Even from the very first episode of Flip Flappers there’s a sense that you’re watching something special. It wasn’t until the third that I was completely convinced, though, as the beautifully animated fantasy took a sudden turn into a very Fist of the North Star situation. It’s still a quasi-magical-girl story at its heart, but episodes like this illustrate the infinite possibilities the series presents right from the get-go.
If the name Flip Flappers sounds completely new to you, that’s because it’s one of a small handful of original TV anime not based on any existing properties. The fairly loose story starts as quaintly as possible, as a girl named Cocona finds herself face to face with a strange, hoverboard-riding girl named Papika. Before she knows it Papika and her robot are dragging her along to another dimension called “Pure Illusion,” which definitely lives up to its name. These hypercolor environments serve as the backdrop for much of the series, which involves a quest for mysterious shards and the high-intensity, super-powered fighting it takes to obtain them.
As you might have guessed, Cocona, Papika, and the organization known as FlipFlap aren’t the only ones after these fragments. It isn’t long before we meet a rival organization, which throws yet another wrinkle into Cocona’s previously ordinary daily life. In any other show these would be fairly rote happenings, but Flip Flappers rarely seems like it knows what’s going to happen next. This isn’t to the series’ detriment at all, either. That the staff almost appears to be making things up as they go along is one of the oddball charms of its run, which frequently turns its world into an imaginative dreamscape playground.
It’s fitting that we have a sakuga feature in this issue, because Flip Flappers is most definitely a “sakuga anime.” This is Kiyotaka Oshiyama’s first directing credit, but his name should be familiar to animation fans. He provided key animation for episodes of shows like Gurren Lagann and Space Dandy—on which he also served as animation director for an episode—as well as movies like The Wind Rises and both Fullmetal Alchemist features. Chief animation director Takashi Kojima (Your Lie in April, Kokoro Connect) also provides character designs, which are lively and fun and just one of the overall best aspects of the show.
Now, let’s skip back to the previously mentioned Fist of the North Star riff. Flip Flappers doesn’t just set up Tetsuo Hara and Buronson’s series as the catch of the day, this is a multi-course meal full of references and pure animated exuberance. One minute Papika is questioning a masked gang leader who appears to be Cocona, or at least has Cocona’s clothes on, and the next they’re flitting about the screen engaging in a 100% Super Saiyan Dragon Ball Z smackdown. There’s even a straight-up Sailor Moon transformation—not just a generic magical girl henshin moment, but a direct homage—as we barrel toward the episode’s climax.
While some viewers may be impatiently waiting for Flip Flappers to get to, I don’t know, an actual overarching narrative, there’s so much to chew on here that makes the confusion worth it. Once you get lost in the visual spectacle of the journey, you’re not nearly as likely to care about the truth behind Pure Illusion, what role the robot nicknamed Bu-chan plays in it all, and why Papika is so magnetically drawn to Cocona in the first place. Flip Flappers is pure visual storytelling, so if that sounds good to you then you’ll find this to be an instant contender for best of the year. Recommended.
studio/company: Sentai Filmworks