Flip Flappers – 06-08 Review
As they say: Hell is other people.
Flip Flappers 06-08 Review: Cocona & Papika continue to have wacky adventures in Pure Illusion… more or less.
On one of their adventures, they inadvertently do the whole Inception-thing and on another Cocona is spending the entire time with various versions of Papika that try to please her.
Oh, and Yayaka has grown a conscience because of Cocona.
Just a thought: What are the odds that the series ends with time-travelling undoing everything that has happened in the series because that’s the only way to save the universe?
One thing I don’t see often talked about is how important pacing is to a mystery-plot. The audience has to be in a state of suspense and anticipation when the plottwists and story-revelations happen. If you do it too fast, the audience probably can’t keep up with the developments and is confused or simply doesn’t have enough time to invest in what’s going on. On the other hand, if things take too long, the audience gets bored or figures out the plottwist before it even happens. In that regard, the mystery-box as a plot-mechanism is a real balancing-act pacing-wise. And Flip Flappers’ biggest problem is indeed its pacing – but it isn’t for the reasons I’ve mentioned. The real problem of the series is its focus.
What still works magnificently is everything that’s happening in Pure Illusion. Of course, most of it is a mix of incidental plot-developments and episodic story-arcs. Often it feels like you’re watching a much better show whenever the show is all about the events in Pure Illusion. What’s so striking in these better moments is how unconcerned the show is whether the audience can keep up. And so, you get moments like the mecha-battle in that Tron-like cyber-city. It’s entirely based on tropes but by keeping things straightforward, the plot can easily serve as a support-structure for characterization. The plot moves at a brisk pace and the characters can be more open in who they are. And if each episode would act like that, you could imagine a show whose meta-plot remains character-driven and who comes up with easily digestible adventures that are all about spectacle.
The series has another side, though and it’s here where the series gets on shaky ground. I wonder how many people got the Inception-references from episode 06. And does anybody even know why Cocona had to cycle through so many versions of Papika in episode 07 before deciding that she preferred the original Papika? And was there some purpose to the various versions of Papika? This is where the pacing comes in because I don’t think these moments are entirely earned on a character-level. After eight episodes it still feels like the series is tiptoeing around its actual story. There isn’t a simple, short sentence that correctly summarizes the core-concept of Flip Flappers. The threads of the series’ story remain tenuous at best. As impactful as that strangeness is, the series does a bad job of involving the audience in the weird events. Questions like “Why does it matter?” and “What is really going on?” lead more often to assumptions or guesses instead of actual knowledge.
How this creates problems for the series is best demonstrated by the relationship between Papika and Cocona. It’s easy to understand the dynamic between the two. Cocona is reluctant but is slowly embracing her role in capturing these special stones while also showing curiosity for what is going on. Papika obsesses over Cocona constantly but is somewhat simplistic and naïve. The only real development that is happening has been Cocona slowly warming up to the idea of being Papika’s friend. But what are the stakes here? Why is it important that they remain friends? In my first review, I lamented the presence of the trope-heavy school-stuff but by now the series is engaging in the other extreme: Where the weird isn’t tethered by any mundanity at all. How can you measure a character’s emotional state when they’re constantly interacting with the weird and surreal? Without the plot giving the characters room to be people, the previously established characterization is the groundwork for any character-developments or moments of depth. But both Papika and Cocona have some secrets of their own which makes that impossible. And through this, an episode like the seventh one. An episode that should be a deep dive into the relationship between the two can’t help but keep the audience at arm’s length because on one hand, the series is keeping too much from the audience and on the other hand, there’s too little which would ground that relationship and make it relatable.
In moments like these, I often wonder: How much of this is cheap fanservice and how much of it is a purposeful storytelling-choice?
