Title: Boogiepop Phantom / Boogiepop wa Warawanai: Boogiepop Phantom
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Horror, drama
Year of release: 2000
Boogiepop Phantom is set after the events of the Boogiepop wa Warawanai arc and directly relates to its climax. This can be seen in the first 3 episodes of the Boogiepop wa Warawanai (2019) anime adaption, or read in the Boogiepop and Others light novel or Boogiepop Doesn’t Laugh manga. There are some aspects of the grander Boogiepop story that Phantom references; for example, Boogiepop Phantom makes allusions to Kirima Nagi’s backstory, which is detailed in a later arc of the 2019 anime and novels, but this anime does not assume you know the full story. If you work really hard, you can probably piece together the events of the Boogiepop wa Warawanai arc from Boogiepop Phantom since the style of storytelling is rather cryptic like that, but there are perhaps too many self-references that it would be best to have a firm understanding.
I must admit that I’m privy to a good jigsaw, and Boogiepop Phantom’s storytelling is presented as episodics that are jumbled, out-of-order and requires a great deal of thinking to put all the pieces together. Not just figuring out the perpetrators and their involvement with the mystery, but one has to sort-out the vignettes into chronological order and consider the deeper, humanistic meaning of Phantoms. An anime that asks so much of its audience is going to come against two barriers: firstly, if it’s all worth it; and secondly, if it’s entertaining before it all makes sense. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Boogiepop Phantom is absolutely worth it.
This grimly lit puzzle of a show is defined by its strong attention to atmosphere. No aspect of this detailed audiovisual presentation feels an afterthought. Boogiepop Phantom uses horror cues to unnerve, and deftly maximises each aspect. From the prickly static of a geiger counter tightly matching the psychic breakdown of its paranoid characters, to expertly twisted Deutsch angles and looming figures, Boogiepop Phantom is a directorial masterpiece. I really do want to reiterate the sound direction, which is some of the most masterful I’ve heard in an anime. One might have to forgive the minimalist character designs, though, as they blend together and can make following the story a little harder to follow than it already is.
It’s hard to pinpoint the story cleanly, particularly in a spoiler-free review such as this one. Following the events of a prior supernatural battle involving Boogiepop (and Others), there are more disappearances, and strange things are happening. Boogiepop is a very philosophical base for stories, blending the possibilities for alien superpowers with psychology and inspirational messages. Phantom, much like the name might imply, is about the past, using angles from miscarrying mothers to suicidal teenagers. I love the symbolism, too, using a villain who offers balloons to adults to let their inner children go free, and a little girl who offers butterflies that give vivid images of the past. The past is terrifying, and Boogiepop Phantom doesn’t stoop to such simple answers, but gives such a nuanced discussion of the subject that I cannot quite simply summarise it.
But how does Boogiepop Phantom fare before it all makes sense? Oddly enough, surprisingly well. Each episode sticks on one perspective quite cleanly, giving a character’s entire interaction with the grander story in a fulfilling way. Boogiepop Phantom creeps ever so closer to the epicentre of the issue, but each little snippet stands as something interesting on its own. My Fair Lady, the episode about a cafe worker obsessed with a dating sim woman, uses those excellent horror cues to create something supremely creepy, though I’m very fond of the Interlude episode which details a police officer working beside a member of TOWA who passes the time by sharing their information. Series stalwart Kirima Nagi goes through the usual arc whereby she is powerless because she’s alone and refuses help, but Phantom ties this into her own personal Phantoms in unexpectedly poignant ways.
It’s not Halloween horror, no, but Boogiepop Phantom is a skin-crawling experience nonetheless. It’s the kind of powerful weaving of themes that cannot be distilled into a single message, and provides a vast discussion on the hardest part of growing up, with reconciling with the past. There’s no simple answer, and Boogiepop Phantom is no simple anime. If you’re up to the task of puzzling this show together, this near indecipherable anime will pay dividends. I won’t deny it’s possibly harder to piece together than it perhaps could be, but it’s no less beautiful for it.