We’ve come to the finish line in predictably bright, bombastic, heart-on-our-sleeves fashion. I’m looking forward to talking about it–but first, as is tradition, let’s start with a spoiler-free review for anyone interested in picking up this fascinating, flawed, heartwarming little series. I’ll let any newcomers know when to click away so they don’t have the finale spoiled for them. As for those of you joining me for our last round of analysis, feel free to scroll on down past those many words and dig on in.
Flip Flappers follows Cocona, a bright but directionless junior high student, and Papika, the impulsive adventurer who arrives one day and takes her to the surreal other-world known as “Pure Illusion.” Gradually, Cocona joins Papika as a member of FlipFlap as they work to collect “fragments” from Pure Illusion that supposedly have the power to grant wishes. They’re also challenged along the way by a rival organization, Asclepius, which wants the fragments (what they call “amorphous”) for their own goals.
As that description suggests, Flip Flappers starts off as series of loosely connected episodic adventures, developing Cocona, Papika, and their relationship as they travel to different worlds, whether that’s a realm of snow giants, a Mad Max-style desert nation, or a futuristic city of monsters and mechas. These worlds are an explosion of creativity and dynamic animation, each location bursting with a unique energy and flavor all their own. Pure Illusion is more-or-less a physical manifestation of our characters’ emotional realities, so the series also uses these worlds as a way to explore its adventurers’ mindsets and develop them as individuals. Flip Flappers is an intensely visual series, telling much of its story through imagery and action. It takes a few episodes to figure out what it’s doing, but it’s a feast for the eyes every step of the way.
The creative team draws inspiration from a number of sources (and loves dropping allusions and references to everything from Greek mythology to modern art to Hollywood films to classic anime), but leans especially heavily on the magical girl genre and western fairy tales, with a hearty dose of Jungian philosophy and umwelt (“self-world”) theory for good measure. That may sound overwhelming, but Flip Flappers remains accessible to hardcore and casual viewers alike by successfully operating on two levels: You can dig deep into its ideas about human perspective and fragmented personality and be rewarded for your efforts, but you can also enjoy a smart, entertaining coming-of-age story about girls going on adventures.
As much as I enjoyed digging through its references and underlying themes (and you’re welcome to read all about it in my episode commentaries), it’s that coming-of-age story that gives Flip Flappers its warm, beating heart underneath all the abstractions and imagery. Cocona and Papika (along with some well-developed supporting characters) take separate but converging adolescent journeys as each searches for a happy medium between “I want” and “I should,” balancing instincts and urges with compassion and courtesy. While their story will likely resonate with most viewers who’ve walked the tightrope between freedom and responsibility, there’s an honesty here about the pressures of propriety and purity traditionally placed on young women that very much makes this a story not just about girls, but also for girls (and in many cases by them as well, since most of the scripts were written by women).
Flip Flappers takes on the difficult task of openly discussing awakening sexuality, and especially queer sexuality, as Cocona grows into herself and works through her complicated feelings for Papika. There is a distinctly sensual feel to many of the early episodes, which may make some viewers uncomfortable given that the characters are 14/15 years old, but I’d argue there’s value for teenagers to have stories that explore and therefore normalize sexuality, so long as it’s done respectfully.
While anime tends to be pretty candid about male sexual desire, female sexual desire (to say nothing of queer sexual desire) is much less frequently discussed, largely because (as Cocona demonstrates) girls are often socialized to think only in terms of emotional love while denying or repressing physical lust. Having that conflict depicted with such honesty here is not only refreshing–sometimes it feels downright revolutionary.
Overall Flip Flappers does a remarkable job of addressing teen sexuality without sexualizing teens, but it does stumble at times, lingering on a shower scene or inserting an unnecessary and intrusive shot (it’s rarely what I would categorize as “fanservice,” but it’s definitely uncomfortable). It’s about one shot per episode, all told, but it’s an unfortunate red mark on an otherwise fascinating and feminist-friendly show.
This, along with the pervy robot companion (who I think is supposed to be a joke about the male gaze, given that he’s mostly useless and frequently getting beat up?) and a kid who really needs to find some pants (also mostly useless, and also possibly a meta-joke?), will likely be the make-or-break factor for viewers. Flip Flappers is a complex, heartfelt female coming-of-age tale and queer love story, with characters you can root for and stories you can cheer about, so I hope folks stick with it, but I’d also understand if the show’s many successes can’t quite make up for its missteps.
