Some words on Flip Flappers ending and what I feel about it (and the show)

December 31, 2017

(There are spoilers here.)

Flip Flappers was always a show where the ending was going to matter a lot, and when the last episode aired I wound up somewhat uncertain about how I felt about it overall (and as a result, the show as a whole). This wound up being a big reason for the delay in my best N in 2016 entry, among other effects. In the spirit of the season, it's time to get some words down on this, starting with dry ones about the nature of Flip Flappers ending and how it's unusual.

I've written about how endings can be narratively or emotionally satisfying and also how they can be broad or narrow. In those terms, Flip Flappers' ending is clearly narrow, addressing relatively few of the outstanding issues (especially narrative ones), and it is also what I'll call oblique. By this I mean that the show only very rarely comes out to explicitly tell us things, confirm theories, or to say what emotional resolution characters have achieved. This obliqueness partly comes from being narrow, but it's also clearly a stylistic choice; all through its run Flip Flappers was very into 'show don't tell' and being subtle, letting us draw our own conclusions from what it showed us (often in passing). Narrow endings are uncommon and a fair number of people find them unsatisfying (especially people who want narratively satisfying endings).

(That Flip Flappers had a narrow ending is not surprising, because it was narratively narrow all through the show. While a great many things were going on in the show's world, the show itself generally followed only a few characters in essentially a third person limited perspective, especially Cocona, and it mostly focused on what mattered to understanding Cocona.)

As someone who cares more about emotionally satisfying endings, I'm basically fine with the narrative side of things in Flip Flappers' ending. Things like the story behind Asclepius and the Flip Flaps organization were ultimately unimportant to the story of Flip Flappers, which is Cocona's story (and sort of Papika's story too). There's one dropped bit that's hard for me to let go of because it influences how we see Papika and the people of Flip Flaps, and that's the question of whether the girl we briefly see sprawled out on the floor in Flip Flaps in the first episode is ultimately fine or if she was actually dead or damaged.

However, the narrowness and the obliqueness of Flip Flappers also limits the clear emotional answers that the show gives us in the ending. Does Yayaka get her fervent wish to reconcile with Cocona, for example? Well, almost certainly, since Cocona accepts her presence several times and Uexküll is happy to be with her at the very end, but Flip Flappers will not answer us explicitly. Many emotional developments with secondary characters are left at least partially open to our interpretation, for better or worse. This narrow obliqueness is a significant part of what gives me somewhat tangled feelings about the ending, because I'm not entirely sure what it's telling me, what I'm missing, and what I may be (incorrectly) reading into things I'm being shown.

(On the positive side, we are shown enough things and told about enough things so that we can make guesses. And if we're optimistic people, those will be optimistic guesses.)

But there are some things the ending gives us clear answers on, and one of them is Cocona's choice. Cocona started Flip Flappers as someone dutifully living an ordinary life and claiming to want it; in the final episode, she's given an opportunity to truly have that life and decisively rejects it, so much so that she spends her entire time there trying to find her way out. In the end, Cocona chooses joy, and specifically she chooses her joy of being with Papika. They rise together, flying with butterflies, and burst into the real world with exultant smiles and clasped hands. This ending is the heart of Flip Flappers, and as the heart it is purely joyous and thus basically a perfect emotional capstone.

In the most important way, the ending of Flip Flappers gave us an answer and completes a story. The details matter, but they are ultimately not essential and the show never implicitly promised us many of them anyway. I have wound up feeling that the ending says what it needs to say, it says just enough about some things to feel satisfying without falling into the trap of over-explaining things, and it says what it says very well (yes, including the fight with Mimi).

The show does not speak to me in the deep way that it does to some people, and it will probably never be something that I consider an all time masterwork (but ask me again in a few years and I may feel differently). To a certain extent, this entry and my entire tangled feelings about Flip Flappers is me coming to terms with that, that I don't love this quirky beautiful and very anime show quite as much as some people do and perhaps as much as I feel that I should.

(As a postscript, looking back on 2016 with the benefit of another six months of distance, I fully agree with my past self's selection of Flip Flappers as my best show of 2016.)

Written on 31 December 2017.
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Last modified: Sun Dec 31 17:42:22 2017
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