Boogiepop is just as insightful and spooky as it was 20 years ago.
When Boogiepop first hit shelves back in the late ’90s, it was a cultural phenomenon. By 2000, over two million copies of the novels had been sold. Now, there are even more millions in print, with fourteen light novels, a couple of short stories, several manga adaptations, a live-action movie, and two anime adaptations. The franchise has left a lasting impact on how we approach mystery stories in the medium, and most specifically, the form of light novel stories. But with the rise of a new anime adaptation, Boogiepop and Others, is this franchise still relevant and fresh?
The answer to that lies on how effective Boogiepop is with creating an atmosphere of horror. Much of the show deals with strange phenomenons and supernatural events, but not in the fantasy shonen sense we’ve come to expect. Boogiepop Phantom is no isekai (stuck in a fantasy world) or Mob Psycho 100 (coming of age psychic story) – on the contrary, it focuses more on the inevitable dread and frustration of being powerless. While much of this can be done by making a spooky mood and letting dread linger in drawn-out moments, a lot of what makes Boogiepop Phantom different is how its spooky power actually stems from its history and context.
During the 2000s, technology was making a profound impact on society. Series author Kouhei Kadono was fascinated by how technology, the turn of cynicism in the generation, and ever-growing age gap affected our perception of society and those around us. As a result, Phantom’s stories revolve around teenagers and young adults—specifically, those who feel like they have been wronged by society or those close to them, due to a misunderstanding, inconceivable loss, or a natural development of apathy and absence of awareness from conflict.
Boogiepop often saves the day, but not before reminding us the true horror of life isn’t cynicism or alienation but rather our own minds and the cages we willingly put ourselves in.
This is often created with the distortion of reality and escapism, as each character retreats further into their shell of delusion and grandeur. The protagonist, Boogiepop, is an answer, or rather, call, to action—they are representative of our need to be self-aware, empathetic, and strong against the forces of loneliness that can twist our daily perceptions. Boogiepop often saves the day, but not before reminding us the true horror of life isn’t cynicism or alienation but rather our own minds and the cages we willingly put ourselves in.
The first anime adaptation, Boogiepop Phantom, was made by Madhouse and helmed by Takashi Watanabe and Sadayuki Murai (who went on to help script Satoshi Kon’s equally mesmerizing work, Perfect Blue). Boogiepop Phantom aired in 2000, and is a feast for the mind, ears, and eyes. It attempts and almost consistently succeeds in portraying that kind of fragmented and unreliable narrator across episodic vignettes. The somber mood and sparse instrumentals fit the horror perfectly as we encounter individuals who, to an extent, succumb to their own fears and desires. A drug that encourages confidence but also blurs the line between self-control and selfishness. A high school boy who sees bugs stemming from people’s hearts and develops an addiction to eating them. A strange monster that feeds off the living and can mimic their bodies and persona. Boogiepop Phantom is almost like the anime version of Black Mirror; it leaves me with chills, but also with an intriguing question of how we distort our perception of ourselves and others to live in society.
Nearly two decades later, Madhouse is back to remind us of those spooky fears again this season with Boogiepop and Others. Directly based on the light novel of the same name, Boogiepop and Others is similar to Boogiepop in terms of plot focusing on Boogiepop and their adventures to rid society of strange phantoms and people with superpowers. However, Boogiepop and Others also features an overarching plot revolving around a group of high school students as they try to connect the use of a mysterious drug to control others with a monster killing off their classmates.
…It still holds its ground as a spooky and unnerving look into the emptiness of the human soul in contrast to society.
In this new form, Boogiepop and Others shows not only Boogiepop’s age, but also its wisdom, in spades of horror and mystery. While it doesn’t necessarily retain the kind of surreal and Lynchian horror that the prequel had, it still holds its ground as a spooky and unnerving look into the emptiness of the human soul in contrast to society. Instead of going for a bleak first-person perspective, Boogiepop and Others presents alienation in from a third-person point of view. The result is an ongoing, chaotic, and jumbled narrative that leaves more questions than answers, until the very answer arrives, where things slowly are explained.
I personally prefer the prequel’s approach, but this series’ direction also has lasting power: the faded visuals, washed out lighting, and almost lifeless feeling of the city and crowd all create an atmosphere of regret and loneliness. In some ironic form, the characters’ chuuni dialogue is extremely reflective of their own self-grandeur (it’s worth noting that Boogiepop, as a series of light novels, was originally intended for teenagers). This is perfect for Boogiepop and Others’ themes on how people can negatively react to change. While initially disorienting, the series still comes across as reflective, thoughtful, and chilling when it needs to be.
For fans of horror, or at least the ever-present sense of dread, combined with a good dose of thought on societal and personal issues, now is a perfect time to jump into this prevalent and formative franchise. For some, Boogiepop will come off a little edgy, but if you manage to dive through it, you’ll be rewarded with an insightful and spooky series of stories, perfect for a quick watch or read right before bedtime.
When not writing about Japanese cartoons, Natasha can be found on Twitter as @illegenes, talking avidly about her love for doomed relationships and complicated characters. You can also find more writing by her on Crunchyroll or on the blog, Isn’t it Electrifying?