“Well, I don’t mind going with you every now and then. Only now and then. And if I feel like it.”
-Cocona to Papika, Flip Flappers, Episode 2
The initial setup of Flip Flappers resembles a standard magical girl story. Cocona, listless, directionless, and terrified to make any decision at all is swept up into the world of Pure Illusion thanks to Papika. Throughout the first four episodes, Cocona gradually begins to accept Papika into her life, and the fifth episode onward is where the meat of her emotional narrative begins.
Like all magical girls, Cocona and Papika come with their respective sidekicks.
Cocona’s is a green rabbit-like creature named Uexküll — a reference to Jakob von Uexküll whose ideas of subjective perception (umwelt) led to the field of biosemiotics. Uexküll’s namesake informs the Flip Flappers viewer, encouraging a closer look at the role of Pure Illusion and how Cocona and others interact with it.
Papika’s is an odd, perverted robot named “Bu-chan” that somewhat resembles a lawnmower.
Bu-chan has three primary roles within the series, which bleed into each other and form the whole of “Bu-chan.” The first is to act as a communicative device between the FlipFlap organization’s Dr. Hidaka and Papika. The second is as a Greek Chorus element for the series as a whole. The third involves his own specific vantage point throughout the series, which is expanded upon in Flip Flappers‘ eighth episode.
Bu-chan as the conduit (and a sidenote about the Thomasson)
First seen attempting to hold Papika back when she makes her initial escape from FlipFlap, Bu-chan is also used as a communication device to connect the organization with its Pure Illusion field agents: Papika and Cocona.
Bu-chan’s first words to Cocona are actually those of FlipFlap’s Dr. Hidaka. When Papika invites Cocona to join her in her adventures, she stumbles over the words, “Pure Illusion.” and Bu-chan — Dr. Hidaka communicating through the robot — finishes her sentence. When they successfully venture to Pure Illusion, Dr. Hidaka is heard again, this time welcoming Cocona to Pure Illusion.
FlipFlap is also uses Bu-chan as a transportation device to bring Cocona and Papika to Pure Illusion. This establishes that Bu-chan can, under certain circumstances, be used to open up pathways between the so-called real world and Pure Illusion. In later episodes, Cocona and Papika are loaded into a device called the Thomasson to travel between the two worlds. Bu-chan again acts as their transport in Episode 8, taking them from the school pool to a Pure Illusion world all his own.
Hyperart Thomasson is conceptual art designed by Japanese artist Akasegawa Genpei. Named after Gary Thomasson — a baseball player who signed a record contract with the Yomuiri Giants only to become the biggest bust in the Nippon League — Akasegawa describes a Thomasson as an obsolete structure with no purpose that becomes a work of art. For example, his first Thomasson was a well-maintained staircase in Yotsuya, Tokyo that led to nothing. It was later described as a “pure staircase.”
Many Thomassons are described as “pure,” similar to how nearly everything in Flip Flappers has a “pure” prefix. Cocona is the Pure Blade, Papika is the Pure Barrier, they travel to Pure Illusion. A Pure Type Thomasson goes beyond the mere uselessness of a Thomasson — an object that has no initial categorization or descernible purpose.
Although Bu-chan is not expressly shown as a conduit between Pure Illusion and reality, his role in Flip Flappers’ premiere — along with the Thomasson’s namesake and “pure” trappings scattered throughout the series — suggests that the Thomasson itself is wholly useless and obsolete. Yet, FlipFlap continues to load the girls and Bu-chan into it episode after episode. The Thomasson is a Thomasson in and of itself. This also serves to blur the line between when Cocona and Papika are in Pure Illusion and when they are outside of it, if the distinction can be made at all. If Bu-chan regularly transports them, the Thomasson has no purpose.
