Weekly Motion Cannon: Flip Flappers Episode 13

Don’t miss an episode! You can watch Flip Flappers on Crunchyroll!

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 Be sure to check out the write-ups for prior episodes!
Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7 | Episode 8 | Episode 9 | Episode 10 | Episode 11 | Episode 12


JimmyGnomebiggerJimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)

“ In the end, I’d still recommend Flip Flappers.”

Since the finale has finally arrived I’ve decided to write more constructive impressions this week as my final word on Flip Flappers as a whole. I’m aware that my general negativity towards the show has bothered many people, a result I’ve never intended, so here is an attempt to genuinely examine Flip Flappers as a holistic work while measuring my own expectations and interpretations that resulted in my eventual disappointment. Just know this going in: if you like this series I don’t think any differently of you nor do I want to undermine your own personal enjoyment. I only wish to understand why I was never able to invest in it despite usually being a fan of this brand of anime.

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I’ve been reading Emily Rand’s interpretations to gleam some perspective from someone who deeply enjoys analyzing this week-to-week and her most recent post stuck out to me. It examines the painting that Cocona and Iroha briefly chat about way back in the second episode and how it foreshadows Mimi’s own illusion that we see in thirteen. I mentioned this same painting in my impressions for that week and later extrapolated on it for my episode 6 write-up back when I was digging the show’s symbolic lingo. Now it makes for an excellent retrospective example of how misaligned my own engagement was from the creators’ intentions. At that point I considered the purpose of Flip Flappers to be intimately tied to its form; a series made by animators about the value of animation and how their efforts to make moving paintings can transport viewers into awe-inspiring worlds. “Finally,” I thought, “a sakuga series that argues for its own inherent value!” Of course, this was likely never the intention of Oshiyama and company, and I came to see in the second half that Flip Flappers had nothing to say about its medium. All of the obscure art theory references were only stylistic choices and the dreadful-yet-compelling painting in that stairwell was only foreshadowing, not the crux of the show’s primary themes.

And that’s fine. I’ve read plenty of shows wrongly before and still managed to find enjoyment in them. Mawaru Penguindrum pulls a similar bait-and-switch by refocusing the gag-filled stalker antics of Ringo and Shouma to a surreal terrorist family-drama and it is one of my favorite anime ever, but unfortunately Oshiyama is no Ikuhara. As it is clearly spelt out in these last few episodes, Flip Flappers is about finding a way to navigate a subjective world full of subjective people. Cocona discovers her will to do this through Papika, Dr. Salt does the same by confronting his past, and Mimi admits her obsessiveness was wrong and moves on. It is formally functional and thematically sound for the most part, yet it doesn’t have any bite to it. There’s nothing challenging to its message and no real substance left once you ‘get it’. I won’t be thinking back to its artistic ambitions in the same way I do Penguindrum, but perhaps I will gawk at the skillful action animation and beautiful backgrounds of its early episodes for years to come.

Its execution also leaves much to be desired. While I did occasionally get some emotional resonance in the finale (the song that plays as Cocona and Papika fly into Mimi’s black hole is honestly great) there are too many moments that feel hollow. Dr. Salt is too wooden for his resolution to not feel ham-fisted and Mimi’s personalities are split so cleanly into ‘absolute evil’ and ‘understanding mother’ that they might as well be separate characters, which partially undermines the primary theme of the show as well as my empathy for her. I’ve gone back to my loathing of the stiff character acting again and again, and the same holds true here: an animation that means to have complex characters should support them visually, and Flip Flappers fails in that regard. There are plenty of other flaws I could nit-pick, but I’ve done enough of that. All of these issues accumulate to drag down an already middling show that was far less interesting than I had initially considered.

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Yet in the end, I’d still recommend Flip Flappers. I understand why it has so many fans and that my personal obstacles put me in the minority for not enjoying it (among those that actually watched the show all the way through). The first six episodes are still fascinating on their own for anyone with an interest in beautifully crafted worlds and the flaws of its latter half may be more negligible to different eyes. After all, humans are subjective, and I can simply move on from my own hang-ups to search for art that better speaks to me.


subs_biggerThe Subtle Doctor (@TheSubtleDoctor)

“…the show is fully aware of the look it wants and is entirely capable of pulling it off.”

