Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 13th 2006
Boogiepop and Others
The dreadful “man-eater” Manticore, recently escaped from a secret facility deep in the mountains, has infiltrated Shinyo Academy and assumed the form of one of the students. With the help of another student, she feeds on students passed off as runaways while setting up a diabolical plot with greater aspirations. The inhuman being called Echoes seeks her out to stop her, though, while high school student Kirima Nagi and a mysterious figure known as Boogiepop, an alleged “angel of death” spawned from another Shinyo Academy student, also opposes her efforts. Into this environment of danger and intrigue several other students are drawn, some as witnesses or associates of those involved, other as active participants or even victims.
Boogiepop and Others, the basis for the live-action Japanese movie of the same name, is also the first novel of the teen-oriented horror series on which the 2000 anime Boogiepop Phantom was based. Fans have clamored for the novels to be translated since Phantom first hit America in late 2001, and now thanks to Seven Seas Entertainment (a fledgling company which primarily specializes in OEL manga), they are finally starting to become available in English. The quality of the novel indicates that it was worth the wait, and the quality of the translation and production indicates that Seven Seas is exactly the right company for the job.
Evaluated solely as a stand-alone entity, Boogiepop and Others packs remarkably deep and insightful content for a story which uses such a light and easy writing style; in this sense it compares favorably to some of the works of Ray Bradbury. It uses a shifting first-person perspective which focuses on a different character each chapter and doesn't tell the story entirely in order, an approach mimicked by the anime series. As a result the overall story about Boogiepop, Manticore, Echoes, and the students who become involved with them comes together in bits and pieces which must be assembled by the reader to get the full picture, since the characters who takes a turn at narration “were unable to see beyond their own unique role.” It is a clever writing gimmick which always keeps the reader thinking and may inspire some flipping back and forth and rereading certain parts, as some scenes end up repeating but from different perspectives and/or with fresh details added in. Not everything is completely explained; details on what happened five years ago are sparse, with only hints that there was much more going on than just a serial killer running around. This is the first book of a series, though, so doubtless some of that will come to light later.
Boogiepop and Others holds much more appeal than just its unconventional structure, however. Skillfully mixed in amongst the core story elements is a look at teens struggling to define their identity, role in life, and relationships with others as well as their philosophies on school, love, and life in general. Some of the characters are very typical of what you might expect in any high school environment, while others are extreme cases; the developing psychopath, the young woman with the self-professed messiah complex, and the girl obsessed with criminology because of a close call with a serial killer years earlier, for instance. Most interesting is the manifestation of Boogiepop; is he a split personality subconsciously generated by his “host” as a coping mechanism, or something else entirely? Even Boogiepop himself does not seem to know. The writing also provides considerable insight into how Japanese students view their own schooling, although the consistently and heavily negative view of school is doubtless strongly reflective of the writer's own disappointments with school life (as suggested in the afterward).
Author Kouhei Kadono's original target audience was undoubtedly teenagers, and the novel series may find some following on its own in that demographic in North America, but its primary appeal is going to be to fans of Boogiepop Phantom. For such a group it is an indispensable addition to the anime, as it serves as a prequel by describing the events leading up to the “column of light” incident on which the anime is built. Some of the brief flashbacks in the anime actually depict events from this novel, which explains their meaning and fills in some gaps in the backstory, most notably the twisted relationship between Saotome and the original Manticore. The novel also explains a reference in one of the anime extras about a character named Naoko, who appears only momentarily in the anime but is credited with having saved the world; that event happens here, though most readers probably won't make the connection at first. Some of the other characters who later become key to events in the anime – among them Touka (Toka in the anime), Nagi Kirima, Suema, and Echoes – all have significant parts here as well, while a couple of others are briefly mentioned in the anime.
Kadono's writing style uses short paragraphs, limited descriptiveness, and a heavy focus on dialogue interchanges to keep the story rolling along. Although he uses a few detailed action scenes and handles them well, his writing is much more about character development than action. It is a writing style very conducive to what would be called a Young Adult audience in the States and was, indeed, credited with igniting such a trend in Japan. The occasional black-and-white pictures, the color portraits at the beginning, and the cover art are the work of illustrator Kouji Ogata, who later to went on to do the character designs for Boogiepop Phantom.
The translation and production offered by Seven Seas Entertainment should set a standard against which future Japanese novel translations are judged. The translation goes to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the original work, even going as far as giving names in the traditional Japanese order and retaining most honorifics, which are explained at the beginning of the book for those less studied in Japanese culture. Ten pages of translation notes concerning topics which come up throughout the story are tacked on at the end, including an explanation of why the novel is titled “Boogiepop and Others” when “Boogiepop Doesn't Laugh” or “Boogiepop Doesn't Smile” would be more accurate translations. (It has to do with the manga release and live-action movie version.) Also included at the end of the novel is an afterward by Kadono, a Roll Call detailing class placements and character relationships for the main cast, and a 17-page preview of Boogiepop Returns, the next novel in the series, which is due out in June 2006. The only concern might be the price. With only a bit more than 200 pages of actual story printed with large font and ample spacing, $9.99 seems a bit high; although in line with the price of manga volumes, it's significantly more than a paperback novel nearly twice its length would normally sell for.
If you're a fan of Boogiepop Phantom then Boogiepop and Others is a priority buy despite the price. Those unfamiliar with the franchise will still find an interesting and engrossing story which serves as an excellent stepping into the universe of Boogiepop. Look for it in the manga section of your local bookstore.
Story : A-
Art : B
+ An easy read, great English production, excellent complement to the anime.
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