Let’s move our minds back to the Fall of 2016. It was a fairly busy season, with many works standing out among the more casual audience alongside those who are more critically-minded, including Yuri on Ice, Haikyuu, and 3-gatsu no Lion. 3-gatsu is a work which stood out as particularly noteworthy to me, something which should be made clear by the video I just put out. Even beyond those, there were a number of lesser known but still interesting works. Occultic;Nine boasted a bizarre style that drew many eyes, Izetta the Last Witch offered fun action set pieces and a notably gay relationship, and Hibike Euphonium delivered its second season at long last, for better or for worse. But, of course, there was another notable anime airing that season: Flip Flappers.
Flip Flappers drew recognition even before it began. The early PVs had many in the more sakuga-focused part of the fandom eager, only backed up by the fact that it was the first project helmed by the incredibly talented Kiyotaka Oshiyama. The first few episodes did not disappoint on this front. Its vibrant and beautiful worlds, superb animation, and intriguing character dynamics drew many in. The gay subtext and clear use of psychoanalytic imagery in composing the narrative were only additional contributors to the growth of its sizable and dedicated fanbase, even if it was smaller than many of the season’s giants.
As the show went on and reached its midpoint, there was a clear shift. The plot became more relevant episode-by-episode, with the wonderfully whimsical weekly content falling by the wayside. This was not an immediate change. Episodes 7 through 9 primarily stuck to the past formula, centering the internal feelings of the main characters, though they did so by giving ever increasing standing to Yayaka’s sympathetic struggle. However, 10-13 showed a marked departure from the past structure, with much of the previous abstraction gone as we moved towards our conclusion.
It did not take long for viewers to come up with an explanation for the show’s shift in tone and pacing. For the first 6 episodes, bar number 4, the series’ scripts had been written by one Ayana Yuniko. Ayana is a noted fan of yuri and this comes across quite clearly in her work on the show. Additionally, she has much experience writing slice-of-life works, so it was natural that she handled many of the more episodic entries.
However, after episode 6, she no longer wrote any scripts, being replaced by Oshiyama himself for 7, with Hayashi Naoki coming in to finish the show off after that. She was still listed as working on Series Composition for the entire run but her direct influence seemed to recede from here. And this had people worried. First, it came across as a sign to many that the yuri would be toned down. Some read the conversation between Cocona and the succubus Papika in episode 7 as a demonstration that Cocona lacked feelings for the girl and while I frankly can’t comprehend how you could possibly come to such a conclusion if you understand how to read media on even a basic level, it’s easy to get worried when such a situation is occurring and I won’t even pretend that there wasn’t a bit of anxiety in my heart at the time. In retrospect, we can observe that it never became less gay but at the time, her seeming departure caused a lot of fear.
What really had people terrified, however, was a pair of tweets she sent out. In them, she basically said she was surprised when episode 8 went a different direction than she had initially planned, shifting from a world focused on zombies and trains — remind you of anything from that year? — to a neon city straight out of Tron, full of Tokusatsu-inspired mecha combat. She also said that a few things she asked for weren’t included and stressed the fact that changing small details in the script-writing process can have a serious butterfly effect on the entire work. Many saw this as a clear sign: Ayana was deeply unhappy with the direction the show was moving in. Given that a great many viewers were put off by the shift towards an end stretch which more heavily centered the main plot, this provided ample ammunition for various internet “debates”, serving as “proof” that things had gone very, very wrong. Soon, a narrative was built. Ayana was displeased with the direction and had likely been kicked off the project for reasons that no one could speak of. As a result, the series had to change drastically from what was initially planned, leaving it to lose its queerness, its subtlety, and its narrative intrigue, throwing all that had been built up out the door. If even a lead writer was upset at the final stretch, then surely, it was right for viewers to be as well.
The desire to build a narrative like this is an understandable one. People tend to value the opinions of those who make the works they enjoy, at least to some degree, especially when said opinions can be used to win arguments. The merit of authorial intent may be debated but it certainly serves as a useful bludgeon to beat your online opponents over the head with and doing so can often be an unconscious decision.
