psychology

Who is Bu? Behind Flip Flappers’ Annoying, Ubiquitous Robot

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“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.

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Flip Flappers’ Courtship of Cocona

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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?

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Nagi no Asukara and the Placebo Effect

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One of the more interesting topics discussed in my high school health class – among the usual suspects of sexually transmitted diseases and the required viewing of the birth of a child – was the “placebo effect” and its relationship with alcohol consumption.

First coined by T.C. Graves in 1920, but studied far earlier in the 18th century by physicians and pharmacists, the effect describes the alleviation of whatever symptoms a patient may have without receiving any actual medicinal treatment while believing that they have. The belief is important – “placebo” comes from the Latin “I will please” – as the results depend on the patient’s conviction more than the treatment itself. By definition, it is a medicine that pleases the patient more than it benefits them. With alcohol consumption, the placebo can be used to display the expectancy of the effects of alcohol without actually having consumed it. In other words, if I expect to be drunk and know the typical actions of one who is drunk, then I will display those actions when I believe myself to be drunk, regardless of the amount of alcohol I have, or have not, consumed.

This varies from person to person, and there are variances in expectancy based on type of alcohol along with many other personal factors (i.e. people who have the same blood alcohol content can behave in drastically different ways). Additionally, this is not to take away from the fact that alcohol is a depressant and has specific psychoactive effects. However, the idea that intrigued me the most in high school, and continues to pique my interest to this day, was the idea that if one wants to be drunk, then they will be.

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A Life in Stasis: Chisaki Hiradaira

chisaki hiradaira, nagi no asukara, nagiasu, nagi-asu: a lull in the sea, chisaki, salt flake snow

“Because, I have to change…so…”

“So that’s what ‘change’ means to you?”

“I mean, that’s what it means to become an adult, right? You can’t just keep thinking about yourself, and you have to keep moving forward.”

“So that’s why you’re neglecting your feelings, because you can’t forgive the person you are now.”

-A conversation between Chisaki Hiradaira and Tsumugu Kihara, Nagi no Asukara, episode 9

Five years following the above conversation, Chisaki’s childhood friend – and the object of her affection – Hikari Sakishima, emerges from stasis underneath the sea. He is unchanged from his 14 year-old self, both physically and mentally, while Chisaki, having spent those same five years on land, has grown into an awkward 19 year-old.

Although the term “arrested development” is no longer used in developmental psychology, a loose definition of the term applies to what Chisaki has done to herself in these five years without Hikari and the entirety of the hibernating sea community. Forcibly separated from her family and friends in the Ofunehiki accident, the broken 14 year-old Chisaki is taken in by Tsumugu’s grandfather. She graduates high school and looks after her surrogate grandfather while Tsumugu attends university. Her conversations with Tsumugu, when they do speak to one another, are stilted and punctuated with short phrases and long pauses.

There is little to suggest, in what we see of their relationship as well as Chisaki’s interactions with others, that Chisaki has allowed herself to grow at all. The scenery of Nagi no Asukara visually and aurally reinforces Chisaki’s state of mind. Cheery sunlit images of a lazy seaside town are replaced with the color palette of a constant sunset. Instead of the relaxing sound of ocean waves, the ominous dull thudding of ice floes can be heard. Like Chisaki, the town may have aged five years, but it too has gone into hibernation. The series constantly reminds us – through her character design and casual remarks from friends and family – that Chisaki is now physically 19; however, she hasn’t allowed herself to live through the past five years without Hikari, placing herself into a forced emotional stasis.

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Uninstall your life you n00blord.

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I’d like to introduce you to someone. His name is James Ramsay, and he’s six years old. All he wants, in this immediate moment, is to go on a sailing trip to a nearby lighthouse. He thinks happily of the possibility of going the next day as he cuts out pictures from magazines, while his mother reassures him that they will be able to go. Then his father cuts in, saying that the weather will most likely not permit the trip. James immediately feels flashes of murderous rage towards his father, and imagines stabbing him with the scissors that he holds in his hands.

A natural, logical reaction, right?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I see people stopping in a rotary when they have the right of way, it makes me want to throw things. When my neighbors neglected to fully shovel out their parking spots following a snowstorm, allowing large piles of ice to build up in their now un-parkable spaces while they took my fully-shoveled spot, I wanted to shovel ice onto their cars, or throw snow at them. But did I actually do these things? No. Just as James Ramsay does not stab his father with scissors, and just as I did not throw things at my neighbors, we all make choices like this each and every day, allowing the first visceral reaction to crash over us like a wave before proceeding forward and, hopefully, leaving most of it behind.

However, interesting things occur when one removes that logical filter that keeps us from raging at, throwing things at, or generally being horrid to others. It is here, where Gatchaman Crowds‘ Berg Katze makes his home, in our “black hearts.”

It is also here where communication on the internet takes place.

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