This is review number four hundred and forty nine. This anime is part of the Winter 2019 lineup, and it’s called Boogiepop and Other Stories. It’s an eighteen episode anime about a cosplaying dude beheading people. This review is long, so let’s just read on.
There is a story about a ghost that kills people and it’s said that it only appears at the height of someone’s beauty. They don’t understand though that it only appears when an enemy of the world is making trouble, and the enemies would prefer a proper duel with it. This is the story of Boogiepop Phantom.
Taking the Pants Off
I am pleasantly surprised a Boogiepop Phantom anime exist in the current era. We are in an era of studios obsessed with faithful adaptations and a generation of animators that grew up with bad media forms of their favorite original source. I bet a bunch of them are Tsukihime fans as well? If you don’t get the joke then that just means I’m old. Ah yes, Boogiepop Phantom. I saw its first attempt of an anime back in 2000 when it aired. I did not understand a single thing that happened in it. A lot of people claim it was trying to be a Serial Experiment Lain inspired anime. I never saw Lain, but you can bet it’ll be reviewed before I hit 1000, so I don’t really understand that idea. I do know Boogiepop Phantom is one confusing mess of a show. It had aliens, I think. The anime also came out around the time Paranoia Agent was making waves, so I think there was this trend of making super artsy abstract shows that shatters the idea of what an anime should be. The old anime was caught up in that trend, and it’s a shame. The light novel is a thing of its own. It’s a landmark media property with a legacy unheard of. Ladies and gentleman, Boogiepop Phantom is the grandmother of the light novel movement. It is the true archetype. As its Wikipedia claims, it is known for starting the light novel medium.
As I watch this anime, I actually couldn’t help but laugh because a lot of its elements feel familiar to me. The storytelling approach it utilized seems to be heavily adapted by Baccano. The enigmatic personality of Boogiepop seems to inspire Kino from Kino’s Journey. The dense plot about human abilities seems to be strangely similar to the concept behind Toaru Majutsu no Index. The suffocating urban motif it has is also something familiar in Denpateki no Kanojo. Simply put, Boogiepop Phantom, being the first of its kind, seemingly paved way to everything that made light novel great. I’m talking about the burgeoning stages of the LN scene though. I know some of you are going, what about Sword Art Online? To that I say, shut up. The trend during the early years of light novels focused more on being novels that the fan service filled bullsh*t it turned out to be. The evolution of the medium is a curious one, since the main reason it evolved is because readers responded positively to the change. Anyways, for the 20th anniversary of the beast that started it all, Madhouse faithfully adapted the original source. This time around, we are finally introduced to the light novel in its best form. You, yourself, are finally given the reason why this title is considered the novel that started the light novel craze.
Mise En Place
While the original source is greatly respected in this adaptation, you are never quite prepared for it. This anime is hella confusing, and it never relents. The moment you feel confused or you think you missed a detail, the anime helps you by dumping more confusing sh*t on your face. This anime has a lot of characters with very little personality, so I had a hard time following its plot. It didn’t help that I suck at remembering names. The visuals also don’t help, since they all look generic on purpose. For anyone willing to watch this anime, then prepared to get information overload. The anime intentionally missed one crucial part of the light novel. Naturally, I tracked down the LN and read its first chapters. I honestly didn’t continue because the anime is adapted verbatim. It just missed this two paragraphs from the light novel:
The actual events probably form a very simple story. From a distance, they appear to be quite confusing; to have no clear threads connecting them whatsoever, but the reality is that this is undoubtedly a much more straightforward, commonplace tale.
But from our individual standpoints, none of us were quite able to see the whole picture. All of the people who somehow had a part in this story were unable to see beyond their own unique role.
Every chapter of the LN focuses on a different character and their own story. There is one big story being told, but it is told through an unreliable narrator. This is done on purpose though, because the author loves his characters. He puts a lot of details on everyone, and he is elaborate on his introduction on them. In his way of storytelling, there is no side character. Each one serves a purpose, and he forces the reader to understand their purpose. This is really easy to execute on a light novel, because the reader can read between the lines and go at their own pace. In anime form though, this sh*t is intimidating. If you’re not used to this kind of bullsh*t, you won’t have time to find your footing realizing a flashback is happening while information dumping is occurring. You won’t realize the narrators have shifted and another person is talking now. You will miss a lot of detail, because you’re busy piecing together the story in your head. I honestly lost track of the many characters introduced because I couldn’t keep up. This is honestly more concise and elaborate in the light novel, but it’s a different thing as an anime. I think I now realize why the old anime didn’t bother adapting the LN. They just weren’t prepared for it. It took an entire generation to grow up before this mindf*ck is properly told.