The problem is that this narrative was entirely manufactured, an attempt to grasp at straws for an irrefutable reason to condemn a show which had done nothing more than move in a direction that certain audience members weren’t fond of. So, let’s be clear: almost none of the story is true. Ayana was not kicked off the project in any meaningful sense, Oshiyama did not drastically change everything she came up with when replacing her with a different scriptwriter, and she does not and did not hate the direction that the series moves in whatsoever.
Here’s the real story surrounding Ayana Yuniko’s work on Flip Flappers, or at least as much of it as we know. The anime was initially brainstormed by Oshiyama himself, with a few other key staff members helping him in this process. As he says in one interview, he “just filled it with stuff [he] liked”. Eventually, once the basic concept was fully worked out, Ayana was brought on, working with Oshiyama in developing the main story beats. That she did this would’ve been obvious to anyone who understands what the role of Series Composition means. As this was worked out, the episodes themselves were of course planned, with various staff members adding their own personal touches to Oshiyama’s base, such as Ayana’s inclusion of yuri, an element which Oshiyama by no means abandoned, fully incorporating it into the project; it’s worth noting that he described Cocona as looking at Papika “amorously” in episode 4, despite the fact that Ayana didn’t write that episode. After this, of course, she wrote the scripts for the five episodes she’s credited for.
Here is where the true story and the conspiracy fully diverge. In the fanciful imaginations of those set to despise the show’s ending, Ayana was kicked off the project here, not allowed to write any more scripts, likely due to executive meddling or some major disagreement in direction. However, that’s not the case in the slightest. While Oshiyama hasn’t described the exact reason Hayashi took the lead in writing scripts, one thing is made very clear: the events that would occur were already worked out by then. That is to say, Hayashi was only handling the scripts, transforming worked out events into readable lines, something Oshiyama says outright. Put in another way, Ayana’s contributions weren’t removed in the slightest, nor would there even have been time for that to occur, given that the production had already become quite hectic by the time Hayashi was brought on. Had Ayana’s contributions been abandoned, it never would’ve been possible for the early episodes to heavily foreshadow the end stretch but a cursory glance will reveal that elements like Mimi and Papikana were in the show from the very beginning, even in scripts Ayana wrote.
So what do we make of the tweets? Well, she was surprised and worried. That’s certainly true and it’s a reasonable reaction to have when you care a lot about a series you’ve worked on. But is that proof of her ultimate attitude to the show?
Certainly not. For a long time, it was hard to know exactly what she thought of the series, given that her tweets were all we had to go on. But recently, when discussing her works at the Yuri Night Edition 1 event, she was quite clear in stating that Flip Flappers is one of her favorite projects out of all the many that she’s worked on. This is even more notable because elsewhere in the talk she describes how on other shows she participated in, she became upset due to her input not being accepted, mentioning how the yuri she wrote was often changed after going through various hands. Clearly, that wasn’t a problem on Flip Flappers. And of course it wasn’t. She did series composition, it’s only natural that her ideas would stick around. A tweet or two of worry about something being changed halfway through the show’s run unfortunately snowballed into a pernicious rumor that she hated the show, one that could not be more untrue.
It’s obviously fair to believe that Flip Flappers declined in quality after her departure, much as I may disagree. Certainly, the flavor of the scripts did see some shift and I can totally believe that her dialogue was more elegant and subtle in its writing than Hayashi’s. However, it is not fair to pedal blatant mistruths and dreamed up boardroom conspiracies in order to justify said opinion. Anime fandom has gotten much better in the past few years at understanding staff and production but rumors like this only bring us down, serving to illustrate the ways in which research can be made to harm, acting more often as a tool to validate one’s own views than as a serious attempt to understand those who create the works we’re so invested in.
And this is a real problem in the community. The case of Flip Flappers is the most blatant example I’ve experienced, one which stands out above others because I love the show and don’t enjoy said love being undercut by harmful conspiracies. But it is not the only example of this in anime. Simply put, for as much progress as we’ve made, production is still not well-understood. People routinely misunderstand the difference between someone working on series composition and someone working on the scripts, while directors remain undervalued for their role in drafting story details. And of course, the use of misleading info to paint a false picture of a work for one’s own end has occurred many a time, extending beyond this specific case.
