Episode seven opens with the unexpected, unwanted consequences of Cocona and Papika’s emotional meddling. Having “solved” Iroha Irodori’s childhood trauma, it appears they’ve also stolen her passion for artistic self-expression. A need to create is often born in a desire to articulate and perhaps come to terms with your scars; with Iro’s relationship with her childhood friend now resolved without regrets, she currently sees no reason to paint, claiming her works “just take up space, anyway.” Cocona feels guilty for this shift, and the ambiguity of her feelings points to a greater general truth. We don’t need to be ashamed of our unhappiness or our strangeness or our trauma – those are all a part of us, and even if we can’t see anything positive in our pain, that pain may still contribute to our finest qualities in its own way. We shouldn’t fetishize suffering, but also shouldn’t be ashamed of being wounded or imperfect – a fact Cocona herself is only slowly coming to realize.
Concern for Irodori leads Cocona and Papika to confront Hidaka, who only seems interested in the fantasy science fiction ramifications of their journey into Irodori’s memories. Asked what Pure Illusion really is, his most coherent response is “a plain based on the interrelation between all beings.” Like the unwelt of Uexküll’s namesake, Pure Illusion is reflective of not just our internal realities, but of the strange negotiation implied in any internal reality pressing against another. And in Irodori’s case, changes to the deeper levels of Pure Illusion seem to provoke dramatic responses in the real world.
Though Salt has mostly been a mysterious figure so far, his commentary on Hidaka’s explanation cuts to the heart of Flip Flappers. “All worlds, including Pure Illusion, should interact fluidly with each other. But that’s not true in reality. There’s no such thing as a frictionless utopia. Friction is the foundation on which all is built.” Salt’s words underline the truth of both Pure Illusion and people in general. What appears as a warm and inviting home in one person’s world could be an alienating prison in another, without any change in that place’s “surface world” substance. Our personal realities may not be composed with the fanciful solidity of Pure Illusion’s dreamscapes, but they’re just as firm and just as unique to us. Though we theoretically all inhabit the same world, our experiences and personalities mean we are all inhabiting separate Pure Illusions, preventing any “frictionless utopia.” Our interactions with others with thus always be a friction-laden compromise, a translation and negotiation between very different realities.
All that themey-wemey stuff sails some distance over Cocona’s head, though. All she really knows is that her adventures in Pure Illusion now have consequences in the real world, and thus she doesn’t want to go to Pure Illusion anymore. Cocona’s fears here are perfectly understandable – after all, no one wants to feel that they basically broke their friend’s personality. But her fears also reflect her initial anxieties, and how she felt too paralyzed by potential consequences to make any deliberate choices in her life. Pure Illusion was an escape from that fear – a place where actions had no consequences, and you could act out any fantasy or desire without fear. Papika tries to comfort her friend, saying “I’ll catch you if you’re about to fall” – a perfectly chosen line, emphasizing the fact that the people we love give us the support we need to take risks. But Cocona can’t trust her friend that much, and so when she wakes up in Pure Illusion, she wakes up alone.
The Pure Illusion Cocona arrives in is an empty, almost sterile place. It seems to be a copy of her everyday world, but with all other people removed, erasing the possibility of any unwanted choices or uncomfortable interactions. Only one other person seems to exist in this personal world, a person Cocona both knows intimately and doesn’t know at all: Papika, in all her strange, contradictory variations.
Flip Flappers’ early episodes offered a variety of vivid articulations of how we see ourselves, or how we see the world around us. These journeys naturally underlined the fact that we all see different worlds, and so now in episode seven, Flip Flappers takes the next step. From “how we see ourselves,” Cocona now finds herself trapped in a world that interrogates how she sees others, or at least one specific other. Wandering from place to place, she runs into a dozen variations of Papika, all extended riffs on various possibility identities. So what does Cocona see in this girl she’s come to care about?
Well, many things. This episode’s first Papika appears as a little sister, urging Cocona to join her for dinner. Given Cocona’s consistent exasperation towards Papika and her own home situation, it makes sense that a dependent younger sister is one thread she sees in her relationship with Papika. This Papika is the Papika who needs her to straighten her ribbon, the Papika who can provide intimacy that doesn’t come with any uncomfortable larger implications. But as soon as this Papika sees herself in the mirror, she vanishes. A fabricated fragment of Papika cannot recognize itself.
Many more fragments of Papika appear before Cocona as she goes through her schoolday routines, familiar shots emphasizing how we’ve returned to Cocona’s original comfort zone. This appears to be the sad world of Cocona’s fantasy – a world where she is free from obligation, allowed to lean on routine, and consistently presented with just the slice of her friend’s personality that feels most desired at that moment. Cocona’s Papikas demonstrate both what she sees in Papika and what she wants from Papika.
There’s the rebellious, boyish Papika who pokes at her in class – someone she can riff on with her upright, proper attitude, and also someone who can lead her on new adventures. There’s Papika the spooky temptress, who briefly joins Cocona in uncovering one of her own subconscious anxieties (the nail clippers, echoing Irodori’s change). There’s a curtsying, refined Papika who demonstrates that elegance doesn’t demand an inability to have fun. There’s hooligan Papika for Cocona to fuss over and pretty-boy Papika for Cocona to lust over in a socially approved way. All these Papikas provide different things for Cocona, but in the end, she’s still trapped with half-formed illusions in an empty, abandoned world.
After all these fragments, the final fake Papika reflects the conflicts Cocona is struggling with the most. In an empty hotel room, she’s confronted by a Papika clearly framed as a devilish seductress. “Is change so bad?” asks this Papika, articulating one of Cocona’s most primal fears. “No matter how much you change, I’ll always love you.”
Cocona finds no comfort in this declaration, for it only underlines her other conflict – her strong and likely romantic feelings for Papika, feelings which this partitioned, too-accommodating reality have twisted into a kind of shame. But Cocona speaks directly, stating that “I don’t love you. You’re not the Papika I know.” Of course, the Papika that Cocona truly wants is also a Papika she doesn’t know, a Papika she couldn’t possibly know – but that’s the beauty of our closest relationships. Our individual illusions may cause permanent friction, but they also promise infinite discovery, the joy of exploring someone else’s mental wilderness for all time.
This false Papika pushes Cocona to further articulate her feelings by repeating her question. “Do you love me, then?” “You mean, as a friend?” “Why would you ask that?” As a fragment of Cocona herself, this Papika understands what Cocona is thinking. You wouldn’t clarify with a statement like “as a friend?” if you weren’t considering the alternate case. Papika’s underlying desires are then made manifest, as the two shift into negligees, and sexually charged shots pull the two of them together. But Cocona can’t be happy in this fantasy world. A world that doesn’t surprise you can be fun, but even if Cocona’s afraid of change, she still desires to be with the real Papika, the one who challenges her and frightens her and perplexes her and brings her to tears. She wants to be with the Papika she loves.
That personal resolution leads to Cocona leaving her town, hitching a ride on a train to anywhere that isn’t here. A solemn shot of her sitting on the train seems absolutely intended to echo Evangelion’s psychological train, the place where Shinji Ikari went to have conversations with his inner self. Cocona’s conflicted thoughts here ultimately resolve themselves in a simple way: “I’m lost, Papika is better at this than I am, she should have found me by now.” Shouting her feelings into the air, she’s rescued from her own subconscious by the return of her friend. When we’re lost this deep in our own heads, we could all use a friend to pull us out.