The following article was originally published on Animeondvd.com. At the very end of the essay, after the sources are listed, I have added a response that I had written on the aodvd’s message board shortly after this was first printed.
This article has been reprinted with the permission of its author, Robert Stanton.
Boogiepop Phantom is an animated series based upon the acclaimed written work of Kouhei Kadono. Set somewhere in common, urban, contemporary Japan, the dark science fiction premises of the show quickly take over and distort any traditional elements of culture or knowledge. In fact, one of the series’ mantras is “In this world, anything can happen, and everything does happen all the time,” indicating the bizarre twists and turns of fate that will happen to the characters and the world they reside in during a certain amount of time. Over the course of twelve episodes, the viewer witnesses not only the biographical development of a wide cast of characters, but also the way that each of their individual lives manages to effect or coincide with others’. This is successfully accomplished by the use of straightforward character narratives and flashback sequences that force the viewer to make sense out of the series’ use of time in order to piece together what actually happened. The show stresses that flashbacks are concepts of memory and not necessarily truth, and that time is a relative concept dependent in which order sequences are experienced or viewed.
Aside from the masterful narrative techniques that the series uses, Boogiepop Phantom lends itself well to secondary interpretation due to its open structure and intentionally vague use of memory and time. The following analysis of the series attempts to discover the central themes continually coursing throughout the episodes, and subsequently applies a sociological interpretation of these theses or major events.
Disgust with the Modern World: The Story of Moto Tonomura and Mamoru Oikawa
The first thing the viewer realizes in the episode “Portraits from Memory” is that the central character, Moto Tonomura, suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder, which forces her to remain physically clean at all times. The direct causes of her mania, though, are never directly revealed. It is only through interpretation that we can gather the root of her psychosis. Moto declares that she hates herself — a sentiment fair enough for a teenager unsure of who or why she is. Consequently, she has a strong distaste for the world around her. Moto’s disregard for contemporary society is demonstrated by her self-imposed ignorance in the material world — she refuses to buy items at clothing shops — and her reluctance to attend social functions with her “friend.” In fact, she is even disgusted when, at a casual social gathering, her best friend Yasuko begins kissing a boy. Although the scene could be interpreted in several different ways — other arguments include Moto is disgusted since Yasuko’s former lover used to be a boy Moto liked, she is prude, or she is antisocial — the central consideration here is her disdainful reaction to a culturally-proscribed way of expressing attraction to another. She does not seem afraid or misunderstanding of her friend’s actions. Instead, she remains scornful of their meaninglessness. Moto is continually aware of Yasuko’s blatant nihilism towards physical meaning and expression in the sexual act, as evidenced by her carefree attitude towards its implications. Moto senses the banality of physical love in the modern age — it is performed so often and so perfunctorily that it becomes meaningless in its repetition — and so she disregards it and the image-centric society that promotes it.
From these interpretations, we can sense that Moto’s constant desire to keep clean results from what she considers an impure outside world, full of negative influences that reduce life to apathy as well as mental and physical disease. Additionally, this is what inspires her personal loathing. When one is stuck in a society where displays of pointlessness, wasted time, apathy, and laziness are constantly not only witnessed but also promoted, there are only a few outcomes. One is that the individual abandons hope in the world, becomes introverted and focuses on the only thing that is sure to be mutable for the better — oneself. Another option is to remove oneself from the world at large, either through suicide or seclusion. Moto chooses this secondary option to deal with her observations, not realizing its own potentially self-detrimental effects. Through Moto’s self-imposed seclusion, she develops a psychopathic tendency to consider the world unclean, which ultimately removes her from potentially beneficial experiences that would further her own intellectual growth and ability engage in meaningful relationships instead of the relatively unfulfilling ones she is currently stuck with.
When Moto asks, “Why do they even live if they [rabbits she sees in the park] all die anyway?” she is expressing her uncertainty towards not only the rabbits’ lives, but also of her own and all of humanity. Her question is one that any observant individual has asked at some point during his or her life, and oftentimes not found a satisfactory answer to. Whether Moto is referring to the spiritual or physical death that contemporary society can cause is unclear, but what is known is that her uncertainty about the meaning of life indicates that she is not trusting or hopeful for the society in which she lives and the people it produces. Thus, it makes sense that Moto concludes that she sees no reason for them to live. In her opinion, the majority of these people (or rabbits) makes little difference in the world, and fail to live up to their possibilities. Instead of attempting to escape from their metaphorical cages of physical and mental entrapment, they choose society’s ready-made lifestyles as an easy answer to their personal question of “Why live?” It is this sentiment that solidifies Moto’s disgust with the world — that all around her, people are living lives that fail to touch others, improve something, or add new insight. Her self-hatred stems from the fact that she, too, fails to effectively live this sort of life, since she is unable to even express her feelings towards someone she “likes.” The sensation of disgust towards the mindset of contemporary society is paralleled by Mamoru Oikawa’s dislike of “useless things” in the episode “Until Ure in My Arms Again,” indicating an important theme in Boogiepop Phantom, that the individual in society must come up with their own reasons for living instead of preexisting choices such as family, job, or material possessions.
The episode “Until Ure in My Arms Again” features the theme of a similar disgust with the modern world, although due to completely different reasons. The viewer first witnesses the character of Mamoru Oikawa physically destroying his attempted muggers under the premise of their uselessness. As becomes clear further in the episode, Mamoru is obsessed with finding the “useless things” of the world and destroying them. Whether it is computer parts, a kitten, or coffee creamer, they are unnecessary according to Mamoru’s logic, and therefore should not exist. Although it is difficult to fully agree with the ethical issues of his rather Spartan ideology, the viewer must agree that such a view is the sign of one who divorces himself from contemporary consumer society and the millions of “useless” products and trinkets it produces.
During youth, Mamoru could be described as a normal, happy child. His parents were able to support him, and he independently found youthful enjoyment in acting and in his role of “big brother” to his sister, Sayoko. Sayoko’s continued longing for her brother’s support could be considered symbolic of a general desire for a return to close, helpful, and trusting relationships in and outside of the nuclear family unit. Although Mamoru desired the support of his parents in his youth, particularly in regards to his acting, he was continually let down in his hopes of their actual interest. Instead of assisting their son and encouraging his work, Mamoru’s parents instead ignore him and his dreams; they are more concerned with their work lives than appropriately raising their children. His father, ever appropriately, breaks his promise to attend Mamoru’s portrayal of the Pied Piper, opting instead to work on Paisley Park, a fantasyland being built by his construction company. In this regard, Paisley Park becomes the symbol of Mamoru’s disgust with the world — its uselessness is abundant in its half-finished state (one must also question its purpose even if it were completed). From this day forward, Mamoru becomes more neurotic in his tendency to search out and eliminate the useless things in life.
It is not until the beam of light occurs one night that Mamoru achieves his powers — he has the ability, with the use of his sister, to make his wishes come true. The initial effects of this newfound “talent” prove to be somewhat banal or grotesque — he separates creamer from coffee, and in an apparent reference to Mishima Yukio’s The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, Mamoru rather violently ends the life of a kitten to prove his strength. As mentioned before, both these actions are in line with his beliefs, however; in the proper context, both items can be viewed as useless.
