FEATURE: Why It Works: "Flip Flappers" Unspoken Stories

Today we'll explore the style of storytelling that makes Flip Flappers so unique!

Hello and welcome to another week of Why It Works! I talked a few weeks ago about how the framing of Cocona’s initial world reflected her own feelings, from the angles and colors used to the use of lighting and repeated visual motifs. Well, it turns out that shows which are visually smart one week have a tendency to, uh, keep being that, and Flip Flappers is no exception. It’s been a little tricky to pin down what Flip Flappers is going on about, what with its disjointed episodic adventures and vagueness when it comes to any actual plot. But for a show like Flip Flappers, it seems like that may well be part of the point.

 

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Flip Flappers is essentially a series of fairy tales, something made clear through the ending song, which literally places Cocona and Papika in the context of a Grimm’s Fairy Tales-esque adventure in the woods. You could also frame it as a series of daydreams, or even as the psychosexual fantasies of an adolescent girl. There’s certainly support for that reading, or for arguing that Papika might not even really exist - and in fact, I’ll get to that later on!

 

But whether Papika is real or not isn’t necessarily the point here - Flip Flappers doesn’t strike me as a “puzzle to be solved” kind of show. Its overarching narrative embraces the same sort of dream-logic that defines its episodic adventures, something that strikes me as uniquely Flip Flappersian and worth exploring. So let’s talk about how Flip Flappers abuses dream logic without letting itself get incoherent, and tells all sorts of stories without actually saying anything.


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People often talk about stories using “dream logic” when they’re simply incoherent - events happen and then other events happen, and there’s no contiguous line that allows us to feel dramatic consequence. That is indeed how dreams often proceed, but it’s essentially death to storytelling. For storytelling to capture us, something in a narrative needs to feel real and consequential - if your narrative really is just a series of unrelated things that happen, the audience will have nothing to invest or believe in. When there’s no link of cause and effect in your story, there’s no way the audience can parse anything as dangerous or important or exciting - how could they, when everything could change again at a moment's notice? Fiction is partially about selling your audience on the validity of an alternate world, and thus selling the constancy of your world is pretty important.

 

Flip Flappers does establish constancy, but it really is a kind of dream-constancy. Events don’t occur in the way they would in the real world, but they do feel coherent relative to the worlds Flip Flappers creates. Flip Flappers establishes a new world with its own internal logic every single week, and that seems like something worth applauding.


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The show’s recent horror episode is a fine example of this. We are outright told very little about this world, but many of its dramatic touchstones are classic and understandable enough to make this world seem real anyway. The fact that this is a world you get seduced by and lulled into a false sense of security is clear not just in the physical actions of the characters, but in the framing of their world - all natural candles and embroidered curtains, it implies a fuzzy blanket of an experience in spite of their horrifying classmates. The fact that this place eventually absorbs your identity is never actually stated, but the implications of “put on our school uniform and accompany us through our daily routine” are so clear that it plays as an obvious gag when Bu-chan is the first to be assimilated. And the consistent visual motif of the clock, which approaches steadily all throughout the episode, both underlines the cyclical nature of the world and gives this narrative a sense of dramatic momentum, such that the finale taking place in the belly of the clock itself feels like the natural conclusion to a far more overtly articulated narrative.

 

Flip Flappers uses a combination of useful genre shorthands (the horrifying classmates, the consistent lilies in frame, the menacing hallways) and combines them with its own priorities (the focus on Cocona and Papika’s physical connections, the clock motif) to tell a story that makes dramatic sense without making all that much real-world sense. From its visual tools to its thematic obsessions, there is a “logic” there, but it’s not the logic of conventional, totally consequence-based storytelling. And this is clear in the other episodes, too. The second frames itself around Alice in Wonderland and the third on Mad Max, but each of them use a variety of our existing genre assumptions, combined with Flip Flappers’ own charged visual motifs, to tell dramatic narratives that make sense without any exposition or explanation in general.

 

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And of course, this style of storytelling also applies to the show’s overarching narrative. As I mentioned near the start, it’s quite possible Papika doesn’t exist. She’s barely aware of what school is, seems to live at the Flip Flap lab, and has no grounding in the real world whatsoever. On top of that, her visual theming implies a connection with Cocona that goes beyond “good friends” - the two of them adopt each other’s hair color when they transform, and each of them have one power-charged leg, adding up to a single whole. On top of that, basically the entire show is framed around Papika leading Cocona to a more honest and unreserved self, from its obsession with leading characters through portals through the consistent hints of repressed identity being Cocona’s true nemesis.

 

But none of that has a thing to do with what the Flip Flap organization is trying to do, and it doesn’t really have to. All of these strange, fragmentary pieces of dream-storytelling do their work through repeated visual inference and genre touchstones, leaving the overt narrative free to have fun exploring each of these new worlds without a care in the world. Flip Flappers relegates almost all of its episodic and overarching storytelling to imagery and inference, getting out of its own way in order to better embrace its dreams and fairy tales.

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Nick Creamer has been writing about cartoons for too many years now, and is always ready to cry about Madoka. You can find more of his work at his blog Wrong Every Time, or follow him on Twitter.

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