Flip Flappers is unquestionably a vibrant show, dead-set on imbuing everything with a sense of whimsy. Even the threat of the lead being melted alive in a cage above a lava pit doesn’t dampen the Flip Flappers’ spirits, nor does being stuck in the Village of the Damned’s underfunded boarding school. Unfortunately, its attempts at whimsy fall well short of success, making it appear less like the dark fairytale I assume it’s supposed to invoke, and more like the disorganized cutting room floor of other, better anime series.
The problem is that Flip Flappers conflates appearing bright and energetic with actually being bright and energetic, forgetting a few key components beyond the immediately visual. While I can appreciate a show wanting to keep things kinetic, Flip Flappers lacks the focus and pacing to make it really work. Ultimately, this is because of a near total lack of emphasis on narrative and a wider context beyond Papika and Cocona finding themselves in the Fantastical World of the Week for reasons. This would be easier to palate if Flip Flappers said a hearty “fuck you” to anything beyond being an animator’s masturbation fantasy, but it halfheartedly tries to contextualize its goings on in ways that feel like they were supposed to be more than perfunctory.
It becomes really evident when Flip Flappers tries to build on the shallow relationship between Cocona and Papika, which only serves to highlight how underdeveloped they are as characters. For instance, the show’s idea of emphasizing Cocona as a pit of directionless self loathing is to have a character say “you’re a pit of directionless self loathing”, and then revisit that scene an episode later so Papika can say “you’re not a pit of directionless self loathing”. Despite being an increasingly central component of the show, their relationship is tragically undercut by these half-assed shortcuts, making it feel apart from the world that they inhabit, rather than a part of it.
The third episode is a key offender, with its inability to reconcile a fight between a fetish demon on Totally Not Arrakis, and Cocona’s deep-seated aversion to Papika’s overwhelming presence. In this case, it’s not so much that the two factors don’t relate—instead, Cocona’s issues are only briefly touched on, serving as cursory context for our leads transforming into magical girls for a minutes-overlong fight sequence that adds little to an already cluttered show. It’s reminiscent of the ridiculously drawn out lightsaber battle at the end of Star Wars Episode III, where the spectacle is so unnecessarily and inexplicably overwrought that it’s difficult to appreciate all the work that went into it. It also highlights a weird tendency toward tonal shifts that detract more than they add.
One could argue that Pure Illusion itself is the star of the show, despite attempts at fleshing out the lead characters, and Cocona and Papika are merely meant to traverse it week to week to show off all the bloody sweat tears that the animators secreted while creating fantastical worlds of clockwork and fetishism. But even Pure Illusion stands as a testament to a bizarre lack of imagination on Flip Flappers’ part, thanks to its chronic inability to imbue a world with some sense of weight. It seems weird to say that something that draws so heavily on the fantastical lacks imagination, but Flip Flappers tries to blend together so many different styles that its worlds feel more like cluttered first drafts, rather than the sleek displays of creativity that they were intended to be. They’re constructed more like levels from a video game platformer without a coherent style, rather than as planes with actual presence and history.
The one exception is the Groundhog Day Boarding School of the Damned that Cocona and Papika find themselves trapped in, which, in contrast to the rest of the worlds, feels claustrophobic and weighty. It’s genuinely creepy seeing our leads being caught up in a routine against their will, sewing and having tea with horrid, black hole-faced children who seem like puppets of a spiteful and covetous world. It makes Pure Illusion feel like a genuine threat with sentience, and an interdimensional hard-on for making little girls suffer—and then it returns to characters running on machinery with ill-defined dimensions laid out like a really shitty Mario level. I’d like more episodes like the first two-thirds of Groundhog Day Boarding School of the Damned that show a world with variety that can impact our leads beyond giving them bunny ears, rather than a reiteration of Cocona and Papika Participate in Inexplicable Magical Girl Fight #8,633 After Cocona Opens Up to Papika More.
At the end of the day, Flip Flappers just isn’t charming. Among all the sparkles and explosions is a distinct feeling of indecisiveness and an idea that being bright and colorful is all a show needs to be good, without needing to worry about consistency or characters whose emotions don’t have to be explained to the audience by a fetish dungeon’s knockoff Nyarlathotep. There’s ample material here to work from, provided it isn’t just tossed together as haphazardly as it’s been, or sacrificed on the altar of “bright and colorful is good enough”.
All of this adds up to a show that certainly looks nice at a glance, but starts to fall apart the more you look at it. Yes, there’s a distinct undertone of sexual awakening and (actual) hoverboards and it looks like it was satisfying to animate, but it’s still the anime equivalent of a hotdog made from the offal of better shows. None of its individual elements work by themselves, and most don’t even work with each other, but it’s mushed together in such a way that it’s vaguely palatable if you don’t think about what it’s actually made of. Compare it to something like Sekai Seifuku, which comes across as equally nonsensical, but has a visual and narrative consistency that makes it genuinely charming and enjoyable, rather than wearisome.
But hey, the ED is pretty badass.