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Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7 | Episode 8
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“If the show continues to operate at this capacity, it’s execution will end up being much stronger than if it decided to chase after an unrealized story.”
Somehow, despite the ups and downs, this episode feels like a natural result of what the series is. What is astounding is the amount of emotional drama the animation manages to convey. The weight behind Yayaka’s motivation is truly nonexistent and mostly tacked on this episode: and that’s OK. In fact, I think I prefer it to some degree. The episode itself functions as a sort of blank slate, hence this episode’s Pure Illusion remaining a mostly undefined and empty blank space. The animation carried the emotion perfectly, changing from lighthearted nostalgia to driving action sequences, like notes in a lovers’ ballad.
The are quite a few Arifumi Imai -isims this episode (his high frame, slow-mo cuts were absent, however). Despite not being the sole animator for any of the action cuts, the action god’s presence elevated the visuals to a visceral level. Yayaka’s fighting style did well to characterize her, featuring kicks and prevalent wire-work, focused very heavily on smears. Imai’s trademark axe-kick is extremely prominent, as is his Yutapon cube breakage (a technique pioneered by Yutaka Nakamura). Together, these two techniques creates a kinetic contrast: the natural rounded shape of the smears accenting the angular and artificial cubes of debris.
These Imai-isims play well into storytelling through action. Yayaka is an emotionally distant character, not only from Cocona but also from the audience. Revealing her backstory at the last moment was a way of displaying this story-wise, but the actual visual of her keeping her distance while fighting was even more effective for this purpose. Imai’s smear kicks are perfect for this, allowing a portion of the character to be fluid and changing while still staying a constant, concrete presence.
Clever blocking and sharp layout kept the connecting moments of dialog intriguing, making them feel like a natural visual progression rather than a mandatory plot pit-stop. Part of this is due to a large portion of the best staff from Rolling Girls taking charge this episode. One of the most successful aspects of Rolling Girls was it’s ability to have an encapsulated story embellished and propelled by visuals episode-to-episode. Having that aspect inserted here was a homerun. If the show continues to operate at this capacity, it’s execution will end up being much stronger than if it decided to chase after an unrealized story. In that regard, I would go as far as to say that Flip Flappers is more of a spiritual successor to a show like Rolling Girls than Space Dandy.
The Subtle Doctor (@TheSubtleDoctor)
“I want to talk about Yayaka…”
Anyone writing these weekly reactions to Flip Flappers could focus on one of a number of different elements from episode 9. You could laud the exciting fight scenes, speculate about the whole Mimi business, or unpack the metaphor of how Cocona and Papika crying out for one another cut through the tangled mess of threads separating them. Entire columns can and probably will be written on each of these items. Instead of any of that, though, I want to talk about Yayaka and how she was saved in the end.
Up to this point in the show, the viewer might not consider Yayaka to be a good person or at least not to be someone who consistently makes good choices. Her jealousy of Papika and Cocona’s relationship causes her to lash out at others. She loves Cocona, but she either isn’t fully aware of fer feelings or can’t fully commit to them. However, Yayaka does seem committed to gaining the approval of her employer, Asklespios. To obtain that approval, she is continually put in situations that force her to act directly against the desires and well-being of the woman she loves. But, because of her feelings for Cocona, Yayaka is often unable to completely follow through with Asklespios’ directives. She perceives this as a lack of strength and experiences a great deal of self-loathing–which she projects onto Cocona and Papika–because of it. All around her are people who have a clear idea of who they are fighting for, who have the resolve to see through their commitments. By contrast, Yayaka is stuck. She is just stuck in a thick muck of fear and loneliness and jealousy.
Episode 9 brings Yayaka the closest she has yet come to deciding in favor of Asklespios. They give her one last chance to do her job. She pummels the one she loves, smashes a crystalline dome reflecting her own memories of Cocona and steals the amorphous from the downed warrior. Then, the twins ask her to cut out the amorphous in Cocona’s leg. The moment Yayaka holds the knife aloft is fraught with dramatic tension. Because of the lengths she had already gone to, and because of the desperate state she was in, I believed she was going to plunge that blade into Cocona. She couldn’t. Yet again, she couldn’t follow through when it mattered the most to Asklespios. Cocona and Papika had already been dealt a great deal of physical and emotional pain by Yayaka’s hand, but she couldn’t fatally wound her love in the end. It’s at this moment of indecision that the twins decide that her usefulness to Asklespios has ended, and they hurl a lethal warhead at her and the fallen Cocona.