Mamoru realizes at some point that the world he resides in is full of useless things both people and objects, and considers it his responsibility and purpose to eliminate them all. Thus, Mamoru’s disgust with the “real world” is complete. However, along his quest, he comes to the horrifying realization that he, too, is useless. He is unable to produce anything; he can only destroy. From viewing Mamoru’s plight, the viewer can gain some insight in how to live a more complete life. One should avoid the “useless things” that are so prevalent in modern consumer culture, instead indulging in creative desires to give something of value through a public or artistic role. This sort of action justifies our existence — it gives life meaning through the manufacture of something that serves an unquestionably useful function. In this manner, we can avoid becoming overly bitter and useless, like Mamoru Oikawa.
To Find Purpose in an Ornamental World
Susan Faludi, in her book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, explains that “Where we once lived in a society in which men in particular participated by being useful in public life, we are now surrounded by a culture that encourages people to play almost no functional public roles, only decorative or consumer ones.” The ideas of such a society are constructed around celebrity, image, glamour, entertainment, and other ornamental values. Faludi’s statement could be applied to any developed nation or gender — this reduction in utility is not limited exclusively to the United States or males. Thus, contemporary Japan also fits the description, with its focus on novelty, kitsch, and consumption. Boogiepop Phantom manages to capture this sentiment as well as depicting how different people react to such a culture.
Since early childhood, Hisashi Jonouchi has wanted to be a “hero,” something worthy of praise and recognition. In other words, he has the healthy desire contribute to his society in some manner. However, his only outlet, as he can see it, is to become a sports idol. Later, the viewer finds that he does not consider the more intellectual trades “heroic,” purely because of their behind-the-scenes nature. His father and mother, relatively faceless workers in a society which emphasizes statistical performance and fitting in more than anything else, appeal little to him as conceptions of the heroic image he wants to pursue. Indeed, modern culture, with its emphasis on “style” and “edge” also stresses conformity to these traits in order to be taken seriously or to succeed — materialistically that is — in society. Thus, to Jonouchi, sports idols take on a heroic aspect — they circumvent contemporary mores by performing amazing feats of athleticism and strength and they are noticed for doing so. However, what Jonouchi does not yet realize is that sports players are also part of the ornamental world — their true value is measured in terms of home runs, slugging percentages, and the size of their salary.
The malignant bone tumor found in Jonouchi’s arm proves to be both the death of his dream as well as its savior. Although it prevents him from further pursuing his idea of the heroic sportsman, his encounter with Dr. Kisugi and the “medicine” to make him stronger ultimately allows him to become the hero he always wanted to be. The doctor’s medicine fails to make him stronger — instead, it causes him to become delirious with fever. The fever can be construed to symbolically represent the death of his old dream — that of becoming a sports star — and his return to health is the birth of his new idea — to save people from the regret, guilt, and remorse which are “eating them up inside.” Time after time, Jonouchi feels that he is helping people by eating their darker emotions, which are symbolically represented by spider-like insects. However, after removing what he thinks is the guilt over his mother’s death from his own father, Jonouchi realizes that he is not taking away only guilt, but also the entire memory which caused such remorse.
At this point, it becomes clear that Jonouchi is not only obsessed with “curing” people of their regret, but that he is also trapped in the ornamental world. He does not consider the questions of whom or how he has helped, instead only concerning himself about how many he has helped. One can interpret Jonouchi as fanatical about increasing the amount of people he has aided, and as such, he is seen as trapped by the very culture he was attempting to bypass in becoming a true hero. Instead of achieving his original goal, he is reduced to being a coward, concerned only with his mission of “helping,” which essentially translates into helping a large number of people for no significant reason other than to be noticed.
Psychologist Ernest Becker, in his work The Denial of Death, accurately describes Jonouchi’s — and everyone else’s — predicament when he claims, “The social hero-system into which we are born marks out paths for our heroism, paths to which we conform, to which we shape ourselves so that we can please others, become what they expect us to be. And instead of working our inner secret we gradually cover it over and forget it, while we become purely external men, playing successfully the standardized hero-game into which we happen to fall by accident, by family connection, by reflex patriotism, or by the simple need to eat and the urge to procreate” (82). Jonouchi’s devotion to this “hero-game” is obvious. Originally, he desired to fit into the role of sports hero to please others. Once he is granted his rather bizarre and absurd talent, his life continues to revolve around carelessly “helping” others. In both instances, instead of attempting to discover and refine whatever his true talents are, Jonouchi chooses to participate in society’s hero-system, meaninglessly attempting to gain recognition, immortality, and some false sense of purpose.
The concept of attempting to find meaning in the modern ornamental world is further showcased in Boogiepop Phantom with the episode “My Fair Lady.” Yoji Suganuma is obsessed with the typical fantasy of meeting the perfect mate and living out an eternity of “fun” moments with said individual. However, instead of attempting to find this person in reality, Yoji is content to spend his time with a computer representation of her, choosing to immerse himself in digital, rather than physical “love.” At the same time, he is initially aware that his fantasy is no more than that — reality remains something he participates in, albeit with a lack of enthusiasm. Yoji’s attempt to enter a computer graphics school — possibly to develop better date simulation programs — is evidence of his desire to improve his own life. However, in doing so, he also inadvertently improves the lives of those with a similar disposition for such games. Thus, Yoji’s life begins to serve a purpose — helping others find some emotional connection in the digital world that they would never receive in the physical world.
Unfortunately, much like Hisashi Jonouchi, Yoji Suganuma falters in his quest for this authentic existence in an inauthentic world by becoming engrossed with the material aspects of his dream. Unlike Jonouchi, however, his failing results not solely from personal choices, but also due to a drug, Type S(lave). Symbolically, the drug could be considered the distillation of a consumer culture. Although it initially makes people more aggressive towards their goals, it is actually self-destructive as it addicts them to the drug’s effects, forcing them to be slaves not only to the drug, but also to what the drug makes them desire. In this way, Type S is no different than a commercial, momentarily making the viewer want whatever is being advertised, afterwards forcing them to pursue such a craving by whatever means necessary, such as working at a dissatisfying job.
Once Yoji begins using Type S, his already thin line between fantasy and reality shatters. He becomes even more reclusive, devoting as much time as possible to his fantasy date simulation program. When he does venture out of his fantasy (his bedroom) it is to work, where his fantasy world blurs into reality, as he begins to increasingly visualize a fellow worker, Rie Sato, as the character of his fantasy date. Through a series of tragicomic daydreams and actual events, the viewer witnesses Yoji descend fully into the ornamental world. He gives up his dream of attending a computer graphics school, instead choosing to focus on working (to be able to afford his desire — Type S) and existing in his computer dating fantasy. Yoji ceases pursuing his original goal of improving the quality and emotional response of the computer date simulator, instead letting himself become overly enraptured with his dream world. The verisimilitude of his fantasies overwhelms reality, and Yoji becomes a possessive materialist — the ultimate decline into consumer culture. Instead of wanting to experience a life with his fantasy-mate, he simply wants to possess her, to have her at all times, like a meaningless ornament on his shoulder. He cares little for what she thinks or who she is, just as long as she is always available. In this way, he is much like a child, neglectfully abusing a new toy. Even when Yoji can no longer obtain Type S due to its seller’s death, and he becomes disillusioned from his fantasy world, he refuses to accept reality — his mind too far programmed by the drug to accept anything but the possessive, ornamental world he resided in for so long.
