Boogiepop and Others
Episodes 10-13

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 10 of
Boogiepop and Others (TV 2019) ?

How would you rate episode 11 of
Boogiepop and Others (TV 2019) ?

How would you rate episode 12 of
Boogiepop and Others (TV 2019) ?

How would you rate episode 13 of
Boogiepop and Others (TV 2019) ?

You can write a whole meaty review from just one of these four "Boogiepop at Dawn" episodes, but because they got dropped all at once, I'm doing a four-in-one deal for the whole arc. While at first I was frustrated by this dump of episodes, it ultimately makes more sense to view this arc as a singular saga. The first two episodes initially feel like their own self-contained stories, but the last two episodes tie the whole package together beautifully. Ultimately, "Boogiepop at Dawn" feels like the most cohesive of the show's three arcs so far, and it does the most to illuminate the larger story's themes.

Ostensibly, this is an origin story for the title character, as the title would suggest. The framing device is Boogiepop on a ruined world, telling Echoes (whose survival isn't too surprising, but I'm still happy about it) about the origins of their name and mission. But it's equally if not more interesting to see this as an origin story for Kirima Nagi as well. It certainly explains why she kept popping up (boogiepopping?) around the edges of previous stories—even in "VS Imaginator," as Masaki's adoptive older sister and protector. There are also other important backstories laid out in this arc, even if they're not given as detailed a treatment. We learn more about the Towa Organization and their mission in a way that puts their actions during the "VS Imaginator" arc in a new light. Sharp-eyed viewers will also notice that the girl who tells Nagi's father that he's going to die later becomes the Imaginator.

The new characters we meet are just as important to this arc's excitement and themes, most importantly Dr. Kisugi, the psychiatrist to both Nagi and Touka who starts getting high on her own supply and turns into a serial killer. Kisugi is somehow both coldly creepy and totally cuckoo in her more bloodthirsty moments. The scene where she rips out her own eyeball and puts it back in to demonstrate her newly "evolved" abilities is some top-notch body horror, and it only appears for a split second. She owns every scene she's in, and as much as I can love more calculating villains, I hope Boogiepop and Others continues to give us antagonists with this much personality. It almost makes up for the fact that compared to previous Boogiepop baddies, Kisugi's motive—that she's a fearful person who wants to taste the fear of the fearless?—is pretty weak. I choose to stick with the interpretation that she was a more normal level of creepy before she started injecting this evolution drug—which also seems to be what Boogiepop concludes about her during Touka's psychiatry appointment. Normal humans can be pushed to extraordinary lengths by unfamiliar circumstances.

Then there are the characters from the Towa Organization we meet here. The focus is on a group of artificial-human investigators and assassins: Scarecrow, Pigeon and "Mo Murder," who goes by the alias Sasaki. From what they do over the course of these few episodes, their purpose is still unclear, but it seems they want to investigate and, if necessary, eliminate outliers in the human population. Scarecrow talks about these people as though they are "next stages" in human evolution, and we see a few examples: When we first meet her here, Nagi is in a psychiatric ward due to strange aches and pains that Scarecrow identifies as being a next-stage human, which he calls an "MLPS." She leaves mysterious marks on his skin after they leave. Later, when we meet her father Seiichi, he receives a letter from a fan who discusses a "mysterious ability" and how he knows he's about to die. We find out later that the boy was killed, and his ability was to inspire people to be better at whatever their skills in life were: his classmates got better grades, and he inspired artists to be more creative and make their best work. Granted, it's never outright suggested that he was unambiguously making people better as people so much as "removing their limitations" to whatever they wanted to do; Seiichi scrolling over reports of Dr. Kisugi's murders while mulling over this boy in his mind, suggests he could inspire people toward ill ends as well. Either way, Mo Murder and by extension, the Towa Organization, sees him as worthy of elimination—along with Seiichi for getting too close to him.

