Boogiepop and Others
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 15 of
Boogiepop and Others (TV 2019) ?
It would be a cliché to say that this is a pretty trippy episode of Boogiepop and Others, wouldn't it? Granted, every episode involves some mind-bending supernatural twist, but almost the entirety of episode 15 takes place inside various characters' dreams and memories. We take a tour through the heads of various people who've been incapacitated in the Moon Temple by the King of Distortion—before ending up with one of our seemingly central characters this arc, Habara Kentarou, the only one yet able to beat the dream monster, wake up, and start waking other people up—starting with his friend, Shirou, the stoic kid from the first arc.
What these various dreams suggest is that the King of Distortion has a true identity we've met before: Teratsuki, the artificial human who built the Moon Temple and may not actually be dead. I wouldn't be surprised, considering that an artificial human who looked like him appeared in front of a child right before this whole King of Distortion mess. (At least, if I remember correctly from the previous episode; time can get slippery in this arc, given how often we're popping in and out of people's memories.) In case we needed the reminder, Teratsuki's name acts as a neat bookend in this episode. We get a dream-illusion that's all about him, from someone who knew him in "life", (his previous life?) and then it ends with Kentarou managing to figure out that Teratsuki is likely the person behind this mass illusion.
In classic confusing-Boogiepop-opening-scene fashion, we get a totally new character as our focus for the first "illusion", though her story quickly connects to the big picture, because she was in love with Teratsuki in the past. It wasn't quite clear to me whether she was pregnant with his child or another man's; it seems like the latter, since he mentions not being able to have children and she expresses regret that the child is not his, but then, why is she asking him for support or acknowledgment of her son? Either way, Teratsuki more or less rejects her, making it a painful memory. This woman's story is the classic case of a sheltered rich woman (not even allowed to listen to rock music) who stumbles the first time she comes in contact with the outside world; she was 20 when she had her son Makoto. Even years later, it still haunts her, not to mention the way that Teratsuki seemed to predict his future death. It makes the memory a potent one to draw on for the King of Illusion. But why show us this woman, out of everyone in the Moon Temple, if not to highlight the connection to the Moon Temple's creator?
The other characters who get illusion sequences this week are all people we've seen before, but there's still a theme of interconnectedness between them. When Kentarou finally has his illusion, the King of Distortion appears in the form of Nagi. It turns out that they first met several years ago, and he developed a crush on her—"love at first sight." Eventually, as Kentarou keeps prodding the fake Nagi, the King of Distortion turns into Saotome Masami, another boy who once had an unrequited crush on Nagi. Kentarou begins to figure out that this is all drawing on his memories and dreams, because the King of Distortion can only turn into people he's seen previously.
In between these two illusions, we get a vision from Sakiko, the brunette we met last episode. Her memory focuses on a childhood friend, Hina(ko), who died in a car accident at some time in the past. They had known each other for a long time, but Sakiko had become jealous of Hina as she grew faster than she did, seemingly drawing more attention from boys. When a boy Sakiko liked developed feelings for Hina instead, Sakiko made fun of her lanky build out of jealousy and frustration. She never got a chance to apologize before Hina's death, and the grief is destroying her. Sakiko confesses that she wants to seek out Boogiepop so that they can end her life, because she feels like a worthless person who treated her friend poorly and never got to make amends.
The common denominator in all of these illusions is that they seem to focus on some past regret. The first woman's is about her pregnancy—or even just the fact that she wasn't pregnant by Teratsuki, the man she loves. Sakiko is about losing the chance to repair her friendship with Hina because of her death. Kentarou's seems to be about not acting on his crush on Nagi, though that element is a little less obvious in his case. So why is the King of Distortion doing this? What is he trying to achieve by reminding people of painful past memories?
The key comes from what the King of Distortion tells Sakiko in the guise of Hina, right around when we hear his signature distorted guitar lick. He says Sakiko needs to take the pain and "turn it into gold." As with last episode, the King of Distortion is vague on what exactly he means by that, but it seems like he feels he can draw something special out of these feelings. Perhaps it's like the mind-control stuff from the VS Imaginator arc; he can use people's past regrets and failures in some way to turn them into followers. This makes all the more sense if the King is really Teratsuki in disguise, who has his own agenda that seems to be connected to the Towa Organization.
While we didn't get much in the way of answers this week, this episode was important for digging into the hidden hearts of all its characters. Kentarou's illusion takes the most interesting turn, when he runs into a kaiju called "Zooragi" and meets a boy he had seen among the Moon Temple crowd. Kentarou takes this as further evidence that this is his dream, because he can only find people he's met before, but it almost felt as though he had stepped into the boy's dream. After all, a big scary monster coming after him is the type of terrifying thing you'd expect from a child, who doesn't have that many real regrets yet. Kentarou manages to run back into the Moon Temple and kick himself awake, and I suspect next week we'll get some kind of actual confrontation and some real answers.
Part of what makes Boogiepop and Others so brilliant is that it takes time for episodes like this one. It knows that the key to a great supernatural mystery isn't just throwing lore at you, but establishing an audience connection with its characters. Boogiepop and Others has always been about the people who make it up far more than the magic and plot twists, and that construction is key to its apparent message. The story is all about being true to yourself and not giving into nefarious outside influences, so it makes sense that on a meta-textual level, it would also emphasize showing what makes each of these people so special. Episode 15 might be the weirdest and coolest example of the formula yet.
Boogiepop and Others is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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