Despite Flip Flappers‘ being, visually, an acid trip all around, this second episode actually played a lot of things by the book. Not the ‘sucked into the surreal world of the sci-fi vacuum cleaner‘ part, of course, but the general strokes of the story may actually be familiar, especially to those of who have watched a fair deal of anime, of the magical girl genre in particular. ‘Familiar’ in more ways than one, for here’s the strange-animal-mascot-thing that is a staple accessory for any aspiring magical girl. Now there’s one for each of our protagonists—a brain in a jar for Papika, and sentient moss for Cocona. Unconventional mascots, to be sure, but there they are all the same, like a proper magical girl anime. They’re even used in familiar ways, in a plotline about chasing down a lost pet that would normally be completely uninspiring. Meanwhile, Papika literally sounds the Call to Adventure, and Cocona literally rejects it. This is every story ever, right? In that, at least, Flip Flappers is very straightforward.
To see if Flip Flappers has more under the surface, though, to find real depth, I think we need to look at its influences, for that is where its commentary lies. Obviously this episode was heavily inspired by Alice in Wonderland (down the rabbit hole they went), but that’s not too surprising since Japan as a whole seems enamored by Lewis Carroll and many is the anime that will toss in a reference for no real reason. Flip Flappers, though, seems to go one further, injecting an absurdist spirit into its entire setting. Pure Illusion is definitely dream-like, but even outside there are things that are just strange without explanation. How much of that is a deliberate design choice and how much is that is a lack of deliberate design choices is hard to say, like with modern art, but at least it’s interestingly crazy either way and we should all just nod thoughtfully and pretend we get it. To be fair, there does seem to be a method to the madness. While Alice in Wonderland was arguably intended to be an entirely meaningless affair, as absurdism is oft, Flip Flappers does string some coherency together in both plot and themes. As far as I can tell, anyway.
So, what do we have from Flip Flappers? Alice in Wonderland, fairy tales, and magical girls. These all come from roughly the same place, really—children’s stories. Amongst all the magical girl offerings this season I think Flip Flappers is about magical girls as children’s stories, or at least frames itself as one. Perhaps it’s not instantly recognisable in that form, considering flat out bizarre it likes to get from time to time, even dark and creepy, but a lot of fairy tales are also rather bizarre and dark and creepy. The sanitised, Disney versions less so, perhaps, but the Brothers Grimm certainly had no qualms about shocking the kids. Take Hansel and Gretel, which Flip Flappers had quite obviously alluded to. It has a cannibal witch living in a house made of sweets. Nightmarish? Definitely. But kids are going to be saddled with abstract fears regardless, so why leave them out of their stories? And so fairy tales, which are often also morality tales. Rather than pretending witches and monsters don’t exist—children know witches and monsters exist, especially under their beds—they teach that, with wit and character, they can be overcome. And so it is with Flip Flappers. Cocona acknowledges that adventuring is scary and dangerous. Flip Flappers says: go anyway. It’s hard not to see some Ghibli here, since we’re talking about anime and children’s stories. As I noted last week, Spirited Away plays with similar themes too. All that Japanese folklore stuff is actually pretty spooky. But hey, builds character.
Or perhaps I’m just blowing smoke and have no idea what I’m talking about. Flip Flappers certainly has no shortage of ideas that one can pick at and guess at some meaning from. For example, there’s also a theme in this episode about instinct vs reason (the urge to gnaw, embracing insanity vs resisting the flow, Papika vs Cocona, anima and animus) that one can make plenty of hay out of, but we can debate what it all actually means until we’re blue in the face. Flip Flappers is certainly in no hurry to explain anything itself. We’re left to wonder by ourselves about last week’s robot mugging, about whether it was all a dream. Cocona finally gets to meet the adults, who are usually supposed to have the answers, but if anything it’s led to more questions. Perhaps Flip Flappers will be more forthcoming next episodes, or further down the line, but for now we’re mostly left to discuss it amongst ourselves. Well, at least that’s sort of interesting in its own way.