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 1-15 of Boogiepop and Others
A lot has happened since we last checked in with Boogiepop and Others. The series dropped the entire 4-episode “Fear Ghoul” arc at once. It was a minor entry in the series’ story, providing a backstory for Nagi and less endearingly, dancing around several troubling tropes. However, with the premiere of the “King of Distortion” arc last week with episode 14, things seem to be swinging back around. “King of Distortion” concerns the titular character. Like with the Imaginator, we have here an entity that can seemingly possess and inhabit people. Unlike Imaginator, he seems to be able to do this on a large scale.
Taking place inside a large “art building” commissioned by a dead millionaire, the arc begins inconspicuously enough. As is by now usual for the show, we were introduced to several new characters in episode 14. A single mother (Shizuka Hashizaka) and her child (Makoto) and a delinquent/hacker with a goofy haircut (Kentaro Habata) are three of the more memorable ones. In 15, things start to come together. The King of Distortion seems to be able to trap people inside their own minds, and at the end of the 14th episode he does this to everyone inside the building. Episode 15 then, is taken up in large part by exploration of these characters’ psyches in a very literal sense. Most of it takes place inside their memories, with the King standing in for some other person in their life.
For the single mother, it’s a rich man who she loved and wanted to marry. Callously, the King, playing the rich man’s part, offers her child support for her unborn son (who she doesn’t know the father of). Yet, he seemingly scorns the very idea that he could possibly love her back. For a high schooler (Sakiko Michimoto), the King takes the form of her dead friend who she had a nasty spat with just before said friend died in a car accident. For the hacker, he takes the form of Nagi, his first crush. In all of these guises, the role he plays is decidedly antagonistic. Whatever plan he has though, is thus far not clear. Aside from an oblique recurring mention of “turning [one’s] pain into gold”, his motives are ambiguous.
Some of the King of Distortion’s many guises.
So what to make of all this? Even by the series’ standards, this arc is quite opaque so far. I think this is deliberate, but, examined through the lens of the show’s recurring themes, one can pull some sense out of these happenings. Boogiepop and Others reads in large part like it is about expectations. Expectations that society puts on us, and that we put on each other. The Manticore arc largely seemed to revolve how we treat the disadvantaged and the bullied. The Imaginator arc questioned the burdens we place on students and young women. Even the Fear Ghoul arc seemed in large part to be about how we expect the ill and victims of tragedy to behave.
With this in mind, “King of Distortion” seems an awful lot like it is about the expectations that we put on ourselves. The King himself being a manifestation of a sort of inner negativity and nihilism. A personification of our worst thoughts and impulses.
Or how it feels to spend a bit too much time on Twitter after a major news story breaks.
Taken from this perspective, the arc makes more sense. Though to what end it is being pursued remains to be seen. If we see Boogiepop as a defender of humanity from itself, I think that this may prove to be the phantom’s greatest challenge yet.
On a less heady level, the production side of things has taken a bit of a downturn, which is unfortunate. A good chunk of episode 15 especially is quite still. Even when things do move, it’s often only in limited fashion. The show still looks good when it needs to, though. When Kentaro encounters a kaiju(!) in the world of his mind, the animation takes a pleasant uptick. A bit earlier on, Saikiko’s crying is fluidly–if unconventionally–animated. Perhaps they are waiting to pull out all the stops for the finale.
An SSSS.GRIDMAN sequel already?
Which, it must be noted, is now quite in sight. With just three more episodes until it concludes, I probably won’t cover Boogiepop again here until after its finale. I look forward to it. For me, no show this season has consistently given me near as much to unpack from week to week.