“The weather’s so nice today, I can’t get any work done. Though, I can’t get anything done on rainy days either. Not many days come along that are just right.”
-Iroha Irodori to Cocona, Flip Flappers, Episode 4
Art club upperclassman Iroha Irodori has always been visible in Cocona’s periphery. She is the plein air painter in the shade of a tree as Cocona walks past in Flip Flappers‘ first episode, encounters Cocona in front of a large painting at their school in the second, and progressively grows closer to Cocona throughout the series. Come Episode 6, Iroha has an entire Pure Illusion adventure where Papika and Cocona explore Iroha’s past from Iroha’s childhood perspective.
Titled “Pure Play,” the episode tells a sad story of Iroha’s relationship with an elderly neighbor and how it shaped her life and art up to the point where Cocona meets her — the slightly-eccentric art club upperclassman who offers tea and a friendly ear. Not only does it offer a different perspective of Iroha herself, but it brings to the forefront a few more of Flip Flappers‘ thoughts on art and the human psyche. This is a series with many visual and named references — Cocona’s pet presumably named for Jakob von Uexküll is one of the more interesting ones — dealing with illusion, art, and human psychology. Iroha’s episode offers a bit more insight into these references, allowing her to step forward from the periphery and become a key component in the series’ narrative.
In all of their encounters leading up to Iroha’s episode, Cocona is always looking at Iroha’s paintings. Even if we don’t see what Iroha has actually painted onto her various canvasses, nearly every one of Cocona’s trips to the world of Pure Illusion has been preceded by her witnessing one of Iroha’s works of art or a related painting.
Cocona looks at Iroha’s canvas in Episode 1 immediately before discovering Papika’s hideout and the pair’s first journey to Pure Illusion together. In Episode 2, Iroha and Cocona look at a large painting in their school together and Cocona is reminded of her first trip to Pure Illusion, saying that the painting — by extension, exploring Pure Illusion with Papika — is scary but, and stops herself before she can finish her thought. Iroha responds by inviting Cocona to the Art Club. Again, this happens right before Cocona visits Pure Illusion. Flip Flappers’ third episode takes place almost entirely inside Pure Illusion and Iroha doesn’t return until the fourth episode, where she offers Cocona a cup of tea. Cocona stares at Iroha’s canvas as she drinks until Papika drags her away.
In Episode 6, we finally are able to see Iroha’s painting for ourselves — a modern, abstract work with a Matisse-like color palette that resembles something between fauvism and early abstract expressionism. A few scenes later, they’re back in a Pure Illusion world with the same color palette as Iroha’s work. After traveling down into the depths of this world, they come across a tome-ishi or sekimori-ishi — a rock bound by a rope that signifies “stop” to a person entering a teahouse, meaning that a ceremony or event is already in progress. Additionally, it can signify a barrier to a spiritual place. In this case, the sekimori-ishi marks the boundary between Pure Illusion and Iroha’s own childhood memories, which Cocona and Papika unwittingly intrude upon.
“I thought it was nice. Yes, it is a bit unusual, but in a good way.”
-“Auntie” to young Iroha Irodori, Flip Flappers, Episode 6
Iroha’s backstory is heart-breaking. It hit me particularly hard because my one living grandparent — my father’s mother — barely remembers who I am at this point in time. Throughout the presentation and journey through Iroha’s memories, we are shown various drawings that border on abstract, with vivid colors and visible, dynamic pencil strokes. Iroha’s “Auntie” was the person who inspired her to continue art, and it’s this same Auntie whose memory Iroha is able to make peace with thanks to Cocona and Papika’s memory diving. While their Pure Illusion trips have influenced Cocona and Papika’s thought processes — as well as their relationship — this is the first time they’ve left a marked impression on another person through their actions in Pure Illusion.
The idea of Pure Illusion as Flip Flappers presents it marks an odd crossroads between immediate influences in the “real world” — the world that Cocona and Papika inhabit on a daily basis — and deep dives into the human psyche as shown in Iroha’s episode. Modern art had a lot to say about this distinction and the “purity” with which a viewer approaches a painting in addition to the purity of that painting itself. Art critic Clement Greenberg once described modernist art as, “the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.”
When a person sees a modern work, they first recognize that it’s a picture, and then begin to evaluate it based on those terms — which, according to Greenberg, becomes more about expression and criticism of art itself — instead of approaching the illusion of an “Old Masters” image first due to the degree of accuracy. A modern work is a painting, a work of art first. An older, traditional work is evaluated on the imagery or illusion first.
Stretching this idea a bit, when we approach Iroha’s drawings, we already take into consideration that they are drawings and go straight to evaluating what they could mean rather than their technical merit or accuracy. Her images, which her strict parents have deemed “weird,” telling Iroha to draw normally, are full of dynamism and color. Her auntie’s encouragement inspires her to continue drawing in her own style, despite her parents’ disapproval. Iroha’s perception of eschewing something that might appear off to others extends into her daily life, exemplified when she tries Cocona’s misshapen, barnacle-like cookies first over Papika’s pretty, edible-looking ones. As Cocona protests, Iroha remarks that they’re sweet and says that they go perfectly with her tea. The line “despite their appearance” is implied as Iroha lifts her mug and Cocona smiles in return.
“Once you enter a Pure Illusion world, you’re influenced by its nature.”
-Yayaka to Cocona, Flip Flappers, Episode 5
Taking this one step further and returning to Cocona’s pet Uexküll, Uexküll is a reference to Jakob von Uexküll — a German biologist who was particularly interested in how organisms perceived their environment, making the distinction between a more objective standpoint of a bystander and a wholly subjective viewpoint of the organism itself. This subjective view is composed of sensory data taken in by an organism and makes up their perception of the world.
Flip Flappers‘ Pure Illusion is seemingly directly influenced by their immediate surroundings in the “real world.” In Episode 2, an odd vacuum sucks Uexküll inside. Cocona and Papika shortly follow suit and what emerges is a warped representation of the interior of a vacuum. Episode 5 shows a twisted variation of their school. These settings make up the sensory data taken in by Cocona and Papika. The rest of their subjective viewpoint comes from their own minds. If they dive further, seeing things from another perspective, like Iroha’s, appears to be possible. There’s also the chance that Cocona and Papika’s pictured reality is yet another layer of illusion, and the “real world” lies behind both that and the landscape of Pure Illusion.
While Flip Flappers still has much to reveal, another hint could possibly be found in Yayaka’s organization, which chants to the Greek god Ascelpius — god of medicine and healing. The Rod of Ascelpius is a symbol of medicine to this day, seen on the flag of the World Health Organization and in the signs of many other health organizations. Yayaka herself is very pragmatic, unlike Cocona — prone to flights of fancy — and Papika, who becomes completely overwhelmed and assimilates into her environments seamlessly. Three layers of reality, and three, not two, girls to uncover the truth.