Flip Flappers is one of the most visually stunning shows to have recently aired. Although its premise is about magical girls, the story crosses into many different genres, with scenes animated beautifully in hand-drawn detail, beckoning back to anime styles from the ’90s. It is a wonderful tale with vivid effects that will have you scratching your head what could possibly possessed the creators to make it, but as you dive into its plot, you will find a great anime with a timeless message of love and friendship… or something.
The description above is how this anime would be advertised on lists for anime to watch, and for a handful of you, that’s all you need to start watching. However, I don’t think it’s enough to really understand and, most of all, appreciate why it has been well-received by critics like myself. Even though I like this anime for all its visuals, characters, and complex storytelling, I will admit that it can be a very confusing series if you committed to a very linear interpretation of its plot.
This series has a lot of different routes, and each individual episode is deserving of its own analysis and criticism. However, since review anime on a holistic level, I will be putting together as many of the story’s elements as I can to tell my interpretation of the story. Feel free to disagree with me. After all, I found that that Flip Flappers has a very complex meaning that makes it such a wonderful series, beyond all the whimsical things about it.
And it’s got girls on hoverboards. That’s what really sold me.
Flip Flappers follows the adventures of two middle school girls: the shy, level-headed Cocona, and the energetic care-free Papika. Together these two play inside an abandoned ceramic cylinder of a secret base, to enter the whimsical world of Pure Illusion.
Here, Cocona and Papika experience a world not bound by the same logic as ours, and each time they go, there seems to be something new for them to do or discover, some instances stranger than others.
They also have two odd, yet amazing familiars by their side.
Damn it! Now I want that secret base!
But they’re not going to Pure Illusion just for the hell of it. Cocona and Papika are on a mission to help a mysterious trench coat-wearing scientist, Dr. Salt, find the fragments of this world. The girls travel all over Pure Illusion, from snowy regions that taste sweet to desolate cities overrun by mecha parrots (you heard me)!
And they’re not the only ones looking for them either!
As suggested by its name, Pure Illusion isn’t supposed to be a real place on our plane of existence. Each fragment they find contains an amorphous, a being that has no tangible presence. While not much is known about these fragments, they do give the girls the power to transform into magical girls, and thus allow them to fight off their enemies who plan to take the fragments for themselves.
But fragments in Pure Illusion don’t reveal themselves so easily, so Cocona, Papika, and their rivals Yayaka, Yuyu, and Toto must uncover them by revealing the truths about this world. And since the world they’re thrown in is an illusion compared to their reality, the rules are always changing. However, with each fragment revealed, it seems that they are associated with one’s memories.
One of my favorite instances of Pure Illusion was like a game where Cocona and Papika seemed to have posed as two separate perspectives of the same girl named Iro. At first Cocona takes on Iro’s role as a child who constantly visits Auntie, a former school teacher who now lives as an estranged, eccentric old woman. Although the neighbors gossip about Auntie, Iro sees her as a good friend who fostered her talent for art. However, Papika first learns of Iro’s experience with her parents: two workaholics who constantly yell at her to become a success.
Cocona and Papika covetously trade places, feeling ever so jealous of the one that stays with Auntie and feeling miserable with her parents. But when Auntie has an episode of dementia, Cocona and Papika soon realize that they were only thinking of themselves, without ever considering how hard it had been for Auntie to be labeled as a social outcast. They both learn that the experiences they had witnessed were both of their eccentric senpai’s, Iroha Irodori. And although Yayaka’s team ended up taking the fragment, a bit of Papika’s own memories returned as well.
And Senpai has also been noticed. Wait, what?
But with each memory that Papika gains, the more estranged the girls become to Pure Illusion, and the once whimsical world full of changes to their own perspective on their reality reveals unsettling truths.
After all, even the purest of illusions will distort whatever truth that one does not wish to remember.
Anyone else see an old woman looking down? No? Sigh…
Cocona and Papika may love traveling to Pure Illusion, but the world’s origins have covered up their knowledge of past events that brought both of them misery. The imaginary world was a top secret experiment that involved Cocona’s mother, a young intern Salt, and — get this — the real Papika! Several children had been tested to enter Pure Illusion, but only experiment No. 33, code name Mimi (because 3 in Japanese can be pronounced “Mi”) was ever successful, and Papika(na) would become the second.
Although it’s not explicit in terms of what was done on them, I would guess that the Pure Illusion experiment has to do with maximizing happiness in the form of pleasure, as well as by eliminating its antithesis of pain. Considering how whimsical Cocona and Papika’s adventures are, they seem to miraculously make it out of every dangerous situation or get stuck in a loop to experience mundane amounts of joy every single day! And through this experiment, a person’s most painful memories seem to be replaced with these pleasurable ones, giving them the illusion of happiness.