I won’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the specifics of the series finale itself because it largely went how I expected it would go. Cocona and Papika defeat the final form of the big monster, the disparate sides of Mimi come together, and our two leads fly off into the kaleidoscopic sunset. The show looks as good as it’s looked in weeks, a bunch of questions are left unanswered, and no new thematic ground is covered. I’ll leave it to my colleagues to delve further into the particulars of the episode, while I move right into discussing the series as a whole.

There are a number of fair criticisms one could level at Flip Flappers. Most of its side characters end up being a total afterthought. The story’s ending feels a bit too pat, and leaves me with a gnawing sense of discontent. But, the show’s biggest issue, I think, is that it’s more interested in immediacy of feeling than in constructing a satisfying narrative. As Patrick eloquently stated in the previous column, “The impact of the moment seems to take priority over the implications of the moment.” Even at its most expostiony, the show never positions itself as a Pure Illusion Mechanics Manual, but for some viewers, the amount of specific details Flip Flappers does dole out only serve to shine a light on the ones it doesn’t.

This issue is exacerbated by quite a dramatic shift in the series’ manner of plot delivery partway through its run. Around episode nine, direct, conventional storytelling largely becomes the order of the day. Not that there isn’t interesting stuff to mine from these later episodes, but the first six in particular seem to be an effective exercise in indirect communication of narrative. A show where explanations had been elusive suddenly choosing to hand them to you…this can mess with viewer expectation. Rather than totally relying on indirect storytelling or evenly distributing its directly-communicated details, Flip Flappers hurts itself by backloading all the information it really wants you to know.

Yet, there really is plenty to like here. First and most obviously: the show is gorgeous. While not every frame of every episode is memorable, Flip Flappers manages to nail several distinct aesthetics. From a neon-fueled techno-future to quiet, mysterious snow fields to some of the most beautiful psychedelic imagery this side of a Masaki Yuasa joint, the show is fully aware of the look it wants and is entirely capable of pulling it off.

For me, though, the enduringly valuable aspects of Flip Flappers are its messages about fear, love and the self. I know some people mistook the show’s change in its manner of information delivery for a change in its message. However, as inconsistent as other elements of this series may be, its thematic content remains remarkably consistent, especially given the loss of its lead scriptwriter mid-run. Cocona begins the series as a listless overachiever, capable of anything but driven to do nothing; however, because she was nudged into taking the hand of a stranger beckoning her to adventure, she overcomes every fear holding her back.

Flip Flappers also does a wonderful job at showcasing the many forms love can take. Yayaka’s unrequited love manifests itself in an act of sacrifice. Mimi’s love for her child becomes twisted and selfish, poisoning all of her relationships. Papika’s long standing, romantic love for Cocona is shown as resolute decision rather than simply a heightened emotion; come what may, she will love Cocona. And, we see Cocona’s reciprocal romantic love undergo several phases as it blossoms, including both conditional and unconditional forms. I find these explorations to be both nuanced and kind of rare in anime.

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This theme of the multifaceted nature of love is mirrored by the illustration of the self as a many-sided, often self-contradictory unit. Early episodes hint at this theme with masks that amplified hidden, unwanted feelings and Papika and Cocona acting as different aspects of a child’s personality, taking turns enduring and escaping abuse. Later on, the series brings these ideas to the forefront of the story, with both Papika and Mimi physically appearing as many selves yet one. This straightforward exposition of a complicated idea only benefits the show, in my opinion.

I enjoyed my time with Flip Flappers. It’s not perfect, and it’s not one of my favorite shows of the year. But, for those who find value in digging a bit beneath the surface and don’t necessarily need the most compelling narrative in their anime, I’d definitely recommend it.


ibcf-smallibcf (@_ibcf_)

“The series could have left us with an intriguing question about the nature of reality, but it discards this possibility…”

At last we reach Flip Flappers’ rousing finale, ‘Pure Audio,’ which is an appropriate title because there’s a lot of noise and not much else. We get the standard magical girl battle, the world nearly ending, Nyunyu being useless, etc, yet nothing really interesting or surprising happens. The action sequences are fine, but I was hoping for a final episode with a bit more substance and punch.

