Review/discussion about: Flip Flappers
I rarely, if ever, flop over.
That’s thanks to my favorite chair at home. Its leather has frayed. The base squeaks oddly. I place a soft blanket on the seat because it hurts my bottom otherwise. For anyone else, this chair looks and feels like junk. But it has always kept me from flopping unnecessarily.
Flip Flappers contains a lot of flipping and a lot of flapping. And, while it doesn’t have its own chair to sit on, it likewise doesn’t flop.
Flip Flappers is a story about Cocona’s maturity from childhood and into adulthood.
A bold statement. Maybe some out there are saying to themselves right now, “Dude, what are you talkin’ about?”
When the anime begins, it treats the audience to something fun but not yet worthwhile. Papika and Cocona have a cute relationship. The worlds they visit are fascinating in their weirdness. And the death-defying stunts, the magical-girl transformations, and the silly-centered comedy provide many a scene that keep one’s attention.
Yet, simultaneously, the makings of a subtler, more involved tale exist.
For instance, the anime infrequently depicts famous trick drawings. Two faces stare at one another to outline an hourglass, and a young lady’s pose makes her seem much, much older.
It also drops names that are too specific to be coincidental. Cocona’s rabbit’s name is Uexküll, a reference to Jakob von Uexküll who championed biosemiotics (the study of biological signs and symbols among species). Similarly, the evil organization chants Asclepius, a reference to the Greek god of medicine who was killed by Zeus for meddling with human immortality.
Even the worlds themselves, while often rooted in goofiness and genre, tell more than they let on. A strange plain of existence with only white walls and floors stretches towards infinity, and a desert considers BDSM and invigorating potatoes the norm.
Subconsciously (a relevant word for Flip Flappers if there ever was one), the anime feeds the audience these nuggets of intrigue. It slyly plants its threads, ingraining in the viewers the realization that the show is deep. Impressively so. A set of worlds and themes and ideas that cry out their avant-garde status.
Take episode six. Cocona and Papika enter a gate within Pure Illusion. Within this new realm, the two simultaneously exist as a young girl named Iro, living out her dichotomous lives as a child. On one side, the destructive family home harboring hate and cold. On the other side, a kind old lady welcomes and warms the soul. “Iro is Iro,” yet, when their neighbor succumbs to dementia and forgets their (shared) name, she wants to switch places with herself. While an impossibility, they at least remind their neighbor of their name – and accidentally alter reality as a consequence.
In short, and in just this episode, Flip Flappers targets the duality of life, the self, and how memories shape one’s future. Pretty darn avant-garde.
Crazily enough, the anime takes this approach all the time. It doesn’t only dive into these dense themes offhandedly or sparingly. Indeed, it does so constantly, threading together larger themes on identity, thought, and perception.
In episode seven, Cocona, having lost Papika, encounters different versions of her friend. A younger sister, a delinquent boy, a destruction-hungry senior classmate. After meeting with them and hanging out with them, she still concludes that these people aren’t really Papika, tying back to its theme on identity. The end even involves its theme on perception when it’s Papika who finds Cocona since, to her, she was the one who was lost.
In episode eight, Cocona and Papika befriend a tiny scientist and defeat a massive alien. That scientist built that entire world, defying the odds stacked against his stature. In turn, Cocona and Papika (and Yayaka) do the same, obliterating their foe beyond recognition. Here, perceived capabilities are challenged as is one’s thoughts on the task at hand.
In episode ten, specific plot details manifest as obscured truths. Papika unknowingly had amnesia. Yayaka pretended to be Cocona’s friend. Cocona’s “grandmother” lied to her. These thought-inspired revelations tear down Cocona’s perception of reality to the point that she loses her own identity.
The show contains an uncanny number of instances related to these motifs on identity, thought, and perception. Too many to both list here and dismiss as mere straw grasping. However, the examples from above should illustrate that Flip Flappers explores its many themes in both interesting and varied ways even late into its run.
Like Pure Illusion, though, it goes deeper.
Looking at these threads, they interweave, but it’s not fully clear what bigger picture their knitting creates. Thankfully, Yayaka’s words in episode five start to reveal the grander interpretation behind Flip Flappers. She says, “Once you enter a Pure Illusion world, you’re influenced by its nature.”