As Flip Flappers builds on its themes and develops its central story, it comes together to form a well-planned, coherent, but nevertheless chaotic whole. It lays the groundwork for a lot of its later reveals and delivers on many of its earlier promises, but it tries to cram in a few too many story lines and big, explosive battles in the last couple episodes, leading to some rushed developments and fragmented narratives. Still, what it sometimes lacks in elegance it more than makes up for with energetic action, striking cinematography, and emotional honesty.
There’s a ferocious sincerity at the heart of Flip Flappers, a love for its characters and their stories that shines through even in the messiest of moments. It leads to a conclusion that may not be perfect but is nevertheless immensely satisfying, tying up character arcs while also promising that our young cast will continue to grow and learn as they stumble towards adulthood. At its heart, Flip Flappers is a flawed but earnest, almost old-school magical girl series that encourages compassion while also demanding freedom for its protagonists, all of whom cheerfully rebel against authority figures and cultural expectations. This was an adventure I’d happily go on again.
All right newbies, there be spoilers ahead. Click away to avoid them. Everyone else can scroll past these two cuties for some “Pure Audio” commentary and final analysis.
I loved this finale while I was watching it, but the further I get from my initial gut reaction, the more I realize it was kind of a mess. We spend a lot of time in a battle that looks fabulous (I love me some swoopy, smeary animation) but doesn’t have much in the way of stakes because Cocona, Yayaka, and even Papika to an extent all had their big epiphanies last week. They’ve figured themselves out, so there’s not a lot of “leveling up” they can do now; this fight is mostly just Cocona telling Mom to get off her back and let her live her life, GAWD. We really could have used some of that fightin’ time to flesh out Mimi’s arc, which mostly works but is also pretty rushed.
Then there’s the flashback scenes “explaining” how Mimi became fragments and Papika became younger, which don’t explain much at all. I can piece together an explanation, mind you: With the trio standing between reality and Pure Illusion, the figurative becomes literal. Mimi is so torn on what to do that her psyche physically splits into competing fragments. Papika, traumatized by the loss of her friend, loses herself as well. Her tree cage mirrors Cocona’s and makes for an achingly apt visual representation of loneliness, fear, and depression. With no idea what to do, she cycles through ages and possibly even lives in an attempt to find the “self” that suits her best (and maybe the one that’s best for Cocona, just like she did with the Papieces in “Pure Component”). And I do so love how Cocona rescues Papika through the simple act of compassion, nourishing her physically as well as emotionally.
It’s a surprisingly abstract explanation given how straightforward the past few weeks have been, but it works on an emotional level even if it’s vague on a story mechanics level. Heck, maybe that’s the point. Flip Flappers is a magical girl show, after all. And a fairy tale. Not to mention that Pure Illusion has always been a physical manifestation of its characters’ psychological realities, which aren’t necessarily logical or easy to explain in words. So maybe it should come as no surprise that the answer to “why did this happen?” is more-or-less: “Because feelings.”
Those feelings tie this big chaotic narrative together, binding them into a coherent (and at times beautiful) whole. Cocona and Papika’s declaration of love (“it absolutely has to be you!”) had me on the edge of tears, and Salt’s reunion with the Mimi who loves him served as a poignant capstone to their romance. Both these relationships help to save Mimi as well, I think. Since every Mimi fragment is an aspect of one person, then each time a fragment reaches out to help someone, that’s Mimi wavering from her current mindset; it’s the other parts of her arguing with the dominant one and threatening to oust her from power.
Pure Illusion begins to collapse as soon as Mimi protects Salt not just because she feels abandoned by everyone, but because her resolve is beginning to crumble as well. All it takes is her daughter and friend renewing their bond–and, importantly, Cocona being the one who insists she and Papika stand up to her mother and save the world–to finally convince Mimi that following her base, selfish urges was the wrong thing to do. Just as Cocona and Papika did, Mimi has to find that balance between instinct and compassion; between what she wants and what others want. So she steps back and at last lets go.
