are both lefties. This largely effects how Naota sees Haruka.
Tsurumaki says the same about curry, claiming that people who can enjoy spicy things are fascinating and seem more free. He admits that this seems silly, but he incorporated it into the story as well, and once again Haruka is the one who loves spicy things. Tsurumaki himself is, of course, more like Naota, who he seems to largely connect with.
Another thing he loves is to have recurring imagery in a show, sometimes with meaning, like above, and sometimes without. There are a lot of cats seen throughout the show, which is simply because he loves cats. There are a lot of guitars just because he likes guitars – apparently, the legendary guitar Atomisk plays was something he took to his friend Hiroaki Sakurai (director of Cromartie High School, Di Gi Charat, and Kodocha) who owns a massive guitar collection including all of the ones in the show. And then, of course, there is The Pillows.
According to Tsurumaki, the pillows are underground and very little known in Japan (at that time, of course) and he had discovered them rather recently. He knew from the start that he didn’t want classical music in the show and would prefer a rock band sound, especially something he liked. He asked The Pillows if he could use their work, and they told him he could use as much as he wanted. He notes that he wanted to use even more of it.
There were also a ton of little things seen here and there that really only have meaning to Tsurumaki, which makes it even more awesome that he put them in, such as Haruka’s baseball uniform being based specifically on one from some team that had been horrible but he’d loved their outfits and sought to use them. One of the biggest ones is probably Canti, who wasn’t supposed to be part of the show at all at first. Tsurumaki said that he wanted to have a robot in the show really badly, but they weren’t sure since they were confident they could write the story just fine without a robot. However, he designed one anyway and pretty much forced it on the rest of the staff. When he designed Canti, he specifically didn’t want it to look like other anime robots, so he decided to give it a square head. When he thought about square objects, he came up with a TV, and decided that was awesome, and thus the show gained robots.
The horns also weren’t part of the original plan and in fact didn’t show up until a second draft of the show. Originally, Naota’s head was just meant to be empty, as it is in episode 2, but they didn’t think that it properly visually conveyed that something seriously weird was happening with Naota’s head. So eventually they came up with the horn, which especially pleased the writer, Yoji Enokido (wrote Revolutionary Girl Utena AND Ouran! OMG!), who absolutely loves sexual innuendo (as anyone who’s seen Utena can tell you) This is how the horns came to be a sort of symbolic side to the characters’ manhood.
Other influences from the rest of the staff came largely in the art and animation department. Tsurumaki points out the largely overlooked fact that in Japanese animation, every key animator has their own style, and they largely decide how a series will look. For many scenes, such animators and animation directors were allowed to run wild, letting signature styles spazz all over the place. My favorite is in episode 5 where it is immediately obvious that Hiroyuki Imaishi (director of Gurren Lagann and Dead Leaves and frequent Key Animator at Gainax) has taken the reigns for the absolutely insane gunfight. According to Tsurumaki, Imaishi specifically asked to let him animate that scene, and he said go for it. There was also heavy influence from assistant director Masahiko Otsuka on episode 4 where he evidently used techniques from 60s Japanese films that he loves to create some really trippy scenes. One more staff influence came from the many South Park references in episode 5, which were evidently the result of the whole team being fans of the show at the time.
One of the most interesting things Tsurumaki gets into are the very careful choices they made with the voice staff. For starters is what he considers the most important voice, and doubtlessly the show’s most A+ grade performance, Mayumi Shintani as Haruhara Haruko. As you can see from her ANN page, Shintani is not a normal voice actress – she’s actually a regular actor. Back when GAINAX was doing Kare Kano, they put a lot of effort into finding a voice for the character Tsubasa Shibahime, and they’d ended up using her, and found themselves very happy with this choice. When FLCL was still in it’s early stages, Tsurumaki couldn’t really decide what kind of character he wanted Haruko to be. Originally, she was a bit more normal and more just like a really energetic adult, but she ended up being too much like Misato from Evangelion and everyone who they discussed her with got that impression of her. So what he ended up doing was deciding on using Mayumi Shintani’s voice for the character and then built the character around Shintani’s abilities and strengths as an actor. This is why the role is performed so well, as Tsurumaki says ‘it’s a perfect performance, since it was made just for her.’
Amarao’s voice actor, Kouji Ohkura, is a member of Shintani’s acting troupe, and even though he had never done voice acting, Tsurumaki says he was a choice from the beginning since he knew he could do well with Shintani, and his character was also written for him. For each of the characters in the show, there were nearly 100 auditions, including those of professional voice actors, but there are very few professional voices used in the show. Tsurumaki says how he knew that professionals were safer and had better anunciation, but that he really liked to go by the soul he felt in an actor’s voice and whether that soul matched with the character. As such, there are mostly unprofessionals and some child actors involved.
Besides Ohkura and Shintani, there was really only one other professional actress, though like the other two, she doesn’t do voice acting often. This would be Naota’s voice, Jun Mizuki, which Tsurumaki said they’d originally intended to leave to a child actor but ended up liking Mizuki’s performance a lot and thought it would be best to leave the main character to a pro. He says he chose her voice because it was very cool and intelligent sounding. Of course, one cannot discuss the voice acting of FLCL without mentioning that the fatass cat Miyu Miyu is played by the man, the myth, the legend, Hideaki Anno.
Another interesting bit was learning about how certain scenes were made. The famous manga page scenes were evidently nearly impossible to animate. The whole segments had to be done on computers, and the team doing it wasn’t actually sure if it was doable. It evidently entailed a positively insane amount of data and after the first one, the team told Tsurumaki to never make them do something like that again. However, he then made them do it again in episode 6 (and this time with the neat effect of it slowly degrading into pencil drawings as if the artist were about to miss a deadline.) Evidently, though, they’d become masters of the craft by the second time. He also talks about the various moments of 3D that were doen with polygon rendering, as well as some photograph renders like his own giant hand in the last episode as well as the eyecatches being an amateur film technique of rendering random pictures for obscure effect.
There are any number of other random little things that I’d love to mention such as the extensive meaning behind episode titles, in-jokes, and interesting background notes, but I don’t want to go through the commentary word for word and a lot of it has to be saved for my episodic posts. I’ll just advise you now – if what you’ve read here interests you, go watch the commentary – it’ll only take you 3 hours and it’s very worth it if you love the series. The boxtorrent still has seeds (mine was done in a few hours) and with the DVDs now being hard to find, you may need to go that route (I harshly regreat never having bought the DVDs, as even if the show gets rereleased, we probably wont get this commentary.
Personally, my love of the show was greatly enhanced by seeing just how much of the director’s soul went into it, as I absolutely love to see a person put themselves in their work (look at my damn blog!) so it was great. It also did a lot to confirm my own thoughts on the series and prove that it really did have as much meaning as I wanted it to.