Yes, there’s the obligatory heart-to-heart scene between Cocona and Papika. However, the main thrust of this episode is Mimi’s relationships with her friend, daughter, and husband. Or at least it should be, except Mimi blunts the emotional effect by doing things like turning into a lizard. Maybe this is supposed to be a visual representation of her twisted desires, but her grotesque transformation comes across as more ludicrous than scary. She ends up looking and acting like a Saturday morning cartoon villain, in jarring contrast to her usual calm demeanor.

Mimi’s skull hydra beasties are also a little too over-the-top, but they do enable some cool ‘Itano Circus’ animation. Cocona and Papika get a few nice scenes fighting the monsters and being smashed through rocks. Overall the effects and action animation are quite good throughout, though that’s to be expected in the final episode. On the other hand, the weak character animation is still a major obstacle to my enjoyment of the series. Only Hidaka gets anything close to a real facial expression, and his involvement in the story has remained minimal.

Speaking of minimal involvement, Yayaka is rendered powerless and has to be rescued by Uexküll, of all people. It’s a crying shame, because her brief moment of magical girl-dom provided some unique animation highlights in the last episode. At least she actually has a personality, unlike Nyunyu and the twins. The most notable thing Nyunyu does in this episode is shoot Bu-chan in the brain for no apparent reason. And what is with Bu-chan’s brain? I recall there was a closeup of his disembodied cerebrum in the first episode, as if it would be significant to the plot somehow. Who’s brain is it? Maybe it belonged to Hidaka’s friend?

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There’s a potentially interesting twist towards the end where Cocona finds herself in a place that resembles reality more than her own real world. The town is gray and mundane, the school uniforms are realistic, and Uexküll looks like an actual rabbit. Could Cocona have actually been living in Pure Illusion her whole life? However, the ambiguity is shattered when Papika once again pops out of the pipe. The series could have left us with an intriguing question about the nature of reality, but it discards this possibility with its shots of giant butterflies in the clouds and Mimi smirking in the bushes. So what was the point of this whole sequence?

Flip Flappers is not a terrible anime by any means. Even at its worst, it’s solid entertainment with fun ideas and beautiful visuals. What frustrates me is that it has the makings of something truly exceptional, and it fails to grasp this. Perhaps the alleged production issues account for some of its imbalance, but I also feel like the creators handicapped themselves with bad decisions from the start. If the show’s focus was supposed to be Cocona, Papika, and Mimi, what need was there for any other characters? Why muddle up Pure Illusion’s theme with distracting genre pastiches and references? It seems like a failure of imagination on the artists’ part. If only they had dropped the narrative baggage and concentrated on making a simple, strong, and charming show instead.


suri_biggerPat ‘Suri’ Price (@Suribot)

“…feelings of warmth are accompanied by those of mild confusion.”

I’m glad I watched Flip Flappers. I had fun and enjoyed this ride it’s taken me on every step of the way. Sure, it didn’t magically come together at the end, or suddenly become Anime of the Year, but it answered the question I most wanted it to after the last few episodes: why are there are two Mimis?

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The answer to this is that there is only one Mimi, but there is a duality within that individual. Pure Illusion is a manifestation of a sort of dream logic, it can make thought into reality and impact the real world directly. Mimi is the manifestation of a being conceit with power combined with personal regret and other negative thoughts and emotions. She is someone who can says with certainty, ‘I will make things better,’ and takes the easy path over the correct path – the path that feels right over the path that is right. It’s not a demon or a devil that she makes a deal with, but her own dark side. Salt having his own manifestation when he enters Pure Illusion clarifies this point. I definitely will be arguing hard for ‘Salt shooting his own inner demons in the face’ for the ‘Best Moment’ category in our upcoming Anime of the Year podcast.

Most of the feelings of warmth that I have come from Cocona’s character. From go, Cocona’s central conflict seemed to be her own perceived lack of personality. She didn’t feel she had anything unique about her, being called an ’empty shell’.Mimi is a manifestation of that conflict, while Papika is the solution. Both act against Cocona’s free will, but for polar opposite reasons. Mimi utterly removes choice to protect Cocona, isolating her. Papika drags Cocona along against her to give her new experiences. The conclusion comes when Cocona confronts what having other people making her decisions for her amounts to in the end, and directly says, ‘yes, I want to make my own choices and make them with Papika’- ‘No one will get in the way of our adventure.’ The combined relationship of Cocona and Papika is akin to joy itself.

