In 1998, author Kouhei Kadono’s Boogiepop and Others transformed light novels by popularizing the medium. Since then, Boogiepop has expanded into over a dozen novels, manga, a live-action film and two anime series — Boogiepop Phantom and 2019’s titular series. For fans of the horror genre, Boogiepop enjoys cult status, while both are must-watch series for anime fans who cherish oft unexplored corners of the human condition.
Following the complicated lives of high school students forced to face the unspeakable horrors of growing up, the series focuses on a core of four individuals and their experiences with the paranormal, alien beings and evolved humans who live among them. While Boogiepop Phantom is a unique take on the series — being that it isn’t directly adapted from a novel — Boogiepop and Others adapts four individual stories into an 18-episode series. Though separated by 19 years, watching the two together as a whole makes for a better viewing experience.
Madhouse’s Boogiepop Phantom is a “what if?” story played out as if it were a Twilight Zone anthology. From Slayers director Takashi Watanabe, the 12-episode series, released in the year 2000, is a mind-altering trip down weird-as-hell lane, careening through serious issues of drug use, mental health and even the sordid world of the otaku subculture with a smattering of paranormal activity.
Following the events of Boogiepop and Others, during which an alien entity known as Echoes defeated its clone known as Manticore, an ethereal beam of light penetrated the sky, visible from all parts of the city. One month later, people are disappearing as others adapt to their strange new abilities.
Each episode examines the fate of one such individual, most of whom are in for a disturbingly gruesome or twisted end. The entity known as Boogiepop plays a secondary role in this series, coming to the rescue in the nick of time and is often referred to as a myth or strange apparition. Where the series excels is in its character-driven storytelling, giving stand-alone episodes individual weight amid deeply layered lore.
Take, for instance, Season 1, Episode 4, “MY FAIR LADY.” Loner high school student Yoji Suganuma loses himself in a dating simulator, wherein his girlfriend, Rie, is responsive to his every whim. When Yoji is introduced to a synthetic drug, his line between reality and the in-game world begins to blur and his obsession is transferred on to a real-world woman. His ultimate demise is jarring and his transformation a sight to behold. With shades of Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, the episode is a stand-out among equally creepy premises.
While the series isn’t considered canon, Boogiepop Phantom offers a welcome lens through which the series’ bizarre elements are magnified.
For Boogiepop‘s 20th anniversary, publisher Dengeki Bunko announced that four Boogiepop novels would be given the anime treatment in a series named after the first novel, Boogiepop and Others. Unlike Boogiepop Phantom, this series is a straight adaptation of the novels rather than an original story. For the first time, fans were given an animated glimpse into Kadono’s own written words.
While the first three episodes encapsulate the first novel, Boogiepop VS. Imaginator, Boogiepop at Dawn and Overdrive: The King of Distortion fill out the rest of the 18 episodes. Boogiepop Phantom fits in between And Others and VS. Imaginator, so watching the series following episode three would be a good decision.
Touka Miyashita is a normal high school girl, or so she believes. When evil threatens the world, her alternate personality known as Boogiepop takes over, and business is booming for the shinigami. Boogiepop is just one of many oddities that pop up around town — humans are evolving and latent abilities are emerging. The Towa Organization, a secret cabal of shadowy figures, have created super-powered replica humans to keep humanity from reaching its full potential. Among the fine threads of conceit and assassinations, a varied group of high school students is dealing with their own complicated issues.
The series does a fine job of taking the novel’s lengthy exploration of growing up and turning it into actualized philosophical conversations. Between Boogiepop’s altercations with otherworldly and homegrown evils, the students discuss loss and how to overcome their own personal hurdles, be it grief or self-confidence.
In Season 1, Episode 4, “VS Imaginator 1,” Guidance Counselor Jin Asukai wants to make a difference. His ability gives him insight into what a person is missing, or what is needed, to make them whole. This appears to him as a plant on a person’s heart lacking a certain element, be it stem, leaf or flower. The analogy is explored further when Asukai is encouraged by the being known as Imaginator to remove the missing pieces. In spite of his good intentions, Asukai’s actions reveal that one can’t remove seemingly negative aspects of a person without damaging the whole, which eventually leads to a confrontation with Boogiepop.
While Boogiepop may be of supernatural origin, the very real issues that each of the series’ characters wrestles with are universal aspects shared by young and old alike. If Boogiepop Phantom gives us a glimpse into the terrifying nature of the world in which Kadono’s characters live, Boogiepop and Others offers insight and familiarity on a personal level. Both series are must-watch.
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Both Boogiepop anime series are essential viewing for fans of horror, drama and straight-up weirdness.