The most important word there? Influence. For Cocona, when she enters these otherworldly places filled with sweet snow and spider monsters, the environments influence her and the actions she takes. Often, she can’t stop herself from living out Iro’s life or squaring off against Papika as a mind-altering mask brainwashes her.
But that’s more than being influenced; that sounds more like control.
It happens almost every time Cocona enters Pure Illusion. The snowy forest controls her movement, carrying her along the backs of giant worms. The haunted mansion controls her time, sending her through the same loop again and again. The plain of nothingness controls her position, locking her away as Papika and Yayaka clash. Even the whole point of collecting the amorphous – controlling Pure Illusion – relies on the concept.
Identity, thought, perception, control. Flip Flappers has enough thematic density here to hand out to every anime around it and then some. Yet, somehow, someway, it still doesn’t stop.
In the final arc of the anime, Cocona’s mother Mimi (officially) arrives. She takes control of the situation and of her daughter, reinforcing its themes once again. More importantly, her arrival forces Cocona into the last major conflict of the story: breaking away from her mother.
Cocona must leave her parents’ nest so to speak. Only the nest is a boat in fantasyland and her parents are a tabletop condiment and an aural receptor. Nevertheless, Cocona must finally mature.
Astoundingly, Flip Flappers has always followed this same story: Cocona growing up. Only it’s been framed in that avant-garde manner the entire time.
Remember those worlds in Pure Illusion? They also featured Cocona experiencing acts of a pubescent or sexual nature. Teething as a bunny. Getting all “hot and bothered” around the ghostly girls. Laying on a bed, in nothing else besides a black gown, next to the succubus form of Papika.
Remember those events in the regular world? She repeats many of her early actions when she has the same dream, puts on her clothes in the mirror, and heads off to school. That is, a routine which doesn’t define her. She fails to find purpose in her future, tagging along with Papika on their adventures just because it’s fun.
Remember those themes throughout the whole journey? Knowing one’s own identity is a part of maturing. Thinking more critically is a part of maturing. Understanding different perspectives is a part of maturing. Controlling one’s own fate is a part of maturing.
What at first seemed like just an anime involving a cute relationship, weird places, and action on occasion comes together as this smart, rich tale of a girl finally growing up. In other words, Flip Flappers becomes that bold statement: a story about Cocona’s maturity from childhood and into adulthood.
Even after all this dissection, two important points remain: the integrity of the narrative itself and the coherency of the connections made.
Starting with the first point, and being as fair as possible, the anime struggles on a basic writing level. It introduces an evil-organization subplot that the show not only fails to flesh out properly but also ends up meaning very little once Mimi appears as the main antagonist. The dialogue can also get quite bland as Cocona yells “Papika!” and Papika yells “Cocona!” at least a thousand times (give or take) each episode. And the flashbacks present in the final arc mistime both their pacing and their position.
As for the second point, it’s worth wondering: Are these themes simply plopped next to each other to give the illusion that they form something more worthwhile? Well, yes and no. Yes, because the show does not go out of its way to bridge these separate ideas together. No, because the sheer number of examples is too large to ignore outright.
No matter what, it’s clear that Flip Flappers tried to do something more, something different. If nothing else, that’s at least worth a commendation.
Flip Flappers maintains almost as much visual strength as it does thematic depth.
On an artistic level, the anime does about as much as it can. It makes use of a lot of vibrant, varied colors to paint both Pure Illusion and the regular world with intrigue and finesse. A rainbow-esque bunny-morphing machine world. Orange sands that drape over dunes. Purples and pinks and blues light up a strobed techno city.
The semi-soft style helps too, providing a calmness in its lush forests and underground laboratory. Attention to cinematography and shot composition make cuts like an upside-down reflection of Cocona off a puddle of water with a clocktower in the background the norm.
Plus, Flip Flappers takes advantage of its lighting. Be it Buu-chan’s lightbulb creating the silhouette of a skull around Papika and Cocona in episode one or how in episode two light fills the whole classroom save for the shadowy bar that covers Yayaka, the anime knows how to make the most out if its lighting.