But let’s be real here, Papika kind of didn’t have an arc. She exists entirely in relation to Cocona. Papika at the start is Papika at the end. All that is important to her is Cocona. It’s the realization of ‘whatever I want to do, I want to do it with you. It has to be you,’ that I find makes me feel fuzzy inside. Seeing their interactions together is really what kept the show afloat for me, I just wish they had a better third act to experience together.

I feel like this show expanded in the wrong directions. I do like the added details of the world and most of the backstory elements, but by filling in enough of the map, the gaps that remain blank are incredibly prominent. Cocona’s robotic imposter grandma, the moment of ‘Oh, she’s trying to paint again’ for Iroha, and honestly, a lot of Salt’s motivations and decisions are left confusing. I do like this show quite a bit, but I cannot  wrap my head around some of the intended (or absent?) subtleties. The feelings of warmth are accompanied by those of mild confusion. In the end, I’m not sure the production knew what it wanted to do. The only piece of certainty was that, whatever it is they were trying to say, they wanted to say it with Papika and Cocona.


fR2BruO4_biggerCJ Hitchcock (@cjhitchcock)

“Flip Flappers is love, for better or worse.”

Let’s get one thing straight, Flip Flappers is not a bad show, but it is extremely flawed. For every praise I can give this show, a criticism follows it. It’s like that old saying, “One step forward, two steps back,” but instead this show is taking one step forward, one step back and repeats these two motions throughout the entire series, leading it nowhere. Take the characters for example: Cocona and Papika are an incredibly fun couple to watch. While they aren’t exactly complicated characters, their execution perfectly suits the series. An introvert falls in love with an overly excited extrovert and the two help each other overcome their shortcomings on a mystical adventure. They’re sweet and the scenes where they do confess their love for each other makes my heart feel all gooey and warm. On the other hand, you have the twins: two lifeless lumps of flesh that absorb all emotion and tension from scenes that ultimately serve no real purpose in the overall story. They’re the bad guys, full stop. They have no motivation given towards them for hunting down the episode’s MacGuffin besides to act as a foil for our heroes. While I might not care for Yayaka as a character, she at least has motivation for wanting to get in between Cocona and Papika, but the twins are just doing it because the script told them to do it. In the end, they contribute nothing towards this series and makes me wonder why they were added to the series at all.

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The plot itself has the same problem, for every good moment, something will come along and ruin the moment. I do enjoy the overall theme about Cocona learning to come out of her shell and learning to embrace who she is. She learns through her adventures that she needs to forge her own path in life and enjoy the ride. That’s a cool moral for a series aiming for the tone of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. The problem is how unbelievably convoluted the entire journey was. Was it too much for Papika to be a new friend for Cocona to meet? Did Papika really need to be Cocona’s mother’s best friend who’s been transformed into her younger self after the Pure Illusion went nuts and corrupted Cocona’s mother, Mimi into destroying reality? Did you have to add the creepy vibe off Papika falling in love with her best friend’s child?

Honestly, I don’t think the story of a daughter struggling to figure out who she is, while she’s being haunted and tempted by her mother into giving up all self control is bad – but there were more efficient ways of telling that story. Having Mimi being a presence throughout the story, possibly being a mastermind leading Cocona down a path closer towards her trap, would of been a far more interesting story then having to follow these vague and confusing Big Fire Rejects throughout the series. Yeah, the Big Fire Rejects were possibly established from the beginning as a red herring, but they were never really established well enough into the series for them to be considered a real threat. Conceptually, I think Mimi is an interesting villain with an interesting backstory and good motivations. Cocona is seeking control over her life and Mimi is trying to rob her of that. Through Mimi’s warped mind, she believes she’s fulfilling her motherly duties by doing this. Again, that’s a good idea, but the problem is the series introduces this concept far too late into the story and does it such a way that it’s jarring and feels forced, almost as if the series never intended to go down this route from the beginning.

