After 17 years, FLCL has returned with the premiere of Progressive, the first of two follow-ups to the original, bizarre, coming-of-age anime. Rather than focusing on what’s new about the sequel series, the first episode centers on elements from the original: horns coming out of people’s heads, people randomly getting hit by vehicles, and giant factories that look like clothing irons. So it’s no surprise that the conflict at the heart of this new season might be directly related to a character from the first FLCL — and no, we’re not talking about Haruko.
[Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first episode of FLCL: Progressive.]
Instead of Naota, the main character of the original FLCL (pronounced “Fooly Cooly”), Progressive focuses on Hidomi, a reserved girl who closes herself off from the world by wearing headphones (that aren’t actually playing music). One of the only times that she shows any emotion in the premiere happens when she and her mother look upon their town’s steaming Medical Mechanica factory. The sight reminds her mom of a male character missing from their lives — presumably, Hidomi’s father. There’s reason to believe he’s a character from the original series.
“I wonder where he is right now,” Hidomi’s mom says. And after a pause: “I’ve been thinking, maybe it’s time to stop waiting for him. Maybe it’s time for us to move on.”
Considering the emphasis placed on this scene, and the fact that executive producer Mitsuhisa Ishikawa (with translation from producer Maki Terashima-Furuta) told FLCL panel attendees at this year’s C2E2 that “some students” from the first season would return and be married in the sequel, the mystery man here is probably someone from the original anime. And accounting for Hidomi’s mom being relatively young-looking, when the sequel takes place (“many years” after the first FLCL), and who people would care to see references to, it’s likely the mystery character is, in fact, Naota.
This theory could also be supported by Hidomi’s dream at the beginning of the episode. In it, she encounters a creature that might be Atomsk, the Pirate Lord Haruko was either in love with or wanted to steal power from in the original series. Though the creature isn’t as brightly colored as Atomsk was when he showed up in the season finale, it’s just as big, and it seems to have an appropriate level of power for the character, too. When the creature opens its eye, robot parts burst from the horn on Hidomi’s head. Those parts then appear to form a robot suit around her, empowering her to fight Medical Mechanica, the corporation that supposedly threatens to “iron out” planets and the minds of people living on them. As Medical Mechanica captured Atomsk in the first season, this is something he would probably want, making it even more likely that the Pirate Lord made an appearance in Hidomi’s dream.
Naota comes into the picture because Hidomi’s potential connection to Atomsk might be something she got from him. During the finale of the original series, Naota absorbed Atomsk’s powers, but later seemed to discard them. Nevertheless, something from Atomsk could have stuck around and been passed on to Hidomi, which also makes sense as the “secret within her that could save everyone” that’s outlined in Adult Swim’s summary of FLCL 2.
But why would Naota, who was on an upward trajectory of growth at the end of the first season, leave his family behind? Perhaps he felt like he had to leave to fight Medical Mechanica. His mom was looking at one of their factories when she started talking about the missing character, after all. Or maybe, the show is taking an unlikely, cynical perspective on Naota, and he became what he despised as a kid: yet another stupid, unreliable adult.
Whether or not the mystery character is Naota, though, he’s probably inhabiting a role we’ve seen before. When Hidomi hears maybe-Naota mentioned for the first time, her headphones begin to whir and glow brighter. This is how she starts to “overflow,” which means she’s feeling overwhelmed and something’s about to erupt from her head. As her mom continues on about the missing man, Hidomi shows more concern, and her headphones buzz faster and glow even brighter. She says, “Mom, you know what—,” but stops, and soon doesn’t get a chance to say anything else due to the sound of an approaching car.
All of this suggests that Hidomi’s relationship to this person is a stumbling block she’ll have to contend with, just like the one Naota had with his absent brother Tasuku in the original series. Naota idolized Tasuku to the point of carrying around his bat, yet he never swung it for fear of coming up short in comparison. He ultimately had to swing the bat in order to grow. Hidomi might be in a similar position with her headphones, which likely came from the absent figure in her life, too.
Based on Hidomi’s dream and Progressive’s summary, it seems like a safe bet that Hidomi won’t keep to herself forever. Whether that means she’ll have to change without the missing person in her life making an appearance, and if that person is Naota, remains to be seen.
Alexander Wong is a freelance entertainment journalist who has written for Inverse and ComicsVerse. He would like to talk about Naruto with you.