In my review of Izetta: The Last Witch, I ended the post wishing that there would be some anime series that focused on a lesbian relationship that was as overt as the gay relationship in Yuri!!! On Ice. When I started Flip Flappers, I was not expecting it to be that anime. In fact, I wasn’t expecting much from Flip Flappers at all. However, despite my apprehensions, the thirteen-episode semi-surrealist series surpassed all my expectations, and if you haven’t watched it for yourself, I highly recommend that you do. Avoiding spoilers, if you’re looking for a cute, vibrant anime series with a bit of mystery and a lot of relationship exploration, Flip Flappers is definitely for you. Still, I have a few issues with the series that keep it from being perfect, and unfortunately some of these issues are directly related to the main lesbian relationship.
Flip Flappers follows Cocona, a middle school student who seems to have the most mundane life ever. She’s worried about what she’ll do in the future—especially since she can’t even decide on which high school she wants to go to—but is always supported by her best friend Yayaka. One day during lunch, though, Cocona’s discovered by a strange girl who calls herself Papika, who then drags her into a mysterious land called Pure Illusion. After their first foray together, Papika tells Cocona that she wants to keep on adventuring with her in Pure Illusion, but it’s not all fun and games. Papika works for a small secret group who sends the two girls into Pure Illusion in order to collect fragments of Pure Illusion itself. Papika claims that the purpose of collecting these fragments is to allow them to make a wish, which will then be granted. Yet with the introduction of the antagonistic cult Asclepius, which wants to collect the fragments for world domination, both the audience and Cocona are left wondering how dangerous these fragments really are. And when Yayaka reveals herself as a lackey for Asclepius, Cocona must decide what’s more important to her: doing her duty and protecting Papika, the girl she’s falling in love with, or trying to convince Yayaka that their friendship is more important than their respective organizations.
One of the aspects that sets Flip Flappers apart from other anime, especially anime dealing with young girls being in love, is that it explores the emotional aspect of many types of relationships without slipping into dangerous tropes. Neither Cocona nor Papika end up pining for each other in place of actual communication. In fact, the two girls’ powers—you can turn into a magical girl in Pure Illusion—and ability to even enter Pure Illusion are based off of communication and understanding the other person. While Cocona is more reserved and afraid of showing her true feelings sometimes, there’s never a point when Papika gives up on her or communicating entirely. In almost every episode there’s something that Cocona doesn’t exactly feel comfortable with and there’s reassurance that they’ll work through it together, alongside a promise that Papika will never abandon Cocona and that she’ll always “love love love” her.
When it comes to Yayaka and Cocona’s friendship, Flip Flappers’s message is that while sometimes you may lie to your friend, you should always absolutely apologize. Though audiences will more than likely not have to apologize for being a part of a secret cult that kind of wants to ruin the world, it’s vital that they see Yayaka struggling with her situation. Yayaka knows she’s in the wrong, but as she was raised in Asclepius, it takes her a while to truly embrace her mistakes and apologize. In the penultimate episode, she finds the power to keep fighting and finally gains the power to become a magical girl when she admits that she wants to live in order to apologize to Cocona, explain things, and protect her. On the other side, Cocona is never shown as being in the wrong for feeling betrayed by Yayaka. Yet she’s also not punished for still believing in Yayaka and wanting to save her. While sometimes it’s not worth holding onto some of the friends you make in your life, Flip Flappers continues to reinforce communication as the main way to improve, save, and build relationships.
One relationship I was not expecting the series to explore was that between a child and a toxic parent. In the final episodes, it’s revealed that the main antagonist of the series has been Cocona’s absent mother, Mimi. Her mother, thought dead this entire time, is alive in Pure Illusion, but due to the intense amount of trauma she faced before she vanished from the “real world”, Mimi developed another personality who loves Cocona so deeply that she won’t allow anyone to come in contact with her. For a while, the two have a parasitic relationship; Cocona allows herself to live an easy life without fear in which her mother makes all the decisions for her, and Mimi is able to monopolize all her time. With the help of Papika and Yayaka, Cocona is able to break free of this and understand why this sort of relationship isn’t healthy for either of them. The nuance Flip Flappers adds to this allows viewers who maybe haven’t experienced this sort of toxic environment to understand the situation a bit better. Sometimes toxic parents aren’t evil people, or hurting their children in obvious ways. Sometimes toxic parents adore their children, and their children love them back, but that doesn’t mean the situation is any less detrimental. In the end, Cocona is able to break through to her mother’s other personality, and Pure Illusion and her mother’s mind are both put back at ease. But Flip Flappers makes it a point to show that the other personality isn’t defeated, just placated. While a situation like this may happen again, Cocona’s strength, gathered from all these relationships she’s built, has now given her the power to separate herself from an unhealthy situation, and building that support network and strength is an important skill to impart upon an audience.
As I mentioned before, Cocona and Papika have a really healthy relationship, almost surprisingly so. It’s fantastic to see a series where the lesbians not only stay alive, but also have an (implied) incredibly happy and fulfilling life afterwards. Furthermore, while the two of them as people were sexualized sometimes (their magical girl outfits are so poorly designed, honestly), the interactions between them were never subjected to the same treatment. In fact, their relationship only had a slight brush with tropiness in the fifth episode when they were essentially thrust into a universe that survived off of typical yuri tropes (i.e., lilies, girls’ boarding schools, and so forth). However, in destroying the creature that perpetuated those tropes, I’d like to think that the writer, Yuniko Ayana, was also telling her audience that these tropes are tired and don’t represent real romantic relationships between girls or women.
However, no matter how much I liked everything about Cocona and Papika’s relationship, the twist at the end really left me wondering if I should be shipping them at all. When the truth about Cocona’s mother is revealed, it’s also revealed that Papika knew Cocona’s mother back when she was young. Given this, Papika is more than likely double Cocona’s age—in human years. Flip Flappers never explains what Papika is: as far as the audience is concerned, we know that she’s a humanoid who has the ability to shift her appearance into different ages, but not if she has the power to change her appearance whenever she wants. Though Papika looks the same age as Cocona, she’s definitely not, and while I’m sure the line was intended to be romantic and a true example of the strength of Papika’s love for Cocona, having her say “I’ve loved you ever since you were born” is really kind of creepy. It ended up souring what would have been a fantastic relationship for me.
Despite this glaring fault and a few more concerning Papika’s needlessly perverted robot companion (please stop creeping on middle school girls what the fuck), Flip Flappers is exactly the kind of series I was looking for. It’s fun, has beautiful art and an intriguing story, and explores many different facets of a young girl coming to terms with her sexuality and with growing up in general. I will say that while I greatly enjoyed my time with Flip Flappers, and to a much lesser extent with Izetta, it’s a little disheartening and concerning seeing the age disparity between WLW couples and MLM couples. While we absolutely need tons of media for LGBTQ+ relationships of all ages, the fact that I see a lot more anime with lesbian themes and tones, queerbaity or not, starring young girls strikes me less as representation and more like titillation for a straight male audience (as with shows like Love Live). I can only hope, as we keep moving forward, that we get more lesbian couples of all ages presented for a non-straight, not-necessarily-male audience across all facets of media.