NOTE: This article contains disturbing content due to the nature of the series in question. Reader discretion is advised.
This article contains spoilers for episodes 1-6 of Boogiepop and Others
Playing your cards close to your chest is a dangerous game in the anime medium. Yet, Boogiepop and Others continues to take that risk a third of a way through its run. The show is almost as mysterious at the end of its sixth episode as at the beginning of its first. The main difference is that we now have a slightly better idea of where Boogiepop is coming from, in terms of its outlook. Even as the actual plot remains rather opaque.
The Manticore arc ended with the titular shapeshifting serial killer strung up on razor wire by Boogiepop. Yet, in what’s become a pattern, it was less Boogie themselves and more the human characters who did the heavy lifting to get to that point. Boogiepop has been painted by the show as a sort of spiritual immune system for the human race. Whenever we near complete moral corruption, or outright destruction even, Boogie steps in. It’d be easy to turn Boogie into a superhero of sorts, here, but the show doesn’t do that. Boogie ties things up, but the human cast are the real stars of Boogiepop and Others.
The current arc revolves, as the rest of the show does, around several character groups. Some of which overlap. The result is a shredded sort of storytelling. In the first arc, this was primarily done by skipping back and forth through various points in time. There’s some of that in the current arc also, but there’s just as much skipping between different groups of characters. The narrative is very much non-linear, which is only possible thanks to a certain narrative binding agent.
That main thread that ties all of these character groups together is Suiko Minahoshi, The Imaginator. Probably best envisioned as the sort of psychic ghost of a student who committed suicide. Or rather, is in the process of doing so. The fourth episode begins with Suiko throwing herself from the school roof as Boogiepop watches. It’s an interesting scene, since Suiko is presented less as a victim and more as a mastermind.
Using one’s own death as the start of some kind of masterwork plan is not a new trope in fiction, but it’s rarely this direct. It’s also a revelation of Boogie’s limitations. Despite witnessing Suiko’s death, she’s still human until she actually does die. We learn that Boogie is powerless to do anything against “ordinary” humans, and thus can’t prevent Suiko’s death.
This is indicative of what really makes Boogiepop as astounding as it is. How it manages to spin things that just wouldn’t work in other shows. Skip ahead three episodes, to the most recent, and another character succeeds where Boogie failed. Suema Kazuko, a reserved student with an interest in criminal psychology, confronts Aya Orihata, a similarly withdrawn girl who appears to be about to jump off the school roof.
The scene is still. Is intercut with another of Aya talking to her boyfriend, and Suema’s words are far from perfect. In almost any other series, this would come across as stilted. Awkward. Maybe even disrespectful. But Boogiepop managing to earn that kind of scene is indicative of its strengths. It treats both characters as real people. Aya’s motives are understandable even if the solution she tries to pursue is the wrong one. Suema is not magic and can’t “fix” Aya right away, but that she tries manages to talk her down. It’s the sort of quietly moving scene that comes along a few times a season at most.
Really, the show has a lot to say in general about the pressures we put on the youngest contributing members of society. Teenagers are often the protagonists in anime and manga seemingly just because that’s where the money is. It makes some sense. Shonen for example is primarily aimed at teenage boys, and most of the genre’s lead characters are teenage boys as well. In Boogiepop on the other hand, the demographics of the protagonists seem to be very deliberate.
Suema (right) explains teenage anxieties to Aya (left).
One of Imaginator’s “victims” that she influences in this arc is a cram school counselor, Jin Asukai. The man has the ability to see “roses” that exist inside every human being. They are, it’s implied, some direct window into the soul itself. In these roses, Jin sees only missing parts and imperfections. It’s actually a fairly on-the-nose metaphor, but the series manages to pull it off with surprising finesse. It’s not a shock when a few episodes later we find out that Jin is “fixing” his students’ roses. Via an uncomfortable visual that involves the (usually female) victims disrobing, and Jin pressing his hand to the center of their chest. It’s a very direct visual representation of the kind of violation of agency that heavy expectations put on teenagers. Obviously the focus here, given that Jin works at a cram school, is on academics. But you can easily extend the metaphor into just about anything.
Indeed Boogiepop and Others actually does do that. Running parallel to Jin’s story is that of Masaki Taniguchi, and his girlfriend, the aforementioned Aya. Aya is an unusual character. Over the course of the arc we learn that she’s an artificial human, or at least thinks she is one. Aya is uncomfortably, and for her age, inappropriately, forward with her sexuality. The downright deadpan way Aya asks various characters if they want to “do her” is meant to make your skin crawl. And it does. She offers herself as a plaything to some boys who beat up Masaki. Hoping to sacrifice herself so he can get away unscathed. It’s a chillingly direct analogy for how society treats young women.
That Masaki becomes her boyfriend shortly thereafter would be an uncomfortable undertone in almost any other show. Here, it’s more because Masaki is the first person she’s ever met that actually cares about her as a person. Even this isn’t enough to repair her damaged self-worth on its own, leading to the rooftop scene mentioned above. Aya’s character arc is heartbreaking. I find myself genuinely waiting with bated breath, hoping she comes out of this storyline okay.
You might wonder where the artificial human angle comes in. We learn that Aya is the creation of the mysterious Towa Organization. Towa has been an opaque presence in the show so far. Their sole representative is the bizarre, frog-faced Spooky E. (You may now take a moment to curse/thank original Boogiepop author Kouhei Kadono for influencing the naming habits of so many other Light Novel authors).
The man has electrical powers and, well, it’s hard to say at this juncture what their whole deal is, exactly. They do tie in to the final character story explored in this arc. That of Shinjirou Annou. Shinjirou’s story is tragic too.
He falls in love with the already-taken Masaki. Unsure of how to express this, he develops some unhealthy habits. Trying to engineer “running into” Masaki, and at one point even stalking him. It all ends up being for naught. He ends up caught by Spooky E., who uses his electrical powers to turn him into a “terminal”. A mostly-mindless puppet forced to completely repress his true self to carry out Spooky’s whims. It’s again hard to not read a pretty blunt metaphor into this.
Shinjirou is a young gay man in an often-homophobic country. The experience of having to act like someone else’s puppet and pretend you’re someone you’re not is a pretty relatable one for many LGBTQ youth. Even if the instrument of metaphor is here a little odd. Shinjirou is eventually freed from this control by Boogie (remember: Spooky E. isn’t an ordinary human, so Boogie can affect him). Where his character arc will go from here is still up in the air, but my hope is that he’ll find his happiness too.
Boogiepop and Others is a mesmerizing series so far. It’s not afraid to make you think, and it’s equally unafraid to make you uncomfortable. More than just a throwback to the early 2000s heyday of muted color palette mystery series, Boogiepop stands on its own legs remarkably well. The usual stylistic delights have remained even as the series has grown more knotted and tangled with metaphor. It’s really, undeniably one of the best shows of the season. One hopes it’ll keep that strong streak running for the remainder of its 18 episodes. Plus, with rumors that the entire “King of Distortion” arc is set to premiere all at once, there’s a lot of Boogie to look forward to.