Hushed exchanges among the female student populace of Shinyo Academy center around an enigmatic supernatural entity. This entity is Boogiepop, a Shinigami who is rumored to murder people at the height of their beauty before their allure wanes. Few know of his true nature: a guardian who, between periods of dormancy, manifests as the alter ego of a high school girl named Touka Miyashita to fend off "the enemies of the world." Now, a string of mysterious disappearances—presumed by the school to be merely runaways—has caused Boogiepop to awaken. But somewhere in the academy, a menacing creature hides, waiting for its opportune moment to strike. Boogiepop wa Warawanai subtly explores the intrinsic associations between human beings and their perception of time, while delving into its characters' complex relationships, emotions, memories, and pasts. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
The name Boogiepop is pretty stellar. It’s catchy and unique, of course, but it also has a wealth of meaning behind it not many people are aware of, at least not in the west. The name Boogiepop is a self-propagated, self-mocking inside joke thought up by the author of the original Boogiepop novels himself, Kouhei Kadono. Kadono had always been more than a little arthouse as a writer and had a hard time getting any of his works published, for the publishers he approached, even after admitting how good his works were, said they simply couldn’t turn a profit publishing pieces with such little popular appeal. To successfully break out into the market, Kadono made a compromise with himself. He decided to tone down his niche arthouse style, his self proclaimed “boogie” writing, and to tone up the popular style the publications were willing to print, hence the name Boogiepop. The original anime adaptation of Boogiepop, Boogiepop Phantom, which aired in 2000 also animated by studio Madhouse is founded on that “boogie” style, which seeks to be tonally expressive, narratively experimental, visually symbolic, and deep seated in thematic gravity made for a largely older target audience. On the other hand, sadly, this new 2019 adaptation of Boogiepop, Boogiepop and Others, is founded on the pop style, which seeks to appeal to the lowest common denominator of kids and teenagers with low stakes/high energy action, trope writing, self insertable character designs, self insertable character writing, low density dialogue, and as much juvenile popular appeal as they could fit into the package.
Luckily, however, this new 2019 Boogiepop series looks gorgeous. I mean, as I mentioned, the artwork doesn’t look like Boogiepop should look or feel like Boogiepop should feel. It’s the most accessible, basic artwork imaginable. That said, the technical quality of animation can get stupidly high in it’s mild inconsistency. I remember seeing the headline Madhouse had dropped the IP for One Punch Man and being utterly dumbstruck. Why in the world would they’ve dropped their most profitable IP since Death Note? You probably know this, but One Punch Man is an industry giant. The manga is always best selling and the anime was an international success, so what could possibly have taken precedence over something like that? Apparently, this. The fights are bombastic as hell, and if reading the kanji of the episode credits and following sakugabooru tags serves me well it was animated by the exact same hands that drew One Punch Man, Parasyte: The Maxim, Btooom, and even projects dating back to the airing of Hunter x Hunter (2011). Despite the characters being edgy, needlessly enigmatic, and vapidly motivated, I’d be lying if I said their phenomenally choreographed fights weren’t a feast for the eyes, if only on a technical level. Even with the visuals being as good as they were, I can still say with confidence the audio is even better. The actual sound design itself is pretty lackluster seeing as the kids and teenagers this show is aimed at don’t pay much attention to those nuanced details, but the soundtrack is truly outstanding. If you’re unfamiliar, let me introduce you to Kensuke Ushio, the industry’s rising star composer who scored the hip-hop electronic composition of Devilman Crybaby, the musically orchestral and outright dialogue replacing composition of Liz and the Blue Bird, the emotionally genius SFX based composition of Koe no Katachi, and the award winning, emotional charged, unforgettably epic soundtrack for Ping Pong: The Animation, which in my opinion amounted to the best anime soundtrack of all time. While his soundtrack for Boogiepop and Others (2019) doesn’t reach the heights of any one of those, it’s still just as good as I expected from him, and I highly recommend listening to it outside the show to hear it in all it’s glory.
