Review: Boogiepop Phantom (2002)

Directed by:

Distributed in Australia by:

vi·gnette (v n-y t)

  1. An unbordered picture, often a portrait, that shades off into the surrounding color at the edges.
  2. A short, usually descriptive literary sketch. A short scene or incident, as from a movie.

The American Heritage™ Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Be warned now. Volume 1 of Boogiepop Phantom is not like the first volume of other anime. At the end of the three episodes there will be more questions than answers, leaving you with the strong intuition that it all fits together, somehow. It’s a mystery in the truest, classical sense of the word, masterfully feeding you its clues without leading you to any conclusions, until you are sucked in without even realizing it. And that’s the reason I say ‘be warned’. Because watching the first volume of this series means you will have to watch them all.

However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (and thankfully the series isn’t a hundred episodes like other less engrossing but equally addictive wandering samurai adventure series I don’t care to mention right now…). Boogiepop Phantom is gorgeous, ‘shot’ (for want of a better term) with a hazy dreamlike quality, the frame a vignette as if we are looking not at the world but into it. Such an intimate approach seems to make the inner dialogue of the central characters of each episode more significant than usual and the English version vocal cast have provided extremely graceful, understated performances that serve the story further. The sound quality is extraordinary and the attention to detail in the sound effects is functional both as a soundtrack and as a device to add deeper meaning to the narrative, whether you care to examine it that thoroughly or not. Do however, once you have given Volume 1 an initial screening or two, play it through again with the director/producer’s commentary on (unless you absolutely do not want anything spoiled, since they talk a little about what’s going on symbolically as much as technically). The commentary shows exactly how much effort has gone into bringing this particular series to Western audiences and it adds another layer to the show you might not have been completely aware of.

Intellectually on all these levels there is a sense that to derive meaning from what’s going on, we must think about it and come to our own conclusions, and in a way we only really know as much as each of the characters do. It brings into question the whole idea of viewing and understanding, challenging us to face the fact that Boogiepop Phantomis deliberately resisting our easy comprehension, while even at the same time giving us the advantage of having a more omniscient viewpoint. Events unfold and unravel as the series plays effortlessly with conventional linear time not only within single episodes but also across episodes, employing moments of temporal frequency where the same scenes play themselves out, changed by different characters’ perspective. It all adds up to leave us with few other choices; we have to try and work Boogiepop Phantom out, and when things start falling into place, when we think we are beginning to understand, that’s when our investment will hopefully start to pay off. As the first character we are introduced to in the opening episode, Moto Tonomura, says — “It’s the individual pieces of the puzzle that form the whole picture.”

I for one want to see what portrait Boogiepop Phantom is eventually going to paint.

7 mysteriously rusted clocks out of 10.
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