Have you heard about KareKano’s production? As everyone agrees, things change from episode 19 onwards. According to apocryphal sources, Hideaki Anno stepped off the project, being replaced by Kazuya Tsurumaki, who later went on to direct FLCL and Diebuster, among other things. This is said to have occurred due to friction between Anno and the original mangaka, leaving him frustrated enough that he just had to step down. Given that he disappeared from anime for half-a-decade after this, the story has been passed down the grapevine for so long now that it’s almost been accepted as automatic truth about one of the medium’s strangest and most prominent directors, common knowledge to anyone with the barest knowledge of anime production or Gainax’s history.
But, strangely, a quick glance at the credits for the final 8 episodes will make one thing very clear: he never left at all. In fact, it’s hard to see why anyone thought he did. His name is still listed under director the entire time, albeit changed to katakana, while he continues to be listed as having written the scripts as well. And while producer Hiroki Sato was also elevated to the role of Director starting in episode 16, Tsurumaki never got a director’s credit. In fact, he didn’t even work on the show for a single episode from 19 until the finale. So, where did this idea he replaced Anno even come from?
See, it’s almost inevitable that rumors will pop up. Some people are going to spread these things, maliciously or otherwise, and eventually, they’ll catch on to the point that no one really knows where they started, becoming a flame that can never die because it’s grown too big, even if we snuff out the source. These rumors take a life of their own, morphing into simple “common sense”. That’s almost inevitable in any facet of human communication. But because we’re speaking English while discussing Japanese works, this problem is amplified, made even worse by the general fandom’s poor understanding of how anime is produced. Rumors like these spread and alter viewers’ perceptions of works, fundamentally cementing mistruths that last for years to come. The KareKano legend has been around for well over a decade now and only recently did it become even remotely clear to the public at large that it was untrue. Actual facts, like disagreements with the original mangaka or worries over the change in script, become distorted into serious messes that get cited from there onwards, justifying positions that aren’t backed up by the true details.
We can even see this happening live, right this very moment. People are looking at Darling in the Franxx’s seeming trainwreck-ification and attempting to fit it into their personal narratives, leading them to blame CLOVERWORKS for all of it while acting as if TRIGGER somehow became irrelevant to the show. The simple fact that TRIGGER stopped animating episodes after 14 is shown as proof that they abandoned the project because they knew it was going south, despite them being listed for concept design the whole run alongside staff from the studio continuing to storyboard, script, and otherwise work on episodes. A misinterpreted quote spread by hearsay during AX is used as evidence that really, TRIGGER still is the savior of anime, with CLOVERWORKS simply being the red-headed stepchild that A-1 kicked to the curb as soon as possible, destroying Franxx in the process. Nevermind that we know who wrote the series the whole way through; a narrative can be found here and goddammit, people aren’t going to let facts get in the way of that.
I’d like to think that anime fandom has come a long way in the last decade or so, that our increased ability to communicate with Japanese creators has given us a greater opportunity to properly understand them. And if that’s the case, we need to do our best to keep rumors like this from spreading. I’m sure there are things I’ve said myself, relying on what I simply saw as common knowledge, that in reality are totally untrue. And if that’s the case for me, it must be the case for many more who are less interested in researching anime production.
I don’t want the conspiracies surrounding Ayana and Flip Flappers to survive the next decade the way that KareKano’s Anno myth did. I certainly don’t want this Franxx idea to catch on. As informed fans, we need to do our best to spread the truth and promote caution in situations like these, stopping the ideas from propagating before they reach those who unwittingly gravitate towards them. There’s obviously no issue with disliking the direction a show goes or even with crediting bad decisions to the staff when you know who chose what. But doing so by making up things about the production is blatantly harmful and something that must be avoided if we’re to be remotely reasonable as a community. Say Flip Flappers goes downhill all you want but leave the rumor-mongering out of it. Though I must say, Flip Flappers goes downhill the way a planned trip from Everest to K-2 takes you downhill: you’re still on the second-tallest mountain by the end and it was entirely intentional.