Boogiepop and Others
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Boogiepop and Others (TV 2019) ?
If you were having trouble following Boogiepop and Others before this point, episode 5 might feel like a reprieve. It focuses on the drama surrounding the human characters, particularly two boys: Masaki Taniguchi (seemingly Nagi's younger brother) and Shinjirou Anou. The supernatural stuff is present from moment one, but it takes a backseat to exploring these boys' feelings, at least until the back half of the episode.
We start with Masaki's story of first love for a strange grey-haired girl who calls herself Aya Orihata. It's easy to tell from the moment she first appears that there's something up with this girl, and you can guess that it likely involves the mysterious supernatural forces that have been at work since the beginning of this show. Boogiepop and Others does a pretty good job of reminding you of who is human and who isn't by using less naturalistic features as a hint, such as the unusually grey hair on teenage Orihata. Aya also acts weird from the start too, ripping off her clothes to offer herself sexually to the boys hassling Masaki. But he ignores all this, since he's in love.
Love and attraction can feel irrational at the best of times, but especially so for teenagers just figuring out those feelings. That's particularly true for lonely teenagers like both this week's protagonists. Masaki has just returned from studying abroad at a Japanese school in Cambodia, and he's finding it difficult to make friends. He tries to just get through school by excelling academically, but that brings him unwanted attention from the class bullies. It's during a fateful encounter in an alleyway with them, the one we saw hinted at last week with Asukai attacking them, that Masaki meets Aya. She's instantly taken with him, and he's so thankful for the rescue that he doesn't notice the oddness of the situation. Aya acts like being with Masaki is a duty, so she approaches it dispassionately like she does everything else. He's even surprised when she's the one to initiate a date, since it usually has to be him. In his opening monologue, he says they're "apparently boyfriend and girlfriend," like he's not sure quite how it happened.
Their aquarium date is cute and tranquil, especially helped along by the music, but it's hard not to be concerned by how much strange behavior from Aya creeps up along the edges. There's the way she eagerly licks the food off Masaki's face, shocking him. She makes comments throughout the episode about not being "allowed" to hate anyone, and later on Masaki finds out that she doesn't have a family or "anything like that." She asks at the end of every day if she can still see him and seems oddly grateful that he wants to keep seeing her. It's obvious that there's something suspicious up with Aya, but we don't start to find out the truth until the end of the episode, and it's easy to see why the lovestruck Masaki is ignoring all these red flags. He doesn't have many other people paying attention to him, and he's experiencing the rush of love for the first time.
I love how the episode segues into telling our other love story, with both boys saying "it was love at first sight." It turns out that Masaki is getting more attention than he thinks from Shinjirou Anou, another of his classmates who keeps "turning up" around the edges of Masaki's story. Shinjirou found himself instantly in love with Masaki when he showed up in his class, and struggled with what to do with those feelings. Like a lot of unwanted crushes, it quickly turned into resentment, while he also followed Masaki around everywhere. His stalking behavior isn't okay, but his feelings are still highly relatable. When I was a deeply closeted teenager, I too tried to tell myself that I "just wanted to be close to" the girls I crushed on and would try to think up elaborate scenarios to do so. Both of this week's love stories will feel achingly familiar if you were ever a lovestruck awkward teen yourself, but Shinjirou's is the one that hits closest to home for me. He runs away when Asukai confronts his friends hassling Masaki, so luckily he's spared whatever Asukai does to them.
Unfortunately, he gets an even more heartbreaking fate later in the episode. Shinjirou is frustrated at Masaki's obsession with Aya, this girl who "gives herself to any guy who wants her." Why would he pick her over someone as devoted as him?So he starts following her around too. That's when Spooky E discovers him and zaps his memories away to make him a drone for the Towa Organization. Shinjirou forgets his love for Masaki, and any other emotions, to the point of not knowing what happens when he finds himself expressing emotions. Getting a love letter in his shoebox from a girl is just another thing to report to Spooky E.
By this point, Shinjirou is the real protagonist of the episode, but that makes what ensues all the more frustrating. What made him so interesting has been taken from him. At least the show properly treats it as a tragedy, with Boogiepop referring to him as one of Spooky E's "victims" when she comes across him later. She also returns the real love letter to him, since the one he found in his bag was a fake that Spooky E put in there to test him. With Boogiepop's seeming encouragement for Shinjirou to go on a date, and the fact that he doesn't seem to remember anything else from before Spooky E even after Boogiepop helps him, I hope this doesn't result in him having been "fixed" of his attraction—even if it's just because he doesn't remember that first crush. But it's so early in this story that I'm not willing to write it off yet.
This episode demonstrates so much empathy for these dumb lovestruck boys, aided by the music which has an affectionate, playful and childlike feeling during both Masaki and Aya's date and Shinjirou's moments of grappling with his feelings for Masaki. That's what makes Boogiepop and Others work for me; despite all the confusing supernatural twists, it's grounded in deep sympathy for relatable human emotions. All the same, I'm curious about what Asukai meant when he said that Shinjirou "couldn't be saved"—and also why Asukai was the only one to puncture Spooky E's control over him.
We get another tantalizing detail at the end, with Spooky E turning up in front of Aya and calling her "Camille," seemingly greeting her as an ally. It looks like we're starting to get a sense of why Aya/Camille is so weird and mysterious in the grander scheme of things. I appreciate that Boogiepop and Others left this tantalizing carrot for the end of the episode, instead focusing the bulk of its runtime on getting us to care about the various players in its game. Episode 5 feels like the first outing where the humans take center-stage. I want to find out the answers to all the big questions Boogiepop is dangling, but I hope the show keeps doing so by giving us relatable human character stories, and I hope this isn't the last we see of Masaki or Shinjirou.
Boogiepop and Others is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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