Meaning Revisited (Flip Flappers Analysis)
A little while ago, I wrote about the temporality of meaning in Flip Flappers. Due to the story not being completed, that post was more speculative than I would have liked. This essay will act as a redefining and expansion of the arguments in the original post. I recommend you check out that essay if you haven’t, as I will be trying not to repeat myself too much and will be referring back to my original work throughout this piece. With all that being said, let’s take a fresh look at how Flip Flappers plays with meaning.
But first, a quick refresher! To start, Flip Flappers encourages viewers to engage with “immediate” latent content by making adventures in Pure Illusion act like parables, beating us over the head with symbols, or straight up telling us the point. This gives us initial interpretations of events/characters/symbols—let’s say: coercing us into a particular analytical perspective. As we move forward, we discover that our initial interpretations weren’t exactly wrong, just that they weren’t complete or we were right in ways we hadn’t intended. This reflection on our own perspective is the essence of Flip Flappers’s unique storytelling and content temporality. Note: I originally call this “temporality of meaning”, but as I thought more about the show I decided “content temporality” is more accurate. It’s not just meaning that morphs, but perceived purpose and other qualities as well. All the content we take in changes.
Flip Flappers actually engages with this idea directly and visually, which is both insane and the coolest thing ever. In Episode 12, Papika thinks back to a memory before Mimi scattered—a new image for us, but part of the narrative past from Papika’s perspective. Mimi starts to tell Papika about what she’ll do “once Cocona is born,” but the flashback is cut off as Papika (in the present) tries to tell Mimi what she remembers hearing. This first attempt at “hearing” is an initial interpretation. Mimi then mind-hacks Papika and when we see the memory in full, Mimi says she “won’t let anyone tear [her and Cocona] apart. Not even you, Papika.” This is a revised interpretation.
The beginning of Mimi’s words—that she’ll “stay with [Cocona] and protect her forever”—are left untouched by the mind-hack, but the rest of her words quoted above are altered (as we later learn). The subjectivity of Mimi’s sentiment in that memory is changed due to time, due to new forces. This is a metaphor for our own re-interpretation of past details, where the supposed changes in Mimi’s wording are reflective of supposed changes in our own analysis and understanding. You can view the tentacle that hacks Papika’s mind as a symbolic narrative tool—representing the actions of the creators of the anime—that enables re-interpretation. This would be the mechanism I describe in my original essay.
We see this represented visually in several scenes throughout the anime. The most striking and, honestly, genius one occurs in Episode 13 when Mimi reaches up towards a flying Cocona. The sequence begins from Mimi’s point-of-view, as her hands and arms pass through the sides of the frame and towards Cocona in the center. This looks like a standard use of linear perspective—the “block out the moon with your thumb” or, more common in anime, the “grab the moon with your hands” shot.
But it’s not. Mimi’s hands don’t look so large and so close to Cocona because of perspective. They are actually that large, actually reaching out that far to grab Cocona. The cut that reveals this to us is a literal, formal example of content morphing over time. First shot: basic illusion of perspective. Second shot: literal relationship of space. To play off the episode titles, this is Pure Morph. Our understanding of the most basic form of the show—the very images that deliver light to our eyes—morphs because of a cut. Even our understanding of space and visual perspective is not safe from the morph.
I gave AnimeEveryday+Pause and Select’s Flip Flappers video a lot of flak recently, so I want to balance that out with some positivity. While I stand by my opinions, I think the video gets at this analysis of perspective and space in its middle section. Perspective and space are discussed in a different way and to a different end than I have written above, but it is certainly interesting and impressive that the video touches on deep space so early into the show’s airing. I’m not sure I think hierarchy or duality are the right subjects to investigate, but further analysis with consideration for the morph effect achieved in this scene with Mimi would certainly be fascinating. Hey, this sounds kind of like content temporality…
Anyway, if the content of Flip Flappers actually morphs, then what’s a good, concrete example beyond optical illusions? Glad you asked. The whole series is full of phallic and vaginal symbols and imagery, all of which are placed in relation to Cocona. As you’d expect, this led to tons of Freudian and even Jungian analysis, as well as a great compilation of pregnancy symbolism. And I’m going to argue that it’s all incomplete. Actually, the pregnancy compilation is technically complete, but some implications of it aren’t.
While it’s not wrong to say Cocona is exploring her sexuality or going on a journey of self-discovery or that these images represent pregnancy, it is not enough anymore. I explain this back in my original essay, as well. These interpretations used to hold (as far as analysis can ever hold), but now they can no longer keep their heads above water. These arguments were made at a certain point in time, and now they have to adjust to morphed content.
With Pure Illusion essentially being Mimi herself, with Cocona having grown up partially (entirely? So much is still up for debate) within Pure Illusion, our perspective on these Freudian/Jungian/etc. readings changes dramatically. What was a symbolic representation of insemination, with a giant drill ramming towards a vaginal entrance…
…instead becomes a metaphor for birth. Cocona breaks out of Pure Illusion (out of Mimi) through this vaginal exit and into the real world. Yet, at the same time, that initial interpretation doesn’t quite disappear. It isn’t wrong. Depending on how you look at the scene, either reading can be right. Or maybe they can both be right at the same time?
