Flip Flappers – Episode 1

Flip Flappers begins with a sharp contrast, a vivid illustration of two very different girls. We first meet Cocona, in a series of shots that speak volumes about both her specifically and Flip Flappers at large. The very first shot of the show is an hourglass optical illusion – it tells the time, but it’s also an image of two girls facing each other, and could even be interpreted as a womb. This strangely charged marker of time passing is followed by the reveal of Cocona herself, seated at her school desk, eyes dark. Cocona exists in a blue and silent world, a sterile classroom that feels far smaller and more shabby than most such spaces. Classrooms are ubiquitous in anime, and their prevalence as key settings means they’re often granted great personality, or staged as open and inviting places. This classroom is the opposite – cramped and cold, it tells us that Cocona’s world is a small and unhappy place.

And then there’s Papika. Disrupting the frigid stillness of Cocona’s world, an alarm goes off, bright lights and roaring bells signalling we are entering a very different world. Red-haired and smiling, Papika is all energy, rushing down a hallway even as her apparent superiors urge her to stop. In contrast to Cocona being trapped by that hourglass, Papika’s response to “that’s a waste of time” is “so what?” An evocative sequence of impact frames herald Papika’s escape into the night, before we return to Cocona, now deliberately positioned as trapped behind a window. These two girls could not be more different, but they’ll come to need each other soon.

All the visual motifs that are first raised in that opening sequence will recur across this episode, anchoring both Papika and Cocona in psychological spaces that feel absolutely clear even though they’re largely unspoken. The emphasis on imagery evoking imprisonment, as well as the focus on hourglasses and time more generally, even carries through into the show’s opening song. A shot of Cocona lying dejected on her bed lets the beams of her window turn into a set of bars. Cocona is presented as directly tied to the hourglass, and then when she wakes up, we see there’s even an hourglass on her bedroom windowsill. From the very start, Flip Flappers is fiercely dedicated to establishing a clear visual vocabulary, one which will allow it to make directly character-reflective points while ensuring the world itself tells most of the story.

Of course, all the visual storytelling in the world couldn’t make us care about an emotionally flat character, but Cocona’s initial malaise is given texture and specificity almost immediately. Cocona’s relationship with her apparent grandmother seems warm enough, but Cocona can’t actually be honest about her fears. She mutters to herself about what she should do, waving off her grandmother’s concern while those consistent bars hang silent in the background. Presented with a specific problem like “choose what you want to do after middle school,” Cocona reveals that her cage is partially of her own making. Even presented with a direct question, Cocona cannot act.

In contrast, Papika is nothing but immediate, exuberant, often regrettable action. The contrast is made most clear as Cocona approaches a train crossing, and finds she’s just barely too late to cross. Worriedly checking her watch, she almost misses Papika, before looking up to see Papika fly boldly over the tracks. Papika’s jump ends in disaster, but at least she did something. Acting on instinct may not be the wisest choice, but it beats never acting at all.

Constrained by both her own fears and the world around her, it’s only at this episode’s halfway point that Cocona finds a place she can act – a broken gate, a doorway that feels like the path to a fairy tale world. Cocona and Papika’s first real meeting is incredibly charming, as Papika’s instinctual, very touchy-feely nature puts Cocona entirely off her game. And then a little robot mentions “Pure Illusion,” and the two of them are swept into another world.

Pure Illusion’s first world is a beautiful place, a world that seems to marry Cocona’s subdued sensibilities with Papika’s love of adventure. Lovely backgrounds courtesy of the inimitable Studio Pablo bring a deep winter snow to life, heavy white drifts resting on what seems to be the ruins of the modern world. Cocona is understandably unnerved by their journey, but Papika just wants to play – and slowly, Papika helps Cocona have fun in spite of herself. In spite of all its fancy visual storytelling, many of the greatest pleasures in this episode are the simple things – watching Cocona try to stop herself from laughing, or seeing Papika and Cocona both decide Bu’s insides are maybe not worth investigating. Flip Flappers has a sense of wonder and deadpan eye for comedy that keeps it as immediately engaging as it is thematically rich.

Eventually, the two girls and their robot companion run into some serious trouble. The mounds that they took for frozen trees were actually massive creatures – fast-moving beasts that seem to visually echo Nausicaa’s Ohms. Cocona’s glasses are carried away by the beasts, and Papika leaps into action. Papika learns things intuitively and does them instinctively – her friend is sad, so it’s time to help. After a beautifully animated struggle, Papika’s personality finally gets her in trouble this time – but with a strange light enveloping her, Cocona saves her strange friend.

That brings us to the end of Flip Flappers’ first episode, but there are still a couple visual throughlines worth mentioning. The imagery of the fence or barrier follows the two girls into Pure Illusion – the moment Papika first carries Cocona into the air acts as a direct echo of their first meeting, and by the end, it seems like even Cocona’s glasses have become another discarded barrier. Actual optical illusions are also prominent throughout, from the first shot to Cocona’s strange dream to even the two girls huddled in their snow fort. And lastly, both the imagery of the OP and various designs throughout the episode seem to deliberately match imagery from Neon Genesis Evangelion. There are many secrets waiting in Flip Flappers’ myriad worlds. I hope you’re ready for an adventure.

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4 thoughts on “Flip Flappers – Episode 1

  1. Sweet! Thanks for writing this up <3 The first half of Flip Flappers is just an absolute unrelenting sugar rush of gorgeous imagery, lively animation, great designs, whimsical symbolism, and subtle character moments. It feels like a successor to Kyousougiga, but does a number of things even better. We need more shows like this, and with such a striking debut, I’ve no doubt we’ll see more cool stuff from him in the future.

    (For those who haven’t seen it yet, he also did episode 18 of Space Dandy. Imo it’s even better than Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi’s episodes.)

  2. Wow, I’m really looking forward to getting your episode by episode breakdown on this one.

    I can’t think of a show in recent memory that grew on me to that extent. Although the execution and penchant for visual metaphor was always there, it was hard for me to stay invested at first when the plot was moving so slow. Now in retrospect I feel kind of silly for looking at it that way, but what a ride.

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