Through this interpretation of Hisashi Jonouchi and Yoji Suganuma’s experiences, Boogiepop Phantom expresses another key theme — that of trying to find an authentic existence in a world concerned with image and materialism. The series seems to argue that in creating something for a culture or purpose, one can transcend ornamentality — the state of merely being a unit of showiness and image — and reach a state of meaningfulness to a culture or select individuals. Boogiepop Phantom asks its viewers to avoid the specious consumer world, instead choosing an authentic life by selecting a purpose and pursuing mastery and successful activity in it. Whatever the goal is — from helping others in some way to creating a date simulator to aid a culture of somewhat antisocial, reclusive teenagers — is not important. What matters is that it be done with sincerity and vigor.
The Decline of the Parental Role and Childhood in Contemporary Society
Time, memory, and physical limitations are all absent or obscured in Boogiepop Phantom. However, what may perhaps be the most notable absence in the series is that of adults or parents in general. They are either simply not there or portrayed in a negative manner throughout the majority of the episodes. In fact, Poom Poom’s group of “children” tries to conquer any adult they see out of an unspoken disgust for them. The lack of parents or adults in Boogiepop Phantom is an obvious springboard for several of the show’s thematic ideas.
On the most basic level, the lack of parents indicates the decline of the parental role or the child-parent bond in general. As previously mentioned, the modern world is one of image or style over substance. In this realm, parents become useless as the possibility to pass on knowledge of a certain trade or traditional wisdom decreases. Parents themselves, most already serving ornamental roles in the modern economy, have no direct abilities to impart to their children — it is not possible to unequivocally impart your kin with the capability to manage, sell, or market a product like it is with a more creative or artisan trade. In this sense, the traditional bonds between parents and children — those of learning a trade or acquiring wisdom — slowly erode. Parents typically spend large amounts of time at distant jobs, failing to bestow their experiences or counsels to their children. Additionally, an increasing ornamental status is combined with increasingly higher levels of education to obtain modern, desirable (read large profit-making) jobs, which parents simply cannot give to their children. Thus, parents are typically either not there for their offspring, or are incapable of instilling them with anything meaningful.
Society in Boogiepop Phantom is no different, and it perfectly models our contemporary world. Mamoru Oikawa’s parents — namely his father — not only have nothing to impart to him (consider the worth of teaching a child how to plan amusement parks) in terms of knowledge or wisdom, but also painfully neglect him, failing to even show up at a school play. The incident leaves Mamoru traumatized and spiteful of all “useless things,” which he realizes his father is. Later in life, Mamoru also makes the difficult realization that he, too, is useless since he can only destroy, and not create or improve anything with the power shared between his sister and him.
In a similar manner, Hisashi Jonouchi’s parents fail to impart any knowledge or actions of how to actually be a hero, something he desperately needs and desires. His parents do not effectively raise their child into an adult capable of contributing or creating something because they offer him no source of adulthood, no transition from the life of a child to adolescence or later life. After Jonouchi’s mother dies, his father continues to raise the child. Unfortunately, Jonouchi’s father only works and mourns, failing to effectively develop his child into an adult capable of evolving a sound personality and set of values. In this way, Jonouchi has no help from family to capture meaning or wisdom, and is thus left to seek out his ideas from society’s appointed cultural purveyors, the media. It is no surprise, then, that Jonouchi wants to be a sports hero, a fine example of the ornamental society — what does a sports star produce or contribute to the world at large, other than act as a spectacle, something to be talked about while its luster is still bright?
During the episode “Mother’s Day,” Shizue Wakasa is not only disappointed by her mother’s lack of respect for her dead husband, she also resents the fact that her mother is unable to do anything else for her other than earn money. Although the goal of the earnings — to pay for college expenses — is an admittedly important aspect for her child, Mrs. Wakasa single-mindedly pursues this financial support; rarely do we see her in contact with her child. This implies that in the context of a parent, Shizue’s mother is only able to fill the role of the provider, not of a nurturer or educator to make her daughter feel useful, necessary, or purposeful in the culture of her choice. The combination of these two factors as performed by Mrs. Wakasa, as unintentional as they may be, ultimately lead to the breakdown of the paternal relationship. Indeed, Shizue wants to become a “seed that can float without a care until you land and be an individual.” The world in which she inhabits is one without paternal influence or guidance, and as such, she feels she has never taken root in anything — she is still a seed, not even a fledgling plant. The desire to gain individuality through independence becomes her dream, and although she wishes to be magically whisked away from the hopeless situation of her deteriorating relationship with her mother, Shizue actually demonstrates potential at overcoming the material world. The only problem is that she does not know what to do — without some sort of guidance from a parent, teacher, or sage-like figure, Shizue is much like a seed without an area to grow — she is learning and desiring to grow, but for what purpose?
Delving deeper into the thematic pool, Boogiepop Phantom also represents the decline of childhood and its ideas in general. The beliefs of childhood are relatively simple — do something and enjoy doing it. This translates into the “real world” by having a job that one enjoys, feels productive at, and contributes something. However, as Akane Kojima, in the episode “You’ll Never be Young Twice” indicates, “As people get older, they forget about what’s important in life. They reach an understanding with reality and convince themselves that they enjoy what they’re doing.” Akane correctly notices that in the modern world, most people forget about the importance of those childhood ideals, instead opting to take the easy route out, mindlessly performing some task that they neither like nor feel is rewarding. Contemporary consumer culture has them effectively working at jobs that go against their principles, chasing after material objects they do not need. They willingly abandon their youthful dreams of enjoying themselves while working and doing something useful in order to achieve comfort and stability for them and their family in the world.
The episode “My Fair Lady” effectively demonstrates the death of childhood ideas through both the decline in the parental bond and a culture, which favors the destruction of such ideals. Yoji Suganuma’s parents, his father in particular, are some of the worst Boogiepop Phantom has to offer. Not only does Yoji’s father insult his son in childhood for performing poorly in school (instead of deciding to guide and educate his child as is necessary) he also constantly neglects his son through being consumed by his probably unsatisfying work. We are to assume that by Yoji’s teenage years, his father has lost nearly all concern for his son, which is just as well, since Yoji has retreated into a world of fantasy dates, a world where he can always succeed and live up to his and others’ expectations. The main wish of his father seems for Yoji to enter a traditional college. The fact that he wishes to enter a computer graphics school, something associated with childhood dreams, simply does not matter. According to his father, “a son should listen to his parents.” Yoji’s father seems to forget the numerous insults he forced his son to endure, all the meanwhile failing to aid him in every way possible except the ornamental — Yoji’s father is able to materially provide for the family. In the end, the father figure in Yoji’s life seems determined to condemn his son to a life similar to his — one of unsatisfying work in an unrewarding culture of meaningless gestures and lost productive years doing something one never wanted to.
The Retreat from Reality
Existence is, by definition, apathetic towards the everyday concerns of humanity. It has no predefined motives or plans for the events of one’s life. Whether an individual becomes a store clerk or a bureaucrat is of no concern — people’s welfare is not the issue. The concept of existence is really a blank slate, something empty that arises with our perception of waking up each morning and realizing that we are alive for another day — existence is merely our perception of the continuation of time. We, as thinking beings, must imbue our short life with its own meaning, concerns about the affairs of how daily life is to be run, what we need to accomplish, and how to deal with the reality that hinders us from reaching our goals. However, reality is no easy concept to face. Every day, we are forced to deal with ideas about murder, economic collapse, government corruption, corporate malevolence, the declining social and moral fabric of the world, irreversible environmental damage, and our imminent death. This is all done while coping with our own inability as single individuals to make a significant change to these problems. It should be no surprise, then, that the escape from reality is one of humanity’s favorite and potentially most destructive activities.
