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Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)
“Flip Flappers is like skimming the pages of a lovingly crafted storybook”
Anticipation has been high for Flip Flappers within the sakuga community since it was first announced as the directorial debut of Kiyotaka Oshiyama, a gifted animator who has worked on several high profile series such as Mitsuo Iso’s Dennou Coil and several Studio Ghibli properties, but what brought him into the public eye was his work on Space Dandy 18, “The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby”. For this episode he acted as episode director, script writer, character designer, and solo key animator all at once, and it remains one of the most impressive and memorable vignettes in the series for its careful ambience and world design. These strengths are carried over into Flip Flapper’s premiere, which is storyboarded and directed by Oshiyama himself, and the result is a mood-driven playground for artistic expression unlike anything else this year.
The most immediately noticeable aspect of this episode is how little it relies on exposition, a rarity in commercial television anime. Its willingness to begin in medias res, dropping the viewer into an unexplained action-escape scene from a laboratory full of eccentric characters, evokes Rie Matsumoto’s work on the 2011 ONA version of Kyousougiga. The two young directors’ storyboarding techniques are fairly similar as well, yet when Matsumoto’s debut work overloads the viewer with information Oshiyama takes a far more restrained approach. Instead he elects to withhold information from the viewer, only characterizing Cocona as much as absolutely necessary and only using external cues to accomplish it. We can tell she’s a bit of a loner, unable to decide on her place in life, and likely envious of those who already have an idea of what their passions are.
She then suddenly meets Papika, who changes her world.
Almost the entirety of the ensuing sequence consists of these newly found partners wandering around alone in an alternate dimension, a land covered in snow. The art direction for Flip Flappers is handled by Studio Pablo, the absolute kings of hand-painted background art in modern anime production, and this show is the perfect example of their fine craft. Their softly shaded environments are easy to be drawn into and fit the fairytale aesthetic of the show perfectly. While the setting itself is not as strange or inventive as the mud world in Space Dandy 18, the visual details make up for its sense of wonder.
This sense is further supplemented by the consistently fantastic animation. With cuts from both well-established talents like Katsuhiko Kitada and relative newcomers like Hakuyu Go (who was featured recently in Mob Psycho 11) the visuals never let up. This makes the entire show feel full of energy, like a living, breathing story instead of something plain or static.
Perhaps the most endearing of shots is animated by Naoya Wada, who seems to be a new talent that used to do in-betweens for Studio Ghibli. He gracefully portrays Papika running through the snow, diving in and out in a way that recalls Toshiyuki Inoue’s famous tumbling scene from Wolf Children. Even though it’s a very short cut it does wonders at adding to the feeling of adventure and characterizes Papika far better than any amount of internal monologue could have. Hopefully Wada will continue to be an active contributor in future episodes.
The first episode of Flip Flappers is like skimming the pages of a lovingly crafted storybook. Very few anime manage to capture the childish wonder of getting lost in a world, but Oshiyama’s nailed it. Judging from the opening animation and post-credits scene we’ll eventually start treading into plot territory, but I’m confident this team will continue to provide a unique experience of their own.
CJ Hitchcock (@cjhitchcock)
“…I just want to sit back, enjoy the ride, and see where this thing is going to take me. “
I really liked this first episode of Flip Flappers. Not because I was stunned by its drop dead gorgeous animation. Not because I found the cast of characters simple but intriguing. Both of those things are definitely true. But for me, the thing I found myself captivated by was just how delightful and charming a watch this turned out to be.
Flip Flappers focuses on two characters, Cocona and Papika. Cocona is your run-of-the-mill middle school student who’s put into the all to familiar position of choosing which high school to attend. Lost in a haze of practice exams, she goes through the motions of her day to day routine, until she meets the mysterious girl on a hover board, Papika. Papika is eager to befriend Cocona and pulls her into a fantastical dreamscape known as “Pure Illusion”. This show’s first episode falls into a category I like to refer to as, “The Journey”. A normal, easily relatable lead, meets a mystical being who takes them on a guided tour across a wild and bizarre landscape, filled with many oddities along the way. Think Dante’s Inferno or Alice in Wonderland. It’s the kind of story where things like plot and character development are replaced with wondrous sites and a copious amount of subtext and metaphors.
