This is definitely a series that makes a great first impression. Cocona is a normal schoolgirl who meets a strange, eccentric girl called Papika, and the two of them fall down a hidden tunnel into an alternate dimension called Pure Illusion. This is the beginning of their adventures together, and it’s wonderfully quirky and fun, with immediately likeable characters and a great closing theme that just sounds like an adventure in musical form.
The first few episodes are a bizarre and surreal trip through fantasy worlds, with Cocona and Papika fighting battles to recover jewel-like fragments, and I couldn’t wait to see each new episode. The joy of the first half of the series made the disappointment of the second half hard to take. It’s not that it becomes a bad series as such, but the focus shifts to an ongoing storyline concerning Cocona’s background and the battle between two organisations competing for the fragments. It’s all very impressive and competently done, with some great fantasy battle scenes, but I felt the series got bogged down in a whole lot of world-building and angst-ridden navel-gazing, when I just wanted it to keep being the joyful show it started out as, with two friends having silly adventures in a different Wonderland each week.
I have to admit, though, that the more dramatic the series becomes, the better it gets at exploring emotional issues. Rival character Yayaka adds a lot of value to the show, initially not much more than a grumpy thorn in Papika and Cocona’s side, but eventually revealed to have a past connection to Cocona that makes her feel guilty and jealous of the other two girls’ friendship. It’s an interesting exploration of what it feels like to be just on the outside of that best-friends bubble, never quite able to break into it.
There has been a lot of chatter about this being a yuri series, but that’s very much open to interpretation. Any attraction between the girls is never made explicit, although there is a strong coming-of-age theme and that is wrapped up in how the girls define themselves by their relationships with other girls, but for me it was more about friendship and chosen family, with Cocona and Papika becoming the most important thing in the world to each other, especially once the series starts exploring their backgrounds and parental figures betray or fail Cocona. I also felt that when we find out exactly how Papika first came to be a part of Cocona’s life, that really precludes romance, and instead the bond is strongly familial.
The other discussion I see a lot of, which also misses the mark, is complaints about the fanservice detracting from the story. I really don’t think it does. Nudity is doll-like and innocent. Almost inevitably there are skimpy costumes, now an almost obligatory requirement for an anime series that includes magical transformations of female characters, but those moments where the characters power up to fight their battles are so celebratory that I didn’t feel there was any kind of detraction from the thrust of the story. Astonishingly, I have also seen complaints about the music being dull, but I thought the incidental music was ideal to set the tone, with some repeating themes that work well during dramatic, emotional or triumphant moments, and an ending song that has immediately become a favourite in my house, the kids singing along loudly with the words “flip flap, flip flap”!
Beyond Yayaka, the supporting characters never make much of an impact. Organisation boss Salt’s backstory eventually gets fleshed out, but I never felt we really got to know his assistants, one of whom is a horrendous work of Scooby-Doo-ish character design, and the siblings from the rival organisation are too emotionless to make much of an impact, almost robotic most of the time. Nyunyu is a cute late addition to the series, but never has much to do other than show off her impractically skimpy clothes.
I really wanted a second season of Flip Flappers, in the hope of seeing the girls just get back to having fun adventures in surreal landscapes, freed from the emotional baggage they end up carrying around with them. There were also a few loose threads which could do with being tied up, particularly the unresolved guilt and desire for friendship and forgiveness from Cocona that Yayaka craves. I doubt we’ll ever see a second season now, but that ending song will probably live on in the memory long after many details of this show have faded from the memory. All together now… Flip Flap Flip Flap! RP