“But Iro is Iro. There’s always been only one.”
-Papika as Iro to Cocona, also as Iro, Flip Flappers, Episode 6
The key to understanding Pure Illusion is in Flip Flappers‘ sixth episode and the memories of Iroha Irodori.
Before Cocona and Papika drop into Iroha’s mind willingly, trusty robot Bu-chan warns them of imminent danger. Free access to another’s psyche is dangerous, and it’s just one of the many things that Pure Illusion offers to anyone daring enough to travel there.
“What should we do? Iro broke her promise with Auntie.”
-Cocona as Iro to Papika, also as Iro, Flip Flappers, Episode 6
When we first meet her, Iroha is mentally punishing herself for forgetting to tell her Auntie — a kind, elderly neighbor who encouraged Iroha’s art but also suffered from dementia — her name. She doesn’t wear nail polish because a small, red-orange bottle of nail polish was a special gift that Iroha received from her Auntie with a promise — the promise that Iroha would tell Auntie her name, should the elderly woman forget. Frightened and confused when Auntie doesn’t remember her, the young Iroha runs away without saying anything. Cocona and Papika — split into two different “Iros” while inside Iroha’s mind — reconcile Iroha with her Auntie and tell her Iroha’s name, thereby realizing the young Iroha’s promise.
After Cocona and Papika solve the problem, they gleefully compare asking Iroha follow-up questions to homework without considering that the experience will have changed her personality. She greets them with freshly-painted nails at the end of the episode. In the next episode, she is seen throwing out her paintings and socializing more with her classmates. Cocona and Papika’s memory diving has had an irrevocable effect.
While this sets off a chain of events that forces Cocona to evaluate her relationship with Papika, it also gives us insight into Pure Illusion and what others may have done there.
FlipFlap’s Dr. Salt speaks of liberating Pure Illusion as his primary goal. Based on his previous relationship with Cocona’s mother, Mimi, this also means the liberation of Mimi herself, who has been trapped by Salt’s father.
There is a schism between father and son — this presumably leads Salt to form the offshoot FlipFlap in order to rescue Mimi while his father forms Asclepius — after Salt’s father experiences the true power of Pure Illusion. Salt feels guilty for not only not protecting Mimi, but not being able to protect Cocona, another broken promise.
When faced with losing Cocona to Salt’s father, Mimi travels to Pure Illusion and switches with a facet of herself — the fierce, protective side that will guard Cocona at all costs — just as Papika-Iro and Cocona-Iro swapped places inside Iroha’s mind.
For Iroha, the key to unlocking her mind was a sekimori-ishi. After Cocona and Papika touch it, the gate into Iroha’s mind opens. For Mimi, it’s an apple — the forbidden fruit of Christianity, and a symbol of knowledge, immortality, and sin.
Touching the apple un-boxes Mimi, opening her up to a world covered in clovers, the flower of revenge for broken promises. Broken promises are all Mimi has ever known. Even when Salt and Papika try to protect her, they fail, leaving her to take matters into her own hands to protect her daughter, Cocona. This is what inspires Mimi to confront the protective facet of her personality, agreeing to let it take over so that Cocona will be kept safe from Salt’s father.
Mimi not only protects Cocona from Salt’s father but hides her from the world. A facet is but a facet, as we’ve seen from Iroha, Cocona’s dream of Papika, and Yayaka. Allowing it to rule over Mimi’s personality is disastrous because it trusts no one — certainly not Salt or Papika — and is content to lock away Cocona in a world created just for her. This is what Mimi knows as “safe.” A sheltered science experiment for most of her life, this is all Mimi can think to do to keep Cocona from being similarly exploited. Not-so-coincidentally, Mimi’s ideal world for her daughter is equally confining as her previous life, it’s all she knows.
Mimi tells Cocona that her friends are dangerous for her, and to this version of Mimi, that’s certainly true from her perspective. Unfortunately, it’s but one perspective, and this is what makes Mimi so dangerous in her current state.
“I am Mimi. Just like with your father, people have several faces and so does Pure Illusion. And they’re all real.”
-Mimi to Dr. Salt, Flip Flappers, Episode 11
Mimi is going about the wrong way protecting Cocona, yet this doesn’t put Dr. Salt in the right either. He’s all too willing to accept certain facets of Mimi while discarding others, telling her that she chose the wrong piece of herself to show to the world. This is the lesson that Cocona learned earlier in Episode 7 when faced with the pieces of Papika — a facet of someone’s personality cannot be discarded, nor is it everything that they are.
Iroha had to tell her auntie her name in order to fulfill her promise. Part of Cocona’s liberation will be due to Cocona’s own agency — she already fights against her mother’s control in Episode 11, albeit half-heartedly — but another part will likely be in satisfying Mimi’s promise and reuniting the different facets of her personality.