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Pat ‘Suri’ Price (@Suribot)
“What makes it shine is the energy it packs into every line and motion on screen…”
By my current estimation, Flip Flappers will end up being a show that I enjoy very much, but cannot tell you why. This isn’t a bad thing, and maybe I will be wrong, but it’s operating on an internal logic that does not comes easily to me. The basic plot elements are incredibly simple, almost not worth mentioning. What makes it shine is the energy it packs into every line and motion on screen, the color, the voicework, it all mashes together into a ball of delightful fluff that I do not feel comfortable trying to unpack just yet. Still, I am not sure what the show intends to do with any of it.
I have no idea what to make of this show as of now. I am very much having fun, but I do not know at what level it wants me to engage it at. On one hand, it ping-pongs between high-energy action and slow, meaningful character animation while packing every few minutes with some sort of proper noun that may be of great import. Since this is the first chance I’ve gotten to write about Flip Flappers, let me cover something from episode 3. The cult that appears alongside Yayaka chants “Asclepius” repeatedly and does so in front of a stylized rod of Asclepius, a traditional Greek symbol of medicine. It’s often conflated with the caduceus, especially in America, but it’s a distinct symbol. Asclepius is also the Greek god of physicians and Yayaka states in episode 4 that their goal is world domination. It can be inferred from this that their is a sort of ‘heal the world’ villainous intent, perhaps through some colorful metaphor of amputation. Or it could also be nothing, merely cool window dressing for a show that seems to be inexorably linked to its visual art direction. I don’t know yet.
Cocona’s anxiety over having nothing of her own could be something intensely interesting. It’s a sort of novel approach on the general young adult feelings of having not found oneself and being unaware of your strengths. She seems to have a solid grasp on the fact that she does not know who she is in a self-actualization sort of way and is trying to come to terms with that. It could also be a simple permutation on the type of character who does not heed the call to adventure and must adapt to it. I genuinely have no idea how much Flip Flappers wants me to be thinking about it, so it holds a strange place in my head right now. I want more, if only to know what I actually think of it.
CJ Hitchcock (@cjhitchcock)
“Every scene with Papika is winsome and eupeptic to watch.”
The episodes this week doesn’t really offer much to talk about from both narrative and visual front. After the events of episode three, Cocona temporarily loses her ability to enter Pure Illusion. Keyword is temporarily because all she has to do to get this power back is to spend some time with Papika. This basically gives us the excuse to have a sleepover at Papika’s amazing pillow fort, so the two characters can bond with each other. While the two become stranded on a deserted island for a little bit, not much actually happens in this one. The two hangout for awhile, Cocona learns to better appreciate all of Papika’s quirky charms and that’s about it. We don’t enter Pure Illusion this time, so the animation stays grounded in reality. It’s still an adorable watch. Every scene with Papika is winsome and eupeptic to watch. Everything from her being excited about her school uniform, to her before mentioned amazing pillow fort (that looks so delightfully cozy and welcoming that it puts all other pillow forts to shame), it’s all cheerfully fun to take in. I also find Cocona’s struggle’s to adapt to her ever changing world to be relatable. Not every episode needs to be big and loud. Sometimes you need to slow down and smell the roses and that’s exactly what’s happening here.
My largest complaint about the show thus far is Cocona’s friend, Yayaka. Yayaka is designed to be the opposite of Papika, meaning Yayaka is the force tying Cocona to reality, telling Cocona that following her dreams is nonsense and she needs to suck it up and accept reality. She’s painfully normal and constantly pushes Cocona into a mundane life style, safe and predictable. Papika, however, is dangerous and exciting, and would cheerfully argue to follow your dreams. From the get-go, you know Yayaka and Papika are not going to get along with each other.
I didn’t like Yayaka from the start because of you could feel she was going to serve as the series’ antagonist. I don’t care for this because this type of character is a little too obvious and distracts from the wondrous adventure as the main attraction. Instead of being a sympathetic friend, she’s just an evil dick. I’m not saying this story line couldn’t work with having Cocona struggle to tell the difference between the friend she once knew and the monster she’s become and Yayaka using those emotions against Cocona from this point on. The problem is Flap Flappers isn’t a narrative driven series, it’s about the journey and anything that stops the trip to a grinding halt is a problem. I love this show to death, but Yayaka’s a minor blemish on an otherwise amazing show.
“It’s hard to imagine an American cartoon with this kind of patience.”
I appreciate how Flip Flappers refuses to limit itself to a routine formula. Unlike previous episodes, this one is entirely set in the real world, and it’s pretty toned down in terms of action and animation. There isn’t a lot of sakuga, aside from a few nice shots like the girls flying towards the island and pushing the raft. However, Studio Pablo’s backgrounds continue to delight, regaling our eyes with gorgeous island vistas and new perspectives of the verdant high school campus. Mundane objects like the paintbrush set in the art room are lovingly rendered in meticulous detail. The colors convey a diverse array of moods, from the flat, neutral tones of the school hallways to the festive hues of Papika’s redecorated pipe house, and then to the ominous dark blue shades of the jungle twilight. More subtle deep blues convey the tranquility of the starry sky over the beach at night. The backgrounds tell the story just as much if not more than the dialogue and animation, which is appropriate for a quiet mood piece like this.
This episode is built on small moments. It shows Cocona and Papika gradually developing their relationship through their low-key interactions. Some of their mutual activities are a bit cliched (bathing together, talking about their wishes, et cetera), but the girls have good chemistry so it never gets too dull. It helps that Cocona and Papika are such pleasant and likable characters. I’m glad a TV show with so much emphasis on action and adventure isn’t afraid to slow down for an understated character-based episode. It’s hard to imagine an American cartoon with this kind of patience.
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“…characters are defined by the subtleties of their animation.”
There is a quote by John Lasseter that summarizes this episode perfectly, he says:
To me, one of the basic elements in defining the personality of an animated character is to show the same action performed by two separate characters. No one does the same thing in the same way – no one. By using this technique, the characters really take on a personality of their own.
– From the interview in Ghibli, Studio Ghibli, May 2005
When Lasseter gave that quote he was talking about Satsuki and Mei from My Neighbor Totoro, but I think it applies here just a deftly. The structure of this episode forces our two main characters into closer proximity where contrasts make themselves known and comparison invited. However we can not just be told how these two are similar or different, doing so would rob all personal realization of character and would leave the experience hollow. In fact, the very confines of the narrative demand that we come to a personal conclusion, and that visuals are the vehicle that conveys this information. Throughout the episode, actions are taken by both girls, but they look and feel different from one another.
A very simple scene depicting this is where Papika and Cocona are racing uphill through the tall grass. The girls are framed in the same manner by a medium shot, their blocking nearly identical, the exact same set inhabited by both; but what is different is the way they run up the hill. Papika rushes jovially ahead, her frames modulated as to give the sense of ease of movement. Her body language matches, her arms moving in an positive, upward motion, angular and energetic. Cocona on the other hand struggles to keep pace, rigidly animated on-the-threes giving a slightly choppier motion. Unlike Papika, Cocona’s movement is lower, as if there was trepidation in moving forward, like gravity weighs twice as much on her. The conclusion of the scene is both disappearing into the grass, Cocona falling onto all fours, Papika charging out of view.
Too often it is easy to overlook the tiny animation and cinematic details we are given. With as reliant on the visuals as Flip Flappers is, these details make the work feel so much more rich and alive. While this episode might have been quieter in terms of visuals, it was a moment. That moment is defined by its characters, and those characters are defined by the subtleties of their animation. That is the only way they can feel tangible to us. If we miss those tiny details we miss the moment.