Have you heard the rumors? There is a pale-faced shinigami that appears when you are at your most beautiful to take your life. And ever since they appeared on the light novel scene in 1998 with Boogiepop and Others, they haven’t stopped inspiring adaptations. First, there was the manga in 1999, and then there was the anime and the live-action movie in 2000. They even recently resurfaced again in 2019 for a new adaptation helmed by Shingo Natsume over at Studio MADHOUSE. But the rumors are true. You should really just read the Boogiepop novels.
Fans of the Boogiepop novels by Kouhei Kadono have never really been satisfied with how the series has been adapted over the years. The manga is fine, featuring excellent art by Kouji Ogata and telling the basic story by Kadono, but it is hardly long enough to delve into all of the fine details. The 2000 anime Boogiepop Phantom is also fine, telling an entirely anime-original story while using the characters from the original novel and featuring what is possibly the best anime soundtrack of all time. And the less we talk about the 2000 movie, the better.
2019’s Boogiepop and Others came perhaps the closest to capturing the true appeal of the original novels. Not only was it the first concerted attempt at a proper adaptation (the movie was really just a cheap cash-in), it captured the mood and atmosphere of the series present in the novels quite well. Part of this was due to Kensuke Ushio’s excellent soundtrack, but the character designs by Hidehiko Sawado and visual direction from Shingo also contribute to this. Nevertheless, it fails to capture the full scope of the original.
The first three episodes, comprising the events of the first novel Boogiepop wa Warawanai (also titled Boogiepop and Others in English), showcase this quite well. While all of the key scenes, plot threads, and character interactions are there, it rushes through the material and cuts out a lot of the original material – especially the characters’ inner monologues, which forms the basis of the appeal of Kadono’s writing.
Certainly, it’d be difficult and even undesirable to try and transplant this aspect of the Boogiepop novels into anime form. But something to substitute for this would have been nice. Furthermore, the inherent problems of the medium aren’t entirely to blame: the second set of episodes, covering the events of Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, struggle to manage the same emotional impact as the novels because of the truncated runtime.
This will require me spoiling the second and third Boogiepop novels and episodes 4 through 9 of the 2019 Boogiepop anime, so be warned. Part of the reason why Orihata and Masaki’s relationship is so heartbreaking is the fact that we spend an entire book with them before everything falls apart, both creating intrigue and a lasting connection with these characters. In the anime, on the other hand, we speed through these events in an attempt to squeeze them down into three episodes, robbing them of their potential as a result.
Much the same can be said about the rest of the episodes. The slow burn of Boogiepop in the Mirror is replaced with a plot summary in episodes 10 through 13, and the horror of Overdrive is very much muted. You get the point. While each of the various Boogiepop adaptations do have their own strengths and their weaknesses, the best way to experience the story is ultimately through Kohei Kadano’s original novels.
But why should you read Boogiepop in the first place? That is a question we have skipped over in the name of exploring the different adaptations. So let us return to basics. The Boogiepop novels are a series of criss-crossing but mostly independent anthology stories that revolve around the character of Boogiepop, the students of Shinyo Academy, and a whole host of magical creatures and gifted humans alike.
The main draw of the Boogiepop novels is undoubtedly their sense of mystery. This is also the genre that they more or less fall under, but that would be missing the point. The pleasure of reading the series comes not from logically putting together the disparate pieces, but relishing in the different viewpoints that the story is told from and the subjectivity that is born from therein.
True, there is a sense of slowly coming to understand what is going on (especially in the first book), but the answers are hardly ever conclusive. It’s all about seeing how different characters see the world, which is something that the various adaptations have never quite captured due to the lack of inner monologue.
Many people have called Boogiepop unadaptable. Having seen most of the adaptations, I’d tend to agree. Going to the source is undoubtedly the best way to experience Kohei Kadono’s original vision, and there’s never been a better time to do it – Seven Seas have just released novels 1 through 6 in two very reasonable omnibus editions. They’re practically begging you to pick them up.
BGM “STARLESS” by KING CRIMSON