Boogiepop and Others
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Boogiepop and Others (TV 2019) ?
Boogiepop and Others closes its VS Imaginator arc with a bang, tying it beautifully together like all of Boogiepop's magic threads. It's still a lot take in, with most of the major characters' arcs rushing toward a thrilling conclusion at the abandoned Paisley Park. We also get a lot of worldbuilding and magic questions answered, but in a thrilling way that reveals their true purpose. Everything supernatural ultimately comes back to what Boogiepop and Others is trying to say thematically. Episode 9 lays the show's message out much more clearly than earlier episodes, but there's still a lot to unpack in terms of its broader applications both for its individual characters and human nature.
This final installment makes the beating heart of its story clear: Masaki and Camille's relationship, and how it endures against all odds. We begin in the middle of last week's episode, with Masaki's escape from his curious sister, and pick up where his story left off. Not long after, we hear his side of the phone call with Camille. She tries to convince Masaki that he's better off finding a normal girl, but he remains undeterred. In fact, he just discovered the sexy pictures that got her the reputation in school as a "public toilet," and he still loves her. It all encourages him even more to figure out where she is and rescue her, so he rushes off to the tower.
There's a lot that happens next, but I think it's important to zero in on Masaki's arc, because that's when Boogiepop and Others really digs into its themes. The climax of the episode comes when he gets in a fight with a bunch of mascots and clowns that are seemingly under the influence of the Imaginator. He's not doing well—but then Boogiepop shows up and dispatches them all with the power of music. The tune Boogiepop plays is from Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg—and if you didn't know that, Suema spells it out for you as she's on her way to rescue everyone.
Now, I'm a pretty big Wagnerian opera fan, but I can't really tell you what the significance of using this particular piece is here. Perhaps it's because the opera, Wagner's only comedy, takes place at a festival for singers, which maybe fits with a confrontation at a theme park? Is it that an opera about a singing competition ties into Jin's point later about the emotional power of music? Most interesting is the fact that this music is diegetic—that's to say, it exists in the world of the show and is heard by the characters. It also doesn't have an apparent source, with the electricity to the park cut off; I guess one of Boogiepop's powers is to be a human (or shinigami) boombox too. It's interesting that Jin dismisses it as music causing people to take leave of their rational mind and give in to their emotions—a frequent real-life criticism of Wagner's music in particular, especially after its extensive use as propaganda by Nazi Germany. But in Jin's case, we know he's full of crap, since that's basically what he wants to do to everyone in the world, just through different means. He wants to brainwash everyone by uniting their hearts by using Camille's as a seed. And the specific theme park "employees" who Boogiepop incapacitated were already brainwashed by the Imaginator. Boogiepop is there to free your mind, or else their music wouldn't sound so triumphant and buoyant.
The whole question of "free will" looms large over this section of Boogiepop and Others, as we keep seeing characters get mentally taken over by either Spooky E or the Imaginator. If you've been watching closely, it should already be on your brain, but then Boogiepop's confrontation with Masaki during the "Meistersinger" scene spells out the explicit message: "Adapting yourself to society is essentially being brainwashed to meet societal expectations." Boogiepop asks Masaki if he ever felt half-awake or lost time in the presence of Camille, making him wonder if she ever might have "removed" his sense of fear. He realizes this very well could have happened and gets angry about whether his love for her was something she implanted in him too. So Boogiepop counters by asking him, are we ever truly free agents, or are we always trying in some way to become what others—and society—expect of us? Does it really matter if Masaki's desires were fully his choice?
As this scene went on, I couldn't help but think back to all the various characters we've met over the course of the VS Imaginator arc, and how the literal brainwashing they receive reflects the way society encourages us to squash our inconvenient and unacceptable desires and impulses. The way Anou and Kotoe suppress their forbidden crushes to throw themselves into another cause is in some ways a more extreme version of what lots of real kids do in similar circumstances. It's easy for a queer kid or even a straight kid whose desires are popping up in uncomfortable ways like Kotoe's to suppress those feelings and focus on their studies or something else—until sudden moments where they come bubbling up to the surface. You can't ever completely deny your identity, but you can store it away in a box in your mind when society tells you some part of it isn't right. It's always there and will likely spring out again in the future—but denial and pressure to conform can be powerful.
Even Jin is under some sort of brainwashing by the Imaginator, and he was clearly taken in by a desire to be part of something greater after he felt like he was stagnating in his career and his art. But unlike what last week suggested, the Imaginator's control is just as incomplete as Spooky E's over his drones. Camille initially suggests that Jin can't actually use her as a sacrifice because she isn't human, catching him off guard. But Boogiepop informs her, after defeating the Imaginator, that this is not the real reason that Jin taking her heart wouldn't destroy her—or anyone. It is because the feelings in those hearts are created through a connection with other humans. Though Jin might uproot the plant inside her, Camille can grow a new one by meeting and connecting with new people. In essence, the moral of the VS Imaginator story is that we can't ever know "free will" because we are creatures of our society, adapting and even suppressing our personalities to fit that society. And yet at the same time, society is what liberates us through the ability to create loving connections with other people, which power our hearts. Society can both destroy us and yet it keeps us alive. It all depends on what kinds of connections we're able to create, and how well we can reach inside our psyche to keep in touch with our true desires.
As clear as the thematic stuff was this episode, I was a little unsure how exactly Boogiepop defeated the Imaginator—especially after they made it clear that both the Imaginator and the Towa Organization were not really their enemies. The Imaginator rushed away in a sudden burst of wind, seemingly caused by Jin breaking the glass in the tower, and then robbed of their purpose and power, disintegrated in front of Masaki after telling him how strong he was. Was it Jin's physical actions that destroyed the Imaginator, or Boogiepop explaining how they foiled the plan? What I took from it was the latter; Boogiepop helped the Imaginator and Jin realize that their idea was useless because of the nature of human hearts, and how they would always "grow back." The way that the Imaginator praises Masaki for his emotional strength before disintegrating suggests this more than anything else.
Nagi, Suema, and Kotoe also get their moments in the sun, but they're secondary to this particular story. We see Kotoe recovering in the hospital, seemingly having her full former personality and desires back. I was wondering if she got them back because of how Jin got through to her in the previous episode, or because of the death of Spooky E, or both. If it's the latter, is Anou free from brainwashing too? I would have liked to check in on him in this big final confrontation. As for Nagi and Suema, they both come in to save Masaki only after the battle is over, but their presence suggests a future importance to them—and thus more connective tissue between the various "arcs" in Boogiepop and Others.
I was already hooked from the original 3-episode story, but the VS Imaginator arc showed that Boogiepop and Others is really something special. There are still issues with some of the ways that it presented its story; I found it odd that Masaki was praised for his "strength" as though his ability to resist that "societal brainwashing" didn't have more to do with the social acceptability of his desires compared to the brainwashing victims. And of course, there are certainly problems with comparing a closeted gay kid to a girl struggling with a crush on her adult cousin. I also wish that Boogiepop and Others had done more with its secondary characters, and that Nagi in particular had felt like more than just connective issue between these two arcs. Yet there's still so much interesting about what this show has to say that I can forgive it for stumbling in how it chooses to say those things. Its sweet and inspiring story of Camille and Masaki's love that beats the odds was the cherry on top, adding a deeply human core to what could have been just a coldly spooky thriller.
Boogiepop and Others is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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