The initial interpretation allows for all of the analysis I linked above (and more), while the morphed content allows for new analysis. Mimi wants to keep Cocona to herself—specifically, inside of Pure Illusion. Inside of the womb. This is why Mimi projects this extreme version of the motherly aura, this extreme protectiveness. She takes Cocona to Pure Illusion, such that Cocona can never be born, never be an individual, never self-actualize. Papika spends many episodes looking for Cocona and breaking Cocona free of various spells, traps, and dangers. At the end of Episode 2, after breaking through the vaginal exit pictured above, Papika admits she “thought [Cocona] would die, too,” directly engaging with the tug-of-war of wanting a child to grow and explore but also wanting to protect them.
Let’s not even get into the fact that it is Papika who breaks Mimi out of her own “prison”…
Getting to the point, these above interpretations can be either in opposition or collaboration with each other. They are simply engaging with a morphed—perhaps morphing—collection of content.
As I’ve repeated, I am not trying to give a definitive analysis on what Flip Flappers is “saying” or how we should interpret it. I’m just trying to define the mechanisms behind Flip Flappers’s generation of content and meaning, and how those mechanisms, well, mind-hack us. I think the show plays with and makes fun of the act of analysis itself. We ourselves—if we engage with the show critically—become multiple versions of the same critic, arguing with ourselves. Our past interpretations differ from our current ones, but in the end we can never prove ourselves wrong.
As Mimi says, “people have several faces…and they’re all real.” When we engage with this anime, we are like so many faces all arguing with each other. Yet, all these faces stem from the same individual and they are all justifiable.
Analysis in this framing is itself one big optical illusion. What we think we see is at once one interpretation and another, but also neither of those. You can think of the two-women illusion on Cocona’s dream boat as a metaphor for this. The illusion is eventually actualized into one certain image of Mimi, but Mimi then turns away and the illusion returns. Analysis of Flip Flappers operates on different levels at different times—levels that both do and do not interact with each other. This is all quite similar to Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, wherein the conspiracy that drives the novel is both improbable and likely at the same time. Flip Flappers is actually like Lot 49 in a lot of ways, but that’s a whole other essay.
Looking at analysis this way, I think the viewer is thrust into the position of Sayuri, Bu, and Hidaka. Like Sayuri, we are an audience obsessed with culture—so obsessed that we recognize the endless references and parodies within the show. We understand the show in relation to genre and tropes above all else. Like Bu, we are voyeuristic—though not in a purely sexual context. We want to peep under the skirt, so to speak, to see what secrets are being hidden from us. However, like Hidaka, we pursue the “existence of a deeper level” without really understanding or being able to explain what we’re looking for. In Episode 7, his explanation of Pure Illusion degenerates into him rambling about “taking initiative” and “driving the agenda,” which is just an attempt to make his work sound important. To some extent, that’s what we’re all doing here.
Yet, none of this is in vain. The work of FlipFlap ultimately allows Cocona to live her own life and for her and Papika to explore Pure Illusion together. I think that’s the important bit. Cocona and Papika keep exploring these crazy, morphing worlds. Even if they aren’t entirely scientific, entirely able to explain what they learn, they find value in the exploration anyway. I think there is definitely evidence in favor of these adventures growing Cocona (and other characters) as a person, suggesting that engaging with the show on any level is a beneficial experience.
To make matters even more interesting, consider how the old worlds of Pure Illusion change during the series’ climax. Cocona and Papika return to the Mad Max world, the mecha world, and others, but the challenges they face in each are different. In the Mad Max world, Yayaka has to transform (grow?) in order to help Cocona and Papika defeat the arachnid seductress, whereas her explosives were enough in Episode 3. Revisiting old worlds—like re-interpreting old content—provides new chances for growth and new challenges to overcome. However, in both cases, these characters are fighting for Cocona’s identity and agency. The two visits to this world are not entirely separate, not entirely distinct. Again, this is precisely what is meant by content temporality.
There are endless other routes to take this analysis: Papika breaks her chains on her anklecuff within Pure Illusion, but not in reality; the various allusions to culture are not as innocent as they seem; Pure Illusion bleeds into the real world throughout the series. No one person could possibly cover it all. You should see my notes on each episode and the gigantic folder of screenshots I have. And I’m pretty sure I missed at least half of what’s in the show!
In the end, I think director Kiyotaka Oshiyama said it best in a recent interview: “Ideally we wanted people to find the show enjoyable in whichever way they pleased, whether that be relaxing with [their] brain turned off, digging into all the details, or whatever else.” Even though I can sit here and ramble on about crazy meta-narrative nonsense, Flip Flappers remains a simple adventure show. It’s up to us how deep down the rabbit hole we go. This essay is just another attempt at trying to find the bottom.