The Manipulation of the “Marquis de Carabas:” Feminine Wiles in FLCL

by AJtheFourth.

Ninamori AJtheFourth

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.

FLCL Ninamori

Her father's mistress calls Ninamori "a mature girl."

FLCL Ninamori drinking

Narrowing in on one part of Ninamori's body happens often in this episode.

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.

FLCL Ninamori bath

It happens again here, while she's bathing.

FLCL Ninamori glasses

Even here, a front-facing body shot, most of her body is obstructed from view.

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.

FLCL Ninamori kiss

Finally we see Ninamori's face, as she's about to be accidentally kissed.

FLCL Ninamori's robot

Haruko sticks her guitar into Ninamori's robot, a reference to...

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.

FLCL Ninamori robot overt sexual message

More overt sexual imagery from the robot that comes out of Ninamori's head.

FLCL Ninamori's flower

The full flower bursts open. This is followed shortly by the flower robot "eating" Naota's curry.

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.

Ninamori fake glasses

"They're fake." But they look so cute!

FLCL Ninamori maturity

The more open Ninamori that we see in the last episode.

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.

This entry was posted in Anime/ Manga, Editorial, FLCL, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to The Manipulation of the “Marquis de Carabas:” Feminine Wiles in FLCL

  1. mrwan says:

    Youth is either a big penis or a big vagina. And as various recent media suggests, more so than ever. I find this disconcerting.

    • ajthefourth says:

      Hnnn…although I’d agree that recent media definitely (and quite overtly) suggests this, it’s not something that’s very new to the thought of adolescence as a whole. One of the most difficult things about that time period is struggling with your freshly minted sexual desires, so I feel that the imagery has always been around as a way for artists to express ideas of it.

      As for it being disconcerting, it is a bit; however, so is dealing with these desires in the first place. Thanks for the comment!

  2. hearthesea says:

    Very nice post. FLCL is such a bizarre mix of interesting emotional elements and downright incomprehensible madness, and I’ve always had mixed feeling towards it. I particularly like the fact that you’re addressing Ninamori — out of all the more significant characters, it feels like she would be very easy to overlook due to her quiet nature and the more understated approach to her characterisation, making her the possible ‘dark horse’ of the show. (I love the detail about the glasses.) From what I can recall, what interested me about her character was the feeling that she was constantly holding back or repressing emotions, and her insecurity came through in odd ways. I think I was always disappointed that the series didn’t explore her in more depth. (But I suppose that’s not really the style of the series as a whole — it tends to avoid traditional approaches to character development, instead favouring symbolism and flashes of seriousness amidst surreal mayhem.)

    I had no idea about the symbolism of ‘Marquis de Carabas’, though — in hindsight, it makes perfect sense. Nice.

    • ajthefourth says:

      Prior to watching it recently, I myself had only seen bits and pieces (usually late at night) and had come away completely confused to the point where I was a bit hesitant to give it another shot; however, I’m certainly glad that I did, especially because of Ninamori’s character.

      As for character development in the series, someone told me that his take on it was that each episode encapsulated a different idea of what “adolescence” could be, or represents, which I rather like. You’re right, it’s definitely not a traditional series in terms of character development (like a drama would be), but FLCL definitely deserves to be applauded for its efforts in developing it’s characters a bit more unconventionally: solely through references/remarks in dialogue or gorgeous imagery. Thank you!

  3. 12khz says:

    I don’t think it’s any big deal.

  4. Knee House says:

    Ah, what a thoughtful, informative look at a character who richly deserves it! Having watched the series for the first time recently I appreciate the deeper perspective on a character who stood out in my mind due to her contrast with the rest of the show (that and, IIRC, she suddenly pops into focus then back out). Thanks ajthefourth, for the article, and Yi, for hosting it!

    Hmmm, I wonder to whom you could possibly be referring, someone who rides a scooter. . . .

    • ajthefourth says:

      Thank you! It’s especially nice to hear from someone else who watched it recently for the first time. Now I’ll have to give it another look to see the in-and-out of focus look that you mention, because I was so swept up by other things visually that I neglected to notice that. (Yay, something new to look at! I always love going back and looking for new visual cues.) Thanks for bringing it up! And yes, thank Yi for being so kind as to allow me to host this on her blog.