The director, Shingo Natsume, has proven himself in the past with his direction on One Punch Man, the action spectacle you all know and love, and the infinitely better yet infinitely lesser known police procedural, ACCA: 13 Territory Inspection Dept. If One Punch Man showed us his phenomenal action direction and ACCA his equally phenomenal character direction, then Boogiepop and Others (2019) showed us just how well he could combine the two into a show as (potentially) exciting as it is (potentially) contemplative. Sadly, the script absolutely annihilated ANY sense of flow which those two works had and greatly limited his skill as a director. The writers of this adaptation very blatantly ordered scenes as if checking off boxes on a bulleted list. They make no attempt to add characterization, style, personality, or nuance, and simply wanted to show X, Y, and Z just for the sake of getting it done. Myriad scenes felt choppy in their execution, were poorly edited, had awkward pacing, poor sound design and leveling, and the list goes on and on. Additionally, exactly what is shown on screen has been greatly edited and sometimes outright censored from what the original anime adaptation was willing to show in gore and what the original novels were willing to show in nudity. Obviously, this is yet another manner in which this new adaptation actively derails itself from it’s source materials and constricts it’s own potential to sell out to the younger, more vast, and more accessible audiences. The characters are, as I briefly hinted at, empty husks, for they’re given no time to be anything otherwise. It absolutely speeds through the narrative and character arcs, pedal to the metal zooming past all the central themes, all personality whatsoever, any characterization for the cast, and the sense of tone that had me and so many others in love with the original anime and novels. I feel like I’m becoming a broken record here, but again, this is obviously because they just wanted to skip over all the meandering and contemplative adult aspects of the show just to get to the action and satisfy the kids and teenagers who just want to watch some flashy sakuga animation and go home. They cram an entire chapter of the novel into just episode one alone, one of the most dense setup chapters of a novel I’ve ever read in my life into a single twenty minute episode, only to then cram the next three chapters into episode two, unceremoniously blazing through a major character death which served as the entire emotional crux of the original novel just so they could get to the fight sequence in chapter five as soon as possible even though their speedy pacing totally killed the tension it would’ve had if they had properly built up to it. To give credit where it’s due though, this problem lessens as the show continues because Natsume had outsourced spotlight key animators, episode animation directors, and in one case (the Overdrive: King of Distortion arc for those interested) even a whole new storyboard team to work on different arcs of the show. There were some Ex-Sunrise/Bones animators, some WIT animators both in the show and the opening animation, and even some Trigger boys. Obviously, this had them ending up with drastically inconsistent levels of quality, which just so happened to align the “worse” at the start and the “better” at the finale.
In hindsight, the opening itself told me everything I needed to know about this new adaptation in a hopelessly forthright fashion. Of course, with MYTH & ROID being as historically invested as they are in the project they’re involved in, the opening theme for Boogiepop and Others (2019) is great. It’s nowhere near as unique, striking, tone setting, and memorable as the opening theme for Boogiepop Phantom (2000), but it still got it right more than the rest of this show did, as the actual animation production behind the music is just a bunch of pseudo-symbolic bullshit having nothing at all to do with Boogiepop or it’s original message. MYTH & ROID’s theme, Shadowgraph, is about loss of self and general despondence and dissociation with social norms and stigma, which, while not directly touching on Boogiepop’s central theme of normalcy, is at least somewhat relevant to the narrative and characters, but the visuals and animation itself were nothing of the sort. Speaking of theme songs, the lack of insert songs in this show was actually, physically painful for a fan as obsessed as I am. They didn’t play Oingo Boingo’s No One Lives Forever during the big Manticore scene even though a song that old would’ve been a breeze to get the license for, (especially for a production team able to get the permission to air five episodes of TV anime back-to-back, by the way), nor did they have Boogiepop appear at the school whistling Composer Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg despite the fact it MADE that scene in the novels, only to then use it later in the Boogiepop VS Imaginator Arc anyways. It’s almost like the staff forgot when and why they should care.
I mean, at the end of the day, what do we have here, frankly? Me, some fanatical Boogiepop superfan, and a well made yet unfulfilling and often unfaithful adaptation. If someone watches it and likes it despite all, then great. They have another show to enjoy. If someone watches it and sees it’s hollow core, then they’ll read this review or others like it, go check out the originals, and love them. Neither scenario is negative. I’m disappointed, sure, but certainly not offended, so I honestly recommend this show, if only as an introduction to the Boogiepop franchise. I suppose I’m just worried if I’m too critical, then I’ll scare people away from one of my favorite titles to date and force them to miss out on what could be one of their favorites as well.