Fooly Cooly Interview at San Diego Comic Con 2018

Cult favorite anime, Fooly Cooly, is back on Adult Swim. Nearly 18 years after the original release of the GAINAX anime, FLCL Progressive and FLCL Alternative promise to reengage fans with the same wacky storytelling and characters as the 2000 original. During the FLCL panel, the cast and crew delved into the upcoming series, showing off some sneak peaks and hyping up the crowd for The Pillows’ first American concert later that day. The Pillows sang the ending song to the original FLCL and have returned to create a whole new opening theme for the sequel.

APA had a chance to sit down with the English voice of Haruko, Kari Wahlgren, and Executive Producer, Jason DeMarco.

APA: Kari, what was it like to play Haruko in the second season with Jinyu as a character? What kind of relationship do the two characters have?

Kari: That was so interesting! I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the id, the ego and the superego in psychology. And so I really felt like that was such a physicalization of all these different parts of Haruko and that battle. We all have certain battles within ourselves and I found that so fascinating. And sometimes, one side wins, and sometimes, the other side wins.

APA: You first recorded Haruko 17 years ago. What was your reaction when they’d be doing more and that they wanted you back?

Kari: I was pretty shocked. It’s been such a character for me and it’s still the most popular project I’ve ever done. People would always ask me over the years: “Are you guys ever going to do a sequel?” And after about 13 years, you start thinking it’s never going to happen. So, when they called and told me, “This might actually be happening. Would you come back?” I was really surprised, but I was absolutely all-in to do it!

APA: How has it been coming back to that role?

Kari: It’s been fantastic! I was really nervous about it because there’s been so much build up and expectations for the sequel and I just really wanted to do the part justice again. But then, the first session, we started recording and it just felt like slipping back into this really comfortable sweater. It just felt really good! All of us went “Ah, this is it!”

APA: You voice a variety of characters, and Haruko is this very left-field, very whimsical person. What is it like voicing her in comparison to some of your other roles?

Kari: The thing about Haruko is that… With any other character I play, I have an idea of where it’s going to go. If you’re playing a heroic superhero, you have an idea that you’re probably going to beat the bad guy. Or if you’re playing a very sweet character, you kind of have an idea of what choices they’re going to make. And Haruko, I honestly never know what she’s going to do or say next. It’s really exciting as an actor because we don’t get the scripts for this in advance. So, I show up and I’m like “Alright! Let’s go! Bring it on!” It’s like creative dodgeball! Throw it at me! But that’s exciting because you just live very much in the artistic moment and that’s the really fun thing about her character.

APA: What are some challenges you’ve found about bringing season 2 back?

Jason: I could write a book about the challenges. First and foremost, the biggest challenge initially was convincing the team that it was something worth attempting because you look at something that you’ve done and you think it’s a perfect encapsulation of what you were trying to say. You could totally understand the reasoning of saying, “We said what we wanted to say. We don’t need to say anymore. Furthermore, we don’t want anyone else to say anything about it.” So, there was some work to be done, convincing them that we were sincere when we said they could do whatever they wanted, and that we had the money they wanted, which was a lot. We were willing to enter into the journey with them that would allow them to create the best version of what this thing could be.

Once we had enough meetings with Tsurumaki, the creator of the original, he saw our sincerity and he decided to be a part of it and executive produce it, guiding us and point us in directions. His advice was key and valuable at almost every opportunity. So once I stopped bugging him to direct it himself, he was very relieved about me stopping. He came very close to doing it, but he was doing another project, and you could see him just turning over in his mind “How do I make the pieces work so I can do both?” but he couldn’t. Even then, he gave us advice saying, “Get a new team. Let them do whatever they want.” To be true FLCL, it basically has to completely be its own thing and not worry about being reverent to the original. It should be irreverent to the original. I think that we’ve done that and I think that the teams that Production IG gathered together entered into the spirit of this project that way. It was not without its angry phone calls, and Ishikawa and I have gotten to know each other very well.

APA: Jason, did this idea always start as two seasons? Was this always two from the beginning or did that develop over time?

Jason: Our idea was one new season. Adult Swim just basically said, “Make 6 more! Or make 20 more! Make however many more you want!” And so it really was the production unit that said, “Well, we like the six episode structure of the original, but we want to do more and we want to do 12. So, we’re going to do two seasons at once.” We said, “Great!” because for us, the more episodes the better! Because television is a habit building thing and we’re still in that business. But we didn’t have an idea of “you need to make this many.” We basically put it in the hands of the production unit. “What do you think you can do with this money and have it look really good and be something that lives up to the spirit of the original?” and they came back to us with this suggestion.

APA: Kari, in these new scenarios, is there a new setting or position for Haruko that you’ve really liked playing?

Kari: I think just overall, I like that there’s been a lot more emphasis on the female experience. Because in the original, it was very much Naota going through puberty and having these things happen. And I think with the second and especially the third season, there’s just a lot more emphasis on girls’ experiences with sexuality and life and puberty and relationships! Friendships, not just the boy-girl relationships or anything like that. And it’s great since you can really push the envelope with FLCL! We are exploring things about the female experience that I, personally, have not seen explored before. Because it’s complicated as a woman in a way that maybe it’s not for a guy when you’re facing these feelings that you’re having, growing up and everything. They’re very blunt and upfront about things that women and girls go through. I love that. That’s been a surprising and awesome change for me in these seasons.

APA: I’ve always felt that the soundtrack was always a character unto itself. What was it like to bring The Pillows back in? What does the development of the soundtrack for the second and third season look like?

