No one complains about anime more than anime fans, but I think we can all agree that it’s one of the most diverse and creative forms of storytelling out there. And Flip Flappers is pretty much everything I love about anime. It’s a psychedelic wonderland that combines magical girls, mecha, cyberpunk, DBZ-style fight scenes, Jungian psychoanalysis, and a beautifully gay love story about two girls risking everything to be their authentic selves in a world that will do anything to suppress them.
The story is simple, but with a lot of depth if you’re willing to look for it. It stars a seemingly ordinary schoolgirl named Cocona, who feels alienated from others and lacks direction in life. This all changes when she meets Papika, the bubbly transfer student who takes her to a world of unfettered imagination called Pure Illusion. The girls must use their new magical powers to gather the Amorphous (basically the Dragon Balls of this universe) before a sinister organization finds them first and wreaks havoc on the world.
It’s a simple setup, but they pack a ton into just 13 episodes. Almost every episode plays on a different style or genre. One episode is a Mad Max romp through the desert, another is a horror pastiche in the all-girl’s school from hell. Little about the world of Pure Illusion is explained through exposition – instead, the show lets the gorgeous visuals and music tell you everything you need to know. There are visual and thematic references to fairy tales, Jungian archetypes and the collective unconscious, Gainax classics like Eva and FLCL, and even optical illusions. But you don’t need to pick up on all that to get to the heart of Flip Flappers: the gay shit.
Cocona and Papika’s relationship is complex and full of spoilers, but their character arcs are all about queer identity. Cocona is repressed at the beginning, pushing away Papika’s romantic advances even though she secretly wants them. But as she becomes more aware of her feelings for Papika, the world(s) start conspiring to keep them apart. This is most obvious in the “yuri hell” episode, where the girl’s school pushes them to do cute girly things together – but if they ever leave the school or talk honestly about their feelings, they’ll bleed out and die.
For Cocona, Flip Flappers is not just a love story; it’s a coming out story. Her character arc is about embracing her identity, in spite of the people who may not accept it and her own fear and indecisiveness. Papika, who is already out and comfortable with her identity, helps Cocona through her unconditional love and boundless enthusiasm. There’s also best girl Yayaka, who is basically Bakugo from My Hero Academia as a lesbian – loud, standoffish, crazy in love with the hero. All three girls go to Pure Illusion for different reasons, but it helps them all understand themselves and be out and proud in a heteronormative world.
Unfortunately, Flip Flappers is one of those anime that gets a little too… anime sometimes with the fanservice. To bring up another My Hero comparison, we have Bu-chan, who is basically Mineta as a way-too-horny robot. He (?) gets the crap beaten out of him about once an episode, but it’s still aggravating to have this character whose whole schtick is trying to sexually harass teenagers in such an anime that is so thoughtful and progressive in almost every other aspect.
But if that’s not a deal breaker for you, you’ll find so much to love in Flip Flappers. It’s a love letter to creativity and the power of self expression in all its forms. The magical girls are all relatable in their own way, and though the story can be confusing at times, you’ll get a lot out of it if you pay attention. I only recently watched this one, but I’m planning on watching it again with a friend soon to pick up on all the themes and symbolism I missed the first time around. And even if “heady” anime isn’t your thing, you’ll still find a lot to love in the stunning art and thrilling action sequences. Flip Flappers might not be perfect, but it was clearly made with passion and heart, and it’s one of my new favorite LGBTQ+ anime out there.