(Disclaimer: All following images were acquired via Google.)
When thinking of anime that build themselves to be a visual spectacle of symbolism and intricacy, a number of titles immediately come to mind to the more experienced anime-goer. Kuuchuu Buranko, The Tatami Galaxy, and Mawaru Penguindrum are but a few examples of this rare form of storytelling within the medium. For those parched of these kinds of stylistically animated titles comes an unexpected: a silly little title called Flip Flappers, with two silly little leads named after common kitchen spices.
What is immediately apparent when diving headfirst into the Pure Illusion offered by Flip Flappers‘ narrative is that the series is going for the kill with its animation. Early on, a lot of different environments, color palettes, and character expressions are manipulated into a variety of different tones. Flexibility in animation isn’t so common when compared to the big-name, high-budget products of every season. It’s what the anime chooses to do with these moving pictures that creates an immersive stimulation for the viewer to imagine for themselves. I always find it appreciative of animation studios to go above and beyond the concept of reality in fiction—to create a world where anything and nothing should be expected, creating a constant, unnerving suspicion of what is or isn’t to come with every frame. Of course, animation without any sort of accompanying benefits is just that: animation. It is the depth to the story, characters, and soundtrack that make those shining lights ever-so blinding.
For a time, Flip Flappers does this beautifully. Creating a world of unlimited possibilities that two unknowing figures explore together with a hesitant whimsy. The amount of situations, areas, and creatures encountered along their journey gives life to the innate desire of exploring to all intelligent beings. While it may not necessarily be the deepest or most insightful of series, Flip Flappers encourages a number of psychological theories to be concocted out of its character roster and focus on visual cues. Not only the beginning of the series, which provides nothing story-wise and opens a vast universe simultaneously, but the series does well in pacing its clues to the viewer through means of foreshadowing and emphasizing character dialogue. It goes a long way to have the viewer follow along with the story at the same pace as the characters while adding a little incentive to pay attention to every scene carefully. Dissecting the story is just as enjoyable as following along without a care in the world.
Oftentimes, however, a story of this magnitude—especially when pushed off for the sake of increased tension—has a tendency to derail itself under pressure. The biggest culprit of this accumulating pressure is time—mismanaged time, to be precise. Flip Flappers does a number of things to keep itself interesting, unique, and energetic in its presentation. What it lacks is resoluteness, the ability to parlay its potential into a grand finale. Yes, like many under the pressure of wrapping everything up without fail, Flip Flappers suffers from a thoroughly bland ending. What makes this case all the more disappointing is that it almost goes against what the series had built up to that point. The subtle glances of character progression, the build-up of a number of different traumatic origins; the final stretch of Flip Flappers steps on all of it to provide a thoughtlessly frank, unenjoyable mess of clichés, good vs. evil situations, and sketchy animation. Perhaps if the writers had no fear of continuation, the ending would’ve been a tad more controlled. As it stands, the series falls short on its immense potential, with a title of “trainwreck” becoming more suitable as the closing credits come to pass.
What I find most notable about the series, whether episode one or episode thirteen, is that the characters are charming in their simplicity, but not endearingly well-rounded. Despite the fondness I had for the energy of the anime or the symbolic treasure hunting, I always had this sneaking suspicion that the characters weren’t altogether interesting. Interesting in how they fit within the plot, sure, but not in the sense that I would want to see these characters have their own stories individually. Only Cocona gets the honor of remaining within an atmosphere of relatability and intrigue all throughout. Her hesitance to go out and challenge herself is incredibly relatable to a number of people. She shows this almost throughout the entire series, and while the ending doesn’t do much in terms of originality, it does get the credit of having Cocona changing from her experiences. Of course, some may consider this a cheap tactic of using something as entrenched in anime as “love and friendship” to its same, predictable use.
This isn’t to say that the roster of Flip Flappers isn’t the slightest bit enjoyable, as that is far from the truth. Papika and her interactions with Cocona have a sweetness to them, an essence of innocence that detracts from Papika’s questionable origins. Her spirit and lack of a filter is a perfect “opposites attract” pair for Cocona’s quiet, timid nature. Her insistence and pure dialogue make for a lot of endearing moments, as well as a trustworthy voice of reason (sometimes ironically) for Cocona to, in a way, “spread her wings.” My only concern with her is that the viewer isn’t given a clear indication of who she is or why she is, as there is speculation that she may not be what’s considered a “normal” human being. Without this context, it’s hard to take her words as those of a genuine person with feelings, or a robot designed to stick to a buddy to enhance their potential.
Outside of the main two, the interesting characters tend to thin dramatically. Aside from Yayaka, whose origins feel a tad too dramatically moist for my liking, the cast either serves a single purpose, or doesn’t seem to have one at all. If the story isn’t covering Cocona, Papika, or Yayaka (which, thankfully, it doesn’t do often), I find it harder to really care about the events that are taking place. Only the story’s juicy conclusion and the aspect of guessing every image is what keeps the viewer afloat in such cases. There’s a disconnect between the characters and story that varies in its interaction with one another. For the most part, the story is what takes priority, leaving the characters to observe and react accordingly, with very few instances to show their individuality. However, earlier on, the story gives the characters freedom to do just that, only in short bursts. And those involved in most cases are Cocona, Papika, and Yayaka.
The consistency of animation fluctuates wildly depending on the episode. Early on, there’s a number of different wild scenarios that are blended well to create a mirage of imagination. It suits the worlds and the ever-changing atmosphere of the anime. Design itself, too, is a heavy factor in differentiating Flip Flappers from other series, with a nice highlighting of characters’ eyes and color schemes. I personally really like the character designs and the number of homages to other series that play out in the series’ run, though I wouldn’t consider it the eye candy that others proclaim it to be. There’s an expressive quality that both brings out the creativity of the animation overall and makes it look different (and better) than series of its time period. Almost like a running gag in a Mel Brooks’s comedy, the animation tends to be worse during the final few episodes, almost like a cruel reminder of what the series had become.
There’s a lot of heart to this series that’s admirable to any kind of anime fan. It has the visual depth and diversity that makes it appealing to veterans, and a cutesy, bonding lead pair that draws the more casual fan. Studio 3Hz’s third title shows that the company has a knack of creating vivid and creative worlds, as evidenced by another of their works, Dimension W, but struggles somewhat in finishing with everything intact. For what it’s worth, Flip Flappers is a decent title with 70% of its bulk being more than meets the eye. The one and ultimate fallback to the series is that it can’t save itself from its own atrocious conclusions. Perhaps one could create Pure Illusion to erase the ending entirely.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.