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Boogiepop Phantom

An intriguing fragmentary story concludes—but without collecting all the fragments

*Boogiepop Phantom
*The Right Stuf International
*Vol. 3 (eps. #7-9)
*Vol. 4 (eps. #10-12)
*85 min.
*MSRP: $19.98 dubbed VHS
*MSRP: $29.95 hybrid DVD (reviewed)

Review by
Tasha Robinson

A s the mysterious series Boogiepop Phantom moves into its second half, the mysterious column of light that seems to be the focal point of many weird happenings has strange effects on a boy named Mamoru Oikawa. Mamoru has long been obsessed with finding and destroying "useless" things, and when a group of older boys attempt to assault him and steal his money, he decides he's found a perfect example of uselessness. His assailants begin to disintegrate in a bloody fashion, until Mamoru's sister Sayoko intervenes. He casually beats her, but allows his attackers to escape. As Sayoko wonders how he became so cruel and emotionally deadened, when he was once such a lively, creative boy, the two of them encounter a strange girl playing with a butterfly made of light. She evokes a key memory from Mamoru's past, in which he played the Pied Piper in a school play, and his attitudes began to change.

Our Pick: A-

Meanwhile, a phantom child in a Pied Piper costume joins the butterfly girl and begins to gather "friends" from across the city—the memories of children, left behind when people became adults, but drawn out to lead separate lives through the agency of seemingly magic balloons. The phantom children created by this process are happy, but the adults they leave behind are little more than shells. One of these shells is a girl who put aside her dreams of becoming a writer when her teachers discovered she was good at math, and pushed her to prepare for a career in the sciences. Released from adulthood, she rejoins the Pied Piper figure, who seems to be a character from the fiction she left behind.

As the series continues to jump back and forth in time, other episodes reveal more about the enigmatic Boogiepop Phantom and about lone heroine Nagi Kirima, who is chasing Boogiepop while trying to get at a predatory creature called the Manticore. Significant chunks of Nagi's past are revealed, the butterfly girl's history is laid bare, and the origins of the Pied Piper figure become clear. But a great number of Boogiepop Phantom's tangled plot threads are never unwound as the series comes to a quiet end.

More intellectual challenge than amusement

Probably the most frustrating thing about Boogiepop Phantom is that all its plotlines center on a single event—the cataclysm at the school, when Boogiepop Phantom was created, the Manticore was destroyed (for the first time) and strange psychic abilities began to manifest in young people across the city. But the series never fully spells out how that event came about, or what exactly happened. Only a scattered handful of fragmentary flashbacks throughout the series ever addresses it.

These six episodes do tie up quite a few loose ends, and offer up a basis for interpreting the rest of the series. While a great deal is left to the imagination, a lot of questions are answered at the same time. And like the first six episodes, these look and feel uniquely spooky and melancholy. A sense of dread, which comes partially out of the story's continuing focus on the rigors of adolescence, the fragility of memory and the frailty of life, hangs heavily over the sleepwalking characters and suffuses their actions with a sense of significance. The fantasy and horror themes, which range from telepathic contact to pyrokinetics to a mob of oddly sweet yet simultaneously creepy ghost children, contribute to an atmosphere where anything can happen and nothing can be taken for granted. The series' narrative disjunction—it continues to jump back and forth wildly throughout time, presenting its stories in small, sometimes scrambled, slices—only contributes to its sense of wonder. Between its unpredictability, its artistically deliberate sense of confusion, its admirable complexity, its unsettling graphicness and its narrative weight, Boogiepop Phantom is mesmerizing, right up until the not-entirely-satisfying end.

Like all puzzle series, Boogiepop isn't for everyone. It rewards patience, repeated viewings and long, hard thought, and some viewers clearly aren't looking to devote any of the above to what's supposed to be entertainment. In spite of its skilled animation and visual playfulness, Boogiepop is more on the order of an intellectual challenge than an evening's amusement. But like the very few similarly moody, artful series—Serial Experiments Lain chief among them—Boogiepop touches on complex emotions and dark secrets with a grace uncommon to anime, and an ambition uncommon to animation in general.

The producer's notes and character notes in the bonus section of disc four gives a number of hints about the larger story found in the novels that formed the basis for Boogiepop Phantom. Those hints are more frustrating than enlightening, since they seem to imply that the novels clear up some of the central mystery. Too bad they're not available in the U.S. — Tasha

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