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BOOGIEPOP PHANTOM an Intriguing Mess -- DVD Review

Alex does his best to wrap his head around this short lived horror-head-scratcher.

What’s up Anime Vicers! I usually write OTAKU COMING HOME for this website, but when I was given the chance to review this show (which I actually remember from when it first came out), I jumped at the chance. If you’re not familiar with my writing for OCH, I focus mostly on the visual side of things. As a working illustrator, that’s where my expertise lies and that’s going to be my focus here, as well.

Where to begin with this one…? BOOGIEPOP PHANTOM is set in a small Japanese city, one month after a pillar of light mysteriously shot into the sky, and five years after a string of unexplained serial killings. Now, students have started disappearing again and the local kids seem to think that Boogiepop (the angel of death) is to blame.

This show is DARK in every sense of the word.
This show is DARK in every sense of the word.

We’re introduced to this world by way of a very introverted young girl with a crush on a former classmate who's recently gone missing. Long story short, she finds him only to discover that he has, in fact, been taken over by a monster that feeds on human energy and plans to kill her. At the last minute, Boogiepop, an androgynous figure in a cloak and hat, shows up and kills him (or, more accurately, destroys his body). This sets the stage for the events to come, though very little is explained.

This first episode is pretty standard in terms of anime tropes. Judging by this episode alone, it would seem we’re in store for a kind of anthology-style, horror-manga-esque romp. In fact, the truth is a lot more complicated, so hold onto your butts and pay attention because solving this mystery is going to take all 12 episodes. In fact, that’s really the “fun” of BOOGIEPOP - - placing the characters and events into context and realizing, slowly, what it all means.

This is pretty representative of the look of the show - - a couple of figures shuffling through the shadows of an empty city.
This is pretty representative of the look of the show - - a couple of figures shuffling through the shadows of an empty city.

Setting up very strangely, the series is composed of separate-but-connected stories and characters, with each episode focusing on one specific thread. However, these threads often intersect and overlap, and they’re not all told in chronological order. The resulting confusion and disorientation is all part of the plan here, as the whole show has a strong dream-like feeling to it. The Thing is, all but the very attentive may feel pretty lost until late in the series.

What’s more, this show is based on the universe created for a series of light novels. Having read these novels isn’t strictly necessary to understanding and appreciating BOOGIEPOP PHANTOM but I have a feeling it would really help. These novels are, of course, largely not available in America so that puts most of us at a disadvantage right out of the gate.

Great shapes! So much is just hinted at and it all feels totally dark and menacing.
Great shapes! So much is just hinted at and it all feels totally dark and menacing.

The visual style of BOOGIEPOP is quite intriguing, and although it's not always a complete success, it it's always unique. One of the series' big draws, really. The backgrounds are surprisingly well-done - - beautifully hand-painted, with lots of smart silhouettes and heavy shadows. It is still a low-budget show, though, and that's apparent at times, particularly in the character animation.

Luckily, many of these shortcomings are overshadowed or even obscured by generous helpings of atmosphere. The color scheme is aggressively bleak, with tons of sepia filters, some static textures and an absolutely pervasive use of a heavy black vignette.

To put it plainly, this show is gloomy as shit to look at.

Some of these backgrounds remind me of BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES. So much black!
Some of these backgrounds remind me of BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES. So much black!

Without giving anything away, the look of the show changes drastically in the last episode, with all of the sepia and static lifted away for bright colors and beautifully-lit backgrounds. It’s an intentional shift that supports the plot of the show and it’s actually really effective - - though, I do wish they’d gotten to it sooner! It’s a lot to ask of an audience to sit through 11 episodes of strain-your-eyes-darkness for a big one-episode payoff (even if the final episode does gain some real visual weight as a result).

The designs in this show are pretty tame, and remind me quite a bit of LAIN. In fact, the first note I made while watching this show was “This would not exist without LAIN.” Both the look of the show and the sort of cerebral approach to storytelling are reminiscent of that modern classic, and I’d bet that LAIN’s success helped show that risky series like BOOGIEPOP might be worth the gamble. It doesn’t succeed quite the way that LAIN did, but I’m always glad for a show that’s trying something different.

These bright colors are almost shocking, like coming out into the sun after being trapped in a cave for a week.
These bright colors are almost shocking, like coming out into the sun after being trapped in a cave for a week.

To sum it up, this is a tricky little show. It's only 12 episodes long, but dense as hell and seemingly intentionally obtuse at times. The show ends strong, but asks for a lot of patience early on. Brace yourself for a lot of mostly motionless characters explaining why they’re miserable in slow monotone voices (the dub is particularly guilty of this).