Jason: For us, we knew that we were bringing FLCL back, there were a couple of elements that us in the show unit agreed needed to be in the show. We needed Haruko, we needed The Pillows, and we needed to explore adolescence and sexuality. The Pillows, for us, coming on board was really the first step. Step one was acquiring the rights, talking to Tsurumaki and getting him on board. Step two immediately was The Pillows. The Pillows, luckily, were really receptive. They were actually on a hiatus at the time. They were pretty much baffled like “You’re making more? Americans care about this show? They care about our music? What? Yeah! Great! Okay!” So, they were really excited about jumping back in and adapting old songs to fit this new stuff and making new work. They have been a joy to work with and putting them on the tour and everything. They have been blown away by everyone’s reactions. I think for them it’s re-energized them and shown them that they have a fandom beyond just Japan, which is where they live and where they’re from and, of course, that’s where they focus their efforts. But it’s really opened their eyes to the effect that FLCL has had on a generation of American audiences and gotten them really excited about their music again, which I think is awesome. But for us, it was an absolute necessity, because that music was one of the things that made FLCL stand out so much. For us, we had to have The Pillows or we weren’t doing it. So them coming on board was actually the second key thing that happened where I felt like we had a shot of having this not suck.

APA: How much freedom are you given with adapting FLCL with how to present it to the American audience?

Jason: What made the original dub stand out so much among many other things like performances was that they treated the original Japanese script respectfully. Certain terms don’t translate directly so they didn’t bother translating them. They figured anime fans would understand the terminology. I think they treat the dub like an adaptation to another language, but we must keep the spirit of everything that’s being said. We’re not going to change the joke to please everyone in the room because there are Americans, they’re going to keep it to the spirit of what the original joke must be. I think that same attention to detail was something that we demanded from them and they were more than happy to deliver. The timelines that they were working were tight and everybody had to work really hard. If we didn’t have talent like Kari that could just jump into it…

Kari: And it’s interesting because it would get so specific! Like, there would be a sound in the Japanese dub. I would listen and I would do the sound and they would stop and there would be a six or seven minute discussion where they were translate the meaning and situational attitude of the sound. It would get that technical as far as the interpretation of it. Jason’s right, there were certain times where they would just keep the original Japanese. If the kids don’t understand what this means, they could just look it up! It didn’t just spoon feed translations, which I really appreciated about the first one and they’ve definitely stuck to that with these sequels.

APA: Haruka’s monologue in the first episode of the second season in the classroom was insane. Was that one difficult at all? Did you do that in snippets or was it all in one take?

Kari: I think we did that whole monologue twice. I think maybe we did it a third time just for safety coverage.

Jason: You guys don’t understand. Kari’s a robot! Kari’s a machine! She’s a machine! Because anyone else would ask to break it up or practice! She just goes in and “BEEP” she’s done! It’s amazing to watch!

APA: I like that it goes on for such a long time, and she starts off at a one, but by the end, she’s at a 20.

Kari: Absolutely! I think when we did it the second time around, they asked me start her transformation and go up to a six like… 15 seconds earlier. That was literally the note. Can it just start to shift here at maybe a 10? I don’t know, maybe I was possessed.

Jason: Possessed by Haruko.

APA: What has the response been for season 2 and has that affected your outlook on season 3 at all?

Jason: It’s been generally a great response. We know anime fans can be very territorial. As in any passionate fandom, there’s a segment that is negative about doing retreads of things or cash grabs. So we knew going into it that we faced an enormous challenge in winning over those people. What we’ve seen is we did win over some of them, we didn’t win over others. More importantly, we made new fans. We won over a bunch of people who had never watched the original who actually went and watched it for the first time just so they could be up to speed on the new one. We’ve been very pleasantly surprised by both how well it’s done and the general has been positive. This show is a very unusual show and it’s not trying to be what most other things on television are trying to be. FLCL is not one type of genre; it’s its own thing. And, for us, it was just important that it still felt like it’s its own thing. Whether or not you liked it, we at least wanted you to think that at least we put our heart and soul into it and made our own version of what we thought FLCL could be. By and large that’s been what people have said to us. Whether they like it or not varies from person to person because a lot of people saw the original series when they were 12 and it really imprinted on their brain, and nothing is ever going to live up to that experience of seeing it for the first time. All we wanted to do was to make work that could stand on its own and so far, the response has been very gratifying. Everywhere that we’ve show the episodes and most of the reviews. I don’t need everything to be positive. I just need to know that some people really engaged with it and they did.

APA: Going back to the question of reviving shows that have been away for some years. Genndy Tartakovsky has told me he has 10 very good un-produced scripts of Sym-Bionic Titan and he says Mike Lazzo would be all for it. Maybe you would have to talk to him about it, but hypothetically, what do you think about that?

Jason: I can’t speak for Mike, but we love Sym-Bionic Titan and the reason that we aired it on Toonami was because we felt it didn’t get enough love the first time. I do know that it’s a much more expensive show to work on than Samurai Jack was, so cost may be a factor. But we loved the original and that’s why we showed it. Genndy can make whatever he wants at Cartoon Network or anywhere else so, if Genndy really wants to make it, he can give Mike a call. That’s out of my hands, but I’d be more than happy.

APA: Because we got Samurai Jack back. Let’s just keep it going.

Kari: And bring back cheerleader Kimmy. And the booty shake!

Jason: Oh yeah! I remember that went viral for a while. There was a big scandal.

Kari: Yeah! Scandalous!

Jason: It was a terrific show and I would love to see more episodes.

APA: I’m not hearing a no.

Jason: Not from me!

Kalai Chik

Pop culture writer focusing on animation, music, and games. Los Angeles native, USC alumni, and contributor for Asia Pacific Arts since 2015. Follow me on Twitter, @kalai_chik.

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