This series does a lot right, but it’s not perfect. I do believe this show is worth watching, because those high points in the series are excellent, but when the show crashes it crashes hard. It’s a lot like love in a weird way. You see it among the crowd and are stricken by its sure beauty. You’ll go on few dates, some are a blast while other will leave you embraced. Then you dig a little deeper into their personality and they aren’t exactly what you wanted or even what they promised you. You’ll get into a fight that will test you’re feelings for one another and you’ll either come out with a deeper understanding of one another or you’ll be left heartbroken and alone. Flip Flappers is love, for better or worse.


josh_biggerJosh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)

“There is a difference in leaving things vague and leaving them unfinished. ”

Perhaps my favorite part of the episode was an inspired shot/reverse-shot of enormous hands clenching Cocona.

The maroon hands contrast against the luscious green background in menacing shapes as a testament of Mimi’s ire. Lines smear into thick, powerful barriers that trap our main character – but in a sudden reversal, even thicker lines shatter the prison of fingers. Two quick abstract impact frames, and the cut ends on an amazing shot of Cocona surrounded by 1001 spheres in various depths. This frame is perfect: the shallow depth of field, Cocona’s pose, the slow crawl of the spheres across the screen – everything. However, with as amazing as this scene is, it doesn’t save the series from its inevitable fate…

The common belief is that Flip Flappers is divided down the middle into two halves; one focused on the visual narrative, the other more concerned with story elements. But I feel this ‘visual vs story’ argument is a false dichotomy. I say that, but it is very clear that visuals had been the priority the first six episodes, and fragments of a story in the last seven. However this change is not at fault for the show’s declining quality – instead it’s the erosion of its symbolism.

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It was understood that there was some underlying symbolism in the form of characters, objects, and settings. Deeper meaning was inferred, which beautifully allowed for a tailored, personal response (which explains the tumult of opinion to which I have yet to see a common consensus on), making early episodes more interactive and engaging. The question of ‘why is this here?’ was subverted by ‘what does it mean?’ It didn’t matter why Cocona and Papika where collecting amorphous in Pure Illusion, what mattered was the allegorical message that was felt. Nowhere is this more obvious than in episode 6; all events in that episode have no conscience whatsoever on the episodes before or after it, but that wasn’t the point of the episode – it was to explore an emotion. And the visuals were key in this process, requiring interpretation and thus involvement. (This is also why episode 9 stood out: Yayaka’s combat style dropped subtle hints as to who she was, the blank backgrounds spoke to the open possibilities and potential for the relationship she shared with Cocona.) This type of symbolism is relatively absent in the second half, instead opting to explain ‘why’ and rob us of the opportunity of interpretation.

There is a difference in leaving things vague and leaving them unfinished. Flip Flappers‘ explanation only reaches so far, forgetting to cover the most basic elements. The sporadic placement of plot points runs against the flow of any potential visual metaphor. Thus it prevents the derivation of emotions and the art experienced on a visceral level. The tickling that we felt in our subconscious was put away for the sake of ‘better things’. Compounding production issues left episodes feeling slap-dashed together, questioning the technical competence of the series and validity of its message. Were we once assumed meaning and looked for it, we began to question its very existence. Episode 13 was not a sufficient triumphant return to form that was needed to ‘save’ the series.


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3 Comments

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  1. I liked FliFlap, however in the end there’s a limitation of how much I can like “love conquers all” like I said before. The first half fueled such high expectations that when the story followed the most obvious developments it was impossible not to be disappointed.
    I get it ok, I just don’t like it.

    I think that Oshiyama didn’t make a good job with the themes he choosed to tackled. It was all there since the beginning, we have more certain of that now, notwithstanding imperfectly conveyed.
    What he wanted to say about love and motherhood anyway?
    Whatever he managed to say I don’t agree, because you see, aside from the shallow pure evil/good duality it sounds to me like Cocona exchanged one figure of unconditional love for another staying the same. Her mindset changed for sure but she remains dependent and without much idea of what to do and what to be by herself alone.
    What happened to Iro also seems to contradict to me.
    And it’s probably wise for us to not think about that body in the very first scenes …
    Yeah, an anime about feelings … I’m really feeling now.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think the point of the final PI was to tell us that life is all about perception. We’re presented a dull, boring world that seems more “realistic” and believable by our standards, so the audience thinks, oh, all that whimscial fun stuff was just imagination and not reality, but actually the fantastical world we’ve seen all along was the true reality depsite the audiences’ preconcieved notions of what constitutes normal or possible. It’s up to you to decide if your “normal” is the shitty grey world or the colourful cool one.

    Liked by 1 person

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