Jean-Karlo Nicky, I know the changing of the year can be scary for folks, but I bumped into this lady in the alley talking about manticores or some stuff like that and I dunno, it sounds like a good deal to me.
Nicky Maybe it's a vacation? Maybe we can go somewhere nice? Wouldn't it be nice to sit on the beach and get lost in a good book? A story where nobody has to deal with anything dealing with real world problems, maybe even turn the clock back about 20 or so years?
Also, what's a vacation without a bit of dance music?
A different place! How lovely that would be!
But before I go off into that white void, I gotta wrap this column up first I guess. So today, Nicky and I are covering the 2000 Studio Madhouse anime, Boogiepop Phantom. Based off of a series of light novels (and yet not an isekai, hint hint publishing industry), this is another old show that was quite formative to me as a young'n when I first saw it on Locomotion way back when. So much like the characters in this show, I delved into the shadows to see what I found. And what we found was--!
Technically an anime-only sequel to the book that helped launched the Light Novel Craze, Boogiepop Phantom takes place after the events of Boogiepop and Others that ended in a beam of mysterious light launching into the sky and causing all the hormonal teenagers in town to start developing weird powers until the titular reaper comes to take them away. (Or is it?)
Boogiepop Phantom isn't told like your typical anime either. Even though there are a few recurring characters and a deep conspiracy plot, the Boogiepop series is more comparable to an anthology of cautionary tales, featuring several one-off characters playing out their own little dramas in a nonlinear fashion. It has more in common with episodes of the Twilight Zone or other western sci-fi/horror than it does most genre stuff we expect from Japan.
If you treat Boogiepop Phantom like a serialized narrative, you're gonna walk away disappointed and bewildered. Once you internalize that each story is both its own narrative and a part of a greater whole, you'll have a much better time vibing with Boogiepop Phantom. I say "vibing", because this is still something of a hard show to enjoy in the conventional sense.
At first it feels pretty confusing to be a sequel with little to no explanation to the previous major events, and until 2019, there wasn't any anime adaption of the first part of the series proper, but despite all the supernatural trappings, what it presents is mostly down-to-earth stories about the changing world in the same tone of "spooky stories not to read before bedtime" kind of feel, with the character of Boogie themselves less of a player and more like an observer or a Deus Ex Machina in order to enact final judgement.
What follows is still an array of strange images and sounds certain to disorient and confuse many. The world of Boogiepop is sometimes bleak and unforgiving. The colors are washed out, the actors are plane-faced to the point of being almost forgettable. But it is nonetheless trying to capture something true to life in all its ugliness.
"Disorient" is right. Boogiepop Phantom uses eerie sounds constantly that come to represent recurring objects, in addition to the sound of that weird song that Japanese crosswalk signs play. It demands your attention so as to keep track of the narrative, but also bludgeons you with bizarre vibes while it's at it.
By the time you're done, you'll be hearing these balloons.
Apparently, this anime didn't always have a good reputation because of this combination of things and the Boogiepop Fever never quite caught on here because of it. But it still developed a cult following and that makes sense; it's definitely an acquired taste similar to Serial Experiments Lain or Kino's Journey which shares its character designer.
Growing up, this show utterly bewildered my Locomotion-watching friends and I. We didn't know what to make of it. The Lain comparison is apt, because like Lain you really can't passively watch this show. You need to stew in the disturbing vibes, eke out what's going on through that blasted muddy filter over everything that makes it all look like a bad dream, and connect the pieces of which events lead to where.
And there's no lack of bizarre here. You have a story about a boy who eats "Boob Bugs" that grow in people's hearts, butterflies that show people's memories, and various other ESP powers. But the stories at their core are ultimately mundane and the direction is such that you can always tell what the real story is based on the visuals. Any dedication to the gobbly gook explanation is more about extolling life's philosophy more than anything.
Yeah, in retrospect, a lot of the best episodes don't really have anything to do with weird monsters or shadow groups trying to do... weird stuff. It's stuff like the My Fair Lady episode where a guy becomes violently obsessed with his younger coworker and soon can't tell the difference between her or his visual novel waifu.
That episode hasn't become any less relevant in the subsequent 21 years, lemme tell ya!
Or how about the episode about the mother reconciling with the ghost of her belated daughter, while her dead daughter comes to accept her mother falling in love again after the death of her father?
This episode was very bittersweet, with some really cutting emotional writing about learning to see your parents as people and not just your parental units. It gave me a lot to chew on.
It also really sets up the plot for Manaka, a child with the power to make people view their traumatic memories, who is arguably more of a catalyst than either Boogiepop in the show. She also gets an ending very reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series' Baby-Doll, another Western influence.
Also yes, there are TWO Boogiepops in this thing, we'll get to that
Manaka winds up being central to many of this show's threads, and once the other shoe drops you start recognizing just how far-reaching her presence was. The show is even nice enough to continue its call-backs to early episodes so you can remember that yes, even that weird thing was partially painted by this poor girl.
I dunno, maybe I'm weird but the idea that Manaka is actually a representation of the next step for humanity's evolution that tragically came about too soon was both perfectly sensible and also emotionally resonant. Poor girl had it rough, she didn't choose to be what she was—and the world certainly didn't know what to do with her. And then she's cursed with echoing the last phrase she heard. She's the central locus of human knowledge, and even if she had the will to take advantage of it she couldn't.
