Boogiepop and Others
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 14 of
Boogiepop and Others (TV 2019) ?
It's a big jump to go from reviewing four episodes to just one installment at the beginning of a whole new arc. Boogiepop and Others likes to play its cards close to its chest at first, only leaking out the smallest gems to puzzle over. It's all the more poignant since this arc is reintroducing several old characters, including some that we haven't seen since the first arc. There's plenty here for fans to ponder and piece together what it's all supposed to mean, but there's little definitive when it comes to answers yet. At least "Overdrive: The King of Distortion" has a lot of fascinating potential already.
Much of Boogiepop has focused on the desires that lie deep within its characters' hearts. Its villains frequently have a unique ability to see through them, reaching depths in these characters that they haven't even discovered in themselves. That was what made the Imaginator and Jin so compelling; his ability to see into the "flowers" that represented people's innermost desires gave him a clairvoyance few of the awkward teenagers in our cast could uncover for themselves yet. With the King of Distortion, we might have our ultimate Boogiepop villain. While it's not clear what exactly he means by "turning everything into gold," the King is not on the side of goodness.
Boogiepop wants people to reach inside themselves and learn the deepest desires of their heart, so they can tell the difference between those feelings and what society expects of them. But Boogiepop doesn't accomplish that by traumatizing people and making them feel terrible about themselves. That's what King of Distortion does, and that's how we know he's bad news by the ethics of Boogiepop and Others' world—one that celebrates all the things that make us unique, even the negative things. The fact that King of Distortion tries to reach into Kei Niitori's heart by spitting back out her insecurities, dressed up as a boy she hated, makes it clear he's evil even before Boogiepop makes it clear they see him as an enemy. I would say deceiving people by pretending to be Boogiepop is suspicious too—but then the innocent Masaki did that two arcs ago for a good cause. This is clearly a different beast.
At the same time, the ultimate impact of the King of Distortion could be positive. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, after all. Kei clearly has some sort of mental block to get over when it comes to dealing with her unrequited feelings for Keiji. It might need to involve processing her own insecurities about her identity too. It's unlikely that anyone actually dislikes her for being a dispassionate Student Council member, who does it more for her résumé than out of a passion to improve the school. (In my experience, those members were usually more well-liked, since they let people get away with more stuff.) But she has some resulting self-loathing that she needs to grapple with before she can be brave enough to face her crush again—let alone find a more mutual relationship down the line.
I like the way that these episodes call back to the first arc. It's been a while, but those characters resonated with me, even if I needed to take some time to dive through the wiki to keep everyone straight. The bowl-cut kid was Shirou Tanaka, one of the boyfriends to Naoko, the girl who looked out for Echoes during the first arc and was killed for it. She's likely the girl he mentions as his date and seems to dismiss as probably being dead. His lack of concern, like the life of this girl he claimed to be in a relationship with doesn't matter to him, is obviously concerning, making me wonder what's going on with him. The death of the first person you have feelings for is the sort of thing that can deeply traumatize a young person. But Shirou acts like it's just a funny story from his past. He was only around the edges of the first story, so I suspect we'll hear more about him and his connection to his hacker friend Kentarou Habara as this story goes on.
Of course, the real central mystery is the one involving Teratsuki. He's reported to be dead, which would make sense given the fact that Scarecrow and Mo Murder targeted him during our origin story in the previous arc—though I can't remember if his death was ever explicitly confirmed. But if the greeting in front of the Moon Temple with the young boy was happening in the present day, he's also alive as a synthetic human. Maybe that was a flashback, or maybe the dead man was replaced with an artificial human bearing his name and face. I'm inclined to go with the former, since he clearly had deep ties to the Towa Organization beforehand—with Scarecrow and Pigeon discussing whatever he was doing in his own business, MCE Corporation, as some sort of betrayal. I suppose the Towa Organization will be part of the connecting thread of all these arcs, always there to torment us—along with the more positive aspect of Boogiepop's presence and other heroic characters like Nagi and Suema.
As with the two first episodes in the last arc, the way that earlier episodes cohere with connective tissue later generally works for this series. The first two arcs felt unrelated other than the recurring presence of a few characters. As we go through later arcs, jumping through time and fleshing out characters like Nagi, we finally see those threads connect. It would be cool even if Boogiepop and Others was a collection of disconnected stories involving the titular shinigami, but I like getting different pieces of one big story about this same group of troubled kids. I can't wait to learn more about the first-arc students we haven't seen in a while. Boogiepop and Others is written like a jigsaw puzzle; you might not always know where all the pieces fit at first, but as it goes on, more of them start clicking into place. It's a neat way to write a supernatural mystery like this, keeping the viewers guessing about everything until suddenly we are not.
And isn't it cool that the King of Distortion attacks with the sounds of literal distorted guitars? I wonder how that will "harmonize"—or not—with Boogiepop's love of Wagner. Even if this new villain is a pushy creep, he promises to be an interesting one.
Boogiepop and Others is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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