A Review of Boogiepop and Others

Sometimes a show comes on your radar that just seems impossible to fail. There are just the right people attached to get you hyped by their pedigree alone and the prospect of a joining of those parties only makes you more excited. Unfortunately, hype is a gamble. No creator is perfect and no matter how good one work is, it doesn’t guarantee that the writer or director can’t fumble with another project.

Kouhei Kadono’s novel series from the late 90s, Boogiepop, is – according to fans I’ve talked to – one of the most influential light novel series out there. It paved the way for meta works like that of Nisio Isin’s Monogatari Series. It was a psychological, supernatural drama about otherworldly entities preying off of the anguish of humanity and the angel of death that released people from that anguish: Boogiepop.

In the west, the novel series and manga didn’t get official translation until the mid-2000s and even then it became mired by low sales and dropped. It wasn’t until 2019 that the fourth and fifth novels were finally released in English when a renewed interest in the series was stirred. A byproduct of this was last year’s animated adaptation.

Madhouse would be producing the new series. Back in 2000, the same studio made Boogiepop Phantom, an original story not based on a particular novel entry. Directing would be Shingo Natsume, famous for Space Dandy and One Punch Man, among other things. The music would be composed by Kensuke Ushio, whose aesthetic talents have captured hearts with A Silent Voice and Devilman Crybaby. Even Yoshiaki Kawajiri was credited for the storyboarding.

From the staff to the promotional PV (seen above), everything was promising. And then after 18 episodes, almost none of what was in the promo was in the final series. What I got ended up feeling like a fraction of what the universe of Boogiepop had to offer. Was there a silver lining or was Boogiepop and Others another adaptation to be forgotten.

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Touko Miyashita is a typical, nondescript teenager who is at the center of a very complicated web intersecting interpersonal drama and supernatural horror. Despite that, we learn almost nothing about her, notably because she isn’t important, despite what the opening might imply. However, she is the host for an entity that acts upon that web, bending it to their will.

You see, there’s this rumor going around about a Shinigami – a god of death – named Boogiepop. As Touko’s boyfriend Seiji finds out on one fateful day, she is the host of Boogiepop, a split-personality taking over whenever an “enemy of the world” appears. While Touko may be unimpressive by design, Boogiepop is anything but.

Boogiepop wears a sleek, long cloak, a large unusual hat, and restrains and dispatches foes effortlessly with the control of thin garrote wires emerging from her gloves. They speak in a tone of voice absent of gender but that leaves an impression thanks to a memorable drawl by voice actress Aoi Yuuki.

A string of disappearances has Touka’s school worried, but the truth of the disappearances is the presence of a monster that brings Boogiepop out of hiding to suppress it. Just as the books themselves told the story in a non-linear fashion through the eyes of multiple characters, the show emulates this by having each episode seen through different perspectives.

And so the story jumps around the timeline of events a lot. In most other cases, this would be a selling point, but the execution let me down considerably. Despite being called Boogiepop and Others, only the first three episodes cover the events of that novel. It’s actually the shortest arc in the series. The other three arcs are four-to-six episodes long each.

The first major story of the series feels rushed and jumbled. It’s hard not to get confused and it would be an enigma I’d be interested in dissecting if I cared about the characters. However, I never felt like there was enough time to get to know them.

In fairness, the premiere started strong. Seiji waits for Touka and ends up seeing her as Boogiepop, helping a seemingly injured man who has been ignored by passersby. It’s a strong entrance that wastes no time calling out society’s tendency to ignore those in need.

Seiji’s perspective on the story is limited, as his only involvement is his conversations with Boogiepop. The two talk about what Boogiepop is and what they are there to do: eliminate an enemy of the world. The next time they speak, Boogiepop says that the threat is dealt with and they leave. Only in the following episodes do we see how the threat is dealt with.

