FLCL Ep. 1 – Little Buster Never Knows Best

A post in The Epic Journey. Contains FLCL spoilers.

This post is written by a person who has seen this show nearly 10 times over 6 years. Because I have no real concept of what it would be like to be watching this show for the first time, I am going to write assuming that the reader has already seen the whole series once. It will probably help your understanding a lot as well if you rewatch the show before reading these posts.

The first episode opens up with a quote from Ashita no Joe (1). Mamimi takes the line and twists it around so that it isn’t about boxing, but baseball. What she’s saying is nonsense, which is a great way to start off a show that’s full of it. Mamimi is swinging around a bat, but she’s swinging from the left with her right hand on top. Naota, who thinks that she’s rambling about some game, isn’t really paying attention, but is quick to tell her that her hands are upside down. The reason for this is that Naota’s brother is a baseball player who went to America to play for a higher league. His brother plays left handed (2), which is both why Mamimi was trying to swing that way and why Naota was so picky about the swing. Both of these characters’ personalities and development heavily center around Naota’s brother, so this sets that framework in from the very start, even if it doesn’t tell you so.

Mamimi starts getting all over Naota, which seems to piss him off. It’s really less that he’s pissed about her behavior as he is that she’s supposed to be his brother’s girlfriend, and still claims such, but is acting this way with him. He doesn’t really get why she’s like this, and when he asks she only tells him that if she doesn’t do these things she’ll ‘overflow’, which for now only makes sense to her (I will get back to it.) When he asks her what would happen, she tells him ‘probably something amazing.’ This is something I probably won’t get into till a later episode.

Naota just thinks of it all as bullshit since his worldview is pretty bleak and he sees everything as ordinary and boring. It’s not so much that he’s really bored with the world, it’s just that this is the mindset he thinks is the mature way to think. Naota has a real complex about coolness and maturity and hates things that are childish. A kid’s view of adulthood is probably one of unexcitedness and calm.

Quick Note: I love the sound Medical Mechanica makes when it emits smoke. This is used to great dramatic effect in later eps.

When they get up to head home, Naota goes to buy a drink, but Mamimi presses the button and orders something sour, which Naota hates. She drinks half of it and gives the rest to Naota. Neither he nor the viewer realizes at this time that Mamimi is really poor and probably partly saw this as an opportunity for a free drink, covering it up as a tease. She drinks half and hands the can to Naota. Naota looks at the wetness on the hole and at Mamimi’s lips and can’t help but think of it as an indirect kiss. he gets pissed and throws the can, preparing to tell Mamimi something about his brother, but he stops mid-sentence – that’s about when Haruka beats the fuck out of him with her vespa and guitar.

After all the wonderfully awesome zaniness of the scene, Haruka speeds off down the road. Mamimi remarks how she was ‘probably over 20’ and then Naota spitefully calls her ‘an adult whose too childish to grow up.’ Now he’s really showing his obsession with maturity, along with a definite spite towards childishness which will be explored more in a bit. There’s then some more plot setup with Naota’s horn growing, further run-ins with Haruka, and the kids at school probing him about his bandage as well as spreading rumors about Haruka, the ‘vespa woman.’

At home, Naota gets a call from Mamimi who wants him to come look at some pictures. Naota, annoyed, blows her off and tells her to go play with her friends. He of course doesn’t realize that she has no friends and is probably feeling very lonely. Then he of course finds out that Haruka is now his live-in housemaid thanks to her having hit his father with her vespa. (this fact comes back in episode 4 if you look closely.)

Quick Note: Legendary manga scene is legendary. See my commentary post for more on it’s awesomeness.

At the dinner table, we realize that Naota’s dad is completely childish much like Haruka and afterward Naota is fairly pissed about the whole situation and all of the childishness involved. It really bothers him that the adults can’t fit into his definiton of mature where he no doubt places himself. He goes off to sulk and be emo.

Back in his room, Haruka is waiting. He rejects her at first, but when she shows a sign of affection (‘but Naota-kun was the one I met first’ – she used his first name, too, adding to the effect) he lightens up about it a little. He refuses to let her use his brother’s bed, which really seals the impression that he is brother-obsessed. However, since he doesn’t want her sleeping with him, he ends up letting her take the bed. It isn’t quite there yet, but this will become symbolic of Naota’s impression of Haruka.

That night, Naota’s dad informs him how Mamimi came by before to collect the shop’s leftover bread and left behind some pictures. His dad half-spitefully asks if Mamimi’s family might be poor. Naota tenses up, but he’s not angry with his dad for insulting Mamimi – he’s mad at himself for not realizing sooner that she is struggling. He rushes out of the store to go find her.

When we see Mamimi on the bridge, she’s smoking a cigarette that says ‘NEVER KNOWS BEST’ on it. The phrase is a summary of her personality as a whole. There is a ‘best’ way of living, but not everyone can follow that way. Some people stray from the path (3). She’s that kind of person – the kind of person whose life isn’t great and she’s taking it with the flow. She’s kind of the equivalent of the kind of person who would be a goth/delinquent kid in America – at least, she’s like some of my friends, lol.

Naota isn’t really entirely sure what to say to Mamimi and looks out over the side of the bridge trying to make heads or tails of the situation – all he knew is that Mamimi might need him now. Naota asks how much she cares about his brother, and while she doesn’t put it in any particular way, she basically says she likes him. She gets up and puts her arms around Naota again, trying to fool around once more, though she does it in a way devoid of real feeling – she’s doing it just to do it, to make her feel better, thinking of him likely as just a place-holder for his brother. That’s when Naota drops the bombshell – in America, his brother has gotten a new girlfriend. Mamimi holds her head and starts writhing around. She says that she’s ‘overflowing’.