For the purpose of this review, we will be cooking. The term mise en place means “everything in its place”. You gather the ingredients, you peel what needs peeling, and chop what needs chopping. You do all of this first before you start cooking. Boogiepop Phantom is pretty much the same. Before we start enjoying the plot, we are introduced to the onion, the potato, the carrot, and their journey into becoming part of the meal. You can only truly realize their importance once you eat the meal as a whole. Before that though, it needs to be washed and prepared. The story does that. It introduces the characters, explains their motivation, and explains their role in the story as the meal comes together. Yes, we are cooking. In this anime, it’s four different dishes.
This anime has four chapters. Four individual stories adapted from their individual light novels. The first story is a small tasting of what the anime is capable of. It’s about a bunch of disappearances, helpless high school students, drugs and an alien. It’s told through many point of views, but I think the first episode is the best way to introduce the story. It follows a guy dating this chick, but he soon have afternoon meetings with an enigmatic figure on the rooftop of his school. It hinted on the narrative bubbling beneath, but it solely focused on this guy. This guy had no actual role in the soup plot, yet his point of view was the first one we got. His exchanges with Boogiepop himself was the focus, and it span the event of the soup plot. It’s really insane, when you think about it. The story basically focused on a bystander while a car crash happened next to him. The remaining episodes will now feature the car crash and everyone involved.
I suck at names, so it was hard to follow the story. I think rewatching the anime again will add insight, since a lot of detail is often dumped at you without any true meaning. It only makes sense once you start enjoying the soup. I will admit though, the soup itself was fantastic. The ingredients coming together to make up this wonderful dish felt cathartic even though a lot of details still doesn’t make sense. There will be questions intentionally left unanswered when you watch the first chapter, and you should accept that you will never know the answer. Since we only know what the characters know, main or side as they are in the story. We will never really see the big picture. I had to calm myself down and accept that fact, because a lot of loose ends bothered me after I finished the soup. In a sense, I would wonder where the ingredients of the soup came from. Did they come from a supermarket? Are they picked from a farm? Are they given to us by a shady organization working under the shadows of the subconscious of human existence? The show never really explained. All we know is that the show is making soup, and this soup is going to be delicious.
I’m having a hard time dancing around the spoilers of this anime, because I honestly don’t know where to properly focus this review. I will say that if the soup experience was a mind numbing experience, then you haven’t fully felt what Boogiepop Phantom had to offer. We are eating grilled cheese next.
Now grilled cheese is simple. Its bread and a slice of cheese melted together. It’s a simple story, and the second chapter started out simple. It followed a guy that likes roses and he meets an anomaly. The two of them will soon become baddies that Boogiepop will take down. It’s a straightforward affair, except this story took two light novels to tell. Annoyingly, we aren’t just eating grilled cheese. This dish is dunked in pudding. Yes, just when you think you understand the narrative structure of this anime, it throws a wrench out of nowhere and you suddenly see two f*cking narratives told at the same time. Pudding is easy to consume. You just enjoy its creamy texture, but it gets complicated when you have to eat it with grilled cheese at the same time. Something about salty and sweet just clashes, and it muddies your taste bud. While the cheese follows an enemy Boogiepop will face, the pudding narrative follows a couple that started dating except nothing about their relationship is ever normal.
Throughout the second chapter, you are asked to figure out what taste like cheese and what taste like pudding while also piecing the meal together. You soon realize there are more ingredients than you expected and you soon have no footing on the entire experience. I literally had to stop the anime and rest for two days. I couldn’t keep up with the story. I spent the two days trying to understand the plot. With a bunch of unreliable narrators, you never really have a good grasp of what is happening. The characters themselves don’t know the plot, and soon you just give up as more characters are introduced complicating the simple dishes. Who eats two dishes at the same time anyways? What kind of sadistic f*ck tells a story within a story? It’s absolutely genius, don’t get me wrong, but I will be the first to admit that my brain tapped out trying to appreciate this genius. In the end though, there is a lot to appreciate in this chapter.
I am particularly impressed at how the author tells an incomplete story, because he trusts his readers to fill in the blanks. So a scene of a guy helping flowers bloom will never make sense unless you start filling in the blanks as well. The author encourages you to fill it in with whatever works for you. Superpowers? Paranormal events? Magic? A rip in time and space, maybe? That’s all up to you. The author is giving you permission to complete the story how you please, because as I look back on this damn chapter, no meaning was ever given to the term “imaginator”.