I feel like Manaka is a deep metaphor for what all the characters are secretly going through, which is to say, growing pains. These teenagers don't have the same control that adults have, are burdened with high expectations to take control of the future, and are way more perceptive than anyone expects them to be. You can see the view of the city move and change every day, but in the end, you're a prisoner of the world stuck in the limbo of neither being child or an adult.
It helps that this show almost exclusively focuses on high schoolers from a particular school, with many of their main conflicts being strangely divorced from the supernatural. Even Mr. I-took-a-weird-drug-and-now-I-try-to-make-my-coworker-dress-like-the-girl-from-my-visual-novels guy has a very mundane inciting moment: his father was way too demanding of him getting into a good college. Like, hey, maybe let your kid get into graphic design?
Most of the kids have scenes where they're at odds with their parents, stressed from studying for entrance exams, trouble fitting in with their peers, or dealing with some sort of relationship drama. The first episode is about reconciling lingering grief and sexual desire for your friend's creepy ex-boyfriend to the point of becoming an extreme germaphobe. Did I mention that a lot of these stories are extremely psycho-sexual?
Also, gore. There's a lot of sudden and random death but that's just the blood icing on what's otherwise a pretty regular angst-cake.
And then there's the titular Boogiepop Phantom...
Excuse you, that's just regular Boogiepop! Remember how I said there were two of them?
Hooboy, strap in for this one folks!
Fortunately, I came prepared. I still haven't read those novels yet (though they are available in English thanks to the folk at Seven Seas) but I actually did watch the most recent Boogiepop and Others anime on a whim that fortunately covered some of the events preceding this one. While it was still a lot to wrap my head around, I wasn't totally lost.
I myself still felt a little lost. So, the original Boogiepop is... something that dwells in the body of the student Toka Miyashita, while Boogiepop Phantom was born from the burst of light that this show keeps referring to. Also, one of the two is an electromagnetic lifeform kept alive by bizarre electric waves permating the city, which are causing so much of the supernatural phenomena and may explain the dream-like haze over the city and the incessant Aurora Borealis "at this time of day", etc.
Also yes, you CAN watch the 2019 anime and then jump straight into this one from the year 2000, as weird as that sounds. Toka is an average 2nd year high school student at Shinyo Academy who carries around a big ole gym bag containing her cosplay outfit for her alternative personality that likes funny hats, whistling classical music, micro-filament wire, and dropping her voice two octaves to say ominous shit. It's Boogie's job to keep the world safe by taking away all the weird stuff that seems to threaten it.
Previously, Boogiepop worked to take down an evil called Manticore, a lab-experiment from the shadowy Towa Organization that was able to shape-shift, produce drugs, and eat people. Manticore was the result of trying to clone a highly evolved human who could only mimic the words of others, nicknamed Echoes, similar to Manaka. At the end of the story, Manticore tries to kill Echoes but Echoes burst into a beam of light creating the inciting incident. Manticore (Minako Yurihara) and their crony Masami Saotome both die but a new entity is born and takes Boogie's cloak and Minako's face to become Boogiepop II aka Boogiepop Phantom, and Manticore's consciousness takes on the appearance of Saotome, aka Manticore Phantom. They're generally the ones pulling the strings here with Boogiepop Phantom being the cause of most of the disappearances for their own machinations.
Cue: This is your brain on Visual Novels.
In a weird way, I think Boogiepop is the least interesting aspect of the show. She's more of a force of nature, and her appearances don't really add much to the inner drama of the characters we meet. I guess that's a result of not having greater exposure to the Boogiepop stories.
That's pretty much true of all Boogiepop stories FWIW, based on what I've seen from the previous anime. Boogie is simply an arbiter. A bit more interesting is the amateur detective, Kirima Nagi, but she doesn't do that much in this series other than ride a cool motorcycle and attempt to play Phasmophobia. She's more of a closer attempt to an actual hero.
There's a recurring plot thread of a certain hospital, where Nagi had apparently spent some time. Her cold attempts at trying to investigate the supernatural comings and goings are a fine counterpoint to her younger, more-impressionable self.
But like Nicky says, there's not much more to her? Again, the lion's share of the show is exploring the psyches of these troubled teens as the supernatural makes their woes manifest in bizarre ways. If you like Monogatari, this is a version of Monogatari without the glitz of appealing to otaku sensibilities and focusing on the personal horror of your psychosis manifesting as a curse. And Araragi isn't always around to stumble his way to a solution to your curse...
She's basically there to help tie together some of the larger mysteries so the audience doesn't have to. She plays a bigger role in other stuff but people talking weird about her at school remind you how small the character's world actually is. Everyone has worlds upon worlds collapsing in on themselves. There's oceans to people that you may never know just by looking at them, and those kinds of dramas have always been appealing to me. All tinged by that creepy voice whispering Boogiepop Phantom.
I was really happy to be assigned this show, and watching it felt like I was closing on an unfinished chapter in my life. I can't say Boogiepop Phantom is conventionally fun, but it does give you a lot to chew on if you're willing to put up with some really grody visual filters and unsettling vibes. Also, the OP and ED are genuine classics, love them.
I also suggest people check out the 2019 Boogiepop and Others if they're confused or simply want more of the same flavor with different paint. Stylistically, they're both very different, but they share the same structure and philosophy. And otherwise, there's always the novels just waiting there. I mean, after this episode, I definitely wanted to step away from my computer screen and read a goddamn book for once.
Eeeeeh.... ix-nay on the ook-bay, maybe...
Perhaps I could interest you in a balloon in this trying time?
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