In other words, I am proposing that the researchers have made an actual machine that is used as a thought experiment in Ethics to discuss the shortcomings of Utilitarianism!
For the rest of their lives, Mimi and Papika(na) were treated like lab rats in this experiment, cut out of the misery found in reality, under the illusion of fabricated happiness. But as they grew older, keeping up with this facade became more difficult, as researchers kept close watch on them and isolated them if they ever grew unhappy.
Mimi would soon give birth to Cocona (and Dr. Salt is presumably the father), but she doesn’t want her daughter to go through the same experiment that she did. In one final act to save Cocona, Mimi and Papika escape into Pure Illusion with Cocona, while Dr. Salt goes rogue to undo everything that he had worked on.
At one point, Yayaka tells Cocona that an amorphous resides inside of her, and thus is why Cocona became a target as if she were dehumanized, set up to forever be monitored. And at this point, it becomes clear (to me anyway) that Cocona and Papika had always been trapped inside Pure Illusion, whether they were searching for the fragments or simply going to school.
Whatever your interpretations of the Pure Illusion experiment are, the most tragic figure here is Mimi. Forced against her own will, she had been subjected to this experiment her entire life, and her daughter Cocona is undergoing that same fate, had she not escaped. And to make matters worse, her baby daddy isn’t being all that nurturing either!
Torn between the desire for freedom and the limitations of what she knows about her world, Mimi has two conflicting personalities that inform her decisions. On the one hand, she wants Cocona to have as much freedom and joy that she could never have. But on the other, she wants to protect Cocona from everything, and will stop at nothing to ensure her safety. Mimi was left in anguish to ultimately choose full protection over her daughter, and for that, her suffering remained.
I’m not a parent as of yet, but Mimi reminds me of my own mother. The instinct to want what’s best for her child, yet have the wish to protect her child from the problems with this world are two conflicting desires that equally support the happiness that is gained in Utilitarian theory: one to maximize pleasure, and the other to minimize pain. And while I cannot speak for them myself, both of these desires are strongly associated with mothers like Mimi. And to make decisions based on one or the other are never easy.
Flip Flappers is packed with plenty of layers behind its characters, its worlds, and its plot. But one thing that nagged me the most were its episodic titles. Now given my background in A/V, each episode gets its name from technology that is associated with sound. This would make sense, considering that “Pure Audio” complements Pure Illusion, giving the world of Flip Flappers audio quality as well as visual. Arguably both are required to provide substance to any performance or service that calls for broadcasting, but in this case, it is providing a voice in Pure Illusion. And who’s voice might that be?
Answers may vary, but I’m going to focus on the mother-daughter pair, Mimi and Cocona.
Mimi had made a tough decision that only she could make in order to save Cocona, and for that, she has accepted the cost of her suffering. All her life, Mimi had been told what to do throughout her experimentation, never having a say in decisions that were made by misguided scientists. She doesn’t want to see her daughter suffer by that same fate, to the point where she would rather see the entire world’s destruction.
And yet, there is hope for Mimi to free herself through her daughter’s life. Whether or not she is trapped in Pure Illusion, Cocona is given the freedom to choose her own path in life, one thing that Mimi never had. That freedom may very well defy the protective side of Mimi, which let’s be honest, is always going to be a risk that parents take with their children, no matter what circumstances. But even though her mother becomes a monstrous beast with full intentions on keeping her away from literally everything, I never got the impression even once that Cocona would ever wish to harm her mother.
In the final battle, Cocona has to practically come to her senses, to realize that even the monstrous side of her mother is merely an illusion, only one part of her mother’s true personality. By understanding this split, Cocona and Papika found the will to overcome this destructive version of Mimi, to finally give the real Mimi the peace she so desired.
Flip Flappers is more than just a colorful series that brought anime back to some of its retro styles. It is an epic tale that at on one critique reveals the shortcomings of the possibility of pure happiness, but also brings to life the seemingly conflicting consciousnesses of mother and daughter. When I first checked out the series during its simulcast run, I was unsure of what to make of the series as a whole myself. But upon second glance, I think it is the masterpiece that I had almost forgotten about!
Sure, it takes a huge stab at our very desires for all things whimsical! But even then, the adventures that Cocona and Papika have are handled with a great deal of tenderness that made even their most terrifying experiences a lot of fun. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of details that I will probably catch on another viewing of this anime, but as of now, I’ll leave that up in the air. After all, who knows what adventures await these young ladies?
So if you are looking for an anime that only appears retro but tells an incredible story about mother and daughter, watch Flip Flappers!
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