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?
“Friends are important above all else, right? We, in this classroom right now, are all friends. Don’t you think that those who deny our feelings are the scum of the earth? Those who stray from us are irredeemable. People who don’t stain themselves our color are nothing but trouble, right? We have a word for people who can’t read the mood: evil. Izumino Sumika was killed by a bear because of that. But that was entirely her fault, for she was evil. We must proceed to select the next evil to exclude. Let’s . . . search . . . evil!”
-Eriko Oniyama, Yuri Kuma Arashi, Episode 3
Those evil people aren’t going to exclude themselves, you know?
I don’t remember the first time I realized an inherently unfair societal norm or institution. The closest anecdote that comes to mind is a silly debate that divided my fifth grade class by the sexes. At stake was the ability to play flag football at recess with the boys, which had been recently outlawed by our teacher. There weren’t enough of us who wanted to play without having coed groups, so the recent ban against combining boys and girls had led to no flag football at recess for anyone.
Fortunately, our teacher was also the sort who generally wanted us to find our own answers, and thereby organized a debate. The girls team met that night at my friend Diana’s house. We researched previous legal cases, coordinated our outfits, and drew up charts with pertinent facts.
The debate itself was quite orderly. For their part, the boys weren’t as organized and didn’t care much about defending their position. Yet, when it came time for my teacher to make a decision, she still erred on the side of caution – and angry parents – by upholding the existing rule.