“Just write down where you want to go, be it a place where you can work towards your dream job or a school where you can indulge your hobbies. Some even pick the school that’s closest to home. Any reason is fine.”
-teacher to Cocona, Flip Flappers, Episode 1
The bane of any high school anime character’s existence — which encompasses the vast majority of anime characters — is surely the dreaded career survey. I never had to fill out one myself, but I do know that my choices would have been different for each of the four years of high school: marine biologist, veterinarian, designer, and finally a journalist, the latter of which is my actual career. A career survey is often used to show an uncertain future for an anime protagonist, underline their indecisiveness, or draw out what their true passion might be, the unprofitable one that radiates disappointment when written in the career survey response box. Flip Flappers takes this one step further and adds a veneer of existential dread.
When Cocona is questioned on her inability to choose an answer for her career survey, Cocona responds, “I don’t know which is the best choice.” Not that she doesn’t know where she wants to be — although this is also proven to be true throughout the series’ first four episodes — but she doesn’t know which is the best choice. Rather than concern herself with what she actually wants or where she wants to be, she’s most concerned with making the correct decision, presumably the choice that others will deem the correct one. Any reason is fine, but Cocona doesn’t have a reason. Furthermore, she seeks perfection, not passion.
Our first introduction to Cocona shows her in a testing room, juxtaposing Papika’s wild launch from Flip Flap with the dullness of her schoolwork. The second, after an odd dream sequence, places Cocona in her bedroom. Her room is pristine, her sheets are plain, even her pet is neatly placed next to her desk. It’s sparsely decorated, with the only slight touches a colorful painting above her bed, a few plants also neatly placed on shelves, and two small pillows. Even the pillows and the open book on her small table appear purposefully placed. Cocona has the perfect, organized room for the perfect, organized student.
Papika’s room is the complete opposite.
Cluttered with pillows, knick-knacks, and lamps, Papika’s room resembles the interior of a colorful sewing basket rather than an actual place to live. She pulls out a shell with a live hermit crab still inside, startling Cocona. It’s reminiscent of the “Mika-chan” house that the Takakura brothers whipped up for sister Himari in Mawaru Penguindrum — fanciful, childlike, and bursting with color.
When it comes time to eat, Papika scrounges up whatever she can find and makes a stew. When Cocona asks what’s in it, Papika says cheerfully that she doesn’t know. When Cocona asks if it’s actually edible, Papika’s only response is, “I’m eating it.”
Unlike Cocona, Papika simply does things, learning by trial and error. Later on in the fourth episode, she informs Cocona that red fruit will burn if she eats them but blue fruit are okay. How did she learn this? At some point, she tried it, like the stew she gives Cocona, and learned the hard way.
“I don’t know anything. I can’t do anything. I have nothing . . . “
“You can do lots of things! You’re smart! You can read textbooks good! You can walk fast! And . . . you can put the scarf on right!”
-conversation between Cocona and Papika, Flip Flappers, Episode 4
This brings us full circle to Cocona’s emptiness and her blank career survey form. If Papika were to fill out the same form, she would probably say something like “by Cocona’s side” or “collecting stones for FlipFlap.” Papika doesn’t lack for goals, and she attacks them immediately. What she needs is someone to temper her actions with reason and logic. Enter Cocona.
Yet Cocona doesn’t value her admirable traits, and certainly doesn’t see things like studying or social intelligence as things of worth until Papika so succinctly points out that these are qualities that not everyone possesses. Studying is a learned behavior and, although Cocona’s room points to the fact that she is naturally organized and diligent, something that’s she feels is expected of her a student, not a rare quality. The sailor uniform scarf, a convenient metaphor for general social graces, is another trait that Cocona doesn’t value within herself that Papika instantly recognizes as praiseworthy because she doesn’t possess it.
It’s no coincidence that Cocona and Papika transformed resemble each other. Papika admires Cocona’s diligence, studious nature, and knowledge of the socially correct thing to do — the sailor uniform tie being the obvious, notable example. By contrast, Cocona admires Papika’s outgoing and vivacity to such a degree that it can turn into jealousy. As one of Pure Illusions villains spells out for her and us — as if the career survey form and bleak classroom didn’t show us already in the first episode — Cocona lacks an identity. She wants to be someone, but doesn’t value the good qualities that she does have, and restricts herself from seeking out what she actually wants, due to her desire to be correct.
This starts to change after their conversations in the series’ fourth episode, where Cocona finally begins to truly open up to Papika. She even admits that her wish, should the two complete their task for FlipFlap and collect all of the fragments in Pure Illusion, would be to see her family, who died when she was younger. It’s not something Cocona could put on a school career survey, but it’s a genuine admission of something she wants for herself, which is a massive step forward.