For most, the idea of dying without accomplishing anything is a horrifying thought, and to take our minds off this, we develop things like civilizations, relationships, art, assigned tasks, and hobbies. According to Becker, in The Denial of Death, throughout history, there has been a great devotion to creating devices that divert attention away from the concept of reality and death. There is a certain destructive element in this obsession — humanity tends to dedicate less time to the establishment or consideration of physical things or ideas that do not attempt to draw focus away from reality, instead of embracing what is permanent and attempting to maximize the impact we each have in our short time alive. One of Boogiepop Phantom’s thematic concepts, then, is the retreat from reality and how this flight can affect our lives.
Perhaps the show’s perfect representation of this escape from reality is demonstrated in the episode “Life can be so Nice.” At a young age, Misuzu Arifuji comes across her friend’s remains after a serial killer has murdered her. Immediately, Misuzu enters a psychologically protective mode to escape the thought of her own death, guilt (she had agreed to meet her friend at the very spot she was murdered at), and the generally brutal implications of human nature the murder demonstrates. She accepts and mimics her friend’s philosophy, the teachings of Panuru, which essentially preaches a total acceptance of the entire world. Even amidst the chaos and loss of everyday existence, one must remain loving, optimistic, and accepting — an ethical system that is compatible with understanding a friend’s seemingly meaningless life and death.
The philosophy turns out to be little more than a protective shell for Misuzu, however, who adopts it not to understand her friend’s death or the world around her, but to avoid directly dealing with both. She goes through the motions of accepting reality and the events that befall her, but never truly comes to terms with them — she is always diverting her attention somewhere else, be it through music, school, or her relationships to others. It is easy to say one has accepted an event when one never focuses or thinks about it. In this way, Misuzu tricks herself into believing that she has somehow risen above the fray — she has faced the horrors of reality and overcome them just by saying she has. A calm, collected exterior is the façade put forth, and this perceived confidence comes across as arrogance — with the idea that what we think or have “works,” there comes a feeling of strength or righteousness. Indeed, the Manticore (under the guise of Saotome) explains, “Humans mistake silly little theories for special powers,” indicating that we use our conceptions of how society, politics, or the human mind work to divert attention away from death, to make us feel important, superior, or powerful, so that somehow mortality cannot touch us. In other words, our ideas help us escape reality.
All false and untenable systems crumble in the end, however, and Misuzu’s is no different. When finally confronted by death in the form of Boogiepop Phantom, the philosophy she held breaks down, as she asks, “In this screwed up world, how else should I have lived?” As viewers, we are left not knowing the answer to Misuzu’s question, but at least we are aware of one false answer to it. It is up to us to decide our own way to exist, and from experience, to decide whether or not our current methods are the appropriate way to face reality.
Yoji Suganuma, in the episode “My Fair Lady,” further demonstrates Boogiepop Phantom’s concern with escaping from reality. Yoji is, by nature, a reticent human being. Undergoing the verbal abuse of his father at a young age undoubtedly shaped the boy into a burgeoning recluse — to avoid presenting poor grades to his father, Yoji simply chooses not to appear before anyone, opting out of participation in life to avoid the potential pain it seems to bring him. With the passing of years, his antisocial qualities grew and matured to the point where, unable to express his sentiments towards women in a natural way, Yoji opts for computer dating simulators to achieve the human understanding and warmth he desires. Through both these methods, Yoji finds his escape from reality in the form of avoiding organic life, instead embracing digital and mechanical devices to act as the purveyors, monitors, and mediums of his escape world.
When introduced to the drug Type S, Yoji continues to escape from reality, albeit in a different manner. Instead of finding a purely alternative physical world to exist in, mental and physical worlds blur. Yoji’s inner fantasy worlds — daydreams and subconscious desires — begin to emerge into the real world, causing distinctions between the two to become murkily intertwined into something completely new and different. This is best evidenced by the repeating motif of Rie Sato’s actual, human form becoming inseparably meshed with her computer representation within Yoji’s mind. Additionally, he records Rie’s actual voice to play on the computer when enacting computer-simulated dates, and gives the physical Rie costumes or clothing that are originally worn by the computer-simulated Rie. In this way, actual reality ceases to exist for Yoji, and the viewer is able to witness a bizarre, neurotic, hybrid of fantasy and reality, which represents a continued disassociation with reality. This is also evident when Yoji decides to “thrash” Rie’s boyfriend in a computer simulation, but mistakenly believes that he is performing the action in real life. Under the influence of Type S, Yoji obviously escapes from reality under a new pretense — that of a drug-induced perception of his innermost desires grafted onto actual reality.
Much like Misuzu, Yoji’s escapades away from reality end in tragedy. When the supply of Type S is abruptly stopped, he enters a complex, schizophrenic system of living — when his inner fantasies remain merely internal desires instead of how things are, he is unable to comprehend the world as it actually is, and suffers a psychotic breakdown, seeing his representations of Rie in whatever girls pass his direction. What we can gain from Yoji is a cautious understanding of the role fantasy is to play in reality. Our dreams should be goals we work towards, as we continually evaluate them to see if they continue towards what we actually wish to pursue. Only when we attain such goals does fantasy become reality. To insist that there is an alternative way to achieving this end will result in circumstances similar to Yoji’s — unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality, we are left with nothing to develop or work towards; our purpose is gone. As a result, we wander aimlessly through life, reaching at whatever momentary desire or whim seems to pass by us and is within easy reach, much like how in the end Yoji thinks that every girl he notices is Rie.
Retreating from reality does not have to arise through bizarre or neurotic acts or thoughts. Instead, as Shizue Wakasa in the episode “Mother’s Day” demonstrates, one can momentarily escape reality through rather banal measures if performed with the intent of diverting one’s attention from existence. Shizue manages to evade actuality through ordinary physicality — in vomiting, she removes herself from social situations which cause her mental distress. After witnessing her mother be intimate with a man other than her father, Shizue is repulsed by physical sexuality — to see that her mother does not piously respect her husband through monogamy, even after death, sickens her to the point of extreme physical revulsion. The outcome would be the same, regardless if she knew the real circumstances of her mother’s actions — the resulting Freudian response to any sort of intimate encounter would still be directly linked to somehow “cheating” on the image of her deceased father. Thus, in order to escape reality when she is threatened by any sort of sexuality, Shizue subconsciously forces herself to be sick, resulting in her temporary removal from existence until the threat is removed.
Shizue also finds another means of escaping her mother — and therefore reality — through studying for school. To avoid the disgust her mother inspires, Shizue locks herself in her room and endlessly learns or memorizes. Although her grades subsequently improve, one must question the purpose of such learning, for the only reason it is done is to kill time, to avoid physical contact with another, and not because Shizue has an actual interest in any particular topic. Taken interpretively, Boogiepop Phantom could be criticizing Japan’s method of schooling its children. With its focus on rote memorization and standardization, individual interest and pursuance of knowledge seems to be lacking in Japanese academia. Thus, learning becomes not a way to achieve a working understanding of any one topic, but more a means of passing time by memorizing trivia, a form of information that cannot do or solve anything. What analyzing Shizue’s actions seem to mean in terms of contemporary society is that although cram school might be a nightmare, it is an isolated land of safety in its inactivity; better to be there than attempting to change or come to grips with the hell that is modern reality.