Another thing I love about this author is how he harness the power of loose ends. There is a tank of mysterious gas left unexplained in this chapter, and the author intentionally left it mysterious. The main reason is to let it linger in the reader’s head. He wants them to overthink and speculate on this loose end. It will remain dormant in them until he decides to bring that loose end back up again. Yes, the author doesn’t really leave things unanswered. He just postpone the explanation, but, of course, once he does explain it, he expects you to fill in the blanks one more time. I guess, in a simpler tone, Kouhei Kadono is an absolute genius. If I was one of his readers back in 1998, then I would no doubt be inspired by him and made a Kino’s Journey or a Baccano of my own. By letting the readers join in on the narrative making and given how complex of a narrative it is, it’s no wonder his story influenced so many. With 22 published Boogiepop light novels, it’s no surprise that he influenced not only a genre but also an entire generation. In a sense, he was an enemy of mankind as well.
Salt and Pepper
There is one constant element in every story of this anime, and that is the presence of salt and pepper. There are two characters that always appear, and you can expect them to influence the plot in some way. Honestly, they were the best footing to truly understand this anime. There is salt in the form of our protagonist, the enigmatic Boogiepop Phantom. I love this character, because he reminds me of Kino. The fact that his backstory is never explained also adds to his awesomeness. You can just rely on him to really make the story exciting. He is the needed salt when you think the dish is too bland. He is the one that makes the dish complete, and he is the one that makes all the ingredients taste better. His appearance is something you should expect in every chapter, and it’s a part of the author’s M.O. He only appears when the time is right and he adds clarity to everything. So accept the mindf*ck for now, because Boogiepop is there to make things better in the end.
There is also pepper to add excitement in every dish. This comes in the form of the Fire Witch, Nagi Kirima. She is apparently the deuteragonist, which is a word I just learned today. She is the second most important person in the story, and her presence adds excitement to everything. When she appears, you can expect her to punch someone in the face. How she is able to fight people and how she got so good at fighting is never explained by the anime as well. She just exists, and you should thank her for existing. I think you will appreciate the role of the salt and pepper once you indulge in the third chapter, the third dish, which is simply a PB and J sandwich.
The third chapter is the turning point of the anime for me. This is where I truly enjoyed the anime and the author’s M.O. because he injected something sorely missing in the two dishes. For this chapter, there was empathy for the characters. They served as ingredients to complete a dish in previous chapters, but they soon become actual people in the third. I actually remember every character that appeared here. From the detective that knew too much to the doctor that craved fear, they all had a big impact to me because I think the second chapter truly helped in understanding the appeal of the anime. It punched us in the face a couple of times to get us ready for the third story. The third chapter also had a complicated story within a story, but it never felt overwhelming this time around. There was a big focus on the characters, and it made the narrative endearing. The loose ends doesn’t really matter that much, and it honestly felt welcome here because of how perfectly told this story was. I still smile at the pidgeon avenging her love because there was a lot of character in her. We never know the reasons for her actions or why she truly wanted revenge or why she plotted her revenge that way, but it didn’t matter. In as little as she appeared in the story, the culmination of her revenge honestly had such a big impact to me.
This PB and J also really added clarity to the experience, and I actually appreciate how they gave us this clarity after the madness of the second chapter. Series composer, Tomohiro Suzuki, ordered the adaptations in a smart manner. He started with the first light novel, followed it with the second and third novel released, then gave us the sixth light novel to prepare us for the most celebrated story in the 22 light novels released. Yes, the third chapter of the anime was the sixth published novel and the author gave us clarity here. The existence of the salt and pepper, the underlying story about human capabilities, the enigmatic Towa Organization and the true intentions of the author are all explained here. This was never pointed out head on, but the author explained it in the best way he knows how. As a viewer, he expects you to do your part.
The King of Distortions
There are no fancy cooking metaphors for this one. The King of Distortions is the story the anime was building up to. If you look at the anime, it ended at episode 13 with the adaptation of Boogiepop at Dawn. It still presented five more episodes though just to tell the King of Distortion story. In the old anime, this was turned into a movie and I think there must be something truly compelling about this particular narrative of the Boogiepop lore. I don’t know why it’s important. I just know it is. It’s kinda like how Mouryou no Hako is more celebrated than the first novel in the series. It’s important for some reason, but I don’t know the context. The anime just wanted five more episodes to tell this specific story, and it is the quintessential Boggiepop Phantom experience in my opinion.
The story is a straightforward one. There is a tower, a bunch of people are trapped inside, another story about a dinosaur happens but it’s resolved quickly, and it climaxes into Boogiepop himself confronting the King of Distortions. The author’s M.O. is front and center, the empathy element injected in the characters are present, and the disjointed storytelling is told with more clarity. It is the best way to experience the anime, and you really just had to be punched in the face a couple of times before you truly appreciate it. I’m writing this review moments after I finished the anime, and I really want more of it. This story was so good that I crave more Boogiepop in my life. I’m about to waste time reading LNs. Gawd, I hope this title is completely translated.