  5. Ryan A says:

    I enjoyed the analysis. 🙂

    Though I’ve not investigated, I have never suspected this episode was one that stood out for many viewers, nor did I ever find this feminine contrast, but it’s been ages. Sometime during it’s first run on AdultSwim, I caught wind of FLCL; I was around 21-22 at the time. Interestingly enough, this was the first episode I watched, and the one that instantly captivated me. Having not seen any other episode, I feel it was hard to distinguish the gender accentuations specifically, but Ninamori’s maturity, manipulation, and sheltering of emotion was hard to pass up. Needless to say, I was quite amused with her attitude; it was so youthful, if my connotation holds. (I have a thing for immaturity, it’s just sooooo “inside the box”)

    Honestly, I had little clue what was going on in the series at the time, but I kept a smirk and felt wildly giddy by the time Ride on Shooting Star played out. It was fun, but also impressive. It’s difficult to say if this episode was my fav, but it’s easy to consider it the most impressionable; even more so considering I had watched maybe ten anime series before FLCL.. good memories.


    • ajthefourth says:

      Thanks, I enjoyed writing it!

      Ah, so this was your first episode. It must have been interesting to see it as a whole and not in contrast to two previous (and very differently styled) episodes. I find Ninamori’s character fascinating for the same reasons that you describe. Did you happen to finish watching “All About Eve” last week? Eve’s character also fascinated me for similar, manipulative reasons, and I loved watching the others’ responses to her various plots. Admittedly, Ninamori is the far more innocent, and the far less manipulative in comparison.

      Regardless, thanks for giving this a look and commenting!

      • Ryan A says:

        I did finish Eve and was still watching when Comcast had network malfunctions. Eve’s manipulation is a “wow, really?” on my scale, but yes, it has a certain captivation similar to Ninamori’s play. ^ ^

  6. Nopy says:

    To be honest, even though I have the FLCL manga and the anime somewhere, I never really understood what exactly happened. Maybe it was because I was too young, but all I remember is a guitar and a whole bunch of sexual jokes. I may have to rewatch/read it in order to see how your analysis holds up 🙂

    • ajthefourth says:

      In fairness, I’ve never read the manga, although I’ve heard it’s a bit raunchier than the anime. I mentioned in another comment that all I had seen of FLCL up until recently was a few snippets here and there, none of which grabbed my attention. Now, upon watching it in its entirety, I find myself fascinated with how many interesting ideas the series presents within such a short amount of time. Hopefully you’ll find something similar within the material when you do decide to give it a rewatch. Thanks for the comment!

  7. VucubCaquix says:

    This show sits atop my all-time favorites list, & will not be leaving that position anytime soon, but I just had to say that I’m grateful to you that even a decade on in it’s existence there are still aspects of this show that are still being illuminated to me.

    Thank you.

    • ajthefourth says:

      One of the most fantastic things about this series is that it is absurdly dense with layers upon layers of imagery and dialogue to wade through. I have no doubt that I could watch it again and find something else to focus on and write about. Another thing that is very telling of this series’ wonderful execution is that people are still writing about/talking about/referencing/forcing others to watch it, despite it being as old as you say.

      No, sir, thank you.

  8. Yi says:

    Ninamori is also favorite character from FLCL, as well as the one I identify with the most. The indirect, manipulative way she approaches life and her eventual change are something I think a lot of people go or are still going through as they mature. It’s especially worth noting that her admission to Naota about fixing the vote and the admission to fake glasses at the end of the episode, while similar at first glance, really come from very different attitudes. (p.s. I really love that final scene with the glasses! My favorite scene in the whole series.)

    Anyway, thank you for the post, AJtheFourth. ^ ^ It was a pleasure to work with you!

    • ajthefourth says:

      Ooh, the comparison of Ninamori’s admissions is an interesting one to bring up. Where her admission that she rigged the vote comes from jealousy and Naota showing nothing but derision for the play, the latter is far more straightforward and a bit cheeky (also adorable).

