Why is it that anime always sounds so much worse than it really is? You may think you've seen it a hundred times before: a group of teenagers being stalked by a murderous supernatural entity. But believe me, you haven't.
'Boogiepop Phantom' tells the story of the most ordinary group of high-school students whose lives are all changed by a series of grisly murders (the suspect is Boogiepop, a modern Angel of Death) and a mysterious light appearing in the sky. That is all I can say without giving away too much. The plot twists and turns fiendishly, constantly challenging the viewer's brain. Perhaps that is the series' downfall: it is at times very confusing, and the non-linear narrative takes some getting used to. I have heard of a live-action prequel, but I am not the only one who cannot even dream of finding something like that in their country. However, those who do not mind giving what they're seeing some thought won't have too much trouble.
However, where 'Boogiepop Phantom' truly excels is in its handling of its predominant themes, the first being death. Virtually all the main characters have in some way been touched by it, and Boogiepop herself is a personification of it. Yet she is far from evil: at one point, a seemingly happy girl muses something along the lines of, "I hear it comes for special children. I wish it would come for me too." This may sound a touch overly pessimistic, but such is these children's desire to be 'special'; as well as to simply escape reality.
Which brings me onto the second theme: that of growing up in an entirely adult-orientated world. The way this series depicts the pains and joys of adolescence is simply a wonder to behold. All the issues modern teenagers have to contend with (from sex and drugs to schoolwork, from friendship and love to continuous pressure to excel) are shown as vivid, sometimes heartbreaking metaphors: a girl who can grant wishes becomes enslaved to her brother's destructive impulses; a girl who fails a piano exam is magically given innocence and happiness, only to commit suicide on seeing her piano. The world of 'Boogiepop Phantom' is a dark and cruel world: a world where the only true escape may be death.
But in the midst of it all, love and innocence still survive. Such gems as the previously mentioned boy carving a charm for his sister, nearly moved me to tears. Or, in one of the final episodes, three of the characters who played a key role in the unfolding of the events settle down to write their final exams. Without any bells and whistles, this bittersweet episode strikes just the right chord: we all have to grow up, but how much of our childish hearts we retain is up to us.
Add to that some philosophical questions such as 'What is consciousness?', 'What is reality?', and 'Why are we alive?', and you get a truly magnificent narrative.
Lastly, there is the style. Some reviewers have criticised the dark palette, but in my opinion it suits the dark, creepy atmosphere perfectly. Please note, however, that 'Boogiepop Phantom' is not horror per se. There are several bursts of truly shocking violence, but these only serve to emphasise the internal anguish of the characters.
In conclusion, I recommend this series to anyone with an open mind and a willingness to think. The series is more geared towards adults, but who knows, perhaps teenagers would understand it even better. This is, after all, a far better reflection of their lives than High School Musical.
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