Boogiepop Phantom’s primary statements on the modern escape from reality, as well as its reasons, are not evidenced until the concluding four episodes. In these final pieces, the viewer comes to know the character of Poom Poom and his symbolic meaning. Poom Poom is the ultimate escape from reality — a retreat back to the generally pleasant days of childhood, where everything done was a new exploration and all actions were performed because they were what the child wanted to do at the time — there were no thoughts of the future or of bills to be paid inhibiting one’s activities.
The episode “You’ll Never be Young Twice” is comprised of a series of short vignettes, each telling the story of an individual character living with regret over losing the easy sense of meaning and purpose that childhood seemed to offer. As a child, Saki Yoshizawa played the piano out of a blissful enjoyment; however, as time passed, her natural talent became transformed into a chore and potential source of income. Thus, when Saki is informed that she will not be accepted to the prestigious Tokyo University School of Music, she is more disappointed for disrupting her parent’s dream of finding success through her talent and that she caused her father not to purchase a new car than anything else. Saki has forgotten the real reason she began to play the piano; she found a sense of purpose in using the instrument for herself and others, which arose from a pure enjoyment of its musicality. Early in life, she did not worry about starting a career or financial security. It is not until Poom Poom removes her “inner child” that we realize Saki initially felt this way, though. Unfortunately for the grown Saki, there are no alternatives left — her life has been the pursuance of a single goal — through professional piano playing — in order to attain independence and security in the modern world. With that dream shattered, she momentarily sees no hope for herself existing or finding a purpose in any other activity or idea — the young Saki has taken all the desire and talent to play the piano for more altruistic purposes — so she commits suicide.
Similar fates exist for the other two characters in “You’ll Never be Young Twice,” with Akane Kojima and Yoshiki Tahata realizing all too late that they have forgotten or lost what initially gave them meaning in life in their attempts to achieve stability and comfort in their contemporary ornamental culture. The retreat from reality throughout the entire episode is found in each character’s return to childhood, to escape the crushing defeats and humiliating lifestyles one must adopt to continue existing into adulthood. It is for this reason that Poom Poom “rescues” the child from the adult. As he states, “Humans are strange — they’re happy being adults, not knowing they’ve shed the things most important to them.” In an attempt to save contemporary adults from completely losing their childhood, Poom Poom separates the two, perhaps in hope of having the older half relearn what moved them in youth through remembering those past times.
Although, as Boogiepop states, Poom Poom’s existence may be solely due to subconscious guilt of having abandoned childhood dreams, his motives are not entirely malevolent, as Boogiepop would seem to indicate. His statement that, “It’s too late now to recapture the things you’ve already lost” is willfully inaccurate, and is perhaps the only reason Poom Poom is to be viewed as a “villain” in the series. Individuals can recapture the feelings of purposefulness and simple enjoyment of doing things that they felt in childhood, if they work towards achieving those feelings through their actions and thoughts. Poom Poom still fulfills a necessary ideological void in the modern world, connecting people with their own personal and communal pasts. Typically, what little we remember of our childhood is captured on film by our parents, if even that. Poom Poom’s function allows individuals to reconnect with what was important to them in the past, with the possibility, if they wish to, of recapturing the essence and meanings of what was important to them then. The fact that those who are able to experience this “second childhood” tend to only be “shells” of humanity says little of Poom Poom’s gestures. Instead, perhaps this is meant to be an indication of how far the residents of modern society have removed themselves from some of the aspects of childhood, such as doing something for purely altruistic motives and having a healthy, clean place to play and act our dreams. Unable to accept the possibility of rekindling our youthful motives, we only look back with nostalgia. Instead of putting in the effort and time to find what originally gave us a simple meaning and purpose in the past, we blindly look towards the present and future. As Poom Poom says, “Human nature denies the past in order to justify the present.” The remark is not only chilling in its implications of society in Boogiepop Phantom, but also of Japan’s constant denial of its wartime responsibilities and crimes, as well as the United States’ all-too-convenient amnesia over its own terrorist-like behavior in Middle East and South American countries.
Boogiepop claims that, “Your [Poom Poom’s] existence blinds them to reality,” and Poom Poom’s role as a metaphor for the retreat from reality is further solidified. However, Boogiepop’s own strict adherence to looking only at the present is equally blinding for humanity. Perhaps, then, what one can take away from the antagonistic dialogue between the two ideologues is an appreciation for a subtle blending of the two views. To understand one’s past motives and ideas is an effective way of understanding personal progressions of thought and intellectual development, and using these in present actions can provide a satisfactory existence. In the case of Boogiepop Phantom, it is also a way to potentially find new inspiration and purpose from old actions or ideas. However, to remain solely focused on the past is to ignore the wealth of new possibilities and resources available to us in the present. Thus, what seems to be the most ideal route is to continually take in new experiences and information, but also leave significant time to digest what we have learned and how it relates to us through extended periods of personal introspection.
Boogiepop Phantom and the Mother-Daughter Relationship
The role of the parent in general in Boogiepop Phantom has previously been discussed; the parent in contemporary society was depicted negatively, as an individual who merely provided material wealth for his or her children, instead of nurturing and assisting said children grow up into knowledgeable adults. On a gender level, the parents fare no better — both mothers and fathers are guilty of this shortcoming, as well as several others, such as forgetting the relevance of their own childhoods and instilling this view-of-present-and-future-only in their children. However, the motherly position is given special consideration in Boogiepop Phantom, perhaps in hope of overcoming the growing rift in the mother-daughter relationship.
Most cultures stereotypically have some sort of special bond between certain members of the family unit, and the society in Boogiepop Phantom does not differ in this manner. Mothers and daughters are supposed to have some sort of secret link between them, allowing for a vague, unspoken understanding of each other’s thoughts and opinions. Yet, at this point in time, the bond appears to be disintegrating in general. Boogiepop Phantom is fraught with mother-daughter misunderstandings and conflicts, indicating not only a severance in this traditional relationship, but also conventional mores and customs.
Perhaps the most obvious commentary on the mother-daughter relationship is between Manaka and her mother, Mayumi Kisaragi. When impregnated, Mayumi is left to fend for the child’s welfare on her own. This immediately indicates a reference to the dissolution of established ethics — in times past, the father of the child would accept responsibility for his actions and support the mother. However, this is not the case in Boogiepop Phantom’s evolving society; the viewer never hears of Manaka’s father, and instead of aborting the fetus, Mayumi decides to give birth to the child, without the traditional support of a father.
After the birth, Mayumi does not even remember giving birth to her own daughter. Taken in this context, the mother role in Boogiepop Phantom is viewed quite negatively, and this occurrence can be extrapolated to be viewed as a commentary on all modern industrialized societies simply forgetting about their problems. We essentially reside in a disposable society — nearly everything we purchase is covered in some essentially useless wrapping that, once removed, is simply discarded, never to serve another purpose. Additionally, the common practice of appealing to what is popular also results in “three-minute cultures,” which last for a few months, then fade into the new trend, never establishing anything worthwhile or lasting. Coming back to the wrapping metaphor — the accumulation of meaningless wrappers could symbolically be interpreted as children in that once they are born they are increasingly discarded as too problematic or needy. While being provided for, they are rarely given the information and time necessary to succeed or gain any mastery of knowledge in a particular area unless the child is able to realize that help will not come from another, and that learning must be self-induced through whatever means necessary and available. Teachers have too many students to truly impart any total understanding of reality or theoretical truths to their students, and parents typically find themselves either too busy with work or petty entertainments to spend any significant amounts of time with their children. Thus, Mayumi’s sub-psychological forgetting of Manaka could metaphorically translate into her discarding the burden of supporting a child as a single mother, which is perhaps a direct challenge to the way some aspects of contemporary society exist.