I bring this up because Flip Flappers seems like the type of show were you could easily nitpick silly little details. For example, at one point Cocona loses her glasses and Papika risks her life to retrieve them from the back of a large mammoth like snow creature. The problem is Cocona is rarely seen wearing them at all throughout the entire course of the episode. Cocona’s glasses a very small detail in the show that extremely easy to miss during your first viewing. They appear on her bed when she wakes up in the morning and Cocona wears her glasses in the scene in the Nurse’s office. Even so, her glasses only have about thirty seconds of screen time before they go missing. And in that moment when she does lose her glasses, it’s incredibly easy to say, “Wait she’s never worn glasses before. Why is this an issue?” But even if the show didn’t take the time to establish that tiny detail, you still have the benefit of the show’s setting being in a dream-like world were anything can happen. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had dreams about losing track of where I parked my fire breathing manticore when I know damn well that my maticore doesn’t breath fire. Dreams can make tiny, even nonexistent things in our life have meaning. Here Cocona’s glasses could represent being afraid of not being able to see what lies ahead in her future.
That being said, I think my biggest fear for this show is it developing a convoluted plot. I think this show is going to work best if it’s just a bare bones “Journey” tale. I would prefer if we were taken on a ride across the “Pure Illusion” instead of being forced to deal with a villain. At the same time, I just want to sit back, enjoy the ride, and see where this thing is going to take me.
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“…we are allowed to free associate with the imagery and simply feel.”
I think what works best about Flip Flappers episode 1 is that it does nothing to explain itself. You are left constantly asking why: Why is Papika running from robots? Why is she concerned with Cocona? Why does she have magic powers? Why does she ride a flying surfboard? And none of the answers are given or even promised in this preliminary episode. Instead we are given a visual spectacle of amazing animation that captures what is happening in the moment. The fluidity of motion lends very well to the two girls entering into Pure Illusion, a sort of whimsical fairy-land where the snow is sweet like candy and the biggest danger is losing your glasses. It’s the freedom of being young; the freedom of being a child.
Flip Flappers is a show about adolescence. It opens with a common metaphor for growing up: choosing a new school to attend for the coming year. This theme is the only backdrop that we are given, the remainder of tone is set up by fanciful visuals and impressive sakuga. It’s a formula that Kiyotaka Oshiyama applied in his solo episode of Space Dandy (ep18) to great effect. For Oshiyama, the medium truly is the message, and he lets the visuals speak for themselves. And by doing so, feelings of child-like imagination wash over you. With this approach, the question of why becomes secondary to the ‘how’ in the exact same way you played pretend as a child. But the only way this all can work is if the animation continues to liberate these emotions, and so it becomes imperative that the animation maintain this level of quality.
A great example of this is a cut towards the end of the episode by Keiichiro Watanabe. The framing and layout of the shot establishes a great distance between Papika and Cocona’s glasses, but Watanabe wisely starts the scene before this with Papika running along an animated background – that is to say, the ground and Papika’s running were animated on the same layer. The movement builds a sense of determination, that Papika is motivated even when she is knocked down. A long shot with shallow depth of field establishes distance. Swatting antennae function as screen wipes, erasing whatever ingress the youth tries to make. It’s a well structured scene that leans on visuals and the technicality of its animation to convey its message.
As someone who thinks of his childhood with an aspect of reverence, I truly appreciate what Flip Flappers has done with its visuals. Without the restrictions of plot, we are allowed to free associate with the imagery and simply feel. This is not to say a plot would prevent this, but because one is absent at this stage there is no expectation. But in a similar manner to childhood, this will draw to a close as a plot seems to be looming on the horizon. My only hope is that the show will continue to be so highly emotion driven.