Flip Flappers – Episode 3

Flip Flappers’ second episode saw Papika and Cocona entering the fanciful world of a rabbit’s mind. From their rabbit ears and tufted tails to the world around them, everything echoed the internal world of Cocona’s rabbit Uexkill, and even the girls themselves were not immune. An urge to chew on everything reflected both Cocona’s personal repression and the desires of Uexkill, while the landscape around them undulated vaguely, offering no more definition than Uexkill could conceive. After that wild adventure, the girls quickly jumped into another Pure Illusion – but unlike episode two, it seems like this world reflects Cocona’s own psychology. So what is Cocona’s mind like?

Barren. Forbidding. Marked by searing empty wastes and brief sparks of companionship, defined by the thirst for water in its immediate absence. Episode three opens with Papika trudging across this desolate land, cinematic closeups placing us both with her emotional and within a post-apocalyptic movie tradition tonally. Iconic, well-worn shots like Papika shaking the last dregs of her canteen are married to evocative new imagery, like a ship half-buried in sand. Eventually Papika collapses, and wakes up in chains.

This mindscape is forbidding, but also beautiful. As Papika is introduced the first sentient creatures we’ve seen in Pure Illusion, she wanders through a village of sloping huts and winding stairs, a Seussian desert holdout. The backgrounds here are gorgeous, and small choices like the garden of pinwheels and unfamiliar skyline make this place feel a world with a history all its own. Papika’s new friend remarks that Papika and Cocona came in like a shooting star, the memory adorned in painted colors like a picture book revery.

But the beauty of this place also reflects its harshness. In this world, water must be carefully rationed. Papika, a creature driven by instinct and immediate needs, feels out of place in a world where desire must be stifled for the sake of survival. Like Cocona, the creatures of this village have learned to suppress what they really want in order to survive in a world that’s fundamentally hostile to them, a wilderness not meant for human habitation.

In contrast with Papika’s villagers, the raiders of these high desert seas are desire incarnate. Trawling across the desert in cars and costumes clearly meant to evoke Mad Max and other post-apocalyptic tentpoles, they steal from the villagers without restraint or pity. Their actions offer a desire-focused counterpoint that seems to reflect Cocona’s own psychology, unsurprisingly. In her mind, embracing your desires means becoming an actual monster – afraid of who she truly might be, she rations her own needs with desperate care, barely allowing any of her own personality to peek through.

It’s fitting, then, that this whole world seems to acknowledge masks are a necessary part of life. Though the raiders and villagers start as antagonists, they both wear masks as a matter of course. When Cocona finally arrives, she’s also sealed within a mask, a menacing raider contraption that seems styled after a Rorschach test. Masks provide safety – they conceal either your identity or your intentions, making even your feelings about your own actions opaque. Behind a mask, you can embrace your ugliest, most deeply concealed self. You can guzzle all the village’s water, and then wake up in the morning and marvel at the terribleness of it all.

Though this mask seems to guide Cocona’s actions in some ways, the anger she expresses towards Papika feels real. The two of them square off in a dizzyingly fast-paced duel, a battle that seems intended to remind you just how accomplished every aspect of this production really is. Beyond its delightful smears and aggressive impact frames, the fundamental choreography of this duel is animated to perfection. Cocona and Papika are each animated well enough that individual fighting styles are clear – Papika favors aggressive strikes and big motions, while Cocona uses twisting palms to direct Papika’s energy to her own advantage. A story of their personalities is told even through the way they cross fists.

Cocona is ultimately freed by Papika’s concern, as Papika literally strikes her head against Cocona’s to break the mask. After Cocona cries over what she’s done to her friend, we’re introduced to the true “antagonist” of this world – the creature that masked Cocona in the first place. This shadow girl’s den is a vision of carnal desire, with masked admirers draped around a fountain in a scene styled after a Roman orgy. Like the oral fixation of Uexkill’s world, submitting to your desires is once again framed in an inherently sexual sense, as if Cocona’s journey into young adulthood is making her believe even her own body is becoming a shameful thing.

After breaking through one more mask, the shadow girl torments Cocona with an unwanted truth – the mask she’d worn only amplified her desires, it didn’t create any of its own. Cocona really did want to punch Papika. “The mask’s power only got a hold of you because you’re empty,” she continued, implying that Cocona’s repression has left her without any real self. In the absence of true, proud, admitted desires, Cocona was ready to be driven by her most animal of urges, claiming the role of villain because at least that’s better than being no one.

But Papika doesn’t have time for any of that shit, and swiftly decks Shadow Girl. After a sequence that seemed to emphasize Cocona’s fear of sexual identity, Cocona and Papika rally back with a sequence that firmly emphasizes feminine identity as a force worth celebrating. Leaping from Mad Max to Sailor Moon, the two transform in gleefully over-the-top henshins, complete with on-screen text and “I’ll punish evil” taglines. Their appearances mirror each other, each of them possessing one black-marked leg, each of them adopting the other’s hair color. In yet another sequence that marries visual abandon and comedy to dynamite fight choreography, the two exchange wild blows with Shadow Girl, concluding with a Kamehameha-style beam battle.

In the end, this fight doesn’t really change Cocona’s fundamental nature. Though Papika has no trouble saying she love love LOVEs Cocona, Cocona can only reply with a dismissive “jee, thanks.” But the honest communication here, with each of them apologizing for hurting the other, is the kind of everyday emotional care we all need. Even if this episode ends with Yayaka suddenly showing up in scifi style and stealing the fragment, admitting a friend made you mad and then apologizing for hurting them is its own kind of victory. In this world, knowing you are loved may be the ultimate source of strength.

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