Flip Flappers is one of the most well constructed shows in its thematic presentation that I’ve seen recently. Everything about it’s conception and structure are brilliantly designed to communicate its ideas and messages. Even the most fundamental element of its complex infrastructure is in service of one of its core themes. If you strip away the references to classic anime, literature, tropes and conventions spanning across a wide variety of genres, Flip Flappers is, at its core, a magical girl show. Even as the two lead characters traverse through the psychedelic call back to Alice and Wonderland, the barren landscape of Mad Max, the haunted Yuri school, the futuristic sci-fi mecha parody and many more, this foundation is always present. So why magical girls? Out of all the genres the series explores and pays tribute to, why settle on this one as its core element?
The idea of magical girls is often associated with adolescence. It’s something that one enjoys as a child but over time is expected to grow out of. It’s acceptable for one to look back at those genres with fondness and nostalgia, but without actively participating them. Since society dictates that genres of this kind are things one is supposed to leave behind as they mature into adulthood, the fact that Flip Flappers, a show specifically dealing with maturity and adulthood, uses a symbol of feminine adolescence to deliver its themes raises the question at hand. The key factor here is that the show never “grows out of it.” Even as it neared completion and began to abandon most of its fantasy aspects in favor of the science fiction genre, in the final two episodes the magical girls make their return, more feminine and powerful than ever before, almost as if the creators were blatantly pointing to it and declaring, “Yes, this is still relevant, pay attention.”
In the first episode, Cocona is introduced as an apathetic and confused middle school student who is being pushed into the adult world when she’s forced to make a weighty decision regarding her future. This is difficult for her because she’s unsure of what she wants out of life and is confused about her identity. It’s hinted at that her parents are absent from her life and that she isn’t very close to the grandmother she lives with. This would seem to imply that in the absence of adult figures in her life to look up to and learn from she’s had to form her own ideas of maturity and identity, and when those ideas are put to the test as she becomes responsible for her own life she becomes confused.
The show gives us a couple hints as to her ideas about maturity. When we first see her room in the first episode, what stands out to me is how ordinary and empty it is. There’s a book and a phone on the table, implying that she’s been studying diligently, a few books, a painting, a cage for her pet rabbit and very little more. In contrast, in the final episode when Cocona wakes up in Sayuri’s home, there are hair supplies, clothes hanging on a line, and anime posters on the walls. What this and some of Cocona’s actions throughout the episode tell me is that she has abandoned her personal identity in an attempt at maintaining a guise of maturity. She’s long since put away any personal interests or casual enjoyments because she’s convinced herself that such things have no place in the life of a mature adult. She appears to be disconnected from all of her classmates except for Yayaka, who she sometimes criticizes for not being serious enough. When Papika comes into her life and drags her into the world of magical girls, Cocona refuses to go with her a second time immediately and without hesitation, symbolizing that she’s she believes that concepts such a childish adventuring, magical girls, and other ideas associated with adolescence, are things she shouldn’t care about. In the few moments that she finds herself having fun, she immediately buries it within herself, returning to her facade of apathy. However, in the end, the magical girl gig is what leads her to an understanding of true mental and emotional maturity and a discovery of her identity. This childlike adventuring that she had been so adamantly opposed to was the very thing that enabled her to grow and develop as a person.
The fact that the show uses the magical girl genre as a symbol for Cocona’s personal journey says volumes about the intentions of the creators and the specific messages the show attempts to convey. Cocona had tried so hard to bury her childhood and personality underneath a guise of apathy that she stunted her personal growth. In order to come into her own as a mature adult, she had to search deep within herself and return to her childhood, a time when preserving her self image by pretending to be mature was something she didn’t care about. She had to let go of her preconceived notions about what it meant to be an adult and learn to enjoy life, abandoning the burden of the identities of her parents that she had carried for so long and learning to accept herself for who she was.
As mentioned earlier, the moment in which Cocona decides to separate herself from the identities of her parents, act on her desires and become her own person is accompanied by another magical girl transformation. Cocona realized that maturity doesn’t mean abandoning who you are and what you enjoy in favor of more “adult” things. The creators couldn’t have made their point any more clear; adulthood and childhood are inseparable, and maturity is embracing who you were, are, and want to become, and when you tie this unique metaphor back into the show’s theme of queer discovery, it becomes even more fascinating and relevant.
Just by being a show about magical girls, Flip Flappers tells us more about Cocona’s personal journey than dialogue ever could.