      I really can’t thank you enough for letting me post this here. It’s been fantastic to work with you!

  9. 2DT says:

    Perhaps worth noting: The director of this episode is Saeki Shouji, who directed one of the more bittersweet episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura ( as well as the heartbreaking climax of Shikabane Hime: Aka. The complicated feelings of young women seems to be something of a calling for him.

    Then again, he also directed He Is My Master, so what do I know? 😉

    • ajthefourth says:

      Yes, that is a fantastic, and very emotional, episode of Cardcaptor Sakura. I have not seen Shikabane Hime: Aka or He Is My Master, although I’ve heard far better things regarding the former than the latter. His most recent directorial work was for Houkago no Pleiades, which was nothing more than a cute car commercial. Regardless, we can agree that he did a fantastic job with his episode in FLCL.

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it.

  10. fathomlessblue says:

    It’s been years since I last saw Fooly Cooly so I don’t really have much to say, what with my hazy memories and all, but thanks for the insightful post AJ. Coming from a (then younger) male mindset, I identified with the chaotic mind-trip of Naota’s adolescent awakening; it was loud, confusing and uncomfortable at times, but did a fair job at representing the emotions of that time. As a result though, I guess many of the more subtle scenes involving the female characters went completely over my head. A real shame as Ninamori and Mamimi were by far the most fascinating characters in the show. Thanks for adding another perspective to things. I must get round to watching the series again…

    • ajthefourth says:

      One of the things that really heartens me while I’m responding to these comments is that so many people are saying that they need to get around to watching it again. I hope you do and perhaps you’ll find something else amidst the incredibly dense layers that make up this OVA.

      Mamami…oh man. Don’t even get me started on her complexity. ^ ^ Thanks for the comment!

  11. bluedrakon says:

    I was torn in watching FLCL as it was loud and in your face. It kept hitting you with splashes of color and sound that was large and in charge. It seemed the characters for me were on either end of the spectrum with no middle ground.
    Still it rocked the world and let us know that riding a scooter is kool.

    • ajthefourth says:

      I think there is a bit of middle ground for a few characters. Naota, of course, is the person that this whole perfect storm revolves around, so he receives a well-rounded development as a character from all angles (his interaction with other characters, dialogue, imagery, music, you name it. The whole series is about him and his maturation). However, you’re right. In a story like this, most of the characters do serve as very loud, strong, one-notes with which the rest of the series is attempting to harmonize in order to convey its overall theme and message

      Scooters are pretty cool, but I not-so-secretly want a motorcycle instead. ^ ^

  12. Fabienne says:

    Ah its been quite a while since I’ve watched it, but I loved FLCL, mainly for its creative visual presentation and the unconventional, quite scatterbrained storytelling.
    I remember that someone said to me “don’t try to find any sense in this show, the makers and the people who understood the show are sitting in hell” 😀
    hmm I pretty much ignored these hidden sexual messages in the animations even the ones you’ve mentioned XD

    Anyway your post made me interested to watch this show again, thx for that.

  13. ajthefourth says:

    Thank you. The fact that this makes you want to watch the series again makes me very happy. I find that one does tend to ignore sexual imagery until something flips a switch in your brain, alerting you to the possibility. For some reason, that robot stood out immediately to me (and I didn’t even go into the part where it spits Ninamori out from underneath it in a pool of fluid…).

    Thanks for the comment!

  14. necrocosmos says:

    Got internet back:).(my neighboured stop to be generous anymore and dont share free for us, ofc it was without his knowledge:D ), Oki lets go back to post, I really enjoy this specific episode, thou my favorite is second, i was kinda waging between Minamoris, and Second one. I really like how minamori is shown she is full of colours unlike in some animes that characters are strictly placed in setting. I like how Minamori is acting strong, in spite of her doubts, and trying to hide her own weaknesses, whats more how she aproach Naoto. I agree over sexual tension, and way to showing it up with this grotesque robot. There is much to be said u kinda pointed out everything about that episode. 😀
    Btw 2ch things that Taiwan-shoujo was sugoku ero-kawaii desu:D.
    Back to necrocosmos nick:D

  15. tsurugiarashix says:

    Oh, a guest writer? Never noticed…

    I always found Ninamori to be sort of an engima whenever I watched the series. Although, I suppose adolescences brings on indecisiveness and doubt; no matter how fast you mature. Sometimes you just need time to develop, which is something Ninamori also has to acknowledge as I see it.

