Flip Flappers – 13 Review
Ah, of course, blood… How else are you supposed to make anything look (supposedly) badass?
Flip Flappers 13: Turns out Cocona’s grandma is a robot, so nobody’s surprised to find out that her mother is some weird science-experiment-monster. But things are a bit more complicated than you’d think and her mother is a good guy but during the escape, she turned into a bad guy. Go figure what Cocona is supposed to do about that.
As all bad mothers, Mimi wants to smother her daughter Cocona in comfort. Naturally, Cocona rejects this since she had just accepted Papika’s proposal (which teaches you something about where persistence gets you in the dating-world).
What follows is a lot of fighting. But who can possibly know what will happen when the good guys battle the villain during the last episode of a series…
Wait, since when has this been a concern of the story…? Cocona’s purity was never in doubt. It’s her doubts and fears that are important. Nobody (except evilMimi) is looking at Cocona as a “bad girl” that needs to be punished!
Probably one of the series biggest flaws is its attempt to make a case of necessity for most of its more intricate elements. It’s clear that someone put a lot of thought and care into the creative decisions that have constructed a lot of the show’s appeal. But it’s also equally clear with its ending that the show doesn’t reward those viewers who care about its depths. My experience with the series wasn’t certainly founded on enjoyment but I also didn’t hate the series. It was just interesting to me and writing these reviews, I always tried to find the ultimate message of the series in its depths (ie. all the weird bits and pieces). But having seen the ending, I think this series’ story is more present on the surface than the convoluted references and messages that are obscured by metaphor and symbolism in the show.
Piecing together what the show ultimately wants to say and aspires to be, it isn’t the obscure and hidden stuff that made it all click into place for me personally but the few things the show consistently did on the surface. And on its surface, Flip Flappers is nothing but a magical-girl-show. One of the central elements of the show and what it’s named after is Flip-Flapping and essentially it’s another name for the transformation the girls undergo in this series. Even Mimi is ‘Flip-Flapping’ in the end. And fitting the magical-girl-genre Cocona is a naïve, innocent girl whose transformation happens figuratively and metaphorically. The helpless, clueless girl gets magical-girl-powers to figure out her place in life.
Before I talk further about Flip-Flappers’ take on the magical-girl-genre, there’s, of course, a certain question that can’t be ignored: But what about Pure Illusion? A lot of creativity went into designing that setting and what it represents, of course. And a ton of people are trying to interpret the finer points the series is making through the Pure Illusion setting. But I don’t believe that Pure Illusion enhances the show’s Magical-Girl-aspects of the show. In fact, one of the show’s biggest problems is that the show has shown itself incapable of connecting its stranger aspects with the more typical magical-girl-elements.
The series as a whole has a hard time deciding what the story of the show is supposed to be. Is it about Pure Illusion? Is it about Cocona? Is it about Mimi? In some ways, it’s all three and the series has a hard time explaining the shifting focus. Just take the finale: The flashbacks with Papika, Salt and Mimi are about Mimi. When Papika is confronting her, she’s confronting Mimi’s evil side and tries to bring back the good in her. Cocona is just a plot-device in that instance. What Cocona wants doesn’t matter in those scenes. Those moments are entirely based on the tragic backstory of Mimi. But as Cocona gets her will back, the focus is now on Cocona’s struggle to find herself and Mimi’s tragic backstory doesn’t matter so much as it has to bow down before Cocona’s story. And before either character really had any big character-beats, the show seemed to be about Pure Illusion. You had the cult, you had the Amorphous stones, you had the kids plus Yayaka and you had all the weirdness of Pure Illusion. That’s what the show had been at that point – mostly because of how little the audience actually knew what was going on.
