Recently, I watched the entirety of FLCL for the first time with someone for whom the series had a dramatic impact on his ideas of adolescence and maturity. Such an impact, in fact, that remnants of its influence linger in his every day life currently; the fact that he owns a scooter, or that the series inspired him to learn the guitar.
Needless to say, being a 27 year-old female, the series had a different affect on me.
It was episode three, “Marquis de Carabas,” that stood out for me, and resonated on a far more personal level. If every episode is telling a different idea of what others think “being an adult” is, Ninamori’s is the one that I identify with the most. For Ninamori, maturity is hiding her own emotions from others and projecting a cool, aloof, and unaffected image. This idea of quiet manipulation and keeping your feelings under lock and key is widely regarded as a feminine quality, whereas the rest of FLCL triumphantly rejoices in the loud and overt nature of male adolescence. In the loud, gorgeous, and somewhat vicious assault on my senses that was FLCL, Ninamori’s spotlight episode called out to me in a way that the rest of the OVA series did not.
Ninamori is also surrounded by feminine imagery to compliment the ideas she represents, whether it’s overtly sexual or subtle. From the opening scene, we see her attempting to cover up her roiling, confused thoughts on her father’s infidelity and her parents’ seemingly eminent split. She’s framed in this scene from the back seat of a car by the slightly out-of-focus foreground image of her father’s mistress. Her character design is one with long, girlish hair with bangs that are constantly in her eyes. These reinforce her inner thoughts on maturity; it’s better to be indirect in order to get what you want, and easier to hide your true feelings from others, than to confront things.
In fact, throughout this entire episode, the only close-ups the audience sees of Ninamori’s face are when Naota nearly kisses her, and when her carefully constructed veneer finally cracks when she loses it in front of her classmates; both times are when she is under extreme emotional or physical duress. For a series like FLCL, which relies heavily on close-up shots of Naota, Haruko, Mamimi, and others, it’s a departure from the established masculine norm that’s impossible to ignore. While Naota’s adolescence is a somewhat incomprehensible (albeit gorgeous) visual and verbal assault on the senses, Ninamori’s adolescence is quiet, manipulative, and reinforced by these indirect looks at her.
Further adhering to these visual themes is the design of the robot that pops out of Ninamori’s head. Up until this episode, and following this episode, the robots were all rather phallic and rigid in their appearance, reflecting Naota. Ninamori’s robot is far more organic in appearance, resembling a flower unfurling; a common reference to the female sex organ.
In addition to being reinforced visually, even the title, “Marquis de Carabas,” ties back in to this idea of hiding your emotions and manipulating others to get what you desire. In the fairy tale, “Puss in Boots” (not-so-coincidentally the play that Ninamori rigged in order to be partnered up with Naota) the Marquis is a fake persona that Puss uses to eventually secure a comfortable life for himself through his master. The other episode titles are far more direct, abrupt, and for lack of a better word, male.
We learn through Naota’s narration that her parents didn’t get a divorce, and despite rumors to the contrary, Ninamori ended up staying in their school. This particular look at adolescence ends with Ninamori’s line, “They’re fake.” in reference to the glasses that she is seen wearing in the closing moments of the episode. It’s a rather large admission for a girl who, for the majority of this episode, always thought that hiding her feelings was a far better and less emotionally costly choice. This is book-ended in the last episode when Ninamori (with her new short hairdo pulled back out of her eyes by a headband) is seen watching over Naota and Haruko with a sigh as the two sleep together on a park bench. Ninamori has come to terms with her own feelings, and is now more mature because of it.
About the Guest Author:
AJtheFourth is a lovely friend who writes for The Untold Story of Altair & Vega. She has kindly allowed Listless Ink to publish her wonderful insights and writings as a guest post.