Natsume, Suzuki and Madhouse
As I said before, this anime felt like a bunch of the Boogiepop fans coming together to give justice to the adaptation. Tomohiro Suzuki had a daunting task of series composing a convoluted light novel, but I felt like he was ready for it. Unlike actual novels though, LNs read more like a script so it’s easier to visualize. Suzuki definitely enjoyed what he read and he was able to capture the beauty of the original source. He also series composed One Punch Man, so I truly think he was up to the task. I still remember the old anime basically giving up and just started doing its own thing probably overwhelmed with the original source. With twenty years of legacy behind it though, I don’t think Suzuki was given a chance to fail. He had to do it right, and I think he did a fantastic job. Shingo Natsume did a decent adaptation of the original source. I honestly didn’t feel his vision of the anime, but he did a good job actually bringing the novel to life. I particularly like the 2000s visual of the show highlighting the era the light novel was birthed in. I must admit though, the author’s presence was a lot more felt than the director’s. That’s really not a problem, but I feel like a director can build a stage for the author while letting people know he built the stage. I look at Akiyuki Shinbo and Nishio Ishin as a good example. I don’t remember the last Madhouse anime I watched, but I sorely missed watching this studio. As I watch this anime, I keep reminding myself that I still haven’t seen Paranoia Agent and I need to watch it soon. It’s definitely in my list of things to watch now. Expect a review of it soon.
Sight and Sound
The original illustrator, Kouji Ogata, had very rough designs for his characters. Since they only serve as front covers and visualizations on some pages, they really come off as extremely plain. They are even colored in with colored pencil or something, it was remarkably simple. Hidehiko Sawada kept the simplicity of the design, but also tried to modernize it a bit. For me, it felt like the characters are reminiscent of old Madhouse characters that populate their early works. As I said before, the anime had an early 2000s feel and the character design had a hand in that. The rough looking aesthetic coupled by their overall generic feel stands out as unique for the anime. Once you start consuming the PB and J, I do think you’ll soon love the character designs for their overwhelmingly simple appeal. It reminds me of Fate Stay Night’s design being uniquely visual novel before the rest of the medium was fan service centric. Being the first of its kind, the design for Boogiepop is also uniquely its own and it’s a far cry from the fan service centric design the medium does now. Why does it always evolve into something fan service heavy? What the hell is wrong with you people?
I do love Boogiepop’s design. The black cloak and the big hat is eccentric enough to make him stand out, but his dead eyes and neutral personality adds a lot. The generic appeal really adds a lot to the characters, since some re-appear for the King of Distortion story and it was always a fun experience remembering who these characters are. In terms of design, I also love the menacing yet docile look of the man eater, and the quiet presence of Mo Murder as he blends into the background.
Animation is decent. Again, I feel like it was intentionally meant to look old and it is a trip seeing classic animation employed for this show. I don’t think it has CG, but it used the 2000s style of making digital animations with traditional layers. I don’t know what’s it’s called, but it is amazingly vintage at this point. It adds a lot of character to the show, since a lot of the stories adapted were from twenty years ago so it’s a nice touch to do animation from twenty years ago as well. Shingo Natsume did a great job bringing the novel to light. I didn’t read the LN that much, because every scene from the anime was perfectly copied from the original source. I didn’t dive deep to discover if the actual LN was gory, but the amount of blood in the show served its narrative purpose. Despite looking extremely simple, the animation is really consistent. To capture the old school Madhouse design with old school animation to bring an old school light novel to life, this anime deserves some sort of medal.
I love Aoi Yuuki’s Boogiepop voice. There is just something beautiful with the way Boogiepop talks in the anime. He has this whimsical tone to him that just demands your attention. I do think the voice work is a big element of the show. Since it is very dialogue heavy with simple animation, it was up to the voice actors to bring their characters to life. Every monologue and conversation was compelling to watch because of how the characters were portrayed.
The anime’s OP is “shadowgraph” by MYTH＆ROID. It’s a pretty decent song, but I don’t think you’ll have time to process what it has to say because you’re busy understanding the OP sequence. I think this is a good first taste of the anime. It features the unreliable narrator angle, the story within a story M.O. of the author, and salt and pepper coming in to make sense of it all. I do not have the energy to pick it apart. Just watch it. It’s awesome. The anime’s ED is “Whiteout” by Riko Azuna. It’s a song about freedom or something. I think it’s a song about Touya and Boogiepop, since they have a weird relationship with them. The ED sequence adds weight to that idea as it features the two of them possibly trying to co-exist. It’s a decent song, but I am not a fan of forced English in my Japanese anime songs.
8/10 “Twenty years of legacy is captured in eighteen episodes. The influence of the original source cannot be understated and this adaptation gives us a big reason why.”
I will admit that I love dialogue heavy shows, so I might be biased with my score. I do stand by it. This anime is one hell of an experience that I urge everyone to try. I highly recommend it.