Of Boats and Nyunyus – Questions and Answers in Flip Flappers

So as I’ve been adding articles, reviews and videos to the index, I’ve found a somewhat common theme among many (though not all!) of the end of series reviews. A dissatisfaction with just what the show chose to explain and more specifically, what it chose not to explain. This is not surprising, honestly. Flip Flappers is a show that was always more interested in the subtext than the text, but in the end it did make certain things explicit text. Lets consider this for a bit.

No work of fiction can really answer every question it raises. Even in works that explain the most esoteric aspects of their setting in excruciating detail will leave some things unknown. Most things will have large number of unanswered questions, if mostly by implication. We won’t get the life story and home situation of every character, for example. Stories have to choose what is or is not important, what things does the audience need to know. Making mistakes in this can lead to a series feeling like its talking down to the audience if it is explaining too much, or leave the audience confused and lost if it doesn’t explain enough.

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A 13 episode anime series has a generous amount of time to tell a story, but there are still things that just won’t fit in. And that’s fine. There are tons of things that shows have no need to answer, because they don’t matter. On the other hand, there are certain things a show should, generally answer. I say generally because of course there are shows that delight in answering basically nothing. This can work, for example the works of Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, Yuri Kuma Arashi) work on this principle. Nearly everything in them is left up to the viewer to interpret. Very few firm answers are provided in the text of these shows.

Most shows fall somewhere between the two extremes. Flip Flappers is noticeably on the “don’t explain things” end, but still plenty of things get answered. In fact another complaint I’ve heard, albeit less frequently, is that it explained too much. I have some sympathy for this. Flip Flappers starts out by explaining essentially nothing but raising plenty of questions. For the first half of the show it certainly seemed like we were in for an Ikuhara-style show with lots of implication, subtext and metaphor but very little text. Episode 6, Pure Play, was perhaps the height of this. Pure Play is a masterpiece of subtext and implication. Using animation, direction, color, everything that anime can bring to tell its story without ever actually having to state right out what the point was.

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So when Flip Flappers started to actually explain things, some people got a bit of whiplash. They’d signed up for sakuga, imagery and metaphor and got that, but also some very frank explanations of what the show wanted to say. It was an interesting strategy, to be fair. Its a difficult transition to make (some shows make the opposite transition and its usually not very graceful or effective), but Flip Flappers does an excellent job of it.

Ok, so what is it that Flip Flappers does explain, doesn’t explain, and how are these choices important? The key is, of course, Cocona. Flip Flappers is Cocona’s story. The closer and more important something is to Cocona the more blatant the show is at explaining it. By the end of the show we know essentially everything there is to know about her. We know the circumstances of her birth, events of her growing up, and of course we follow her the entire series. The further you get from Cocona the less we learn. We learn a lot about Papika, but there is still plenty we don’t know. We know nothing of her time as “Papikana” before she met Mimi, and the circumstances of her rebirth remain a little more vague than some people would prefer.

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Same goes for Yayaka. We know her first meeting with Cocona, and we learn a bit about how she is now, but we know nothing about where she lives or any family or anything. To some extent this is probably because Cocona already knows these things. Therefore there is no need to restate the information for our benefit, because we don’t need to know. On the other hand, there’s the things that Cocona doesn’t know and isn’t particularly interested in. One of the biggest complaints from “they didn’t explain things!” people is Nyunyu. Who is she? Why is she there? Where is she from? Does she serve any actual purpose? The answer to these questions are…we don’t know. In fact, there is essentially nothing revealed about her at all. We know she can apparently detect the number of Amorphous that are left, which is how Asclepius knew to make a go for the Fragments held by Flip Flaps. Other than that though you could remove her from the series entirely and nothing of consequence would change.

So why even have her? Well, there are a number of possible reasons to have her, but what I’m more interested in is why we don’t learn any of this. We don’t learn any of this because it is of no consequence to Cocona. In fact, Cocona never even meets Nyunyu. Quite likely Cocona doesn’t even know she exists until sometime after the series ends. So of course we don’t learn anything about her. The person who we are learning things through, Cocona, never learns or wants to learn about her. This can be a difficult concept to accept for some people. They want to know why Nyunyu is there. They want to know how Salt’s father got his hands on Mimi. They want to know whats up with Bu-chan. All of these are potentially interesting questions, but none are important to Cocona. So they go unanswered.

On the other end we have perhaps the biggest complaint from the “explains too much” camp. In the final episode, Cocona explains outright the boat metaphor. Cocona’s dream of being on a boat, dirfting down a river, was a constant presence in the series. It is the first scene after the cold open. By the time we’ve reached episode 13 its pretty dang obvious what it meant. So why is Cocona spelling it out for us? Well, because she’s not spelling it out for us. She’s talking to Papika. She’s explaining why and how she fell in love with Papika, using the boat as a metaphor.

Unlike Papika, who’s love for Cocona could probably not be clearly articulated, Cocona needs to work things out. She needs to be able to explain why she feels this way. And she needs to tell it to Papika. This is important for her. She needs to tell Papika how it felt to have her reach out and pull her off that boat. To bring her into the world of adventure. That is why the boat metaphor is explained. Because its more than a metaphor, its the reason Cocona fell in love.

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This moment, on a precarious piece of debris floating above a nightmare combination of dreams and reality is the moment the entire series had built up to. This is the final, ultimate cathartic payoff of everything Cocona had gone through. Without this scene, without this seemingly redundant explanation of an obvious metaphor, the final piece would have been missing. Cocona began this series adrift on a boat. And now at the end she’s stepping off the boat. No longer adrift, but hand in hand with the girl she loves more than anything.

Flip Flap Flip Flap

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2 thoughts on “Of Boats and Nyunyus – Questions and Answers in Flip Flappers

  1. Pingback: Index of Flip Flappers Reviews and Articles – Flip Flapping!

  2. Pingback: Narrative Relics: The Thomassons of Flip Flappers – Flip Flapping!

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