Bu-chan as the modern Greek chorus
When Bu-chan is not acting as Dr. Hidaka’s walkie-talkie, he communicates only with the sounds “Bu” and flashes different symbols on his “eye” in reaction to what is happening around him. In this way, he provides dramatic commentary similar to a Greek chorus. Again, Bu-chan acts as a conduit, this time bridging the gap between Flip Flappers and the viewing audience rather than FlipFlap the organization and the Cocona/Papika pair.
For example, in the most recent Flip Flappers episode preview, he flashes a crumpled “助,” calling for help while the twins talk to someone offscreen. This could mean that he, visibly broken in the scene, needs help himself or a greater call for help on behalf of Cocona, Papika, or another character. When Papika initially escapes in Episode 1, he flashes “止” for stop. These can be taken as instant reactions, or slight meta commentary, especially when words turn to symbols, like a thumbs-up sign or illuminati pyramid.
He appears more informed than Cocona — or even Papika who has presumably been travelling to Pure Illusion for quite some time before the events of the series — yet is easily swept up into the festivities of the various Pure Illusion worlds. In Episode 3, he serves the main antagonist as her chair and mode of transport. In Episode 5, which deals with Class S relationships and girls love clichés, he quickly assimilates himself into the horrific world and initially tries to hold Papika and Cocona back from breaking free. In Episode 7, he parties with Dr. Hidaka as they celebrate the discovery of a greater depth to Pure Illusion after delving into Iroha’s psyche.
Bu-chan also has a wandering eye, and is often the most obtrusive character in Flip Flappers. He physically encroaches on the girls from the get-go, grabbing them and dragging them into Pure Illusion. While Cocona gradually comes to terms with her relationship with Papika across Episodes 5-7, Bu-chan is found leering at nearly every turn. In the opening sequence, he’s shown looking at girls’ skirts. In Episode 8, he creeps underwater to look at girls in the pool. The series rarely rewards him for this behavior, and he is often pushed or shoved aside in favor of the developing relationship between Papika and Cocona.
Bu-chan as “himself”
Bu-chan can also be seen as an extension of Dr. Hidaka, or a being that wishes to fashion himself in Dr. Hidaka’s image.
In Episode 1, Bu-chan breaks open, revealing a human brain inside his robot shell. Dr. Hidaka tinkers with Bu-chan throughout the series, and the two converge in Episode 8 — a peek inside what is presumably Bu-chan’s perception of his own environment, courtesy of Pure Illusion. Here, he is a genius inventor and the lone citizen of his own personal metropolis, which is now under attack.
Immediately, visual references unite the two. The always harried Dr. Hidaka is constantly plunking away at his computer, while “Pops” has a similar setup with a myriad of computer monitors as he tries to defend his city. Despite the blunt and cheery transformation sequence that leads to Cocona, Papika, and Yayaka joining forces in a giant robot to save his world, there’s an palpable sense of dread. The world of Pops won’t last through successive onslaughts, just as Hidaka is running out of parts to keep Bu-chan operating. Whatever, or whomever, Bu-chan is, he’s not likely long for this world.
The most interesting visuals that tie Bu-chan to Dr. Hidaka together are the physical lenses through which they view their respective worlds. Bu-chan is a conduit, providing constant commentary through his one “eye” — a lens that reflects words and images without any hint of what’s behind it. Like many animated scientists, Dr. Hidaka’s eyes are often obscured by the glare of light on his glasses. Very rarely do we see his actual eyes.
Pops, the star of Episode 8, has heterochromia. With one yellow eye and one bright blue eye that resembles Bu-chan’s “eye,” Pops is visually-linked to Bu-chan. Yet, Pops’ eyes are frequently shown throughout his mecha adventures with Cocona, Papika, and Yayaka. They’re expressive, finally conveying his emotions directly to us rather than flashes of words and symbols.
In the waning moments of Episode 8, Dr. Hidaka is shown in profile, his eyes visible behind thick glasses. As he studies the screw in his hand, he becomes serious, remarking that he has little stock left with which to repair Bu-chan.