The other instance of Boogiepop Phantom being predominantly concerned with the theme of the mother-daughter relationship is, obviously enough, in the episode “Mother’s Day.” When Shizue’s father dies while she is still young, her mother is forced to find work as a realtor in order to provide for Shizue’s university education. While most women would find the ability to work instead of being the traditional housewife liberating, the job Shizue’s mother achieves is anything but rewarding. Instead of feeling a sense of purpose or usefulness at work, the mother is sexually harassed by her employer, ultimately forced to become intimate in order to maintain her job and support her family. The mere fact that Shizue’s mother attains a job is another indicator of the changing society that Boogiepop Phantom is centered in. As the viewer is certainly aware, women’s rights movements, while dating back several centuries, have only achieved much significant progress in the past fifty years. In Japan, the typical job of a woman seems to be a retail worker, newscaster, or the ubiquitous “office lady.” Landing a job as a key realtor seems to be progressive, even radical from this vantage point.
With her father dead and her mother employed, Shizue is caught in-between tradition and changing moral and social climates of the culture she is currently embedded in. The mother-daughter relationship in this family begins to dissolve after the death of Shizue’s father, and the subsequent total loss of her mother to work. Indeed, Shizue’s mother embodies nearly all the negative associations that Boogiepop Phantom develops for parents — she may provide for her daughter, but she never instills her with any knowledge or guidance. Instead, Shizue is left to fend for herself, relentlessly studying in her room out of disgust for her mother. Between the two, a growing rift forms, and the episode continually has Shizue’s mother reading her daughter’s diary with a sense of guilt, as she remembers encouraging her child to stop mourning for her father and study — not to learn a trade or out of interest in a topic, but to simply study — instead. Tragically, Shizue’s mother does not realize that she was a “horrible mother” who performed only half of her parental role until well after her daughter’s death.
Even with these rather negative connotations associated with the “new motherhood,” the mother-daughter relationship can be salvaged, according to Boogiepop Phantom. This is evidenced when, in “Under Gravity’s Rainbow,” Manaka Kisaragi visits her mother and informs her that she was glad she was given a chance to exist. What better way to indicate that the mother-daughter rift can still be brought together than by having a daughter respond positively to the existential question of life, as well as attributing her life to the thanklessness of her mother. Manaka, like Moto Tonomura, continually asks, “It ends so quickly, but for what? Even if you live a long life, you still end up like this [dead]. This person, what did she live for?” However, unlike Moto, Manaka responds positively to existence — she is glad to have been alive in her short time because she feels, through the use of her ability to dredge up memories and the creation of Poom Poom, she has positively affected the lives of others in some manner. Thus, when she thanks Mayumi for allowing her to live, one is assured that there is still some hope for the mother-daughter bond — even if Manaka’s mother forgets her, they can still share a unique bond of understanding through conversation and recollection of the past. Shizue and her mother also resolve their problematic issues, even if it is in postmortem. Through reading her daughter’s diary, Shizue’s mother is reconnected with her daughter in terms of thought and understanding. Through this relationship, Boogiepop Phantom makes the solution to the mother-daughter problem clear. What needs to occur is honest communication, where each party views the others’ ideas not as subversive, but instead as concepts to come to terms with. The mother and daughter do not necessarily accept each other’s values, but understand them to the point where open, honest dialogue can occur between the two. This is why the broken relationship between Shizue and her mother is finally resolved only when Shizue’s mother is aware of what her daughter thought, and why this was so.
Character Studies: Nagi Kirima, Manaka Kisaragi, and Boogiepop
As a strongly unified, yet episodic sequence of events, Boogiepop Phantom features a large cast of characters, many of which are developed over the course of only one episode. However, some of this ensemble figures more prominently into the larger picture than others, and thus, although not “central” characters, there is an indication that perhaps there is something more directly to their personality and behavior throughout the series.
One of the few characters to constantly appear throughout Boogiepop Phantom is Nagi Kirima, who is portrayed as the typical existential hero. After witnessing her father’s death years ago, Nagi has fought “evil” in this world, demonstrating a strong determination and presence of will. It can be interpreted that she is beginning again in the existential sense — after the loss of her father, Nagi has nothing, and is subsequently reborn with the freedom to act and shape her own destiny. She chooses to face death through her actions of challenging evil, and subsequently comes to value her life all the more. Nagi is alienated and isolated, but for a reason — through facing events on her own, she learns to trust herself and her feelings; personal honesty is achieved by avoiding the influences and insights of others. When talking with Kuroda over the possibilities of life, Nagi says that although individuals generally cannot do what they really want to, “…people should still think about what they want to do with their lives.” In this manner, Nagi is asking all people in her culture to question their lives — to think about how they plan to define their purpose, morality, and subsequent actions; in other words, she is asking society to answer the basic existential question. Generally, Nagi is constantly acknowledging her absolute freedom in her actions, yet, she also assumes absolute responsibility of her proceedings — in a way, she is fashioning humanity as she would have it, Jean-Paul Sartre’s very definition of existential humanism. Through this interpretation, it is clear that Nagi Kirima’s character is fashioned after the existential hero, and this in itself has some meaning. In a culture where everything and everyone is meaningless, absurd, and constantly changing, Nagi remains confident; her personal purpose will never decline since it is defined within herself. As a character, she offers a figure to aspire to, and could thus be considered the true hero of Boogiepop Phantom as well.
Manaka Kisaragi is also used throughout Boogiepop Phantom not only to evoke the theme of the mother-daughter relationship, but also to make a unique statement about humanity’s methods of acquiring and using knowledge in contemporary society. Nagi claims that the mute, seemingly childish Manaka is the future of humanity, a damning statement if there ever was one. The initial reaction to such a declaration would be to note that Manaka can only repeat was is told to her. This would indicate that the future of humanity lies in a state that can only mimic what is said to it — it cannot take in information and process it to new conclusions. Manaka’s childlike simplicity and ability to only see fragments of the past and future indicates that humanity, in the Boogiepop Phantom world, is doomed to enter a state of short attention spans that constantly jitter between past and future, without ever making any sort of coherent thought or analysis of what is being played out in front of it.
However, in “Under the Gravity’s Rainbow,” the viewer learns that Manaka, by using her “butterflies” and capturing of Echo’s memory, has acquired a vast amount of potentially useful and poignant knowledge. Yet, although Manaka has the ability to access a great deal of knowledge — she says that she has a “…higher intelligence, a superior philosophy” — her inability to speak more than a few fragments of thought can be taken to mean that although Manaka has the ability to acquire vast sources of knowledge, she lacks the capability to express and interpret what she has learned. This is similar to a child who has a textbook, but fails to understand what is contained within it, instead simply memorizing the information. As a result, although the child is now a store of information, the applicability of such knowledge is rendered useless — information is one thing, but knowing what to do with such information is another. Boogiepop Phantom warns against this kind of rote memorization or accumulation of facts, saying that we will end up like Manaka if all we do is gather knowledge. Instead, we need to use such information in studies and experiments to learn its true worth and gain a sense of intelligence, of knowing how to use information, rather than just having it. In terms of contemporary society, this message could not be more appropriate, as academia in the past few decades has produced more books and intellectual tracts than in any set of prior years. With this increasing amount of information comes an increasing amount of social and academic fragmentation, as anyone interested in a particular subject must devote themselves almost exclusively to said area of study to gain a foundation for the current state of the subject material and make any new insights past what studies or essays have already been devoted to the matter. Thus, Boogiepop Phantom is asking us to avoid further fragmentation by critically examining the works of the past, and if they are found useful, devising a new interpretation or scientific methods from them.