I'm not sure how exactly this jives with what the Towa Organization does in the VS Imaginator arc, which seemed to involve making humanity more special by having them mate with one of their artificial humans. Perhaps the point is that they want to direct this new level of human evolution rather than have it pop up in unexpected ways. The idea of learning to "expect the unexpected" has come up a few times in this series, in the form of the "snow in April" symbolism. (Though I'll admit that as someone who grew up in Michigan, where snow in April is far from unusual, this metaphor doesn't quite work for me. Snow in May, maybe?) However, it seems that even in their artificial humans, they can't direct the ways of human emotions. Mo Murder kills Scarecrow, likely for giving the evolution drug in an unauthorized way to Nagi, which restores her to being a normal human, then Pigeon dies in a way that grows out of her love for Scarecrow and desire to avenge him. And we saw in the last arc how Camille was getting closer to Masaki in a way that clearly had less to do with her "mission" than she thought.

To be fair, there are some unexpected consequences of this. Giving Nagi the evolution drug also seems to lead to Kisugi's experimentation with it, and especially given how she doesn't make any attempt to hide her murderous activity, Mo Murder eventually finds he has to investigate the situation. In the process, he strikes up an unlikely bond with Nagi, who far from going back to "normal life" after Scarecrow's intervention, seems to want all the more to become a crime-fighting superhero. (To be fair, her "evolution" didn't seem to be affecting her in a positive way.) Unlikely, given that he killed her father—which Nagi never finds out, even after she learns from Kisugi that the man is an assassin—and that Mo Murder seems the most single-mindedly devoted to his mission of Towa's associates. Still, even he can't predict where his emotions take him.

Nagi also shows she has a knack for this detective work, figuring out from one conversation with a victim's friend that Kisugi is the suspected murderer—because of its resemblance to an earlier conversation she had with Kisugi about fear. It's that desire to chase fear out of the fearless by killing them in unexpectedly gruesome ways, to literally eat their feelings, that makes Kisugi's crimes so weird. This next stage of human evolution is going to be pretty strange if it somehow encompasses a sagely sweet boy who inspires people to do what they want without limitations and an insane cannibal doctor—but then evolution, like weather, can be unpredictable.

Throughout all this we get lots of conversations about meaty themes like fear, love, evolution, and the desires of the human heart. I really liked the bug-swarm metaphor that illustrated the way that humans can sometimes be directed toward one goal, like a swarm of insects, but they're still made up of individual beings that are more likely to be at war with each other—wanting a multiplicity of things that often conflict. Perhaps the mysterious boy's way of "removing limitations" was simply focusing people toward one specific goal. It makes me wonder how his powers worked in execution, because that sounds a lot like what the Imaginator and Spooky E were doing last arc—but in a way that seemed to be felt more positively by those affected.

One thing I've realized is that Boogiepop and Others is not particularly subtle about its themes. It announces them blaringly, often accompanied by the triumphant strains of the Overture to Die Meistersinger. (There's a whole 'nother review I could spend unpacking the statement about it being music "without fear," and how it weirdly stands apart from Wagner's other work in that regard as part of his only mature comedic opera. His other operas can be triumphant and exciting too, but they usually elicit a more complicated mix of emotions. They phrase the music as being like that single-minded insect swarm.) However, Boogiepop and Others can be difficult to interpret, as it seems to prefer to raise a host of questions without definitively answering them—much like Boogiepop themselves, the show acts as a defender of humanity in all its complications rather than committing to one particular set of beliefs. It also tends to frame its ideas in big broad strokes, and the examples given in its stories rely on a specific supernatural/sci-fi context that can be hard to apply to real life. I think that's the point, since Boogiepop is here to free your mind, not just set you on another course. All the same, I also wonder how much of this is due to it being a novel translated to animation; perhaps these ideas were clearer on the page.

The part I'm chewing on the most right now is that framing device. It's good to see Echoes back in the land of the living, but where exactly are they? They never quite answer this question. The "world is ending" part of Boogiepop's speech and visual resemblance between their setting and End of Evangelion makes me worry that it's our world at an end. But then Boogiepop references being in a distorted dimension, suggesting this isn't the case. But then Boogiepop talks about going back to "their" dimension—are they talking about our world or the one they originally came from? I think we'll eventually get a definitive answer, but right now the series suggests a multiplicity of interpretations, and I suppose that's perfectly fitting for Boogiepop.

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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