Hello once again, everyone! As the students around the country start to get settled into the new school year, I have decided to bring Nippon Manga Rebyu out from hiatus. We kick things off by looking at Hajime Ueda’s manga adaptation of Kazuya Tsurumaki’s critically acclaimed OVA series, FLCL.
FLCL follows 12 year-old Naota Nandaba as he goes through an allegorical life lesson about teen angst with battling robots used as part of the allegory. The story begins with Naota trying to do some homework while being bugged by his older brother Tasuku’s ex-girlfriend Mamimi. Naota then asks Mamimi if Tasuku has sent her any mail yet. Out of nowhere a beautiful young woman on a yellow Vespa drives up to Naota and clocks him in the head with a guitar for no apparent reason.
Mamimi drags a bleeding Naota back to his house. The next day at school, Naota overhears his classmates talking about a “Vespa Woman” going around attacking people with her guitar and stabbing children who aren’t honest. While hanging out with Mamimi after school, the woman who attacked Naota shows up again.
The woman goes to continue her assault on Naota, but Mamimi shields him with her body and asks the woman to call off her attack saying that Naota is a good guy. The woman then questions the validity of this statement.
The two of them then continue to bicker over Naota, until they notice that he isn’t moving.
The woman begins to have a panic attack thinking she killed a kid and then tells Mamimi to help her bury Naota. Naota suddenly wakes up in his room with a bandage on the spot that he got hit with the guitar. He makes his way downstairs and his father tells him that the rest of his family already had breakfast. Naota goes to make his own breakfast when he sees a robot in an apron preparing bowls of rice.
Now, Naota, being the logical, understanding 12 year-old that he is responds to this like you would probably expect him to, by freaking the hell out.
The person his father hired to be their housekeeper turns out to be the woman who has been attacking Naota, and she reveals her name to be Haruko Haruhara. Naota goes to school, and we are treated to a more expanded version of the scene from earlier where his classmates were talking about the Vespa Woman. Naota meets up with Mamimi after school and deduces that Haruko is the Vespa Woman. He then wakes up back at the scene where Haruko and Mamimi were arguing over him. Suddenly a large hand grows from the spot on his head where Haruko hit him with her guitar.
The hand drags Naota through the town and Haruko follows him. Eventually she comes upon Naota and sees that two robots have emerged from his head, one of which being the rice serving robot from his dream. The two robots begin fighting each other.
The rice robot defeats the other robot and takes Naota back to Mamimi, who thinks the rice robot is the Black Fire Angel, Lord Canti, a character from the video game Fire Starter that she constantly plays.
While Mamimi and Canti silently stare at one another, Haruko comes out of nowhere and smashes open the back of Canti’s head with her guitar.
Naota and his friends see Canti shopping at a store after school one day, and we learn that Canti is a medical droid designed by the company that owns a large iron-shaped facility in the town that billows out large clouds of white steam every day. While chilling with his friends in the remains of a house that burned down, Naota is attacked by the other robot that came out of his head, only to be saved by Canti, who defeats the other robot for good. Back at his house, Naota overhears Haruko talking to his cat.
Haruko catches him and reveals to Naota that she’s actually an intergalactic officer fighting in a war, but Naota doesn’t believe her. While Naota is practicing his bat swing by the riverside one day, his classmate Ninamori, who has a crush on him, watches him from an overpass and quietly tells him to work hard, but sees Mamimi hugging Naota. Ninamori’s response is completely understandable.
As the manga continues to progress, more and more robots emerge from Naota’s head, and he gets further wrapped up in Haruko’s world. The FLCL manga lasts for 15 chapters that was collected into two tankobon volumes. It was originally released in the US by Tokyopop, but was recently released by Dark Horse in an omnibus version that combines the two tankobon volumes.
In terms of being an adaptation of the FLCL anime, this manga is hard to judge. On one hand, it does keep some of the wackiness of the anime, but at the same time, it can be much more serious. In addition, the roles and fates of several characters are changed in this manga to the point that I honestly consider the anime and manga to be entirely different things. They have the same overall main plot structure and all of the same characters, but for all intents and purposes, they have different stories. Think of the two of them being two plays being performed by a troupe of theatre actors.
So if you look at it as a literal adaptation of the anime, it does a bad job of that, but as a stand alone story/alternate take on the anime, it works pretty well. Combined with the unique art style it has, which is quite possibly the best thing it has going for it overall, and I would have to say that the FLCL manga is a serviceable manga. I give it my seal of approval, but with a caveat of you should go in expecting it to be nothing like the anime. If you go in expecting it to be like the anime, you may end up being disappointed.