This Winter anime season gave us plenty of highly anticipated anime to choose from. We got the long-awaited adaptation of Shonen Jump hit The Promised Neverland, new JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, an adaptation of an early Osamu Tezuka work, and – the series I was most excited for – a special 20th anniversary entry into the Boogiepop canon.
Boogiepop and Others is a surreal psychological horror with supernatural elements thrown in. It’s about an entity, Boogiepop, who lives within a teenage girl. Boogiepop appears when the world is troubled, and believe me when I say this world is TROUBLED! There’s a shady organization drugging and brainwashing people, aliens(?) are popping down to Earth, and another highschool girl is running around in a catsuit and scaring the shit out of her peers…there’s a lot going on. It’s kind of hard to explain.
Which is the thing about Boogiepop. It’s kind of hard to explain…and hard to follow…and sometimes even hard to like.
…but it’s good! I promise! Boogiepop has been around so long for a reason! The light novels are hugely influential and are often credited with starting the light novel craze. The other anime, Boogiepop Phantom, sits on the throne with series like Serial Experiments Lain and Ergo Proxy when it comes to psychological supernatural anime royalty.
Yet, despite being a verifiable Big Deal, I’ve noticed that many of my fellow anime bloggers have not been too impressed with Boogiepop and Others (or Boogiepop wa Warawanai, if you’re a stickler for Japanese titles). Most bloggers on my Reader seem to have either dropped the series altogether, or have been begrudgingly blogging about it out of a sheer sense of duty.
The hate hurts my heart! I have nothing but gushing praise for this series, and I want everyone to watch it. EVERYONE! EVERYONE SHOULD LOVE IT!
Okay, maybe not. I mean, I really love it, but I…totally can’t blame anyone for not wanting to follow along with the big, convoluted mess that is Boogiepop.
In my heart, I want to be a pretentious and defensive asshole and say that everyone else JuSt DoEsN’t GeT iT, but I know that that’s not the case. The truth is, this is a series that really only works for a very specific group of people. It’s for people who are willing to be dragged into a world with few well-established rules and characters whose motivations barely make sense. You know, people who don’t mind having to hang a corkboard chart covered with strings to reference every time a new character shows up.
The thing about the series is that, well. Boogiepop does not give a shit whether you’re following along or not. It knows it’s not for everybody, and it does not care. It does what it wants, and it knows that its target audience will keep on watching.
Truly, the Boogiepop franchise seems hell-bent on being as inaccessible as possible. Not only is the timeline of the anime itself disjointed, but the entire franchise hops around a lot with its adaptations. You see, the anime Boogiepop and Others (2019) is named after the first Boogiepop light novel. But despite the name, it’s not an adaptation of the first novel – it’s an adaptation of multiple light novels in the series.
And no, this anime isn’t a sequel to 2000’s Boogiepop Phantom, which despite being the first anime adaptation actually takes place right after the events of the first light novel. The first light novel that shares a name with the current anime adaptation, even though it’s not really the first light novel. Does that make sense? Kinda? Sorta? There’s a lot more I’m not telling you for brevity’s sake, but to give you an idea of how wild the timeline is, here’s a four part guide to the series. That’s right, FOUR PARTS! Boogiepop is going to make you work, bitch!
But time-skips, confusing canon and non-chronological storytelling aren’t exactly unheard of in the realm of anime. I mean, look at the Monogatari series or The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. The world of Gundam, one of the most popular anime franchises ever, requires a big ass guide before starting, too, but that doesn’t stop people from loving it. So what throws people off about Boogiepop, specifically?
Well, the series works kind of like this – imagine you get the punchline to a joke first in episode one, and then you have to wait another three episodes to hear the set-up to the joke. A pretty bold storytelling choice, yeah? It’s a structure that won’t work for everyone, but it’s bound to intrigue a good chunk of viewers.
Let me take that comparison and take it a step further. This is what watching Boogiepop and Others is really like.
It’s episode one. We’re on a school rooftop. A character with brown hair and brown eyes looks wistfully out across the sky and says to no one, “…to get to the other side.” We won’t see her again for the rest of the episode. Instead, we’ll cut to some other people, and maybe a homeless man. They’ll talk about drugs and also, their favorite kinds of birds. One of them suddenly has a heart attack and dies. Next episode, some people in a classroom will talk vaguely about an urban legend. Then, some other brown-haired-brown-eyed people will take some drugs, and then a character will mention that they once heard a criminal psychologist mention a chicken. Three episodes later, another character with slightly browner hair will ask a grim reaper, “why did the chicken cross the road?” Smash cut to Brown Hair Brown Eyes #1 whispering “…he never got to the other side” before getting decapitated by a genderqueer grim reaper. The end!
Does that sound like fun to you? To me, YES! To other people, NO!
One big complaint in particular is that characters feel empty because their identities and motivations are kept secret for so long. Because of this, it makes it hard to care about all of these people popping in and out of the story, especially since they’re mostly talking about plot points that we don’t understand yet.
Me, I like when a story is open-ended. I’m patient, I’ll stick around for six episodes to learn a character’s name and motivations, I don’t care! But other people, understandably, will care. It’s hard to get attached to a character you don’t really know. Yes, there’s the thrill of a mystery, but it’s hard to sell a mystery if it’s just, like, “who the fuck is this girl, the student president? Do I need to care about her?”
Another issue with the series is that a lot of characters look very similar to one another. It’s not necessarily a flaw in the character designs, either…though it should be noted that there is no crazy anime hair to be found here, so you are seeing A LOT of brown haired people that you WILL get confused with every other brown haired person. Really, the problem is more that there are SO MANY characters. And when these people blip in and out with few discernible traits (until five episodes later when they finally matter, that is), you start losing track no matter how invested in the story you are.
The characters aren’t bad, either. In reality, all of the vagaries are intentional. Once characters become fleshed out, multiple pieces of the story will start to click together. It’s fantastic, and after the initial confusion, it makes each every bit of information feel very rewarding. A perfect example of this would be the recent “Boogiepop at Dawn” arc, which adapts a prequel storyline from the light novels. Once viewers are presented with Kirima Nagi’s backstory, all of her skills and the reason she’s fighting finally illuminates what’s been going on up until that point. This narrative structure gives the series a lot of replay value – if you’re invested, you’ll want to go back and rewatch with the fresh new eyes you’ve been given.
But again…the problem is getting invested in the first place. If you don’t like it the first time around, you’re not going to want to go back and rewatch. But some people will, and those people sticking around will be ENTHRALLED.
Perhaps part of the reason I can give the series so much wiggle-room when it comes to its narrative anomalies is because I’ve been introduced to the world before. I’ve seen Boogiepop Phantom and I’ve even checked out the first light novel. I already know that its worldbuilding works in mysterious ways, so it’s not as jarring as it is to newcomers. It’s possible that Boogiepop and Others (2019) just isn’t a great place to start, since it’s not interested in presenting its story in an accessible way. But, then again, the entire series is very anti-accessibility.
I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. I recommend it but, also, I don’t?
I’ll just say this: Boogiepop is great, but only if you’re into it. You’ll know if it’s for you or not. Hopefully my rambles have given you some kind of idea whether it’s your thing. And if it is your thing, you’re going to become UTTERLY CONSUMED by it just like I have.
(I hope you become consumed by it, because hoo boy, have I got about a thousand theories that I would like to share with you!)