Reviewby Theron Martin,
Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1
Every town has two faces, one for day and one for night, but the night side of the town near Shinyo Academy is darker than most. Manticore may be gone, but sinister forces still linger beneath the surface. On one side are the mysterious Towa Organization and their inhuman agents, spearheaded by Spooky Electric (aka “Spooky E”). On another is the Imaginator, an incorporeal being intent on recreating the world, and her gifted human ally Jin Asukai, with his ability to visualize the inherent psychological structure of a person in a unique way. And on a third front is Boogiepop, still rumored to be an agent of death even though he stands against the threats posed by the others. Caught in the midst of the conflict are several ordinary middle and high school students with little conception of the scope of events going on around them.
And as before, Touka Miyashita (aka Boogiepop) still has no conception of her dual nature.
That this novel, the first of a two-part story arc, is titled “Boogiepop Returns” implies that Boogiepop himself is still the central character of the story, but in actuality his appearances are limited; Touka's alter ego only appears twice, with a fake Boogiepop accounting for a couple more appearances. Though he still has a distinct impact on the story, the focus of events here is much more on the actions of Spooky E and the Imaginator and their agents. So absorbing and well-constructed is the storytelling here that the minimal direct involvement of Boogiepop is unlikely to matter to fans of the series, however.
Whereas Boogiepop and Others was both a prequel and gap-filler for the anime version of Boogiepop Phantom, VS Imaginator is an independent story which takes place several months later, at the end of the Japanese school year. Its events are not directly reflected in the anime, although the villainous Spooky E did make a very brief appearance in one episode and the featured anime character Hisashi Jonouchi (the one who saw the spiders) was undoubtedly patterned off of cram school teacher/counselor Jin Asukai. Of the characters who survived in the original novel, only one – psychology buff Suema – has a significant role here, while Touka's civilian identity pops up a few times as a background character and both Nagi Kirima and Kei Niitoki have brief cameos. The focus is much more on new characters, especially Nagi's stepbrother Misaki Taniguchi, his not-as-human-as-she-looks love interest Aya Orihata, his “arch-enemy” Anou Shinjirou, and the aforementioned Jin Asukai. Standing behind all, and posing the real threats, are the metahuman Spooky E and the ephemeral Imaginator, who usually speaks through dreams or possessed bodies.
Those who have read the first novel or seen the anime will find the storytelling approach here to be familiar: a shifting, mostly first-person perspective which jumps around in the story's timeline and sometimes repeats scenes, allowing the viewer to see some key moments from as many as four different angles. This isn't as confusing to follow as it sounds, and the “multiple perspectives” approach allows the reader to see how vastly inaccurate first impressions of a situation can be. Writer Kouhei Kadono showed great skill in handling such structuring in his first novel, and there is no let-down here.
The tone of the story is laden with a sense of dread, with the mild horror aspects derived primarily from the way peoples' minds and behaviors are twisted around by the two central villains. Arguably, though, the human Jin is the scariest character in the story, partly because what exactly he's doing to people to change them is left to the imagination. The writing also reflects a generally pessimistic world view, which comes through most clearly in Jin's interpretations of the flowers he sees on people's chests and is defined by the chapter-heading quotes from Seiichi Kirima's philosophy book VS Imaginator. (An example: “Do not doubt work. No matter how pointless or unrewarding it may appear to be, anything is better than knowing for certain that it actually is.”) Whether this was done deliberately or is just a reflection of the writer's own views, it effectively contributes to the atmosphere of the story.
As with his first novel, Kadono's writing style favors short paragraphs, lots of back-and-forth dialogue exchanges, and limited but effective descriptiveness, a light and efficient writing style reminiscent of acclaimed American sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury. The pacing is just right, making for a quick and enjoyable read. Its style, feel, and emphasis on teen viewpoints place it firmly in Japan's new “Adult Lite” literature category, which roughly equates to Young Adult status in the West. (The first novel in this series was, in fact, responsible for starting and defining that category.) Kouji Ogata, the character designer for the anime, provides the sharp cover illustration, the color pictures of key characters at the beginning, and the black-and-white sketches used throughout the rest of the novel.
Seven Seas Entertainment did a superb job with their production of the first novel, and with Boogiepop Returns they prove that it was no fluke. Even the most diehard purist could not be disappointed with the result, as the original Japanese naming conventions and honorific usages are retained everywhere except for the author and illustrator's names, and those were put in Western format only because of copyright considerations. As with the first volume, translation notes and explanations of certain cultural issues are provided both before and after the novel text, with Roll Call pages, the original author's Afterward, a chapter-length preview of the next novel, and About the Author/Illustrator blurbs again being included. An excellent new feature is a timeline which lays out the events of both this novel and its predecessor in relation to each other. The only negative factor on Seven Seas' effort is a couple of minor typos.
If VS Imaginator Part 1 has a flaw, it's that it's too short. The actual novel text only covers 177 pages, which include a fair number of illustrations and full-page chapter headings. Granted, a lot of storytelling goes on in those 177 pages, but its ending leaves the impression that the whole novel was just the set-up for the real heart of the story, which will follow in the next novel. Gripes about its cost compared to equivalent American novels are pointless, since this is a translated import and those used to plunking down $9.99 for a manga tankoubon are unlikely to bat an eye at the price.
If you liked the first novel or the Boogiepop Phantom anime then this second installment will not disappoint. It further cements the Boogiepop franchise's position as one of the best anime-related novel series available in the American market.
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Easy and engrossing read, excellent English production merits.
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