Boogiepop Phantom is twelve episodes of atmospheric, angsty WTF. Ordinarily, this would be a bad thing, but this series has something going for it that I can't quite put my finger on. At times, I didn't even want to like it. Yet there I was, completely drawn into this bizarre, dark world.
I didn't know much about the series when I started watching it. I missed its run on Cartoon Network a while back but was vaguely intrigued by the somber visuals and odd name. When Netflix came into my life, I added Boogiepop to my queue and shuffled it around, passing it over in favor of things like Gravitation, until one day, a pair of discs arrived, and I had no idea where in my queue I was. It seemed a fitting beginning to my experience with this series.
Boogiepop Phantom starts with a tale of unrequited teenage love. I remember thinking to myself that I wouldn't be able to sit through the series if the whole thing was narrated by that wimpy-voiced, germophobic girl. Luckily for me, she's not that important. In fact, almost none of the characters are important. More on that later. The little love story turns sinister quickly when the object of the girl's obsession, thought to be dead, reappears as some kind of monster. Yeah, we've got monsters. We've got man-eating monsters at that. Hot damn.
Still, my suddenly adjusted expectations were dashed. The second episode focuses on an entirely different set of characters. You might think this would be annoying, especially for someone like me, who tends to be more interested in characters than plot. While I'll admit that without the draw of interesting people struggling though some conflict, Boogiepop is weaker that it could be, it still has plenty to offer.
The episodic nature of the series ties together a group of kids who, through advanced evolution, have special powers. Most of them don't know what's going on or why. We see them cross paths in harmless ways, but it's a nice touch to see them tied together that way. There are three characters we see throughout who lend Boogiepop Phantom the air of having a cohesive plot ? Nagi Kirima, a high school student who fights the monsters; the Manticore, the aforementioned shape-shifting, man-eating monster; and Boogiepop Phantom, who is an incarnation of Death and something of an urban legend. We never learn exactly why the conflict between the three of them is in place, and we don't really learn much about them either. The small threads that kept them, and the plot, together were enough for me. It was the story that wasn't told that seemed to hook me in.
The plot itself might actually be incomprehensible. I say might because I felt pretty comfortable with it by the end with the exception of the little bits and pieces I wanted to know more about. It's just not that kind of world, though. You don't have time for answers, and as soon as you think you've got answers, time moves on and the questions aren't the same. If I had had more time, or was willing to purchase the series, I would watch it again and maybe a third time. It's that kind of series. You wonder what you might have missed the first time. I don't think I know many people who could tolerate sitting through it again. It got to my head at the right time, and I really dug it.
What I like best about Boogiepop Phantom is the atmosphere. The animation itself is nothing special, but the darkness and the flatness of it are perfect stylistic choices. Many scenes are dark around the edges, giving them sort of a fish-eye lens effect that heightens the weirdness. Flashback scenes, in contrast, are bright and washed out. Every episode feels like a fantastically creepy Halloween night, and I love me some Halloween.
The major theme -- yes, there's a theme! -- of the series, growing up and losing one's sense of wonder, is an interesting one to find wrapped in such a gloomy and, at times, gruesome package. As much as the main plot focuses on human evolution and powers gained through that evolution, I find the theme to be almost antithesis to that. As we grow older, we lose the power of our imagination and aspirations. It's interesting food for thought, and while it's apparent throughout, it doesn't come out with a steel spiked club to beat you over the head with. I appreciate that, especially after my unpleasant experience with the so-called theme of Gantz.
While I really did enjoy this strange little series, I hesitate to recommend it. It's not easy. There's no real conclusion, and all of my understanding of the plot is inferred. I also felt that there weren't enough episodes. So much was touched on and left unexplored. It's the kind of series that rewards paying close attention. If that's not your thing, run far away from Boogiepop Phantom. However, if you're prepared to pay attention and don't mind loose ends, give this one a go. It may have you wondering what you lost when you left your childhood behind.