I didn't start off as a fan of horror. When I was a kid, I was terrified of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. I hated monsters of just about any kind and stuck to safe and happy things. While my stance on the genre eased up as I got older, it still wasn't something that I gravitated towards. That all changed when I got Silent Hill for my birthday March of 1999. Over the course of a weekend, I devoured that game and I finally understood what people loved about scary movies and games.
I mention Silent Hill particularly because there are elements in Boogiepop Phantom that remind me of Konami's famous horror franchise. It isn't just Silent Hill; Boogiepop Phantom feels like it combines elements from several different sources to cobble together an uncomfortable and moody show. Believe me, that's a good thing! Hit the jump to see what I'm talking about.
Boogiepop Phantom Complete TV Series (DVD)
The story thread of Boogiepop Phantom can be a bit difficult to follow, so stick with me. The show takes place in a Japanese town that is still reeling from a string of unsolved murders that occurred five years prior. A month before the story begins, a giant beam of light shot into the night sky, starting another set of strange occurrences. People are exhibiting strange abilities, random folk are disappearing, that sort of thing. Among this, the urban legend of Boogiepop, walking the streets starts to spread among the girls of Shinyo Academy. It's like Death incarnate.
That's the basic thread of the show. Instead of following a single storyline, Boogiepop Phantom changes it's main character each episode. What you have then is a series of non-linear narratives that, by the end of the show, gives you the whole story on what the hell is going in this town. You'll have characters frequently cross paths across different episodes, filling in blanks that made no sense before. Considering how frequently these characters meet bad ends, it's a clever method of story-telling that shows you how dark things have gotten in this city.
One of the few problems I had was the frequent disorientation and, in my case, frustration, with how the story is presented. Boogiepop likes to jump around in its time line, which sometimes left me confused on when a particular scene was occurring. Even when I do know what's going on, I feel like I can almost grasp the whole story, but I'm missing that last nugget of information. In that way, Boogiepop feels like a David Lynch production. It's purposefully disjointed and information is just out of your grasp, but you're OK with it. However, there's still some parts that didn't make sense to me. Since Boogiepop is based off of a light novel series, I'm pretty sure that the entire story wasn't represented in the series. I'm still not completely sure what lead up to the pillar of light that is referenced so often. Enough information was given so that the overall story makes sense, but there's definitely the feeling that something has been left out.
I'm not quite sure if I like Boogiepop's visuals or not. A majority of the show has a desaturated, sepia-tinged color palette. This is an interesting and unique style, but it doesn't always lend itself to looking very good. In fact, I'd hazard to say that Boogiepop as a whole has not aged well. Its stiff and limited animation makes it look older than it actually is and the limited colors don't help. Then again, most of the show has a vignette effect tossed in, so it's possible that all of that was part of establishing that great mood I mentioned earlier. Just don't expect it to wow you with its animation quality.
Right Stuf's re-release features has both Japanese and English vocal tracks, with the dub featuring both stereo and 5.1 sound options. What's interesting is that I found both versions to be lacking in quality acting. Neither vocal track is particularly good, but I found the dub to be the better of the two, if only for its kitsch value. It doesn't take away from the show as a whole, but there are some comically over- and under-acted scenes. Hey, it's just like a David Lynch flick! The soundtrack is also appropriately moody, with some great Silent Hill-esque sound distortion used to great effect.
Overall, I complete recommend Boogiepop Phantom. It's creepy at all the right times and it's told in a fairly unique way. Despite the lackluster vocal performances in both languages, the mood it establishes with its story, visuals and its soundtrack more than makes up for its deficiencies. Do note that it isn't a particularly nice looking show, but it definitely does not look like anything else. If you want a something to creep you out and unnerve you, pick up Right Stuf's re-release.
Score: 7.0 - Films or shows that get this score good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.
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