The unexpected highlight of this finale, though, was the culmination of Salt’s character arc. Just as there are parallels between Cocona and her mother, there are some lovely understated ones between her and her father. These are two people who have, at various times, been paralyzed by fear, especially the fear of transgression: Salt unable to leave his father’s lab, Cocona always concerned with what she “should” do and denying her desires along the way. Salt is a man defined by the very regrets that Cocona fears she’ll one day have. He’s spent his entire adult life trying to rectify those mistakes–“to atone,” as he says.
Fortunately for Cocona, he also proves to be a positive role model. Pure Illusion’s ability to “grant wishes” means that every character who enters faces the temptation to fulfill their deepest desires,. So of course Salt is greeted by a younger version of himself that offers to “switch” with him and rewrite his memories, making it so that he doesn’t have to regret failing Mimi and Cocona. It’s a combination of the two successful temptations we’ve seen up to this point, echoing the rewrite that happened to Iroha as well as the personality shift that happened to Mimi. It also mirrors Cocona’s own fears of regret and inadequacy.
Salt, though? Salt never hesitates. He kills his tempter–that past self so terrified of failure–and vows to live with his regrets. His response serves as an example of the best path forward for Cocona, and perhaps a promise that she’ll be able to make the same choice someday, too. Mistakes are a natural part of living a full life–one where you make choices and go on adventures instead of drifting with the current–and they aren’t necessarily a negative part. Mistakes help to change us, often for the better. Salt has lost some of his kindness, perhaps, but he’s also lost his timidity and indecision, which is what allows him to enter Pure Illusion and try to help his family. So he doesn’t try to change things. He simply apologizes and promises to do better next time.
While we never get a proper reunion between Salt and Cocona (my only real complaint about this finale, to be honest), the way he stands up and leaves the FlipFlap office once Cocona returns to the real world–with a flicker of a smile, no less!–suggests that reunion may be just around the corner. Like Cocona, Salt isn’t hiding anymore. Like Mimi, he’s trying to be a supportive parent, watching and helping without controlling. This strange, fractured family may find a way forward after all.
That’s sort of the feeling we get for every character, really. This finale uses a lot of callbacks–mirrored scenes, echoed lines, visual repetitions with variation–to show the gradual change that’s happened over the course of the series. Salt rejecting a complete reboot. Mimi quietly watching Cocona from the trees, making sure she finds her way home. Papika trying to keep both Cocona and Mimi safe. The twins playing rock paper scissors with a new “little sister.” Iroha painting on both canvas and nails. Yayaka with Uexkull, able to smile freely now.
And of course Cocona herself, still so prone to getting lost but no longer wavering or losing hope. When she falls into a world that’s cut off from Pure Illusion (that colorless, drab land of realistic rabbits and gray buildings), she never stops looking for a way to reunite with Papika. Even when her fear makes her hesitate, she still pushes forward. Compare this to how quickly she lost herself in the desert world, or how she fell into depression in the world of the Papieces. Both Cocona and Papika may keep getting lost from time to time, but Cocona isn’t going to run away or give up, not anymore. Maybe that’s the best any of us can do as we travel, through the woods or down the rabbit hole, on our way to our next big adventure.
This, That, and the Other
- I love how the ending animation loosely reflects the entire story, all the way up to the swan (Mimi) in the lake flying towards an open sky, freed at last.
- I’ve mostly focused on the big-picture stuff like Uexkull and Asclepius, but my goodness, the creators love little homages to other media, Japanese and western alike. Just this week the posters at Sayuri’s home call out the show’s various inspirations (Sailor Moon, Mad Max, Ben Hur) and, as multiple anitwitter folks noted, Cocona and Papika sharing “the fruit of fate” sure looks like a nod to Penguindrum. Seriously, you could do an entire series of posts just compiling the visual and thematic allusions in Flip Flappers.
- I still maintain they could have easily told this series without Bu (the textbook male gaze) or Nyunyu (the textbook character designed for the male gaze) and we’d all have been better for it…but I do kinda love that their story ends with her shooting him in the head. Almost makes their useless presences worth it.
- The butterfly imagery is a visual for change/metamorphosis, of course, but I also like to think it’s a reference to the famous Taoist story of the man who couldn’t decide if he was a man who dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that he was a man. The barrier between worlds is mighty thin, and human perception is constantly changing. Who’s to say where Pure Illusion ends and reality begins, really?
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