Let’s go adventuring again, okay?
Flip Flappers is the type of anime that invites dialogue—character-driven, stylish, rich in symbolisms, and, perhaps most importantly, darker than its visuals would suggest. However, for all the attention that Flip Flappers has received, surprisingly little has been written about Papika.1 And for a good reason.
Papika is the literal and metaphorical manic pixie dream girl for Cocona. But little more.
In his review of Elizabethtown (2005), film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, as a female character who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”2 She is free-spirited and quirky. Furthermore, she almost always acts as the romantic interest, often with an undue attention or attraction to the male lead.
Cocona has been the disinterested young girl with empty goals when Papika unexpectedly drops into her life and offers her an adventure. Not just any adventure, but one full of spontaneity, dreams, and love. As the two become intimate partners, Papika perfectly treads that delicate space between romantic love and friendship that is central to the yuri genre.3 Indeed, Papika is an idealized fantasy girl to save Cocona from her own ennui and satisfy Cocona’s emotional needs.
Of course, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl has sexist implications. The archetype tries to posit a fantasy of an ideal woman—whose role is solely as a vehicle for the lead’s self-actualization, and whose character arc limited to the lead’s success in wooing her—as a realistic character. Criticisms of the trope in its pure form are fair. However, with time, the term became diluted and less specific as popular use began including characters with far more depth and agency.4 Loose variations of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl have also shown up in anime, such as Haruko Haruhara in FLCL and Nino in Arakawa Under the Bridge. Unfortunately, unlike those examples, for whom the Manic Pixie Dream Girl label is overly reductive, Papika never becomes more than her label.
When the mystery surrounding Pure Illusion slowly unravels, Flip Flappers explores in earnest the motivations and personalities and struggles of most other characters. The relationship between Mimi, Cocona, and Salt is cruel and regretful, but also allows for redemption. Likewise, Yayaka’s history provides insight into her struggles, past and present. Even Iroha has her own transformation over the course of several Pure Illusions. Yet, we learn from glimpses into the past only that Papika was once the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to Mimi, and now she’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl for Cocona. Her character remains stock.
In a climatic sequence, when the two characters profess their love for each other, the scene feels contrived. Cocona exclaims, “I love, love, love you, Papika!” Papika returns simply, “Cocona.” In a way, Papika’s terseness is fitting. We would have never doubted Papika; we barely consider her feelings relevant. A paper-thin plot device, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s role is only to be accepted by the lost lead. Papika thus invariably accepts Cocona.