It is interesting how, in a series named after one of its characters, that particular character is neither vastly important nor even heroic. While the presence of Boogiepop adds an interesting new dimension to Boogiepop Phantom as a series, the question still remains — what is Boogiepop, and what does she symbolize?
Through her role of destroying the aberrant features and people in her society, Boogiepop can be viewed as the champion of the status quo. In this regard, she directly parallels the Showa Corporation in their determined struggle to not allow change to occur in the world. Boogiepop’s quest to “hunt down dangers to this world” is little more than a mission to destroy any sort of radical change, which is quite similar to the aspirations of the Showa Corporation and the “composite humans” it employs to achieve its ends. Boogiepop is denying the possibilities of what society could metamorphose into with the appearance of the “evolved” humans. Controversial art and literature are traditionally intended, as author Oe Kenzaburo states, “…to shock people, to disturb them, to wake them up” from whatever their comfortable routines are. The goal is typically to cause a reconsideration of current values or standards, to push society out of its rut into something potentially more progressive and positive. Much like censoring such art or literature, Boogiepop forbids any possible medium that can upset the status quo, thus rendering society immutable, constant, and mired in whatever problems it is unable to directly solve on its own. Thus, when Poom Poom confronts Boogiepop and states, “We are what you call deviations to the norm, exceptions to the rules. We’re not in line with the paths society tries to set for people. Society denies people the right to do what they want with their lives,” the viewer is able to understand exactly what Poom Poom is implying in his dialogue; he is questioning why Boogiepop helps maintain the current society which represses and forces its followers to abandon their original goals and make compromises in order to be successful. In fact, Boogiepop herself is a reflection of this society — Toka Miyashita does not choose when to shift into the role of Boogiepop, instead she sporadically transforms into the entity, even at the most inappropriate times, as evidenced by the final episode. In this manner, Toka is a symbol for a victim of the society she helps maintain — she does not choose when to play the role of Boogiepop, instead she is forced to give up her own aspirations and goals in order to support it. If, as the liner notes indicate, the possibility of Toka Miyashita’s parents divorcing is one of the catalysts for the cause of Boogiepop to keep appearing, the final psychological link is obvious — since Toka does not want her parents to separate, she will do all that is possible to maintain the current situation or status quo. Equivalent to living life in an unchanging vacuum, she subconsciously hopes she can prevent her parents’ divorce by destroying any factors of society that may tip the scales of change in any one direction.
During her confrontation of Manaka, Boogiepop states that “Your power ties people to their pasts and takes away their desire to move forward.” Additionally, she offers her friend Suema the advice that “There’s a difference between missing the old days and being stuck in the past.” As noble and potentially progressive as these sentiments sound, Boogiepop’s character is rendered ineffective by the ambivalence in which it is portrayed. One moment, she is the archetypal sage, the purveyor of good advice — while we should learn from our past, we need to take action in the present using the knowledge gained. Yet, one could argue that in denying that people the ability to significantly consider the past, she refuses them the ability to reclaim their memories and prevents any potential in-depth analysis concerning our personal histories, thus robbing us of the opportunity to learn and possibly recapture what moved us years ago. Additionally, Boogiepop prevents any significant change in society, as evidenced by her purpose of hunting down “dangers” to the world. “Dangers,” in this sense, can essentially be taken to mean anything atypical in existing society — thus, in theory, any new, subversive artistic or political movements or challenges to authority will be annihilated in some manner by Boogieopop. In this manner, the narrative is unable to portray a potentially key character in “black and white” terms, thus reducing her effectiveness in presenting any significantly direct character qualities. The two main things to learn from Boogiepop come in the forms of her advice to Suema and that one should ignore the meaning her actions, that of not challenging the status quo.
Boogiepop Phantom and the “Phantom Promise” Concept
One of the unspoken themes that Boogiepop Phantom is primarily concerned with is the idea of “phantom promises,” things that social institutions have promised or seemed to imply over the course of time but never came true. For example, each episode contains possible “phantom promises,” such as Moto’s realization that she may never find her true love; Jonouchi beginning to see that he may not be capable of becoming the world-renowned hero that he grew up watching on television; Mamoru’s observation that society may not be “right” or “in order” after all; even the fact that Nagi has been denied the standard promise of a child leading a “typical” life, replete with family, friends, and mildly pleasant memories.
These “phantom promises” also extend into more abstract ideas as defined by the show. In particular, Boogiepop Phantom is concerned with the promise of the childhood and its subsequent loss at the hands of parents, growing up into an independent and autonomous individual, or the self, which breaks its own promises with its ever-changing passions.
The episodes of “Light in Darkness,” “My Fair Lady,” “Life can be so Nice,” and “You’ll Never be Young Twice” add significant weight to the “phantom promise” of becoming an independent and self-worthy individual. Throughout the entire show, only Nagi and Suema can potentially claim this important distinction. Whether it be Jonouchi’s cowardice in the face of difficulty or his obsession with being an image-hero, Yoji’s unhealthy dependency on computer dating simulations and women, or Misuzu’s mindless acceptance of a philosophical tenet she never understood, the majority of characters in Boogiepop Phantom demonstrate chronically flawed development, as a result of poor or disrupted early development, followed by immersion in a culture which defines their worth primarily as consumers or viewers. Without proper guidance, as these characters so obviously lack, they are unable to self-respond to the existential questions that Nagi has answered for herself, or that Suema has learned through Nagi. Instead, the majority of the cast lets their personalities and beliefs remain personally undefined, content in what ideological blanket their parents, peers, or culture place over them. In this way, it is no surprise that people like Jonouchi or Yuki also suffer the broken promise of maintaining a constant passion in anything — their lives are defined not primarily by themselves, but by whatever fad, hero, or action their parents or culture dictates for them. In presenting this form of the “phantom promise” theme, Boogiepop Phantom hopes to evince a form of respect for Nagi or Suema, thereby assisting the viewer in finding a reliable set of questions to answer in order to satisfactorily base their future intellectual and physical pursuits of life off of.
The motif of the phantom promise of a beneficial childhood is solidly set in place midway through the series with the appearance of the pied piper, otherwise known as Poom Poom. As the fairytale says, Poom Poom takes away the children of the town because their parents broke their promises. In the case of Boogiepop Phantom, the parents lied about everything — having stable family lives, guaranteed financial, academic, and psychological success, and most of all, “being there” for their children. Indeed, contemporary society is concerned so much with output and statistics rather than the quality or at what cost something is produced, children are often compromised as parents struggle to either earn enough to exist or purchase the items their image-driven culture has determined necessary. Poom Poom then becomes the consequence of a society that neglects and lies to its children — they are lost for eternity, and as the series shows, this leads to unsound individuals. Without a solid early development, how can further intellectual additions be supported? This is the question Boogiepop Phantom asks and it is never answered, perhaps because there is no immediate and easily found answer.
