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October 05, 2000

Phantom Plot

It's time once again for . . .

Unfair Anime Reviews (echo! echo! echo!)

In case you're a new reader, let's review the rules:

  1. The reviewer must not be fluent in Japanese. In fact, he may only know a smattering of phrases, preferably lewd.

  2. The anime under review must be unsubbed, undubbed, in the original
    language, what I like to call 'raw Japanese'.

  3. The show must be relatively new, so that there are few episodes
    available to review (in this case the first two), and there is
    limited information on the Internet about it (this reviewer's
    primary research tool).

  4. [extra credit] To take advantage of the reviewer's ignorance, the
    show should be heavy on dialogue, only lightly interspersed with
    any sort of action. If it makes 'The Seventh Seal' seem like
    'The French Connection' we are well on our way.

I really, really shouldn't do this sort of thing. But the shows I like
to review most are the ones which haven't yet reached our shores, and
I've always had a fatal attraction for the odd. So I end up drawn to
shows such as Shamanic Princess like a moth to the flames. And if I say
"what the hell was that??!!??" more often than the next otaku, so be
it.

So here I am again, to share my impressions of a show I have little hope
of understanding. Moreover, a show which makes Serial Experiments Lain
actually break a sweat in the race to be the least-animated animated
series. What's the show, already! It's Boogiepop Phantom. There, I said
it. What are you going to do about it?

If you like scenes which linger lovingly on street lamps, transit
trains, and the by-now-obligatory immobile street crowd, then you
probably have the complete Serial Experiments Lain in your DVD
library. You should start saving for Boogiepop Phantom too. The series
is only twelve episodes long, so it shouldn't be too hard to do.

Seriously, though. This seems to be a part of a growing genre of anime
in Japan. This genre has existed from the start, but is really
flourishing now on the late-night satellite channels like
Wow-Wow. Boogiepop is on at 2a.m. on TV Tokyo. What sort of audience you
get at that time I can only guess, insomniac for one. But somebody
watching television at 2a.m. is more than likely a little bit more
patient than the average prime time viewer. So shows like these take
their time. The story evolves through dialogue, imagery, flashbacks,
visions, and the internal monologues of the characters.

For the non-native viewer, a consequence is that the show is more than a
little bit hard to follow. But I'm guessing that even a Tokyo resident
will scratch her head a bit over this show. It is classified as horror,
and has a bit of the Clive Barker leaky-reality feel to it. In the first
episode Tonomura Moto is introduced. She is apparently obsessed by
germs, as she opens doors with tissues and is constantly washing her
hands. Not particularly good at making friends, she lives in a bubble of
her own making.

As if her life isn't bad enough she was in love with a boy, Saotome, who
has disappeared, and being painfully shy she never even approached
him. But fear not, in the dark of night Moto is walking home from the
karaoke bar, alone, when Saotome manifests in a cloud of light. Moto is
understandably disturbed, but soon overcomes her discomfort and talks
with him. After a short conversation, Saotome reveals his true colors,
grabbing Moto and spewing ectoplasmic tentacles from his mouth. But
before he can do the nasty to Moto, he is 'killed'. Boogiepop Phantom
has made her first appearance.

So who is Boogiepop Phantom? The info out there is sketchy, but I did
glean this bit from EX Remote:

BOOGIEPOP WA WARAWANAI (BOOGIEPOP PHANTOM)

TV Tokyo Overview: A secret organization that
Wed/Thu protects the world from danger, Boogie
1:45-2:15am Pop. Based on the grand prize winner of
the 4th Dengeki Game Novel contest.

So presumably Boogiepop Phantom is an agent of that organization. But
like so many secret organizations, Boogie Pop won't hire you unless
you're stylin'. The graphic included with this article should give you
an idea.

With her first and second appearances (in the second episode) Boogipop
Phantom is enigmatic, and despite the capsule review above, her motives
are not at all clear. She at least seems to object to what I think
are good acts, too. I don't know, does grabbing weird invisible
fist-sized spiders off of people and eating them qualify as a bad act?

When I was but a wee sociopath, attending college (or more often, not,
as I seem to recall through the fog), there were two magazines which
were favorite pastimes, in lieu of studying. One was the National
Lampoon, which though sophomoric in it's humor, was actually very clever
in it's early years.

The other was Heavy Metal. Years later, I chanced to look into an issue
and was disappointed with the total dreck I was confronted with. Could
this be the magazine I had so enjoyed when only a few years younger? I
theorize that it went downhill, that the creative juices of the editors,
writers and artists had run their course. Or it just wasn't as cool
after all the drugs were purged from my system. Whatever.

In any case, in its heyday, Heavy Metal was the magazine. Based on the
French magazine Metal Hurlant, it contained a wide variety of art
styles, though always of the most exciting and beautiful quality. The
stories were, how shall I put it, obscure. I don't know if this was a
French thing, avant garde and all that, or if it was an Art thing, but
there you are. The magazine was full of stories that didn't go anywhere,
but boy was the journey fun.

One of my favorites was 'The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius' by
Moebius (now known by his real name, Jean Giraud, and working in the
movie industry -- he was a primary art designer for Alien). Moebius is a
fantastic draftsman, but not the best storyteller, and the Airtight
Garage wandered all over the place. But I didn't care. The line art was
so careful, so idiosyncratic, and the vistas so far-reaching and
beautiful, that the characters could have been discussing their grocery
lists (actually I think that was Chapter Five) and I still would have
come along for the ride.

What has this got to do with Boogiepop Phantom? Well, like Serial
Experiments Lain, Shamanic Princess and other plot-challenged series
(okay they have plots, but let's face it, plot takes a back seat to cool
in these shows) the journey is ultimately more important than the
resolution. So while I might get a few blisters along the way, I'm
willing to walk a few more miles with Boogiepop Phantom.

Directed by Watanabe Takashi Character Designs by Suga Shigeyuki Original Character Designs by Ogata Kouji Produced at Mad House Copyright 2000 Kadono Kouhei / Mediaworks / Project Boogiepop

Posted by dpwakefield at October 5, 2000 11:35 AM