Its character designs are likewise impressive due mostly to their complementary nature. Cocona and Papika are opposites (short and long hair, bright orange and depressed purple). Their magical-girl outfits are awesome, too, with their swapped color preferences, frilly black-white-pink dresses, and hard heels.
Yayaka deserves a mention, too. She pins her bangs back, the dark-pink streaks that part her blonde hair serving as a reminder of her grey morality. Her black soldier suit with accompanying hookshots give that cool edge. But it’s her later eyepatch, cape, and belt (now with only one hookshot) that turns her into the nomad who abandoned her “home” to protect the only thing she holds dear and highlights her character development with but a single glance.
Like its storytelling, though, the subtler artistic choices give the show its strength. Looking at Papika and Cocona’s magical-girl designs once more, they rely heavily on a butterfly motif. Butterflies on their hair, chest, and hips are visible, and the yellow wings that grant them flight make them butterfly-esque, too. And how are butterflies created? Through metamorphosis. A fitting biological act given Cocona’s own metaphorical growth from a baby caterpillar to a full-fledged butterfly.
Other details are affected as well. When Papika saves Cocona from falling into the black hole in episode seven, their spaceship is none other than the concrete tube they regularly stay in. Yayaka and Cocona first met at a hospital waiting area, so how coincidental that their main place to hang out with one another is a nurse’s office. During the Iro-memory dive, Buu-chan makes an “appearance” as a yellow, four-wheeled cart that Papika drags along with her. And that big painting in the hallway of the school? It actually depicts Mimi floating in a pond after her (evil side’s) defeat – which is exactly what happens event-wise. As if fate was saying that Cocona will inevitably win and will thus eventually mature.
How about one more example? During episode five, the anime recreates a famous scene from The Shining when Buu-chan wheels around a corner and sees the evil twins down the corridor. Another clever inclusion, considering the premise of this famous horror film (warped reality through insanity).
Flip Flappers is undoubtedly Cocona’s story, but her two best friends make all the difference.
Cocona starts off in regular anime fashion. After taking some mock exams at her cram school and later speaking with her advisors, she’s unsure of what path she wishes to follow. A fair spot for any middle-school-almost-high-school teenager to be in.
In strolls Papika. Or rather, she glides in, whisking Cocona away to Pure Illusion where she experiences a world she has never known. At first, she’s apprehensive. It’s too weird and too dangerous, so she wants no part in something that she feels will inevitably bring harm. Yet she has fun. A concept she’s not necessarily used to as she follows the same routines at home and continues to lack confidence in her own future.
Both worlds challenge Cocona. Her dreams control her mind. Her indecisiveness controls her identity. Pure Illusion controls her perception. From very early on (albeit avant-garde), the anime centers Cocona on those important themes. She also starts to try new outlets and learn more about herself in the process. Yet, as she hesitates to reenter the realm, and her actions influence the real world, Cocona ponders whether she even should be here. Yayaka’s constant warnings don’t help matters either.
Thankfully, Cocona has Papika.
Papika is technically the deuteragonist of Flip Flappers, but her role is less main protagonist and more ultimate supporter. And she’s darn good at supporting, too. Papika is cheerful. Simple-minded yet sincere. She brims with energy and happiness, letting nothing demotivate her drive to enjoy life and all its wonders. Indeed, that’s arguably her greatest strength: always moving forward and refusing to stop and wait. She finds it difficult to say complicated words, and she has a hankering for food (green bunnies too). But she always has Cocona on her mind.
That’s something regularly seen. In Pure Illusion, Papika’s often the one who pushes Cocona along, grabs her by the hand, or otherwise encourages her to go beyond. She wants to be there for Cocona no matter what, for she sees her as nothing less than her most cherished companion.
Their foil setup is a classic one – timid, mature character paired with the outgoing, silly one – but it works. Papika makes up for Cocona’s inability to have confidence in herself, and Cocona keeps Papika reeled in as best she can. While the two don’t always get along, their friendship blossoms as they Flip Flap into their magical-girl alter-egos and overcome the different dangers of Pure Illusion together.
