Boogiepop and Others
Episode 17

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 17 of
Boogiepop and Others (TV 2019) ?

As the "King of Distortion" saga lurches toward its end, the story congeals and we start getting more answers. The bulk of this week's episode focuses on just three characters, rather than the galaxy of different people whose diverging perspectives have defined this arc. Of course, there may be more to each of them than it seems, even at this late stage in the story. After all, the message of the "King of Distortion" story seems to be that we don't even know ourselves—how much of "ourselves" is made up of our interactions with other people and how do we filter those interactions through our own preexisting personalities?

That's the story of Sakiko this week, who seems to be aligned with Harada and Shirou as they to rescue her. Then she suddenly makes a run for it, calling out "I won't let you stop the King of Distortion!" as she locks the door to the lower floor after they go down it. Why would Sakiko suddenly align herself with this being who seems to want to rip them all apart from the inside? Because that's what she feels like she deserves. This episode focuses more squarely on Sakiko's deep self-loathing—and we see Boogiepop help her process it.

There's a concept called "survivor's guilt," for people who feel they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event instead of the people who perished. I think you can extend this to more everyday kinds of grief as well; it's arguably part of the "bargaining" process in the famous five stages of grief. "Why not take me, instead of them?" people may find themselves asking when someone they love dies. It doesn't help that Sakiko had other reasons for feeling guilty around Hinako's death, because of how she had bullied her in their last interaction. She feels like the worst person in the world, like she doesn't deserve to live. So Boogiepop helps her find the worth in herself.

The "Kings of Distortion" that everyone in the Moon Temple sees are reflections of their innermost selves. They're not seeing the actual people they remember, but who those people were when reflected through their memories. That's what I think Boogiepop means when they say to Sakiko that Hinako is a "part of herself." This means that the kindness that Sakiko sees in her is her own kindness, something the dreams can only summon because she possesses it already. After all, if she was a wholly cruel person, she wouldn't feel so guilty about how she acted before Hinako's death. So I'm still not sure what the King of Distortion means by "turning your pain into gold," but as far as Boogiepop is concerned, Sakiko has done that. As Boogiepop says, " If your feelings aren't already gold, then I'm pretty sure nothing in this world actually glitters."

While Sakiko's story focuses internally, the boys' stories are more external. Harada and Shirou try to fight what's happening to the Moon Temple from the inside, while Takeda tries to figure it out from the outside. I'm not quite sure what happens to Takeda after this point; he gets summoned into his own dream, with a dream-Touka leading him into the Moon Temple. But he hears the voice of Teratsuki, warning them that there is no way inside, "so don't try anything futile." So does that mean that Takeda was specially chosen by the King of Distortion—represented in his dream by his girlfriend—to find the way in? Or is the dream simply a manifestation of his frustrations?

Meanwhile, the boys inside deduce that Teratsuki's warning about cutting off their oxygen isn't really true. It's a way to get people to panic and try to escape from the building. When they figure out that the only way is up, they'll all run to the top of the building—which is likely the King of Distortion/Teratsuki/whoever's true plan. So they go there immediately and discover a control panel that can be used to reopen the building—but before they can get there, Teratsuki's face appears on the panel with a message for them.

He throws out some familiar themes from earlier Boogiepop installments, like human evolution as a manifestation of some kind of "flow" and a desire to see/control the future. Teratsuki claims there are no people with such godlike powers right now, simply a system controlling us, and that's the Towa Organization. He admits that he is a synthetic human created by the Towa Organization in order to help them control his company, but he has gone rogue and wants to "play with" them now—which is why he built the temple. He wanted to find someone who could defeat the obstacles he put there, because that person could be capable of who standing against the Towa Organization.

Right after he gives Harada the password to unlock the building and delete his files ("Stairway to Heaven"), Teratsuki mentions a "Eugene" and blood splatters across the screen. The whole room flashes an eerie red, and Harada is freaking out that he doesn't have the answers he wants yet. But Shirou seems to "get it," returning a disturbing expression to his friend. Is Shirou more than just a confused teenager? And with the video's unexpected ending, can Harada actually save the people in the building with the code that Teratsuki gave him? Why does Teratsuki want to stand up against the Towa Organization? And what does he have planned for his chosen enemy?

Boogiepop and Others keeps coming back to familiar characters and names in all these arcs, but it's in service of a larger message. Despite any ideas about "flow" or "evolution" uniting the universe, we're all individuals who have the power to choose our own destinies. Even the parts of us that seem to be the result of others' interactions or forces like fate are more under our control than we realize. As its characters all figure that out in different ways, I can't wait to see where this series takes its ideas in the end.

Rating: A

Boogiepop and Others is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a Ph.D. student in musicology, who recently released a book about the music of Cowboy Bebop. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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