What’s it about? Takeda, an ordinary high school boy, thought he was getting stood up by his girlfriend when he was left waiting in Shibuya. Just when he’s about to give up and go home, he spots her in a strange costume, assisting a weeping man. She tells him that she is “Boogiepop”, an inhuman entity who is possessing his girlfriend while she hunts down a murderer threatening the school.
Content Warning: Violence against women; depictions of drug usage; imagery associated with sexual assault.
The Boogiepop light novel series has been running for over twenty years. Studio Madhouse adapted it into a 12-episode series in 2000, to popular and critical acclaim. Now, almost two decades later, Madhouse is again adapting the first novel into a new anime series with Shingo Natsume (One Punch Man, ACCA) at its helm. But can Boogiepop and Others stand up to its predecessor?
It’s hard to say, based on the first two episodes. It’s certainly different. While the question of who and what Boogiepop is was one of the central mysteries of the first adaptation (I can’t speak for the novels, since I haven’t read them), this new series lays it all out on the table in the first episode. Boogiepop talks to Takeda frankly, spelling out their nature and their reason for being here.
It’s an odd first episode, and probably would have lost me if the second episode weren’t also available. Takeda is very much outside this conflict—his only connection is more or less that he’s dating Boogiepop’s host. As a result, the episode is mostly a whole lot of standing on the roof and talking and Takeda wandering around looking confused, with the occasional flash to grisly imagery of violently murdered girls’ corpses. By the end of the episode, Boogiepop tells Takeda that the issue has been resolved… but none of it was depicted on-screen.
Luckily the second episode makes it much clearer what the show is going for: a nonlinear story depicting the same events from multiple points of view in different episodes. Takeda was an outsider to the events of the story, but managed to form a more intimate connection with Boogiepop, so the central mystery becomes not “What is Boogiepop” but “What were the events surrounding Boogiepop’s manifestation?” It’s unusual and a little jarring, but has potential to turn into something interesting.
As the second episode digs more into the actual events, it becomes clear that this is, by and large, a girl-centric story. Girls form most of the cast, including most of the key players. Takeda is a non-entity, someone whose life was touched by Boogiepop but never played an active role in the events of the series.
On a surface level, it’s quite lovely. As a series that uses realism as a way to make things feel just ever-so-slightly off and creepy, the character designs are grounded, distinguishing people through their features and hairstyles, rather than giving them identical faces and neon hair. Their speech patterns, relationships, and body language all ring true. Nagi Kirima, the subject of gossip and speculation in the first episode, takes center stage in the second episode, and I fell instantly in love.
She’s the kind of character I adore, a strong and active participant in the story that doesn’t feel at all designed for male consumption. She’s intelligent and driven and strong, unconcerned with the limitations of behaving ladylike. She sits in her computer chair cross-legged even while wearing a skirt, but the camera frames this posture neutrally instead of leering. She keeps a pack of cigarettes on hand not to smoke, but to pull out in front of teachers in order to get suspended when she needs time off school to hunt monsters.
Under the surface, less obviously, there’s a lot of stuff going on that could make or break the show from a feminist perspective. The Manticore—an alien being(?) that steals the shape of its prey as camouflage—has a lot of sexual assault-related imagery surrounding it, including its human ally taking a girl on a date and slipping drugs into her drink. Gossip and rumors between girls also figure into things, and many stories that use those for plot points tend to descend into “girls are catty bitches” without depth or nuance.
Then there’s the issue of gender and the supernatural. Boogiepop and Touka are voiced by Aoi Yuuki, who uses her wonderful range to great effect, speaking in a lower register for Boogiepop but switching to higher tones for Touka. Boogiepop uses “boku” (a more masculine-coded word for “I/me”) and dresses in loose, shapeless clothes that give them an androgynous look, even with Touka’s feminine features and hair.
Meanwhile, the Manticore’s true form is masculine in appearance, but lives in the body of a high school girl. As a girl, it collaborates and takes orders from a high school boy, and seems to have fallen in love with him. It’s one of those things where it’ll have to thread a very fine needle not to come across as essentialist or marginalizing to non-cis identities.
Boogiepop and Others is a show that requires active viewing. Narratively, it requires the viewer to pay attention to small details to piece together the timeline and find the story’s coherence. Semiotically, it seems to be using signifiers to add a non-literal layer to the story that’ll require a lot of viewer interpretation. Either way, I’m interested to see what it’ll do.