Memory, Truth, and Time in Boogiepop Phantom
The fragility of human memory and consciousness is another of Boogiepop Phantom’s central themes. Several of the episodes are or involve flashbacks — the retelling of a story through one’s own perceptions and interpretations. Thus, as viewers, we are never guaranteed that what we are seeing is objective truth — instead, we get a glimpse into someone’s subjective recalling of what happened. It is not by accident that the majority of the “Portraits from Memory” episode is a flashback, and that its main character, Moto, does not know if what she is recounting is truth or fiction, or that at the end of the episode, if any of her experiences have affected her in any way.
Jonouchi’s experiences in “Light in Darkness” also reflect this theme. Recall that Jonouchi is gifted with the ability to remove people’s painful memories, ultimately allowing them to move past their feelings of guilt and disappointment, allowing them to look forward towards the future. However, as Jonouchi later realizes, having these experiences, which cause guilt, is an important part of individual learning and definition. Human beings tend to define themselves and their personalities by what they have experienced, felt, or done. From past events, humans are also able to learn what “works” and what “fails” in a certain situation. With Jonouchi removing the painful memories from those that he encounters, he effectively eliminates their ability to properly function both inter- and intra-personally. One can no longer understand or remember the events that brought him or her to his or her current situation in life, nor make sense out of their thoughts or personality, as a piece of what previously defined the human psyche is now absent. In this manner, Jonouchi’s exploits effectively serve as a metaphor for the fragility of human memory and its subsequent effects on the individual.
Collective re-writing of memory is also focused on in the saga of Poom Poom, where the memories of many different adolescents are symbolically removed from their individual bodies and rewritten into a group context. As this happens, the perception of self and individual history are mutated into one that fits the group — in terms of Poom Poom’s ideology, this means that the activities and thoughts of childhood are superior to those of being adults. From Poom Poom’s use of the malleable human mind, those whose “inner children” he takes come to view the world only in terms of his group ideology — in order to be part of his supposedly happy and satisfied collective, one must think as the group does. Obviously, in this sense, Poom Poom is dangerous, as he strips independent will from the singular person and forces conformity to a particular code of ethics and way of thinking. In fact, his collective is not an ideal community, but instead an infertile wasteland — very few of the children in it produce anything; instead, they are content to play and otherwise waste time. Thus, Boogiepop Phantom portrays the effects of collective re-writing of memory in a generally negative light — while some closely-knit communities are beneficial both for its members and the outside world, their ability to transfigure one’s perception of memory, truth, and time can also be manipulated to devastating consequences.
Poom Poom’s methods are similar to how all nations, during wartime, enforce conformity to a certain style of national identity and morality, which generally revolves around national superiority and subsequent dehumanization of the enemy, ultimately leading to wartime atrocities. In this manner, there is also a slight reference towards the rewriting of memories in postwar Japan and the subsequent effects this has had in terms of the country’s international relations and ability to come to terms with its Asia-Pacific War legacies.
From the amount of material in this relatively simple analysis, Boogiepop Phantom is obviously a rich series, imbued with a large set of complex themes to ponder, as well as commentary on contemporary social issues that become increasingly relevant and important to deal with each successive day. It is possible, then, that the viewers of the show, if willing to exert effort to understand and interpret the episodes in an ideological manner, can grasp a set of potential answers to some of these issues and apply them in their own lives for the better.
Sources and Inspiration
Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. Free Press. New York. 1973.
Faludi, Susan. Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. W. Morrow and Co. New York. 1999.
Igarashi, Yoshikuni. Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture 1945-1970. Princeton University Press. New Jersey. 2000.
Napier, Susan J. Escape from the Wasteland: Romanticism and Realism in the Fiction of
Mishima Yukio and Oe Kenzaburo. Harvard University Press. New York. 1996.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism and Human Emotions. Lyle Stuart. New York. 1984.
© 2002 by Robert Stanton
Boogiepop Phantom Essay: A Response
I hope I wasn’t the only one who read Robert Stanton’s essay on the themes presented in “Boogiepop Phantom.” Anyone who’s seen my posts in recent months will already know I’ve become a diehard fan of this series (cough, sexy avatar, cough), so I figured it was only natural to give a brief response. Some spoilers to “Boogiepop Phantom” (and its live-action incarnation) are inevitable.
All in all, I’d like to say Stanton’s analysis is very thorough and informative. When a confused viewer asks me what the hell the show is about, I usually say “Growing up unloved… and with a cute superhero chicky.” Well, Stanton’s essay provides almost all the evidence that I am unable to properly explain myself, and so I appreciate all the time he took to write it.
I don’t think Stanton really touched on another specific example of the pressures created in a Japanese family structure (and if he did and I missed it, I apologize). One thing that really caught me when watching the show was the behavior exhibited by Manaka’s grandmother. Here we see the rigid mentality that it’s the family as an entire unit that succeeds or fails, rather than individual successes. The failure or losses of one individual results in a representational loss for the entire family. This theme is approached in many different forms with Boogiepop Phantom (Shizue and her relationship with her mother; Saki’s ultimate goal of not disappointing her parents), and to me, Manaka’s grandmother is one of the more disturbing examples exhibited.
Here we have Manaka whose very existence is seen as a blight to the family name in the eyes of her grandmother. Not only was Manaka a child out-of-wedlock (therefore making her mother just as much a disgrace), but the resulting fever underwent by her mother adds further evidence to the grandmother that Manaka is indeed a “devil child.” This is a representation of Original Sin to the utmost extreme.
As disturbing as the grandmother’s behavior towards Manaka was (right up to Manaka’s murder), anime has focused on this theme several times; Hayama Akito from “Kodocha” faces the exact same denouncements from her sister as Manaka did, while Arima from “His and Her Circumstances” feels as though he inherited the failure and disgrace created by his biological parents. With such a recurring theme in anime, I’m curious to see if further studies exist on such self-burdening mindsets in today’s Japanese society.
Slight gear shift: another thing that has me curious is whether or not the themes presented in “Boogiepop Phantom” exist in other incarnations of the Boogiepop series. Was this dire look of a passage into contemporary Japanese adulthood a major theme of Kouhei Kadono’s novels? I’ve watched the live-action “Boogiepop and Others” movie numerous times, and although I cannot fully understand the context of the film word-for-word, it seems to me it comes nowhere near to attaining the complex psychological depth that Boogiepop Phantom created.
Any psychological conflict in the movie seems to be not from the rite of passage into adulthood, but instead on the interweaving relationships between the sexes. In “Boogiepop & Others” we watch as Keiji Takeda learns not only to fall in love with Toka Miyashita, but also with her alter-ego Boogiepop, which is further complicated by the unrequited crush of Kei Niitoki (er, I think); the idea of losing a loved one is presented with Akio Kimura’s doomed romance with Naoko Kamikishiro; and finally we have the most bizarre couple of all time in the form of Masami Saotome, freshly burned by rejection (courtesy Nagi Kirima) and the cannibalistic Manticore.
In other words, where “Boogiepop Phantom” can be interpreted as a the failure of the family structure, “Boogiepop and Others” seems to focus on complications of romantic relationships.
Kadono has made many, many novels since Boogiepop and Others (ten last I checked; I am unaware of an actual “Boogiepop Phantom” novel, which has me wondering if the tv show is a completely original creation, or if its storyline is presented in one of the other novels). I’d be very interested to see how these other storylines are presented, so umm, if there’s anyone who’s read the novels, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the subject in general.
Gotta admit, for a horror series, there’s a lot to be had in Boogiepop. I think calling this the “Twin Peaks” of anime is no understatement.