- RECENT REVIEWS: SHAKUGAN NO SHANA *** FREEZING *** SHANGRI-LA *** ERGO PROXY
- STRIKE WITCHES *** KING OF THORN *** STEINS GATE *** GA-REI-ZERO *** DEADMAN WONDERLAND
- TENCHI UNIVERSE *** ONE PIECE *** WOLF CHILDREN *** RUROUNI KENSHIN *** [C]-CONTROL
- BLACK LAGOON *** SERIAL EXPERIMENT LAIN *** MASS EFFECT: PARAGON LOST
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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