The thing I dread the most right now are the hints of the series having some big mystery connected to Papika. Coming back to the problem of pacing in a mystery, you gotta wonder: What has the series done to make us curious about Papika? Especially since this is a character who doesn’t seem to be capable of lying or who has any unresolved issues. Papika’s characterization is an equation full of extremes. There isn’t a lot of nuance in her characterization and therefore her backstory should be similar. The worst-case-scenario would be any attempt to make her “normal”. The difference between making her relatable, as I described previously, by having her engage in mundane activities and trying to “normalize” her is that the former is about explaining her character while the latter desperately tries to find some “realism” that somehow justifies the characterization. But Papika isn’t a normal or realistic character – no matter what backstory you give her character. Yet anime-series constantly take crazy characters and try to add some wrinkle of normalcy to their character as if that’s what would make the characterization more sensible. Take the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise for example and what it did with both Haruhi and Nagato. Both are larger-than-life characters and yet a big part of their characterization is in relation to Kyon they’re actually quite like normal girls as well. Instead of having normal characters whose peculiarities are weird, here you have absolutely weird characters whose peculiarity seems to be that deep down they’re somewhat normal actually.
What makes this a futile endeavor as well is that the weird stuff always takes precedence over the normal stuff. The touchstone for Nagato’s character in the Haruhi-franchise is all the weird stuff – even in the story-arcs where she’s a “normal girl”. The image of the character the audience builds for themselves grows more inflexible the bigger those peculiarities are. So, there’s little you can do to deconstruct Papika’s characterization and give it nuance or depth. Since she’s essentially a loud and very unsubtle character, it’s a hard thing to distract from that in order to re-explain her character. Again, the pacing is what matters here as in this regard Papika works like a mysterybox as well. If the revelations happen too fast, the audience will reject the exposition. But if the series continues to keep the audience at arm’s length in this regard, the audience will simply lose interest.
Despite all the good ideas in this series, I can’t help but notice that after eight episodes, the series has barely been able to tell a coherent story so far which connects all the episodes. Sure, this series is a mysterybox in many regards whose main-plot-mechanisms are keeping secrets and hinting at revelations. But to do so to a degree where the series has failed to deliver after eight episodes make it a bad implementation of that structure. All those neat ideas for the episodic Pure-Illusion-stuff are useless with its barely present main-story. It doesn’t help that the series also hasn’t shown a big interest in exploring the characters in a way that adds depth. Indeed, episode 07 feels like the series has missed a couple steps in giving the audience the narrative tools to make sense of what’s happening. And so instead, you end up with a lot of weirdness that doesn’t seem to have much of a point beyond the obvious.
- I’m not sure, it actually quite goes there but episode 07 sort-of tries to make the case that individuality trumps broad categorization as far as personality is concerned. In itself not a big or fresh idea but the inclusion of gender in that idea is new. It isn’t that the episode only rejects female stereotypes but also male ones, thereby arguing that the idea of gender itself is an irrelevant point while Cocona ponders her relationship with Papika.
- Does anyone care what happened to painter-girl? Personally, I don’t. The weird stuff and the inception-part were cool but as far as the narrative consequences are concerned… I wonder if this girl will become more important again but right now her presence in the series feels more symbolic than anything else.
- Coming back to episode 07… The series certainly can’t get enough of the idea of hinting that Papika and Cocona aren’t just friends. Well, at least this series is better at encoding its yuri-stuff than Hibike Euphonium. If this were Hibike, they probably would’ve already confessed their love to each other and would’ve talked about what great friends they are by doing so.
- So, Pure Illusion is something like an Astral Plane, I guess. But it isn’t just a reflection of reality, it also gives access to people’s “dreamworlds” and it includes various little worlds filled with weird stuff and creatures. I don’t know where the series could go with such a broad and big idea. I mean, we’ve already seen how big the idea is with those episodic adventures and the broadness is also noticeable as the mere presence of Pure Illusion is too complex to stand for anything in particular. There’s nothing symbolic about such a huge concept. It’s like trying to find meaning in the presence of gravity in a Shakespeare-play. The narrative actually has to give it meaning first or focus on a specific part of this idea (which is something the series hasn’t done yet, I would say).