When Flip Flappers first introduces Cocona, she is trapped in a sterile classroom taking a test. The shifting of sand is heard rather than the ticking of a clock — an hourglass resembling a Rubin vase takes the place of a traditional clock face mounted on the wall above a white board.
Rubin’s vase — named after its creator, danish psychologist Edgar Rubin — shows two shapes only one of which can be recognized at any given time. You can see the hourglass, or you can see two faces with negative space between them. While your mind can recognize that there are two things to see available to you, your eye can only focus on one at a time.
This plays tricks with the way the human brain generally perceives objects — by establishing depth and separating figures or objects from the ground. Ambiguity, like the less distinct image of Rubin’s vase, allows our minds to take the lead in perceiving the object in front of us. Do you see an hourglass or two faces first?
“You’re so lacking in identity that you couldn’t stay in control of yourself. You have nothing. It felt good playing the villain, didn’t it? You truly shone in the role you got at long last. You want to achieve something, don’t you? You want to be someone, don’t you?”
-Villainess to Cocona, Flip Flappers, Episode 3
More than any other quality, Cocona begins the series full of fear, refusing to make choices, because she’s concerned with making the wrong decision. Cocona does not know who she is. She is easily swayed, cajoled, and pressed into service by others. Flip Flappers‘ world of Pure Illusion reiterates this time and again, as Cocona is seemingly dragged along for Papika’s adventures against her will. In Flip Flappers‘ fourth episode, Cocona finally decides to accept Papika as her friend after being stranded with her in their everyday world.
The series’ fifth episode is where the ambiguity of Cocona’s relationship with Papika takes center stage — does Cocona see Papika as a mere friend or a potential romantic partner?
Episode 5 is all about Class S relationships — deeply emotional romantic relationships between girls that end when the girls in question mature into young women and find husbands. In a school setting reminiscent of Yuri Kuma Arashi‘s callbacks to the Italian horror film Suspiria, Flip Flappers checks every box on the Class S list — lily imagery, an all-girls school, and the noble feminine pursuits of high tea and embroidery.
Cocona and Papika are trapped in a closed time loop, and end up succumbing to this atmosphere, which is purposefully portrayed as horrific. When Yayaka approaches Cocona, she snidely asks Cocona why she’s getting all hot and bothered, presumably sexually. Cocona replies by asking if this Pure Illusion world makes you hot and bothered and Yayaka reiterates that her mindset is completely different from Cocona’s.
This can be taken two ways — Yayaka is more dedicated to collecting the amorphous in the vast worlds of Pure Illusion and his able to keep her head at all times, or Yayaka is not romantically interested in anyone, therefore the world does not amply her feelings. Cocona could easily stay trapped in this world with Papika, despite her inkling that something is off, forever stuck in a time loop where Papika is her romantic friend only. She chooses not to, although it’s unclear how cognizant she is of that choice.
Flip Flappers consistently gives us, and Cocona, multiple ways to perceive a situation. Often the aim — further hinted at in Episode 6 and its many modern art references — is not to juxtapose two things to create something new, but to further reiterate the contrast and relationship between two things. This is a series that gives us Rubin’s vase not surrealist art.
Cocona’s feelings towards Papika are further explored in Episode 7. Already having eschewed Papika as a Class S partner, Cocona is forced to reevaluate her relationship with Papika, picturing the enthusiastic redhead in a variety of roles during another Pure Illusion trip.
She goes through seemingly every possible outcome to describe her love for Papika, beginning with younger sister — rifling through sexy male classmate, ghostly apparition, high society friend, street punk — before ending with bedroom succubus. In all of these scenes, Cocona and her Papika partner break some rule or do something that they’re not supposed to do. This is Cocona on the precipice of identifying her love for Papika.
When Cocona admits that none of these Papika’s are “her Papika,” the one that she loves, Yayaka ends up with the amorphous and Papika appears to recover her “lost Cocona.” Again the perspective shifts — Cocona was wandering Pure Illusion looking for a lost Papika, while Cocona herself was lost until this moment, when she recognizes her love for Papika and accepts it for whatever it is, rather than attempting to squeeze it into a figurative box prepared by unwritten social rules.
Recent episodes of Flip Flappers have hinted that Cocona is directly related to someone named Mimi — whether Cocona is Mimi herself, a familial relation, or something else has yet to be determined. This could also account for her lack of identity. A myriad of posts, articles, and musings have been written about the role of psychology in the series, which is also chock full of more optical illusions and art history references.
Cocona’s relationship with Papika is but one drop in the vast ocean of Flip Flappers, yet it’s an intriguing one. In a series that’s all about characters, events, and things in relation to each other, Papika’s, “Let’s go again, Mimi!” at the end of Episode 8 is a crushing blow, given all we’ve been through together with Cocona. Again the perspective shifts.