Papika, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Let’s go adventuring again, okay?

Flip Flappers Papika Cocona adventure

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.

Flip Flappers Papika manic
Flip Flappers Papika pixie
Flip Flappers Pure Illusion dream
Dream (Pure Illusion)

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.

Flip Flappers Papika Cocona treasure pipe

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.

Flip Flappers Papika Cocona second transformation
“I love, love, love you!”

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.

1. Thanks to @KeliraTelian, who sent me a compilation of posts on Flip Flappers:
Kelira Telian. “Index of Flip Flappers Reviews and Articles.” Flip Flapping. January 2017.
2. Rabin, Nathan. “The Bataan Death March of Whimsy Case File #1: Elizabethtown.” The A.V. Club. January 2007.
3. illegenes. “Queer Discovery in ‘Flip Flappers.'” Crunchyroll. December 2016.
4. Rabin, Nathan. “I’m sorry for coining the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.'” Salon. July 2014.

12 thoughts on “Papika, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

  1. I was aware that Papika didn’t seem to get much in the way of development that she might have. Though I’ve never heard the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, I do immediately see the connection.

    But something tells me that maybe her lack of development was intentional. Several things scattered abou the story, and episode 7 (Pure Component) in particular, seemed to indicate to me that Papika may not be entirely independent of Cocona…or, more specifically, Mimi.

    1. Her entire character seems intentionally dependent on Cocona for relevance. Even in that Pure Component episode, it was only about Cocona finding out her feelings, as Papika doesn’t seem to have any thoughts of her own beyond loving Cocona/Mimi.

  2. Yeah, I think the purpose of Papika’s character is mostly to provide unconditional support and encouragement for Cocona. But then, it’s hard to know much about her because we don’t get many scenes with Papika’s perspective.
    I think the best way to think about her might be through Cocona’s perspective: what does she mean to Cocona, and what role does she play in Cocona’s inner conflict (which is why I think ep7 was especially well done)?

    1. I found episode 7 to be further reinforcement of the idea that Papika is just another forgettable/stock love interest. This was an entire episode dedicated to Cocona finding out how she feels about Papika, but without Papika (the real Papika) ever taking part. It seems to suggest who Papika is and how she feels is irrelevant to the audience’s interpretation of the show. Only Cocona’s perception matters. Indeed, this is what we see for the rest of the series as well. The series never gave Papika any real thoughts or emotions except her singular love for Cocona/Mimi.

      While I enjoyed Flip Flappers a lot for its style, Papika’s flatness is unfortunate. She just doesn’t feel like a real person. It takes away much of the emotional impact of the final scenes.

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  4. Sorry, I’ve been translating a post on Madoka Magica: Rebellion, which redirected me to several other texts, including one of yours, the one with the Nirvana comments, as well as the one with the physic theories. Is it OK for you if I post the translation *including* your text (into spanish) Thank you.

    1. Sure thing! Just make sure to link back to the post. Also, I’d love to see the other posts you’re translating as well. ^ ^

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