Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Shattered Story – Boogiepop Phantom

One of the final complete television series I reviewed for was “Boogiepop Phantom” and at the time it was one of my highest rated series. The show came at a time when anime seemed to be moving out of its more interesting phase of the late 90’s and into the more commercial phase of the 00’s (not to say that all anime isn’t made for commercial reasons).

What I enjoyed about “Boogiepop Phantom”, other than the completely ridiculous name, was the fact that it’s story was told in a different fashion. The first episode deals with a high school girl who obviously has some serious problems, including compulsive washing and painful shyness. A key scene in the episode occurs when she meets a boy in the school nurses office. He offers to grope her chest to remove a spider from her heart. She freaks out and leaves this obviously disturbed young man.

The second episode starts with a boy in the same school. After a strange incident leaves him with the ability to see people’s pain in the form of spiders, he goes around attempting to remove these spiders from people’s hearts – and then eats them.

The rest of the series continues in the same fashion. You get a new character in each episode, and each one is a separate story, and yet the characters all intertwine, each story affecting the other. And soon a larger story emerges, one that ties into a fateful night and the birth of the angel of death – Boogiepop Phantom.

Not only was this type of storytelling unique in Japanese animation, but I haven’t seen a similar attempt to do this in American television. Some films have done this on a smaller scale, “Love Actually” is one of the most recent ones. But television offers an interesting long form experiment. The big problem is that you never have a true main character for the series. There are a number of characters that appear more frequently than others. In “Boogiepop” , a case could be made that the character Nagi Kirima, is the main character, and her quest to rid the city of the strange “phantoms” is the main plot. But the mysterious “Boogiepop” appears in nearly every episode as well, and you don’t really learn about her motives till nearly the end of the series.
On top of an interesting web of stories, you also get dark moody animation. The main colors are dark browns, deep greys and black. When blood explodes onto the screen it stands in sharp contrast to this dark palate, and it gives “Boogiepop Phantom” a very different look, especially compared to many of the shows that came out around it. If anything this show reminds me of “Serial Experiments Lain”, another bizarre but intriguing anime from the late 90’s.

Music and sound are also used effectively. The soundtrack is a mixture of techno beats, atonal noise and rhythmic uses of static sounds. It works extremely well in the series to build tension, dread and even to get some jump scares out of the viewers.

I recently revisited the complete series again. I had viewed some of my favorite episodes over the years, but not the complete series. I was struck by how well the atmosphere and mood were maintained the series. Certain parts of the story are a little weak and suffer from over-explanation (I think that any good supernatural story should never try to over-explain, but instead just offer enough to keep the viewer interested). I enjoyed the whole series just as much as I did several years ago and still consider it to be a “black jewel” in my anime collection.

Have you ever seen a film or television series with a fractured story told in different parts but adding up to a whole? What is your favorite? Did it not work for you because of it’s fractured nature?

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