The jarring colors, offset animation and eerie music that accompany a witch's labyrinth make these remnants of magical girls a truly terrible opponent, a horrifying introduction that hints at what's yet to come for the girls of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. As seen through Homura's transformation into the witch Homulilly, labyrinths can mimic entire towns and trap unknowing people inside as the witch wanders her dominion, encased in the grief that has consumed her.
However unnerving these labyrinths may be, however, one magical girl show from 2016 outdoes them. Flip Flappers is a fantastical experience that Madoka Magica fans will find enthralling as it journeys through genres to create a magical, terrifying and utterly fantastical experience through the worlds of Pure Illusion.
Flip Flappers begins when young Cocona Cocomine encounters a bare-footed girl near her school. Introducing herself as Papika, she promptly destroys Cocona's concept of the world as she'd known it, falling through an abandoned playground tunnel into a land of snow and mountains and massive beasts that dwell on land and sea, like an ice age dominated only by these worm-like creatures. Papika nearly gets herself killed retrieving Cocona's glasses, and that action strikes a friendship between the two of them.
When the girls tumble back out into the playground, it's only to fall back in the next day to a world stranger than the last, with jarringly bright colors and the tendency to give guests bunny ears and a tail in an exceedingly weird homage to Alice in Wonderland. Another near-death experience later, Papika decides to introduce Cocona to the organization she works for. Flip Flap is dedicated to exploring these alternate worlds known as Pure Illusion, and Cocona and Papika soon find themselves partners, traveling through Pure Illusion and discovering worlds that are each more bizarre than the last.
Pure Illusion is incredible for the breadth of genres and styles it introduces across the show. Whether it be the lurid colors of the rabbit world, a futuristic sci-fi adventure complete with mecha or a Mad Max-inspired desert land, Pure Illusion always provides the unexpected. The use of Pure Illusion to provide character introspection and reveal feelings that characters might not be stating out loud makes it a brilliant setting that can speak more effectively than a monologue.
The relationship between Cocona and Papika, for example, is often reflected in the Pure Illusion they find themselves in. It is similar to the manner that Homulilly's loneliness and love for Madoka are reflected by her labyrinth, but Pure Illusion can take on many different forms to help with that communication. Adding the concept of magical girls also allows for Pure Illusion to play with the concept but use it as a manner of wordless communication with the audience. Pure Illusion is one of the most dynamic and vocal settings to exist within not only magical girl shows, but anime itself, constantly changing to match how the girls and the plot are evolving.
Pure Illusion also offers something that the witch labyrinths cannot: commentary on the setting of the world for the audience alone. The mecha episode is staged in such a way that it mocks the mecha genre's treatment of women with the use of camera angles. The horror world that is a symbol of class S yuri -- girls' love set in a school environment -- is a visualization of how the world would perceive any relationship between the two leads.
These worlds are strange and wonderful in their existence. In sharp contrast is the quite normal world where Cocona struggles for her feelings for Papika due to the number of Papika impersonations all around her -- the delinquent, the seductress, the child -- all of them versions of Papika, but not the one she wants. Here, Cocona is placed in a space just like one she would truly live in and asked to make a decision, implying that this is much more serious to Cocona's true feelings than anything that happens in a wonderland.
The amount of imagination that went into creating the worlds of Pure Illusion is astounding, and Flip Flappers is the perfect anime for anyone who likes magical girls, fantastical places or simply wants to watch some amazing animation. While Madoka Magica's witches are undoubtedly horrifying and animated to induce unease and even fear, the manner in which Pure Illusion speaks to the audience with references and character insights makes it not just a setting, but also a tool used by Flip Flappers to the utmost. The fact that it can also be terrifying is a bonus.
Flip Flappers can be streamed on HIDIVE.