Mamimi’s ‘overflow’ is a destruction of her emotional foothold. Her life fucking sucks – she’s pretty much homeless, she has no friends, we later learn that she is hated by other kids her age, and now the person she loves and admires has left her for someone else. When she tells Naota that she ‘needs to do this, or she’ll overflow,’ she is trying to say that she is basically on the edge at all times, and she’s desperately clinging to something that can keep her from falling – from overflowing. Basically, she’s clinging to threads of sanity and happiness. With that foothold dissolving, now she’s freaking out. Lucky for her, this happens to trigger a strong enough reaction from Naota that the portal in his mind, triggered by strong emotions of certain kinds (4), opens up and two fighting robots come out.

There is an awesome fight, and the red TV-headed robot Canti wins, immediately followed by Haruka speeding onto the scene. She revs up her bass and cleaves it straight into Canti’s head, smashing it’s back open (which we will understand later.) In that moment, Haruka’s swing dazzles Naota, and he immediately regrets it, but he thinks for a second that she looks like his brother. After all, he has the same left-handed swing. This is where we really learn what Haruka is becoming to Naota – the second version of his brother, who was always the coolest person to him and his image of adulthood and what a person should be. She’s sleeping in his bed, she’s a cool, older woman, and she even has the same swing.

The next day, Naota rushes out to meet Mamimi, who tells him he didn’t have to rush, likely having mostly gotten over the last night. She hands Naota another half-drunken can of sour drink, only this time he takes it and starts drinking. Basically, Naota has decided to try and become his brother for Mamimi at this point. His rushing shows that he was worried, and he’s no longer unwilling to accept the indirect kiss – he wants to really take up the mantle as her boyfriend.

Upon several rewatchings, the first episode is probably my least favorite from this show, which is really no surprise when it’s the setup episode in a show only 6 episodes long. As a first episode, it’s great, setting a tone and characters and, albeit small, base for the story, but still being fun, stylish, and having plenty of candy for the rewatching crowd. Besides the crazy scene, my favorite part from the episode is Mamini with the cigarette in her lips.

I think it’s interesting how the tone in all of the scenes with just Naota or him and Mamimi are very placid – calm and straight-faced with usually more down-tempo music, and it’s only when Haruko shows up that things explode into zany action. It really shows you that this isn’t a crazy show as much as a show with a crazy character who is single-handedly creating all the mayhem that goes on.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that some of the voice actors, like Mamimi, still felt like they were getting used to their roles, which isn’t surprising knowing that they are all newbie actors. Naota and Haruka are pros, and it shows. Ninamori also already feels very much in tune with the character, but she’s also only just had a couple lines.

1. As stated by director Tsurumaki in the commentary.

2. Director Tsurumaki points out how left-handed people seem more laid-back and free-spirited to him, and how they are captivating to him. Haruka and Naota’s brother are left-handed.

3. These were almost the exact words used by Tsurumaki to describe the phrase. He says that the cigarette idea came from a postcard from London that he’d seen that was a close-up of a cigarette with handwriting on it.

4. In episode 5, Tsurumaki insinuates that different strong emotions trigger the horn’s growth/portal opening and may effect the monster that comes through.

11 thoughts on “FLCL Ep. 1 – Little Buster Never Knows Best

  1. You know.. I watched ep 1 while reading your post. It cleared up a lot of things I didn’t know about the series when I watched it before. Will look forward for the other episode posts.

  2. :D good to know I helped. I love to show off in episodic posts, especially a show like this that I’ve wanted to analyze since I was 13.

  3. I remember watching this and going wtf?! Especially the Mamimi overflowing bit, so this post helps a lot It’s amazing how much detail they’ve put on here. NEVER KNOWS BEST is funny. As in father NEVER KNOWS BEST?? This was one of my favorite episodes actually. I love the funny mouths they make, too, especially mamimi.

  4. @ak: yeah, the overflowing bit never made sense to me when I was young – actually I should write some stuff about how Mamimi never made sense to me until now lol. As for funny mouths, I assume you mean the awesome mouth in the 3D part lol.

  5. Pingback: Fuzakenna! » Blog Archive » FLCL Ep. 2 - CAN YOU FEEEEL?! CAN YOU FEEL THAT HYBRID RAINBOW?!

  6. Not to reduce the meaning, but “overflowing” has a sexual connotation to me as well, and sorta exemplifies one of the things that I think is great about FLCL — it doesn’t work on one single level, or even two for that matter. There is surface (zaniness), an undertone (sexual awakening/puberty/teenage confusion), and a further undertone which is what I think you’re getting at here.

  7. @otou-san: did you read my commentary post yet? All the sexual stuff is explained by it being the writer who loves that stuff.

    EDIT: to expand on that, the director said ‘this story would have been a bit more shallow if ‘I’d been left to write it and not him’

  8. Pingback: Fuzakenna! » Blog Archive » An Epic Journey: Introduction

  9. Cool how Fl Cl is a show where just -explaining what the fuck happens- qualifies as analysis.

    The only thing worth sharing that I got out of it on one viewing was that it all felt to me as the viewer the same way it would feel to experience it in real life. In life, there is no clear purpose to a moment, no clear lesson, no definite tone. If you tried to explain what happens in the first episode the first time seeing it, you would probably sound like you would if you were really there.

    “There was this girl talking to this boy and a girl hit him in the head with a guitar and she was driving a motorcycle or moped whatever it is. And like the younger girl was talking to him before that about like stuff and they drank a soda, I mean SHE drank a soda but um, and then the older girl who hit him started living at his house.”

  10. Great explanation for one of my favourite series!!!1 Hell, I loved it even thinking it was just mindless crazy fun series, now I will love it even better!!!! This series definitively deserves an in depth review with the quality of your ”Asterisk War Sucks” series, I’d love to see it

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