Reviewby Theron Martin,
Boogiepop at Dawn
Five years before a fateful battle caused a pillar of light to grace the night sky, Scarecrow, a composite human who pretends to be the detective Kuroda Shinpei, betrays the Towa Organization he serves by stealing a special medicine and using it to save a terminal 13-year-old girl. Though his actions lead to his untimely death, they also prove directly or indirectly responsible for the creation of a self-styled super-hero, a shinigami (of sorts), and a ghoulish, superhuman serial killer. Their fates, and that of Mo Murder (the composite human assassin who killed Scarecrow), follow inextricably linked paths as they lay the foundations for the events that follow five years later.
In 2006 Seven Seas Entertainment released the first three novels of the franchise which inspired the Boogiepop Phantom anime, but then seemed to put further novels in the line on hiatus. With the release of Boogiepop at Dawn Seven Seas returns to the franchise by placing it under its new Lite Novels imprint, which is an apparent attempt to release the translated novels in their original “lite novel” Japanese format – i.e. with physical dimension only about 80% of the size of a typical manga release and the price reduced to $7.95. This may be a more authentic approach, but the size gives more the impression of a kiddy book here in the States. It certainly does not look good amongst other volumes in a bookcase or manga shelf.
Physical appearance aside, Dawn is a must-read for any fan of the Boogiepop franchise, regardless of whether the anime, novels, manga, or even live-action movie has served as the preferred medium so far. It definitively describes the events which happened five years prior to the anime and first novels, events which have frequently been alluded to in past releases but never described in full detail despite the fact that they are critical to setting up the events in what could be regarded as the “current” time frame. These chapters explain, for instance, what exactly was going on with the serial killer, including why the killings were happening and what Nagi Kirima and Boogiepop both had to do with stopping them. They also strongly imply why Suema (a prominent character from the first novel and anime) was the killer's next target, why she later insisted that Nagi saved her, and how Nagi's father, the oft-quoted Seiichi Kirima, fits into the overall picture, as well as how Boogiepop came to be and came to have the name that “he” does.
Some specific scenes from this work were adapted into various flashbacks in the anime, albeit usually from perspectives alternative to the ones shown here and sometimes with slightly altered details. For instance, part of the scene where the detective talks to a young Nagi in the hospital about what both want to be is repeated almost verbatim in terms of dialogue but in a slightly different setting and from two alternate perspectives. Other characters and situations, including most notably Dr. Kisugi, also get carried over to the anime, with both the anime and book versions including details that the other version does not.
Using “linear” in any sense to refer to Kouhei Kadono's writing would be a stretch. As with his previous novels and the anime version, Dawn jumps around considerably in the timeline, sometimes with the shifting age of Nagi as the only indicator of being in a different time frame. Most of the events occur roughly five years before the first novel and the bulk of the anime series, but events as early as three years before that and four years after that point also get chronicled. The framing device used for this extended flashback story also throws out hints about what may be coming in the fifth novel.
An English teacher or literary analyst might (fairly) criticize Kadono's writing style for its simplistic paragraph structure, comparatively lax variance in sentence length, and overuse of passive voice, but the direct, efficient style makes up for its technical deficiencies. Kadono displays a gift for effective creation of unsettling monstrosities, of the proverbial wolves in sheep's skins but also of characters that are, in some way, extraordinary and how such characters might view the world differently because of their extraordinary nature. On the rare occasions where he actually uses action scenes they never lack for punch, although on the whole the content gives off much more of a heavy drama/light horror vibe. He also clearly understands character psychology and how to use it to his advantage without getting into overly elaborate schemes or overly weighty psychological analysis.
Seven Seas' 293-page production includes three pages of Afterword comments by Kadono and three pages of translation notes. As with previous novels, it opens with several color pages featuring cast members with relevant quotes, although unlike with previous novels these quotes are reflective additional thoughts about characters and situations (apparently from Nagi's perspective) rather than actually being lifted from the text. Each chapter begins with a pencil sketch, with one additional two-page spread towards the end. The novel closes with some amusing variations on bio blurbs.
Familiarity with the Boogiepop franchise is actually not required to appreciate this novel. Since it describes the origins of key characters and situations, a newcomer could pick this one up and follow it well enough to understand what's going on. Certainly part of the appeal is all of the attention on, and references to, characters and situations that have been alluded to in other works, but even without that this makes for a solid read for those who like an absorbing, suitably chilling, and easy-to-read teen-appropriate diversion.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Simple but efficient and effective writing style, fills in many gaps in the franchise's backstory.
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