The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 111 | FLCL Omnibus trade paperback review

Leaving Proof 111 | FLCL Omnibus trade paperback review
Published on Thursday, May 3, 2012 by

I’ve professed my high regard for the Gainax/Production I.G. anime series FLCL in a previous column, but does the manga adaptation of the cult hit live up to the reputation of its frenetically-animated counterpart? Read on to find out!

Key Review Points

Pros:

  • Art captures the hyperkinetic feel of the source animation.
  • Liberties taken with regards to the story means that even readers who have seen the FLCL anime series in its entirety will find new and surprising story developments.
  • An almost automatic purchase for FLCL fans looking for new content.

Cons:

  • Fans of the original FLCL anime series may take issue with the plot changes.
  • Not an ideal introduction to FLCL due to the plot’s divergence from the original narrative.
Publication Details
  • Publisher: Dark Horse Manga (a division of Dark Horse Comics)
  • Publication Date: May 2012
  • Story by: Gainax
  • Adaptation and Art by: Hajime Ueda
  • Lettering by: Steve Dutro
  • Translation (2001) by: Roy Yoshimoto with Stephanie Sheh
  • Translation (2012 Omnibus) by: Michael Gombos
  • Translation (2012 English-language adaptation) by: Philip R. Simon
  • Format: 392-page black & white trade paperback; reprints material from the two-volume FLCL collection first printed in Japan in 2007 by Kodansha Ltd., Tokyo. This book is translated into English but oriented in right-to-left reading format to maintain the artwork’s visual orientation as originally drawn and published in Japan.
  • List Price: $19.99 US (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
Full Review

A little over a month ago, I wrote the following about the six-episode anime series FLCL (available on DVD and Blu-Ray as well as on Netflix and FUNimation Entertainment’s official FLCL channel on Youtube):

FLCL (read as “fooly cooly”) is a Gainax/Production I.G. co-production that originally aired in Japan in 2000 and has been credited by the people behind Avatar: The Last Airbender as a major influence in their approach to animation and direction. It’s an unusual show, even by contemporary anime standards, combining a story about a young adolescent male’s coming of age with alien/robot hijinks and wrapping it all up in surreal imagery and blunt sexual metaphors. It’s not the most accessible animated Japanese export, certain aspects of the show’s humour (particularly jokes that are based on Japanese homophones) and the character interactions resist easy translation into Western counterparts, but anybody who’s ever struggled with the confusion over the changes engendered by adolescence will find broad parallels with FLCL‘s bizarre treatment of twelve-year old Naota’s maturation.

Do the strengths of the FLCL cartoon hold true for its print adaptation?

To a degree, yes.

Hajime Ueda’s dynamic visual storytelling choices and distinct, loose line work echo the hyperkinetic look of FLCL‘s animation. It would have been much, much simpler for the writer-artist to work backward from the series’ storyboards and adhere strictly to the show’s art style, but by applying his brand of stylization to the character models and going with a storytelling approach that is more tuned to the comics medium, Ueda avoids turning the title into a boring and ultimately unnecessary cel-to-panel pastiche. That being said, the comic book page is still a static visual platform, and for FLCL fans whose main interest in the property is tied to the technical execution of the show’s animation, there is less to be excited about here.

The book’s narrative is really more of a reinterpretation than a straight-ahead (and rote) adaptation of the FLCL anime series’ overarching story. The book starts out similarly enough to the source material, but diverges significantly about a quarter of the way in. This isn’t to say that Ueda subverts the source story—many of the anime’s tonal, thematic, and plot elements are retained in the migration from anime to manga—but it is clear that the adaptation’s plot and character development are based on his understanding of the rather surreal goings-on of the show, and not on a strict re-telling of the series’ events. I’ll avoid spoilers and not list the changes instituted by Ueda, but I will say that certain supporting characters from the series are given larger roles in the comic (while others are pretty much left out), there is less of an emphasis on the visual metaphors for adolescence and sexual maturation that informed the cartoon, the motivations for a number of key characters are different, and perhaps most significantly, the ending is wholly different from that of the animated series.

The wide creative latitude given to Ueda for his adaptation means that even readers who have seen the FLCL anime series in its entirety will find new and surprising story developments. Conversely, it’s entirely possible that fans of the show may take issue with the adaptation’s plot and characterization deviations. It’s also because of these departures from the source material that I don’t consider this volume an ideal introduction to FLCL; readers new to the property would be better served watching the cartoon first via one of the options I linked to above. For those fans desperate for FLCL content, though, this is an almost automatic purchase: Despite its popularity in certain pop culture circles and the impression it has made on the Western animation industry—members of the production team behind Avatar: The Last Airbender cite FLCL as a major stylistic influence and all manner of obvious homages to FLCL can be seen in episodes of The Legend of Korra and Teen Titans—Gainax hasn’t produced a follow-up in the twelve years since the show originally aired and this reinterpretation/adaptation is pretty much all there is as far as “new” FLCL material.

The “FLCL Omnibus” trade paperback goes on sale on 16 May 2012

Cover and Interior Page Previews (Click on images to view in larger size; note that the previews are oriented and ordered in right-to-left reading format)

   

  

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