Animation by Norifumi Kugai

On one hand, I like the idea of a story being told through the eyes of a third party that is out of the loop as it were. It maintains a sense of mystery surrounding Boogiepop. On the other, I felt very unfulfilled by the end of the first episode. I wished the conversations between Seiji and Boogiepop went on longer and that I felt like Seiji had changed or grown in some way.

Keep in mind, I have not read the original novels. I would like to at some point, but as of right now I have not. Some of my criticisms may be leveled at narrative choices that are consistent with the source material. In this case, consider that what I found an issue with could very well have been the fault of the adaptation’s ability to convey the same story from the novels. Much of my issues with this show, as you will find, are related to the production and pacing.

I wish that the Boogiepop and Others story was longer and more fleshed out to explore the characters and get me more invested. It isn’t uninteresting or lacking in some intrigue, but when the characters involved are forgettable, it’s hard to fall in love with the story they are in.

Oddly enough, I think I would have been fine with the execution of the above-described story if the characters had been consistently occurring members of the subsequent plots. The second and third stories, VS Imaginator and Boogiepop at Dawn, both focus heavily on new characters that are integral to those stories.

So it doesn’t keep its characters around long enough for them to leave a real impression, except for Boogiepop. Additionally, the first arc doesn’t spend enough time fleshing them out to make their brief time in the limelight substantial.

When I refer to main characters, I’m talking about people who make appearances across multiple arcs who are presented with an air of importance. People like Kirima Nagi, who acts as a sort of junior private investigator, sleuthing for leads on the paranormal in-between beating up folks dressed in a sick biker suit.

Nagi is perhaps the coolest character that isn’t Boogiepop and gets some time delving into her backstory. Other classmates like Kei Niitoki or Kazuko Suema feel sidelined before being brought back for the final episodes. We’re introduced to several characters, then spend another two arcs with mostly different ones, then bring back a majority of the first story’s cast for a story that feels like the logical “conclusion” according to the order decided by the showrunners.

The point I’m attempting to reach is that there are characters that aren’t as memorable or interesting as the story makes them out to be. Once again, if the actual Boogiepop and Others story was longer, this may not have been an issue. Despite that, there are interesting stories, but they are typically supporting characters who act as the central players in each of the arcs’ complex narratives.

In the second arc, VS Imaginator, a school counselor with the ability to see what’s missing from people’s hearts joins with the spirit of a deceased girl to reshape the hearts of everyone in the world. Simultaneously, Kirima Nagi’s half-brother Masaki returns to Japan and finds himself drawn to Aya, a strange girl with whom he begins a relationship with. Unbeknownst to Masaki, Aya is being forced to manipulate him on behalf of an organization seeking to experiment on humanity with drugs.

See, that’s some interesting shit right there and with six episodes to explore the story, I cared about some of the characters in contrast with the first story. It’s a story about connecting with people and the antagonist’s desire to unite the world through filling the voids in our souls. It’s a slow-burn drama that draws you deeper.

Animation by Tomohiro Shinoda

Even then, this slow-burn can be trying on account of the presentation. The inconsistency of visual quality even leads to logical inconsistencies. Masaki at one point takes up the mantle of Boogiepop, thinking it just a myth, and acts as a sort of vigilante. It’s a cool concept, but up until one particularly great fight scene, I was never sold that the kid was vigilante material.

Art by Kouji Ogata

Quite frankly, for all of the impressive fight scenes conveyed through realist style animation, the show looks ugly, particularly in character designs. The original character designs by Kouji Ogata are great and while I could understand being concerned about their transition into animation, Madhouse already did it successfully in 2000.

Boogiepop Phantom‘s character designs by Shigeyuki Suga captured the art quite well while giving it a similarly striking look to other Madhouse works of the time. Hidehiko Sawada’s designs for the 2019 series look… off. The characters’ faces are too round and soft for a story such as this.

