I love analysing what kinds of references and homages are included in a piece of media.
It gives me insight into what a writer or director values and how their own writing process works. However, the use of homage can be even more impacting.
A good homage not only makes it clear what the homage is referencing. It must also apply itself in a way that’s fitting for the work in which it resides. One of the most famous examples of this is the opening title crawl from Star Wars, which pays homage to the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s. It’s a very striking technique, but the meaning that it conveys might be a bit obtuse for most of us since there are very few people alive today who grew up with the original Flash Gordon.
However, if you strip away all the specific details of each work and realise that George Lucas used an homage to a high-flying space opera action-adventure franchise with enticing fantasy elements to open his own high-flying space opera action-adventure franchise with enticing fantasy elements, then you can start to see why a Flash Gordon reference has much more meaning than simply saying “It’s a Flash Gordon reference.” By putting the idea of Flash Gordon in the audience’s head right at the start of the film, those who were familiar with the franchise will immediately have a subconscious idea of what they can expect from Star Wars.
In turn, after becoming the massive cultural icon that it is today, Star Wars is now the one that other works are paying homage to, be it exhilarating action sequences with similar design elements, or a single quote whose popularity is so inescapable that its meaning is immediately resonant (“I am your father!”).
But I’m not here to talk about Star Wars. I’m here to talk about anime.
One of my favourite moments of homage from the past year of anime comes from episode eight of last fall’s Gainax-esque fever dream fantasy, Flip Flappers. If you haven’t seen this series yet, I won’t be spoiling any major plot details aside from vague descriptions of thematic character development. I do highly recommend that you check it out soon as it’s one of my favourite anime of last year.
In episode eight, the two main characters, Cocona and Papika, search for a certain item in an ever-changing fantasy dimension. In this episode, the dimension appears as an expansive and futuristic cityscape currently under attack by monsters.
As the second half rolls around, a giant monster is stomping around the city and destroying everything in its path. As a result, our two leads must pilot a set of combining mech suits in order to defeat it.
Flip Flappers takes advantage of its episodic nature to the fullest extent.
It explores interesting themes and uses the visual cues of past works to give the viewer a starting point on where to begin the exploration of these ideas.
Episode eight clearly pays homage to an early anime industry staple: the super robot genre of the late 60s and early 70s. Even the actual mech itself bears resemblance to the titular mech of the 1974 classic, Getter Robo.
An homage to the super robot genre is a great way to set the tone that this episode strives towards. The super robot genre is inherently fun, exciting, and jam-packed with action, which is exactly what happens in this episode.
It’s really cool seeing an homage to super robots in a mid-2010s fantasy series. However, it’s not nearly as cool as the second homage lurking under the surface.
This second homage is embedded not in the design or tone, but in the characters. This time, we’re hopping over to the second branch of the mecha genre: real robot. This comes in the form of the main character, Cocona, who has been struggling with defining her purpose in life and who she is at a deeper, more intimate level.
This struggle with self-identity sits at the very core of the real robot genre.
From Gundam to Gunbuster to Evangelion to Gurren Lagann, the last of which is itself a masterwork of homage covering the entirety of mecha history up to its release in 2007, mecha has always been a vehicle for discovering self-identity.
This type of character arc in an episode focused on a giant robot fight solidifies the connection between Cocona and past real robot protagonists, particularly those of Gainax origin. This dual-layer homage resonates not just with super robot fans, but real robot fans as well.
In essence, Flip Flappers is doing something similar to Gurren Lagann, but on a much smaller scale – and that’s one of the things I love so much about this episode. It captures the excitement and adrenaline of super robot and crafts a scenario around a character that would be right at home in real robot. This combines what are arguably the best parts of each sub-genre into a single homage by a stroke of genius.
Episode eight of Flip Flappers was easily one of the more impacting and captivating episodes of anime I had seen from any show that aired last year. It and several others throughout the series demonstrate just how powerful a perfectly-crafted homage can be. This type of writing adds so much hidden depth to a series and makes it even more enjoyable. I really do hope more writers and directors make use of this kind of storytelling in the future.