Boogiepop Phantom

anime_bp-phantomThe paucity of real horror anime is annoying to me, a great fan of horror in all its forms. There are several shows that claim to be horror, but they are so formulaic as to be as readily dismissed as all the slasher movies of the 80s1.The majority of anime horror is pornographic, involving tentacle-monsters assaulting young girls, or demon rape, or other distasteful and sadistic things. I don’t care to psychoanalyze the audience of this sort of sadism, but I am definitely not in it.

Boogiepop Phantom2 is a rare pure horror TV show. It is not some sort of hobbling hybrid, weighed down by an action veneer. The plot of each show is based around discomfort and terrible things and focuses on psychic as well as physical terror. Except for perhaps Petshop of Horrors3 I haven’t seen another Anime TV show so rooted in the tradition of horror.

Boogiepop is told is a series of tenuously related stories, like an anthology TV show but more deeply connected. The first episode revolves around a girl’s love for a missing boy, the second about the special powers a cancer-ridden boy develops, and the third (and most horrific) a happy-go-lucky girl guided by the spirit of a murdered friend. Central to all of these stories is the “Boogiepop”, a sort of urban-legend death spirit that the kids blame on all of their troubles.

It is difficult to discuss the plot in less oblique terms, because it moves obliquely. The closest narrative cousin I could name to Boogiepop is serial experiments: lain. Though many reviews on-line warn this is a misleading comparison, Boogiepop shares that show’s mood of alienation – alienation from the audience and the story alike.

Boogiepop also shares with lain a rare quality – a distinct visual style. In a technique that I don’t remember seeing in any anime before, Boogiepop looks overexposed. The whites of the images overwhelm all other visual characteristics, to the point where details at the edges of the frame are indistinct. The character designs tilt towards the realistic, eschewing a number of typical anime-expressionistic touches (smaller eyes, more uniform hair color) while the animation also avoids the cliched shortcuts for expressing emotion.

I’ve been annoyed at enigma in shows. My review of Noir can speak to that. It is an easy, lazy way to try and generate interest: just don’t tell the audience information they need to know in order to understand the show. These first three episodes of Boogiepop should drive me up the wall, then. They explain nothing.

But they don’t pretend to, and the few recurring characters between episodes seem as upset by the enigmas as I am. They don’t know what’s going on, either, and it’s nice to have company. There’s a self-contained story within each episode to keep interest from flagging. Boogiepop Phantom isn’t perfect, I suppose, but I haven’t encountered any actual problems with the show yet. It is an intriguing, visually inventive and occasionally scary show. It fills a gap in my anime collection that other show have only inexpertly fit.

1A small aside: fans of horror have made themselves unrespectable for their allegiance to “gore” and “extreme” movies at the expense of actual quality. Horror has a dignified history. There is sublime horror out there. Nearly none of it involves teenagers screwing then getting killed for doing so. Watch Peeping Tom. Almost no gore in the entire movie. If you aren’t scared, or disturbed, or at least interested by it, it is time to challenge yourself: have you really become a better person watching Cannibal Ho
a dozen times?

2That’s a very stupid name. No way it can be justified, it is terrible. It doesn’t even have the sort of retro-charm of a goofy name like Cowboy Bebop. Blegh.

3Another terrible title, and Pet shop unfortunately wusses out, becoming less horrific as it reaches its conclusion, and becoming some sort of goofball Twilight Zone rip off.
Rating: B+

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