What happens next calls to mind author Flannery O’Connor’s notion of violent grace. O’Connor contends that in order for human beings to find redemption amid the malaise of modern life (which she regards as an inverted distortion of what is truly important) a violent, overpowering grace is necessary. It’s necessary to “wake the sleeping children of God.” Suffering, for O’Connor, is a precondition for redemption. Back to Yayaka: if the twins don’t reject her, I think she would continue being stuck. Her own image of herself as a member of Asklespios as well as her decision-making platform needs to be violently destroyed in order for Yayaka to get a clear view beyond them. The lethal warhead forces a brutal confrontation between Yayaka and the absurdity of her continual non-commitment in light of her own feelings. And then the choice: if Yayaka doesn’t act, Cocona will die. Certainly an awful decision is being thrust upon Yayaka, but it is just this sort of scenario that is required to “shake her loose,” to wake the sleeping Flip Flapper. Yayaka commits to Cocona and dives in front of the missile. In that moment, Yayaka finds redemption. I hope she’s OK.
“With only 4 episodes left, the show needs to bring its story back into the forefront in order to reach a satisfying conclusion.”
This show has sure messed with my expectations. The opening episode had me thinking I was in for a straightforward Ghibli-esque fairy tale, but by episode 8 there were giant robots and laser-breathing cyborg parakeets. I appreciate this element of unpredictability, but it also highlights Flip Flappers‘ inconsistent nature. As of yet, I haven’t been able to discern the logic of the show’s overall structure. It appears to be struggling to fit a character drama into an anthology of pastiches. There’s a ton of neat concepts and visuals, but they feel disconnected from the demands of the plot. Maybe there’s a layer of depth I’m missing; perhaps the final episode will have a revelation of exceeding narrative ingenuity that will make everything clear. However, it seems more likely that the writing is just plain clumsy. It’s trying to juggle more ideas than it can handle, and it’s almost certain to stumble on a few.
Having said all that, I like episode 9 a lot. It manages to bring some much-needed story momentum and character development while leaving room for plenty of great animation. Interestingly, the settings and color styling no longer dominate the screen as they did before. There are a few nice backgrounds in the flashback scene with the lovely pink flower beds, but most of the episode takes place on a featureless white plane. It’s sad to know that this is the last episode with Studio Pablo’s art direction, but in a way it’s a fitting time for them to bow out. Flip Flappers spent a bit too much time marveling over its rich scenery to the detriment of its plot and characters. With only 4 episodes left, the show needs to bring its story back into the forefront in order to reach a satisfying conclusion.
The character drawings look more lively here. I love the scene where Papika races out towards the fragment; she has a bouncy run and an appealing, simplified look that’s comparable to the animation in the end credits. The girls get facial expressions and gestures that run the whole gamut of emotions, from joy to stubborn indignation to resentment and rage. There’s a more vivid sense of the characters’ relationships than in any previous episode.
There’s also no shortage of action sequences that make extensive use of smears, multiples, and jagged outlines. Smears don’t necessarily mean good animation in themselves, but they are a good indication that the animation is spirited and playful. At one point when Toto and Yuyu run off screen, they lose their outlines and become hazy blobs of digital paint to emphasize their speed. The duel between Cocona and Yayaka inside the dome has a ton of smears and a loose, almost impressionistic style. It’s nice to see the animators going nuts once in a while.
This is the first time the children have confronted each other directly, and the fights have both a physical and emotional weight. It’s neat how they aren’t attacking each other all the time; they keep forming and breaking temporary truces, which feels like how real kids would behave. One great bit has Yayaka chasing Papika until they’re both too tired to keep it up, at which point Yayaka instead attempts to bribe Papika with food. The expressions and poses in this sequence are a lot of fun. Even Toto and Yuyu get a comedic moment where they literally pick Bu-chan’s brain. I’ve felt like the show’s tone was imbalanced before, but this episode has a perfect mix of humor and tension.