“Pure Howling” and “Pure Audio”
Thursdays 9:00AM EDT on Crunchyroll
Mimi’s dark half is threatening all of existence in order to protect Cocona. Papika, Yayaka, and the rest of the Flip Flap crew will have to pull out all the stops to defeat her.
I think the biggest fear everyone had for these final few episodes was that Flip Flappers would fail to pay off any of its story beats and instead just collapse into a pile of semi-symbolic mush. Fortunately, that’s absolutely not the case at all. This conclusion is definitely a little messy, but that’s hardly surprising considering how heavily the show has mainlined in allegory and mystery. What’s important is that it delivers a satisfying conclusion to Cocona and Papika’s story arc, and does so with some nice twists and great style to boot.
Of the two episodes here, episode 12 is definitely the weaker, but that’s to be expected because it’s basically all setup for the last episode’s payoff. Probably the biggest disappointment here is the reuse of previous environments and enemies. There’s not really a sensible thematic reason to go back to these places, so this is probably a case where it’s the reality of weekly anime production that has dictated what’s happened. Still it’s a shame, because one of the show’s calling cards up to this point has been how varied and unpredictable the setting has been. Recycling bad guys and locations makes it feel a little cheap, like a videogame boss rush.
Still, there’s plenty of fun stuff around the periphery of the main event here. Papika and Yayka make for an entertainingly odd couple and it’s a good chance for Yayaka to get her story arc sewn up pretty well before she’s somewhat sidelined in the finale. Her final acknowledgement that her friendship (romance?) with Cocona is real and genuine is an obvious conclusion to reach, but it feels earned given the path we’ve seen her on. The fact she gets a magical girl form of her own is a great visual metaphor for her ultimate redemption and is also just a cool way to spice up the action. In fact, it’s a pretty exciting episode on that front, as 3Hz do their best to compensate for the sin of old enemies by mixing them into exciting new battles. What with Papika and Yayaka kicking ass, Bu-chan powering up to his MUSCLE MUSCLE HUSTLE HUSTLE form and the rest of the crew trying to navigate through the ruined base, there’s a fair old bit of action happening.
That heavy action theme carries over into the final episode, which is not something I personally had expected. In fact, if you’d let me guess at the show’s ending even a few episodes back, I probably wouldn’t have gone with ‘superpowered magical girl vs dark magical girl showdown.’ It works surprisingly well though, mostly because good groundwork has pretty much laid out all the character work we need. Given her limited screentime Mimi is still something of a cipher, but although I was unsure of it at first portraying her as two separate characters actually works surprisingly well. ‘Good’ Mimi has a number of great scenes, including her reunion with Salt, and especially her conversation with Cocona at the end of episode 12, which is arguably the defining moment for our heroine. The show never really makes it clear on what exactly the nature of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Mimi are, or even if Mimi herself is alive or dead, but it’s not terribly important. Like most shows that rely heavily on symbolism Flip Flappers leaves loose ends everywhere in favour of a more emotionally cathartic resolution, and I’m fine with that.
On that note, the fake-out ending is something of a masterstroke. The magnificent flash and glamour of Flip Flappers has always been its calling card, so taking it away is an incredibly bold and striking move. The team fully commit to the bit and it’s remarkable how obvious the lack of life and motion is even before the supposed reason is revealed. There’s so many neat touches here (‘real’ Uexskull is a particular favourite) that I’m kind of disappointed that they didn’t carve a full episode out of the premise, but it does work extremely well to catapult us into the actual ending, with giant insane technicolour dragonflies, everyone seemingly living happily ever after, and Yayaka being inevitably third-wheeled. It’s an ending befitting of the show as a whole – kind of messy and occasionally frustratingly vague, but also beautiful, funny and packed full of spirit. Not a bad way to sign off.
- The show sort of provides a half hearted explanation as to why Papika is the same age as Cocona is now (it’s implied that she was sent back as a guardian for Cocona) but it’s super vague about what actually happened and what is allegory. Basically, a wizard did it.
- Salt has had a pretty abbreviated arc, but him shooting his past self in the head and refusing to go back is both a great character moment and also sheer badassery.
- Why was Nyu in this show? As far as i can tell her only real use was as a living prop to threaten Yayaka.
- Mimi floating in the water is a visual reference to Millais’s Ophelia which depicts the famous scene in Hamlet where the spurned heroine goes insane and drowns herself. The scene is also depicted on the giant painting in the school hall.
- In the world without Pure Illusion, Cocona has posters for Ben-Hur, Sukeban Deka, Sailor Moon, Dune, and Mad Max hanging on her walls.
- When Papika and Cocona reunite, the shot sequence exactly mirrors their original encounter.
- Another beautiful visual bonus – when Iro-senpai frames the sky, you can clearly see she has painted nails.
Flip Flappers is exactly the kind of anime that I’m drawn to – a huge, creative, visually stunning and often confusing mess. It’s undoubtedly ropey, even maybe downright poor in some places, but when it soars it does so brilliantly, and that makes its sins somewhat easier to forgive.
Obviously the initial draw to Flip Flappers was its sumptuous visual appearance, and that remains one of the highlights of the whole experience. The thing though is that Studio 3Hz realise that visuals are for more than shock and awe value, and as a result the show is one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while at using what it puts on screen to add wordless context and subtext to what’s happening in the narrative. Sometimes this is an explicit acknowledgement of a plot point, such as Iroha-senpai’s memorable episode ending, while other times its more to establish mood and tone for events. Flip Flappers didn’t always necessarily boast the highest standard of technical animation, but memorable design and imagery always kept it close to the top of the best-looking show list.
While the visuals are the first thing which hit you though, I think the key thing that made Flip Flappers a success where other similarly ambitious anime have failed is that it always remembered to keep its focus on characters and never obscured them for the sake of mood or story. Our trio of heroines are an excellent compliment to each other, with the stoic and conservative Cocona nicely setting off the manic and impulsive Papika, and sarcastic big sis Yayaka keeping a cynical eye over both of them. What’s gratifying though is that although these basic character archetypes stick, there’s definitely development and growth as the series goes on, and we see a genuine shift in personalities. That’s not to say that the characterisation is the most subtle I’ve ever seen, but it’s there and it’s meaningful, which is always nice in a show which front-loads itself on visual imagery as much as this one does. There’s even a hint towards the more complex issues of identity, sexuality and loss, although the show tends to coach it more in symbolic gestures than outright narrative. Nevertheless, it’s very welcome. The supporting cast aren’t anywhere near as fleshed out as the main trio, but they do their best with limited screen-time and they all make a solid impression.
That’s not to say that Flip Flappers was perfect of course. The show’s deliberately confusing, highly unorthodox story style delighted and frustrated many in equal measure. Personally, I was absolutely fine with it not telling us everything, but there were clearly some pacing issues, and shows that major on surrealism and dreamy atmosphere tend to struggle a bit when compressed into single cour size. That was definitely the case here, with the back third of the show feeling a little rushed and definitely losing some of the relaxed, airy atmosphere of the best of the previous episodes. There was also the nagging and seemingly pointless trend towards excess fanservice, never better exemplified than episode 8’s tasteless swimsuit fest.
Overall though, Flip Flappers was a remarkable piece of work, as its second place position in our anime of the year chart indicates. Mixing a rich character driven plot with the kind of artistic flair and ambition that doesn’t come along very often, it’s a brilliantly original and singular piece. It’s also an exciting original debut from Studio 3Hz and I’m very intrigued to see where they go from here. Regardless of what the future holds though, they’ve already gifted us with one unexpected classic.