That said, while there is enjoyment to be found here, and a real payoff for the time investment, many fans might find the trip unnecessarily dark, slow and confusing. I’ll just say it - - BOOGIEPOP PHANTOM can be boring. Episodes that work well feel taut and mysterious with an intelligent approach to more mature kinds of horror. Weak episodes, though, can feel self-indulgent and frustrating to sit through.

BOOGIEPOP PHANTOM isn’t bad, but it’s certainly not for everyone. I’d recommend checking out an episode or two. If you’re at all drawn in by the look of the show, the atmosphere or the mystery of it all, then you’ll likely enjoy the ride. If you're really not into horror anime or the slow burn approach, then I would steer clear.

Alex Eckman-Lawn is an illustrator and comic artists from Philadelphia. Check out his site - -alexeckmanlawn.com - - rumble with his Tumblr - - dudenukem.tumblr.com - - and hit up his Twitter: @alexeckmanlawn

zaldaron Jan. 22, 2013 at 3:10 p.m.

THIS sounds like a show I need to see. Lain is one of my all time favorite shows and an example of how I wish anime had moved MUCH more strongly than it has.

You may be an art first type of person but you really did a good mix here of talking about both the show, themes, and use of them along with the art. How the art interacts and supports (or either detracts) from the themes can be very interesting. You could probably right a masters thesis on how Now and Then Here and There uses its art to set expectations and then dash them.

Kino88on Jan. 22, 2013 at 3:22 p.m.

I liked Lain a lot better, however I did enjoy this shows dark moody attitude even if it was a bit much at times,

I actually enjoyed this show more as a series of dark bits' and pieces than I did as a whole, because no matter how hard I tried to follow it as a single mystery, it just kept getting packed with more layers of WTF,

I feel the story really lacked focus and while that might have been intentional I agree that reading the graphic novels' probably would have cleared things up some what, as for the ending I was left totally confused and have no clue what the hell it all meant, of course Lain also left me pretty confused but at least that shows ending left me more compelled to watch it again,

with Boogie Bop on the other hand, I did not feel a second viewing would really shed any more light on it's plot,

a mess indeed,

Marshal Victoryon Jan. 22, 2013 at 3:38 p.m.

Wow when i seen those screen shots i thought of..

Then i noticed some color.Looked at the series before just never wanted to watch it. Now i want to watch it so good review.

AlexEL staff on Jan. 22, 2013 at 7:33 p.m.

@Marshal Victory: ha, i can see the comparison there. Honestly, i think LIMBO looks fucking killer and i wish more anime took chances and attempted an aesthetic like that game has!

i don't think there's any question that LAIN is a better show, and i think you're right that boogiepop's greatest strengths are in those hazy little moments.

good call on Now and Then Here and There! that show is a perfect example of how the art sets you up for one kind of thing and then the plot totally pulls the rug out from under you! Great little series.

shelson Jan. 23, 2013 at 2:28 a.m.

If i remember correctly Boogiepop phantom was one of the first anime adapted from a light novel. which started the frenzy of light novel adaptations in the following years until now (Haruhi, FMP, Bakemonogatari just to name a few successful ones).

It's one of my all time favorites and really sets the mood along the 12 episodes, but to fully understand/appreciate the story it should be viewed alongside with the movie and Light novels.

zaldaron Jan. 23, 2013 at 9:43 a.m.

@AlexEL: See I do have an appreciation for art! :)

AlexEL staff on Jan. 23, 2013 at 10:14 a.m.

@shels: I actually think light novel adaptations have been part of the anime business for a long time. DIRTY PAIR started as light novels, for instance.

I do totally agree about boogiepop benefitting from the additional context and information that the other media provides. It's a shame when a series can't stand on its own though.

shelson Jan. 23, 2013 at 1:01 p.m.

@AlexEL: I was telling in the sense of making the mainstream public more aware of it, before boogiepop phantom there were 1 or 2 light novel adaptation per year at most, after boogiepop (which sold 2 million copies of the novels at the time if i'm not mistaken) the light novel format made it's way onto anime like fire. Much like when evangelion appeared and the "alternative" mecha genre made it big with copy after copy, even though there were already earlier mecha series whith more or less the same thematics of evangelion (Ideon)

Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Slayers and others had appeared earlier too, and despite not being light novel they were aimed at the same public and paved the way that later Boogiepop would rise and strengthen.

Marshal Victoryon Jan. 24, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.

@shels: Wonder if any of the light novels will get translations an make it to say kindle .

shelson Jan. 25, 2013 at 1:48 a.m.

@Marshal Victory: The Boogiepop Novels? The Gomanga editorial released 3 novels in English plus a Prequel. The anime and movie only took elements from this 3 or for 4 novels. While there are 15 novels plus a bunch of crossovers, spin-offs and short stories i highly doubt that anyone will translate and release them on kindle now when so many years have passed after that boom.

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