Unfortunately, Papika can’t do everything for Cocona. On the deserted island, Cocona finds herself way too far in over her head. And the different worlds see her controlled by bunny teeth and helmets and ghastly girls.
It also doesn’t help that Papika starts to regain her memories, and, in doing so, she starts to confuse Cocona for somebody called Mimi. Cocona gets upset at Papika for not being able to tell the difference, but they don’t outright have a falling out. At least not until Papika fully unveils her backstory. At which point Cocona says those dreaded three words: “I hate you.”
All the while, the last important character – arguably the strongest in the anime – has made several appearances up to this point. Her name? Yayaka.
Flip Flappers characterizes Yayaka as a semi-delinquent who likes playing hooky and hanging out in the nurse’s office more than she does thinking honestly about her next place of education. However, she’s not completely without care. She’s close with Cocona, grabbing her in worry and going so far as to note how soft her friend tends to be.
Yayaka isn’t the same, and she says about as much on more than one occasion. “My mindset is totally unlike yours.” When she reveals that she’s working for the other side, the evil organization, she backs up her claim well enough.
She steals the amorphous gems when she can. She does not get along with Papika whatsoever. She continues to follow orders from her higher-ups. Nevertheless, Yayaka doesn’t drop her friendship with Cocona. She warns her when she can. She also gives her advice and even helps sparingly. Despite all the bad she’s associated with, Yayaka still demonstrates good. Moral mixing that easily adds dimensionality to her character.
Her motives remain mostly a mystery in the first half of the anime, but, come the second half, the audience learns more about her and her situation. Her organization disapproves of her constant doting on and laxness with Cocona, stripping her of certain privileges and threatening her with removal altogether. And, through certain flashbacks, the show shows Yayaka befriending Cocona from a young age – to get close to her for the organization and thus earning her a “home.”
The climax of her conflict occurs in episode nine where she wages war. War against Papika, the girl who has “stolen” her own best friend, and herself, the girl who must choose what matters most. After everything, she shields Cocona with her body, demonstrating as clearly as possible the choice she has made.
Yes, Yayaka lied to Cocona. She admits that. But that doesn’t mean Yayaka and her had nothing between them. Indeed, Yayaka knows deep down that the time she has spent with Cocona has affected her. Changed her mindset to one that’s perhaps not quite unlike hers.
Thus, she does what she can to prove it. She helps Papika rescue Cocona as the enemy invades Salt’s laboratory. Later, she makes up with Papika, rekindling her motivation in the process. And together they chase after Mimi to save Cocona within Pure Illusion because that’s what friends do.
The ultimate proof of her full development writing-wise comes when she finally, successfully, officially Flip Flaps for the very first time. She cries out what’s nestled wholly in her heart: that Cocona is the most important thing in her life. It’s a strong moment not only because of the cool action sequence that follows her transformation but also because it definitively marks a satisfying conclusion to her entire character arc.
And so it is that Papika and Yayaka save Cocona. One could argue that it’s a “the power of friendship” type deal. However, given the focus on Cocona’s maturity within Flip Flappers, it’s most likely more than that.
Becoming an independent person is important for personal growth. But that doesn’t mean one can do it all by himself or herself. Just as Pure Illusion requires partners to enter together, so it is that Cocona needed her best friends to finally escape from the control that trapped her, to finally allow her to mature into the person she could always be.
As for the other, forgotten side characters – Salt, the twins Yuyu and Toto, Professor Hidaka – they unfortunately remain rather extraneous throughout most of the season. They’re either given too little to mean much to the larger story or they receive almost nothing at all. Salt’s growth comes through small snippets of flashback. The twins eventually look up to Yayaka. Hidaka is little else besides a mad (and hysterical) scientist.
Arguably, these characters get the attention proportionate to their importance. After all, the anime is really about Cocona, Papika, and Yayaka. Meaning, it’s fair that the majority of the extra side characters simply don’t matter in the long run.
To that end, Flip Flappers builds its trio in strong fashion. They aren’t as impressive as its narrative, and they’re not exactly incredible on both an individual and group basis. But the show provides them with enough traits, moments, and changes to mark their characters as notable successes.