It’s a strange decision, though, to end the series by focusing on Cocona’s story-arc. Looking back on what the series has been doing, you come back to episode one to notice something peculiar: Cocona’s story-arc is pretty much done in episode one. Her story-arc is about her lack of commitment and fear of making the wrong choice being confronted by Papika’s love and her desire for adventures. And ultimately Cocona has to realize that she can’t stay in a safe cocoon and have a fulfilling life at the same time. She has to take risks and that’s how she finds purpose in life. Papika facilitates that by being in love with her (for some reason…). But that first episode already covered pretty much all of that. Cocona’s silent frustration over her directionless life, her reluctance to go on adventures, Pure Illusion being some weird place, her love for Papika, the joy of adventure and the essential transformation that shows off her change in attitude: It’s already all there in episode one. While in a better series, this may be seen as a sign of a clever narrative structure, here it just illustrates how pointless all the Cocona-specific drama in the following episodes has been. After the final episode, it really does give you the feeling that this show never had more story to tell than it did in episode 01, it just complicated the context and expanded the cast for the finale.
But with a magical-girl-story so straightforward, you start to wonder what the series is actually bringing to the table beside the well-known platitudes and morals of that genre. In this case, Flip Flappers is trying to bring 90s ideas of homeostasis and a fundamental conflict between fiction and reality to the table. But what can the magical-girl-genre say about these 90s themes which we haven’t already seen in Evangelion and its ilk? Sadly not much. That is where the series just falls flat on its face. All the weirdness from the first two-thirds of the show and its mysterious air completely dissipate once the series had to figure out what the series’ story is supposed to be. Very straightforward flashbacks just presented you the whole story within a few episodes and characters just told you what their deal is without any finesse or subtlety.
Another weird Pure-Illusion-bit that might or might not mean something! Does it matter to know what it means…? No!
Of course, it seems like a paradox to claim that a lot of thought and care was put into this series and then go on to complain about how simplistic its actual story is while all the finer points of the series don’t seem to amount to much. But it describes perfectly a series where you have a green rabbit whose name references an obscure German philosopher side by side with someone like Papika who has a nearly moe-blob-esque obsession with Cocona. The desire to be a breezy, straightforward magical-girl-adventure and to present both the characters and the audience with a night-impenetrable maze of references and metaphors are constantly battling in this series. And I guess, there are only three ways of looking at this series: 1. You came to like the series because of its magical-girl-adventures and care about the characters. 2. You’re fascinated by the enigmas of Pure Illusion, what they represent and add to the story. 3. Or… you simply don’t like the series because you dislike the characters and aren’t curious about the mysteries of Pure Illusion. But I don’t think there’s a way to go away satisfied by this series. Even if you fall into the first or second group of audience-members, it’s hard to imagine that the characters or Pure Illusion ended up being satisfactory. After all, if you like the characters you certainly would have liked to see more of them instead of them just wandering through Pure Illusion (which doesn’t seem to add this much). If you care about the weirder stuff, then what’s happening on the surface is probably frustrating to watch as it’s nothing as weird and complex as what Pure Illusion seems to hint at. Flip Flappers just isn’t a series that has been able to bring all those disparate elements together.
No matter what parts you like and dislike, I don’t think Flip Flappers is the hill to die on if you want to champion weirder and more experimental animes. As I’ve described a lot of 90s-elements can be found in this series but I wouldn’t call it a show that’s banking nostalgia for the days of Evangelion, Boogiepop Phantom and Serial Experiments Lain. Especially considering how weak the ending of the show has been, Flip Flappers ends up feeling more like a weird Frankenstein-monster that’s a mix between moe-esque fuzzy sentimentality and psychological, surreal angst. Cocona isn’t a Shinji-clone and Pure Illusion isn’t The Wired (from Serial Experiments Lain). If anything, Mimi is the one who has the 90s-esque fucked up reality that pushes her towards angst while Cocona has such an easy time that all it needed was an attitude-change for her to transcend the heaviness of reality.
Actually, rather than trying to figure out how much of the 90s is in this series, I think it’s to observe just how different this show is from the misery/angst/confusion of those experimental 90s-series. The reason why I don’t clamor for more series to go back the weirdness of achieving homeostasis amongst delusions and apocalypses is that it isn’t enough to merely repeat what has already happened. Of course, you can do it later on in the name of nostalgia and romanticization. But what’s more worthwhile is to comment on it from a new angle. And this show certainly tries to do that with its warm and fuzzy Cocona/Papika-story-arc but that part is so simplistic that it simply becomes wish-fulfillment.
