The first season of out-of-this-world anime FLCL (pronounced “fooly cooly”) aired from 2000 to 2001, and it’s since become a classic. Its exploration of puberty, sexuality, and identity takes place over a short, hectic six-episode run that can take a few rewatches to really dig into. It came as a surprise, then, when two new seasons of FLCL were announced in 2016–why the 15-year gap, why two in the same year, and why make a follow-up to a series that didn’t necessarily warrant one?
The second season, FLCL Progressive, aired in June 2018, while FLCL Alternative is currently airing. Both seasons take place years after the first, and each stars different protagonists, though the mysterious Haruko Haruhara is a returning character. We spoke to Jason DeMarco, Adult Swim’s senior vice president of on-air, as well as Kari Wahlgren, the English voice of Haruko, about the new seasons, including why they were made in the first place and why they were announced at the same time.
“When we first met [Kazuya Tsurumaki], the director of the original FLCL, to talk about this thing, he was pretty hilariously baffled as to why it was still something people talked about in the US,” DeMarco explained. “Because in Japan it’s obviously very, very well-regarded, but mostly by creators and people that are in the industry…It has a less fervent fan following than it does in the US.”
So why did FLCL take off in the West in the first place? “Adult Swim certainly didn’t hurt the show by showing it over and over over the years. I think we’ve just simply first and foremost exposed it to more people. I think in Japan it just wasn’t broadcast on television somewhat continuously for over a decade,” he said. But he also attributed the show’s success to Tsurumaki’s fascination with American culture, and the inclusion of specific cultural elements in the show–“from the Rickenbacker guitar to the Vespa to the crystal Pepsi to the baseball-playing brother”–that make the original FLCL more palatable to audiences who otherwise might have been put off by the series’ “weirdness.”
A big part of why Adult Swim–with Production I.G and Toho–took on the FLCL name was a legal one: The rights were up for sale. DeMarco, who himself is a big fan of FLCL, said that the team was in a good position to take on the challenge. “It’s like if somebody offered you the opportunity to make a sequel to Blade Runner, you’re gonna think, ‘How could anyone ever top Blade Runner?’ But at the same time, if you’re offered the opportunity and you think you could do justice to that world, how could you not take it?”
In a separate interview, Wahlgren, who was happy to return to the role of Haruko, also noted that the team was right for the job. “The whole show in general has been made by people who really care about this show,” she said. “That’s been the really cool thing about this whole process, is that everybody working on this show is excited about it and just really wants it to turn out well and cares about the show.”
Tsurumaki himself gave us the best advice, which is: ‘Stop talking to me about this, go get a bunch of young people who want to tell their own story in this world and let them do that.’
DeMarco noted that the team knew it would be almost impossible to live up to the original FLCL. “I think that was actually the hardest nut to crack, and that’s why it took well over a year for us to just even develop the story–because we just weren’t…none of us were satisfied with what we were coming up with,” he said. “Tsurumaki himself gave us the best advice, which is: ‘Stop talking to me about this, go get a bunch of young people who want to tell their own story in this world and let them do that.'”
Part of that has been the new seasons’ focus on female protagonists–while the original is relatable to people of any gender, it definitely has a male puberty bent. “I personally feel like [the new seasons] address a lot of the female puberty issues and coming into your own as a woman in a way that is not often addressed in Western animation,” Wahlgren said. “I think that there is a lot that’s addressed and not danced around that I was even surprised. I’m like, ‘Wow. They are really going for it. They are really talking about this. They’re really joking about that.'”
So the gap between seasons makes sense, as do the general reasons for making a FLCL sequel. But the biggest question for a lot of fans, partially due to general confusion, was why two, and why announce them at the same time? It didn’t help that the first episode of Alternative, which is the third season, aired on April Fool’s Day. According to DeMarco, it was simply because the first episode of Progressive wasn’t ready–which created more confusion about the series’ chronology.
“The reason [there are] two different seasons is because that’s what the creative [team] came back to us with,” DeMarco explained. “They said, ‘We want to have two different teams do six episodes each and take their own approaches.” Adult Swim was on board.
“We just felt like it was cool to announce both and let people know [there was] more than one. Let people see that they were different. And maybe some people were also confused as to which is which, but it’s FLCL; I think confusion comes with the territory.”
FLCL Alternative is now airing. If you’re in the US, Adult Swim airs the English-dubbed episodes on TV; you can stream all the episodes of the original FLCL and Progressive on the Adult Swim website, while you currently need a cable login to access Alternative.