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 1-9 of Boogiepop and Others
Boogiepop and Others is now at its halfway point, being an unusual 18-episode series. Episode 9 finally sees the conclusion of the Imaginator arc that has until this point taken up the bulk of the series. It might also be the best episode of the series to date. That’s no mean feat, there have been a lot of great episodes in Boogiepop so far. Yet, the way that episode 9 ties almost every previous theme and plot point of the series together is truly something spectacular.
It’s not a secret at this point that Boogiepop is a show with Things To Say. That’s not unusual in of itself. What is though, is how hard it manages to resonate despite being based off of a novel series that had its 20th anniversary last year. Episode 8 saw arc hero Masaki roughed up by Spooky E’s goons. Then, the death of Spooky E himself. Jin Asukai then stepped into the role of the main arc villain. He’s been the “host” (for lack of a better term) of the Imaginator since the start of the arc. It’d been unclear though what his larger role would be.
What the past few episodes made clear was that Jin’s plan was to use his “heart-changing” abilities to “remove the pain” from peoples’ lives. This is an old, old sci-fi and urban fantasy trope. In anime, probably most famously used in the context of the Human Instrumentality Project in Neon Genesis Evangelion, where it was taken to something of a logical extreme.
Jin’s plans are superficially similar. He plans to use Aya Orihata as some kind of “seed” to change humanity on the whole. Starting with just one city, and then spreading across the world. There are two main problems with his plan. One is Masaki’s sheer determination to not let any harm befall his beloved. Masaki discovers that Jin is holding Aya in the Ladder, a tower at the heart of an abandoned amusement park. In what we now know is typical fashion for the character, he rushes to save her.
Unfortunately, while he held up decently well against Spooky E’s thugs in the prior episode, he doesn’t fare nearly as well here. The visual of Masaki confronting a group of brainwashed henchmen dressed like park mascots and clowns is one of the most visually-striking pieces of imagery I’ve seen this season. As mentioned though, he can’t overpower them. One of the clowns pins him down, and starts to inject him with Jin’s brainwashing serum.
Then, as he screams, there’s a flash as the syringe is suddenly bisected by razor wire.
The second of Jin’s problems is the return of our titular phantom, the mysterious Boogiepop.
It’s Boogiepop’s role in the end of this arc that is the most interesting, and most illuminating. I’ve prior read the series as a sort of commentary on modern society. The expectations we place on each other and on certain groups, in particular, are a focus. Previously, Boogiepop and Others has commented on the stresses of students and of young women. Here, it gets more general. After rescuing him, Boogiepop seems to grill Masaki. They ask him if his feelings for Orihata are genuine, or if he’s been brainwashed too. This sends Masaki into a brief existential crisis. Then, Boogiepop does something very interesting, and something the show (deliberately I imagine) undersells a bit.
Boogie undercuts their own question. Before Masaki can actually respond, they ask him if, well, isn’t all of human society just being “brainwashed” in a way, to conform to social expectations? A direct quote: “Have you ever done anything that you were completely sure was of your own free will?” They then ask him what, exactly, he values the most, even if he has no free will.
His answer is the kind of subtle but brilliant directorial touch I’ve come to expect from Boogiepop and Others. He begins to respond with “I….”, and then is cut off by a scene transition. To this shot of Orihata.
If the show drew more attention to it, it’d be too on the nose, but Others is fine with risking being misunderstood if it means weaving in its societal commentary in a subtle and appropriate way.
Masaki is ultimately too weakened by Jin’s goons to actually rescue Orihata himself. So, as might be expected, it’s ultimately Boogiepop themselves that ends Jin’s reign of terror before it even really begins. Still, Masaki is the main character of the arc, and it’s him that gets the last look at Imaginator. After Boogiepop’s defeated him, Imaginator appears to Masaki, cryptically speaking about his “will” before disappearing into a shower of rose petals. Seemingly defeated.
Others has proven itself time and again to be a deft hand with working strong themes into engaging material. The Imaginator arc may have run a touch long, but it was worth every one of those episodes, and 9 in particular stands as one of the strongest single episodes of the entire season. Just two days ago (as of the time of this writing) the entire King of Distortion arc was released at once. Meaning that I’ll likely have the pleasure of penning even more about Others in a week or two. The series is at this point an easy frontrunner for show of the season, and it’s hard to not look forward to more of its magic.
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