Based on a series of novels, Boogiepop Phantom is an enigmatic anime series that delights in confusing the viewer with its erratic, non-linear narrative format. Just as we are taught to not judge books by their covers, so should we not judge an anime by its title, no matter how much of a non sequitur it may be. With Boogiepop Phantom, I was expecting something along the lines of, say, Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo, two shows in which music plays a fairly prominent role. However, I quickly discovered that the show was not a fanciful adventure in music but rather a dark, nightmarish tale about serial killers, strange powers, and the presence of a figure borne from urban legend.
The events of Boogiepop Phantom are contained within an unnamed, modern day Japanese city. Life in the city was fairly normal until a series of grisly murders gripped the populace. The serial killer’s crimes take an immediate backseat after a striking white pillar of light bursts out from the heart of the city, sending out a shockwave that causes several students from local high schools to develop dangerous and unstable abilities. Though everyone assumes the events to be isolated, the killings and and the lives touched by the white light may very well be connected along with the existence of Boogiepop, a Death-like figure who takes away those who find themselves faced with forced human evolution.
The essence of Boogiepop Phantom is an exploration of the lives affected by the white light and those who would influence them for their own purposes. What makes Boogiepop Phantom a fairly difficult series to watch is the wild nonlinear nature of the narrative. The show is broken up into twelve episodes with the majority of them focusing on one specific character and how each reacts to the powers given to them. Many characters share no direct relationship with one another, but tend to cross each other’s paths from time to time. This causes their stories (and episodes) to blend and weave in and out. What this means, essentially, is that the viewer will often see specific moments repeated several times, but shown from different points of view. For example, one episode briefly depicts a crazed teen being held by police as he desperately cries out at a passing girl. Another episode features that same teen, showing how he ended up being tackled by the cops while at the same time introducing a new story thread, a character, or presenting a callback to an earlier scene.
The end result is an intriguing, if complex and convoluted, story of loss, love, humanity, depression, obsession, and guilt that most certainly requires multiple viewings. Adding to the surreal nature of the show is a muted color palette and a post production effect that creates a blur effect around the edges of the frame, giving the whole experience a dream-like expression. Adding an orchestra of eerie sound effects, music and voice manipulation makes the show all the more unnerving. Interestingly enough, Boogiepop Phantom offers up a pretty nifty visual twist for the final episode. I could spoil it, but it would be a lot like revealing the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion—it wouldn’t make any sense out of context.
Boogiepop Phantom can be a near incomprehensible work if watched in small doses. Right from the beginning, the viewer isn’t treated to any sort of setup or background, but instead dropped right in the middle of things. It’s as if we are thrown blindly into a car and before we can ask, “Where are we going?” the driver has already taken the vehicle up to 200 miles an hour. Each episode is integral to understanding the main story as well as to the individual episodes themselves. While most shows contain episodes that can be viewed more or less in a vacuum, in Boogiepop, episode four is just as important as episode eleven and the two cannot exist without each other. I can’t even imagine watching this show as a weekly series because of how complex it is, so the DVD format works exceptionally well.
By now I should be expressing whether or not Boogiepop Phantom is worth your time. Enjoyment of the show is largely dependent on your own sensibilities. There’s much confusion to be had in the series, especially since an explanation for the series’ events is mostly reserved for the mind-bending final episode. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys the heady, psychological work of David Lynch and Satoshi Kon, then Boogiepop Phantom is a worthy challenge. Those looking for something a little more mainstream and traditional might want to just walk on by.
Boogiepop Phantom: complete TV series
NOZOMI/LUCKY PENNY, Rightstuf, 2012
directed by Takashi Watanabe
360 minutes, Number of Discs: 4, box set
Company Age Rating: 15+
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