    Excellent analysis.

    • ajthefourth says:

      This is the first time I’ve ever written for Yi’s blog, and am incredibly grateful to her for allowing me to do so.

      It’s interesting that you say that Ninamori was such an enigma for you. When I watched this episode it hit fairly close to home for me personally, in that I could understand her misguided attempts at manipulating others in order to get what she wanted without ever having to admit to what she wanted. ^ ^

      Thank you for the comment!

  16. Shancence says:

    Considering the nature of the show being littered with sexual references, I think it’s safe to say that the robot in Ninamori’s head is the physical manifestation of her adolescence. And by using visual references of a girl’s first experience (the robot starting out as a flower bud, stabbing the very obvious orifice on the top of its head with a guitar, and then unfurling to receive what seemed to be Naoto’s “essence”), the robot’s defeat signifies Ninamori’s coming of age.

    Great analysis. I liked it.

    • Shance says:

      Whoopsie, look at that name typo. So embarassing…

      • ajthefourth says:

        Not to mention that the robot goes so far as to hint at the results of such “mature” actions, by expelling Ninamori in a rather graphic and moist manner. In fact, it’s the only time I can think of where the series addresses the physical implications of maturity as well as the emotional confusion.

        Thank you for the comment. It makes me incredibly happy that this may have inspired you to give the series another look.

  17. Great, great write-up! I got the flower and the glasses from one of my many recent rewatches of FLCL (3-4 times in the last several months), but I didn’t even recognize the obstructed shots of Ninamori. There is so much analysis to be had about this series; I’ve written a lot myself and read a lot, and yet I find new thoughts on it everyday (like this entry!). Awesome job here catching some stuff and extrapolating it. 🙂

    • ajthefourth says:

      Three or four times in the last several months! Wow! I can’t even imagine how much more information I’d be able to glean from that many rewatches, since FLCL is so incredibly packed with interesting ideas and themes.

      Looks like I’ll have to rewatch it again very soon…thanks for the comment!

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  19. divineraccoon says:

    Very good insight into the aesthetics of this episode, and FLCL as whole. Something that may be overlooked that doubles back over Ninamori’s character in regards to the glasses. In her final scene, she seemingly reveals to Naota that the glasses are fake. This leads the audience to believe that Ninamori had fooled Naota in an earlier scene in his bedroom. This is quite the contrary; Ninamori does in fact wear real glasses. The final scene to a “cherry-on-top” to her manipulative, cunning nature. In the prior scene involving the glasses, it can be noted that Ninamori does not want others to know as it is to be their “little secret”. To assure that others never discover this, and to confound Naota, Ninamori publicly wears glasses at the play. These glasses are not the same set. Her actual glasses reflect light in the bedroom scene, showing they have lenses, and are oval-shaped with the top frames rounded, but the fake glasses from the final scene have no lenses and, along with an argueably different shape, are straight along the top frame.

    • ajthefourth says:

      Wow…that is a really good catch, and honestly, one that I hadn’t seen myself only having viewed the episode in its entirety once.

      Thank you so much for sharing this, it adds another interesting layer to Ninamori’s development. ^ ^

  20. ayame says:

    Always noticing very interesting things. I haven’t watched the series, but now I’m really intrigued in watching it. Although I don’t know when @_@ I’ve got so many on my must-watch list and putting priorities is a bit tough for me.

    I love it when the title of an anime episode gives meaning to the episode itself.

  21. Trollkastel says:

    Of all the things Studio Gainax ever did, FLCL and Top wo Nerae (or Gunbuster) are the most underrated works. And they are my favorite works by them.

    If your favorite episode is the feminist Marquis de Carabas, mine is the masculine “Full Swing”. I love how Gainax plays these episodes side by side to create something like a montage of themes. Not to mention the hilarity of all these episodes.

    In my mind, FLCL is the best OVA of all time.

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