It almost doesn’t need to be said: the ending track of Flip Flappers wins in the music department. In fact, one could argue that it’s the best trait of the entire show. Indeed, even the anime plays it one last time following the final scene rather than letting said scene lead the audience out.
What makes it so strong? Mostly the composition itself. The rising and falling tones. The whispering “Flip” and “Flap,” one for each ear. The fairytale instrumental work. Not to mention how the whimsical nature of the piece fits Pure Illusion quite well, and how the fun, almost playful approach invites its listeners to both bob their heads and sing along to its catchiness. While not as deep as the story of Flip Flappers itself, the ED is arguably the show’s most memorable facet.
The opening track and the rest of the original soundtrack don’t reach anywhere near the same level as the ED, but they as well have their strengths.
The OP contrasts with the ED, incorporating a lot of techno beats and effects to create an empowering song. Its second half is particularly awesome. Rousing vocals, background cheers, and slight forays into lighter chimes pump the audience up for what’s about to go down.
As for the OST, it contains a wide array of different musical options. Cocona and Papika transform into their magical-girl selves through a dainty tune replete with fairy sounds and twinkling changes. A slow piano piece rings out as worry takes over Cocona’s heart in the cold and the trees. An acoustic-guitar version accompanies her bittersweet realization that Iro didn’t keep her promise. A happy tune with woodwind instruments and light bongos plays as Papika cheers up Cocona when she feels “empty.”
Voice acting doesn’t stand out as much as the music does, but the more niche performances certainly do. Michiyo Murase as Uexküll the bunny rabbit waggles her tongue to hilarity. Kazuyuki Okitsu as Buu-chan sputters his name with determination. And the creepy “qrE3TInqs” girls of the haunted school make the audience want to close out the video right then and there from fright.
I am a fan of esoteric, artsy stories – and the same holds true for this tale too.
While watching the show, I found myself having fun. Papika shouting about unfairness or running around without a care in the world made me laugh. I liked the action, too, especially when they started to transform into magical girls more often. But the real fun with these kinds of shows comes afterwards. All the digging and research and interpretations.
The further I investigated the anime, the more impressed I became as I found more throughputs, layering, and importance. I wasn’t expecting it to connect an idea of control throughout itself. The overall purpose of the story – to showcase Cocona’s maturity – is also something that surprised me as it all came together. Even the worlds of Pure Illusion. Their symbolism, settings, and similarities were far more involved than I initially thought.
I will say, I’m in agreement with a sizeable portion of the community: execution worsens during the last quarter of its run. The rushed pacing, to cram everything before it ends, doesn’t make the transition go smoothly. The flashbacks are lame in their construction, too. And, while petty, Iro’s neighbor’s vocal performance got on my nerves.
Even so, Mimi’s involvement adds more layers to the already thick thematic sandwich the show offers to its audience in restaurant style. (But I still don’t like the old lady’s voice.)
I do wish the show didn’t get repetitive with its worlds. Two of their visits were just their own school and town (the scary episode and the multiple-Papika-personality episode), and the final arc simply reuses the other worlds that were already in rotation. Still, I can’t be too hard on it. Given everything else it set out to do and accomplished, I’m willing to give the show some leeway.
And my favorite part of the entire anime? Toto, with a blank expression on his face, spinning wildly in the visuals of the OP. It made me chuckle and say “Whee!” every time without fail.
Flip Flappers doesn’t do everything right, but its drive for something bigger and better and beyond leaves a lasting impression. Robust thematic depth. Careful artistic choices. A stellar ending track. In the end, who needs a chair when one can fly so high?
Story: Great, small pacing problems and unimportant subplots aside, this avant-garde narrative about the growth and maturity of a young girl, supported by thematic density through identity, thought, perception, and control, provide a tale that, like Pure Illusion, is more than meets the eye
Animation: Great, color, lighting, and artistry abound, but it’s once again the subtle details that scream the loudest
Characters: Good, Yayaka goes through a satisfying character arc, Papika brings the support, and the two work with Cocona to help her mature, but the lack of attention given to almost all the side cast cannot be dismissed
Sound: Good, good OP, great ED, good OST, okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Good, esoteric experiences are often the most interesting
Final Score: 8/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3