This is a series that really had me going for a while. I knew almost nothing about Flip Flappers going in, and to my pleasant surprise, the show made me want to learn everything about it within a couple of episodes. It presented something that felt so fresh and original while also displaying an unspoken variation on that of which it was derived. Building off of magical girls in magical worlds, Flip Flappers reimagined what came before it with a heaping amount of playful ambiguity and managed to stay utterly engaging despite how thoroughly confounding the show probably would’ve looked to be on paper.
The first three quarters of the season exemplified this, as we watch the main character Cocona get dragged into a world of “Pure Illusion” by Papika, a girl who’s seemingly very innocent, passionate, and hard to communicate with. We’re given about as much information about this strange new place (and the strange people entangled with this situation) as Cocona is, which is to say barely anything at all. “Pure Illusion” is what the name implies, and exists in a space separate but connected(?) to reality. These two, who originality meet by Pure chance, have the ability enter these worlds and search for “amorphous fragments”. Nothing is explained about what these things do or why they need to be collected, we just know that Papika has a desire to collect them.
The show is full of unclear motivations, be it with the immensely ominous organization of assumed villainy or the tiny group of underdogs that are seemingly the “good guys”. It’s all a matter of only answering the most rudimentary question of “what it is they want”. For most of the season it’s not revealed why exactly they want these fragments or how they’re going to go about utilizing them. With such bare-bone motivations, it might be hard to imagine just how this show could be so compelling without a firm grasp on the stakes at play.
Well as it turns out, clear-cut stakes aren’t always necessary in capturing a viewer’s full attention. By putting a heavy focus on the characters, Flip Flappers directs its narrative spotlight away from the plot and instead concentrates on the two main characters and their growth. As Cocona’s and Papika’s relationship goes back and forth between love, resentment, confusion, and other neurotic emotions, we’re able to witness Cocona open herself up and also shut herself in as she tries to make sense of what exactly is happening. Their personalities complete each other, as Cocona has quite the anxious spirit, but also just enough indecisiveness that she’s able to be dragged along by Papika’s innocent fearlessness. Together they take part in the joys of unbridled adventure, and no adventure would be complete without a few hurdles.
As if these random worlds of pure imagination weren’t already dangerous enough, Cocona and Papika turn out to have some competition. Cocona’s childhood friend Yayaka turns out to be some sort of trained hunter of amorphous fragments, and alongside her are two monotone sidekicks that seem to be robots because of their complete lack of compassion, but it’s never actually delved into. All we know is that they work for that ominous evil group. Of course, only the audience gets a glimpse of this and not Cocona, but the villainous force behind these three is a massive cult with an unknown goal and an unmeasured amount of power at their fingertips. It’s only to be assumed that they are in fact “evil”, but it’s a pretty safe bet considering their outfits look like the KKK. An interesting choice, but race has ultimately nothing to do with the show. Instead what I think was meant by this aesthetic choice was to convey a sense of overwhelming and misguided desire for purity. Anyway, the mysterious ambition of the group remains unwavering, but Yayaka herself is not quite as committed. As the story progresses, she begins to show her feelings for Cocona and how those emotions are a detriment to their cause whenever the girls end up fighting over amorphous fragments. And that’s about when we get into the final quarter of the season.
The way the show set itself up to be until this point was something I thought was extraordinary. I felt like I knew so much about these characters in a raw, impassioned sense, rather than in a manner of just learning the cold, hard details. Flip Flappers didn’t tell me a damn thing, and it really felt like the show expected viewers to understand the basic formula of the action genre because it wouldn’t explain almost any of it. It would play with these illusionary settings to illicit certain response from its characters as well as convey things about them through the environment. Episode 6: “Pure Play” for example, plays with color and memory, contrasting warm, homely recollections with cold, morose reminders of loneliness and pain, all by having individual characters and settings colored with either shades of orange or blue.
It was thoroughly engaging and thought provoking, as Flip Flappers treaded the not often taken path of showing its story rather than telling it. Not that either approach is necessarily better than the other, but Flip Flappers started with the former and I was hoping it would stay that way. Instead, it suddenly devolves into a very contrived exercise of needless exposition. Certain characters sit in a very mundane setting as one of them explains to the other their view of what exactly is going on, and why the fate of the world depends on it. Then the show flashes back to the cause of Pure Illusion and makes sense of how these characters got to be entangled in it, in a very straightforward fashion. The story becomes something else entirely, and while I don’t think the final twist is at all a bad one, it lacks the narrative presentation that made the show unique in the first place.
Without getting into spoilers (I’ll save that topic for another time), motivations are made clear by the end, yet the show still has some non-philosophical or particularly interesting questions left unanswered. Certain characters are introduced for what appear to be absolutely no reason. Specifically, a loli character with a ridiculous outfit that serves no practical purpose whatsoever. There’s also an art student that’s around for about two episodes then just disappears, plus we never really learn anything about the amorphous twins or what they do after it’s all over. It’s strange that the show is leaves these random things ambiguous, when just a moment ago it seemed to want to explain everything to its audience.
The ending, while I think strong at its core (again, saving that discussion for later), is a bit random and what surrounds it is poorly thrown together. It starts to lose focus on Cocona and Papika, which was the most powerful thing the show had going for it. The center of attention stretches too far as it allows characters with almost no screen time up until this point to suddenly have important roles to play, which just ends up feeling like a feeble attempt to tie everything and everyone together. The show has three distinct characters’ worthy of attention, and it probably should’ve just kept that focus rather than throw in more needless elements that don’t all entirely come into fruition.
It’s a true shame considering most of the show was a Pure delight. The animation is superb, the action is incredibly satisfying, and the settings of Pure Illusion range from wondrous and awe-inspiring to very contained and deliberate in conveying a sense of characters and relationships. Not only that, some of the worlds seem to be forms of charming parodies, like the desert wasteland reminiscent of the planet Tatooine from Star Wars.
Now before I end this review, I’d like to give spotlight to my favorite character: Papika. She is a very interesting type of character, one that I can only recall in all my history of watching anime one other time. While she isn’t explicitly defined to be this kind of person, it seems to me that she indeed has some form of mental impairment. Her compulsiveness, strange social behavior, single-minded persistence, and limited speech patterns; I’ve only researched a little about it for this review, but I’m pretty certain it has to be autism. And that’s a really interesting and hard to understand perspective, not only to introduce in a story, but to create as a main protagonist. The way she shares the stage with Cocona demonstrates that regardless of mental impairments, they’re both equals. Then their reliance on each other show they’re both incomplete. And I guess I just find Papika to be the more fascinating side of the relationship because her disabilities and incredibly innocent outlook on life offer a perspective not as common as the insecurities that ail Cocona and define her personality.
For the most part, Flip Flappers is unabashedly unique and adventurous. While I was personally disappointed in how thing play out in the end, it couldn’t possibly ruin the intrigue and elation I’d felt leading up to that point. Its settings are amazingly vibrant, creative, and push characters in smart directions while sometimes telling even more about them than the dialogue itself. The characters will certainly stick with me, and although I’m glad their story was contained within a single season, I also can’t help but long for more. Without a doubt, watching Flip Flappers was a…Pure joy *snickers as everyone reading this rolls their eyes*.