It’s been a while since the 90s happened and to really put into perspective how one should approach the themes of the 90s is to look at what comes after. So, you’ve got your mindfucks, angsty protagonists and psychological mumbo-jumbo – what came next? Death Note. Light was the next milestone in anime-protagonists after Shinji. Those two couldn’t be more different obviously and that already tells you a lot about how dramatic the shift in anime-culture is. One of the factors is of course that the whole Otaku-culture is becoming more and more open and mainstream (if you want to know how big of a change it has been, just know that Kirito from Sword Art Online probably wouldn’t have even been the main-chara in the 80s but instead a introverted, slightly perverted, uncool guy with glasses who cares more about his dakimakura with his favorite waifu on it than dating). I’ve mentioned Miyadai Shinji’s essay before in another review and it also covers the transition from Evangelion-era of animes over to the period post-2000. It’s well worth a read if you want to know why all these experimental animes have fallen out of favor and what has replaced them.
Sadly I don’t think Flip Flappers will leave much of an impression (despite its ambitions). It’s hard to say why the series has specifically gone down the road it did but the series has promised more than delivered and what it has delivered hasn’t even come from the series’ stronger parts. There are some interesting aspects to this series but overall it isn’t as impressive as some discussions over the course of its airtime might have made you think.
- One bit I didn’t mention which you may wonder about: What was the deal with Cocona arriving in a real world that seemingly had no Papika and no access to Pure Illusion anymore…? So, my interpretation is that Cocona landed in her own new Pure Illusion which is her fear of a world without the “fictional” paradise of Pure Illusion. See, for Mimi Pure Illusion was just a tool to escape the problems of her life and reality. But for Cocona no burdens exist and so Pure Illusion just becomes a playground instead of the reflection of a tortured psche. So, a world with no fictional “paradise” full of adventure waiting around the corner would be like hell. But Cocona isn’t rejecting reality at the same time. Instead, the “fiction”-part gets normalized and integrated into daily life. You certainly wouldn’t get that in a 90s-series but after all the moe we’ve gotten in the 2010s, I don’t think this series’ sentimental take on the clash between fiction and reality is fresh either.
- The reason I didn’t review the last couple episodes was that whenever I tried to figure out what the series is about, I came back to the ending. See, this series could’ve gone the magical-girl-route or it could’ve focused more on the 90s-stuff. And the latter would’ve asked for a much deeper analysis of what this series is doing. Before episode 13 you just couldn’t be sure if a mindfuck would be waiting for you – or if the series would do the thing it has done.
- My jokey guess had been that the series would time-travel back to a mundane “paradise” where all the damage had been undone. I was pretty close with that guess, wasn’t I ^^ ? (Of course, I know that’s just bragging but I’ll take what I can get)
- Salt shooting the personification of his innocence made me laugh out loud. Such a cheesy portrayal of maturity…
- I had this short discussion with sonicsenryaku during my last review about this series. He argued that the series portrays a coming-of-age-story focused on Cocona. And he mentioned FLCL. Of course, FLCL is a quintessential coming-of-age-story for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons (Brian Ruh has a good analysis of FLCL in the book Cinema Anime called “The Robots in Takkun’s head: Cyborg-adolescence in FLCL”… although the skeptic in me would dispute the reach of his arguments regarding cyborgization, personally I would just file that stuff under magical realism instead of trying to find some deeper truth in that aspect). But in western terms Flip Flappers is more Young-Adult-fiction than a coming-of-age-story. Cocona’s troubles are teenager-troubles, sure. But the goal of the narrative isn’t for her to become an adult. For that there are far too few adult-figures in the narrative (neither Mimi nor Salt influence what Cocona decides to do, rather the point is even that she thinks for herself). Cocona’s problem with Papika and finding purpose in life is a YA-problem that she solves. But she doesn’t end the story by becoming an adult but rather by having come one step closer to that. It isn’t so much the idea of adulthood that matters in this series but rather the idea of a teenager that matters here.