Character Designs by Shigeyuki Suga

Boogiepop is a tale of ghostly apparitions and alien encounters. Through the characters’ interactions with these entities, the human mind is explored. From desire to regret, to love and lust. Aliens turn out to be kind people and humans turn to monsters at the slightest taste of power. The aesthetic of Boogiepop is the uncertainty in the face of the existential. For everything the show manages to do with sound, it can’t quite capture the feel of Boogiepop as it has been sold to me by fans of the series.

The music by Kensuke Ushio is good and the sound design across the board is impressive, but it feels wasted on a show as ugly as this. Perhaps I find the look of the show especially contentious because of the few moments when the sakuga was quite impressive. Maybe it was the even scarcer moments when the artwork in tandem with the animation produced something of film-like quality.

The best part of the show may very well have been the third story, Boogiepop at Dawn. It was one of the best looking overall, with the best direction and fights of the series. Additionally, for being a rather short story, it still managed to hook me with some engaging character arcs.

Kuroda Shinpei and Pigeon, two synthetic humans with souls, stole the show. While only there for a brief time, the former leaves a huge impact as this striking detective. I’m a sucker for stories about characters content with the pretext of being inhuman coming to show empathy and humanity. Combined with a strong antagonist, this story ended up being my favorite of the four.

The final arc, Overdrive: The King of Distortion is a rather intriguing end to the wholly mixed series. It sees a return of the principal cast from Boogiepop and Others taking center stage and if I cared more about them, this could have been a truly special ending. If nothing else, the premise is awesome.

A billionaire named Teratsuki Kyouichirou has recently passed, leaving behind a building known as the Moon Temple. In his absence, the strange building has become an attraction of sorts. On the day of the temple’s opening, people are let inside to explore the bizarre structure. Suddenly, the security doors shut, locking everyone inside. Each person inside appears to be visited by an entity known as the King of Distortion, visiting them in the form of someone they know.

The setup is interesting and the building of tension is effective, especially this strange recurring guitar riff that plays when people’s perceptions are being distorted. The arc follows several characters returning from previous arcs and even some new ones as they encounter the King of Distortion while trying to escape the temple.

Animation by Akira Amemiya, Kasen, and Sute

Looking back on the finale, I was quite impressed with all these different side-stories that were being explored. Characters find themselves revisiting moments and people from their past that had a profound impact on them. In one of my favorite moments, Boogiepop helps a young boy whose King of Distortion appears in the form of a monster straight out of the boy’s imagination.

The stories of Boogiepop are cool because they appear first as horror stories about monsters and aliens and everything we can’t comprehend. However, they quickly become more about the human condition. Boogiepop is almost a superhero in this world, appearing when there is danger and helping not simply by defeating a villain but by also dispensing some kind of hope or lesson to those whom they aid.

Boogiepop and Others is rushed in some places, slow in others, and all-around an eyesore thanks to the art direction that fails to capture the right look for the story it’s trying to tell. Despite having a cool premise and some truly fascinating stories, it’s not a show I can recommend to a lot of people. And I think that sucks because upon revisiting it for this review, I found myself liking the later stories.

The best thing I can say about it is that if you look beyond the lack of polish, there might be enough to pique your interest. That said, I would much rather read the original novels then spend too much time looking for the good in an imperfect adaptation. If the objective of this show was to get people interested in reading the books, I can safely say they achieved it, and maybe that’s the most important thing.

Boogiepop and Others is available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll and FunimationNow. It’s also available on Blu-Ray through Funimation.

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What did you think of Boogiepop and Others? Were you intrigued enough to keep up with it, or did you find it lacking? Leave a comment below and tell me what other contentious adaptations I should check out.

I’m back from hiatus and feeling better than ever. Coming up this month, I have a bunch of things I need to finish watching so that hopefully I can write a bunch of cool shit for y’all. I’d give a small teaser but, to be honest, I’m still not 100 percent what’s in store for the rest of the month. Though, it wouldn’t be 2020 if I had any idea what was coming next.

Stay healthy and stay safe. Thank you very much for reading, and I’ll see you again soon!

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