「夜明けのブギーポップ 」 (Yoake no Bugiipoppu)
“Boogiepop at Dawn”
There have been a few shows down through the years of writing about anime that I would term “slow builds” – series that don’t reveal their charms easily or quickly but when they do, those charms are truly formidable. Zetsuen no Tempest is a recent example that springs to mind, as are Hyouka and Concrete Revolutio (which didn’t fully blossom until its second season). In each of those cases I would never have predicted a month or more into their runs that I would end up holding them in such high esteem at the end, but that makes the result even more rewarding in a way.
That brings us to Boogiepop wa Warawanai, which is starting to look like the latest in that progression. Oddly enough the series from this group it most puts me in mind of is Concrete Revolutio – oddly, because the two series could hardly be more different stylistically. But what they share is a resolute and unshakable disinterest in being anything but themselves, no matter how odd and commercially unrewarding that may be. I would imagine there had to be at least some discussion of modernizing Boogiepop, of making it an easier pill for a modern audience to swallow. But there’s been none of that – “Warawanai” is true to itself down to the molecular level. I don’t know if I would call it smart, but I certainly find it to be admirable.
For whatever reason the “Boogiepop at Dawn” arc was broadcast effectively as a movie – four episodes in one day (and not the normal day of airing, either). There are pluses and minuses to anime being presented the way the “Boogiepop at Dawn” arc was presented – or even more so, the way Netflix does it. All things being equal I’m not a huge fan of binge viewing, and I prefer my anime weekly on a set schedule (and that works better for the blogger in me, too). But watching four episodes in one sitting – or two over two days, which was the best I could manage – does have an absorptive quality that the traditional approach does not. It works better for some series than it does for others – and I think it works pretty well for a meditative head-piece like Boogiepop wa Warawanai.
After the relative normalcy (that’s a loaded word in this context, but it fits) of the “VS Imaginator” arc – one that operated very much on a human and approachable scale – we’re back in full-on cryptic whirlpool mode here. We’ve jumped back in time again, as well – to events which apparently took place before any other we’ve seen this season. So which whirlpools intersect this time? We have a brief run-in with Echoes (who speaks at last, in the person of Miyata Kouki), who meets up with Boogiepop at what looks like the end of the world. Among other things, Echoes asks how Boogiepop got such a strange name. The answer comes via the story of the man called Scarecrow (“Echoes” and “Scarecrow” – Kadono-sensei is apparently a Pink Floyd fan), Kuroda Shinpei (an excellent Miyauchi Atsushi). He’s another artificial human, and thus in the service of the Touwa Organization. Again the curtain is drawn back from them just a bit – they’re concerned with “evolution”, as Scarecrow tells the audience – but this episode is also a sea of acronyms and new mysteries. As is usually the case with these sorts of series, answering questions raises more questions than it answers.
The ingenious device of staging the first part of this arc as a hard-boiled detective story is very effective, both as a means of exposition and injecting a note of relatability into very big-picture events. Scarecrow, like the other artificial humans we’ve met, is not someone who gives off any clues as to his true nature. He loves coffee, he cracks jokes, he grumbles at doing jobs he considers to be of questionable ethical and moral standing. His main assignment is to be on the lookout for humans who show signs of rapidly evolving, but he’s given another assignment here – to look into whether another Touwa agent, a billionaire philanthropist, is betraying the organization.
In the pursuit of the one, Kuroda finds himself confronted with the other. At the hospital which his target made a large donation to, he meets Kirima Nagi, a younger version of the girl we know. She’s suffering from a mysterious illness which causes her to suffer extreme pain seemingly randomly, but of course to Scarecrow it’s neither mysterious or random. His duty is clear – but he develops a friendship with the intelligent young girl, with whom he has many far-ranging conversations. When she – in adolescent fashion, adrift as to what to do with her future, asks Scarecrow what he’d like to have been if not a detective, he answers “a superhero”. And it’s from this fateful moment that the events of the rest of the arc spring.
Kuroda’s act of compassion was a suicide run, as he surely knew – breaking into a Touwa facility to steal the drug he thought would cure Nagi (it seems to have worked), injecting her with it – but it was her words that gave him the courage to do it. And it was he, in his dying moment, who gave Boogiepop his name – but in return, he seems to have received a measure of peace in his final moments. It’s better that Scarecrow never knew the unintended consequences of his actions, which came about when psychiatrist Kisugi Makiko (Kinoshita Sayaka) finds the remnants of the drug Kuroda is forced to leave behind in Nagi’s room when Touwa’s hitman arrives to take him out.
Again, there’s this sense of this gently spinning eddies of plot and characters, bumping into others and changing their flow. Dr. Kisugi is a real piece of work, a psychopath – and finding the drug (which she clearly tests on herself) is the catalyst to turn her into a serial killer. It’s all about fear for Kisugi-sensei – especially women’s fear (it tastes better), and especially young girls’. It’s hard to know how twisted she was to begin with, and how much of this is the result of the drug – but Boogiepop’s words suggest that it’s mostly the former. All humans are “fuses”, he (as Touka) says – they can “go off at any time”, and threaten the very fabric of reality.
This is the other intersection of these first two episodes, for Touka Miyashita is brought in by her mother to see Dr. Kisugi because her mother is frantic about the dual personalities her daughter is displaying. This scene is another masterpiece of acting by Yuuki Aoi, who plays Touka as herself, Touka pretending to be a man, and Touka possessed by Boogiepop. It’s also a brilliant display of minimalist direction by Natsume Shingo, who uses the classical music Kisugi constantly loops in her consulting room (she’s definitely a sadist). This is a declaration of war by Boogiepop, but there’s nothing remotely personal about it – it’s just a statement of fact. And that’s rather the point, I suppose.
Watching this arc immediately after “VS Imaginator” was interesting, because they seem to represent the two tonal extremes of this series. “Imaginator” was a much more human and relatable story – I would even venture more “modern” in its narrative approach. “Dawn” strikes me as much more authentic to the core of what this franchise is – it certainly feels more like the other sci-fi anime of its era. I enjoyed them equally, but if I was going to choose one to give a new viewer an idea of what this series is basically like, it would be “Boogiepop at Dawn”.
Kadono-sensei is certainly an interesting creative mind. He loves his music references of course (Mo Murder presumably being taken from rapper Krayzie Bone’s mid-90’s hit), he loves to kick around big ideas. He also loves Boogiepop’s idiosyncratic meandering narrative style, showing us the connections between seemingly unrelated events and people. It reminds me of a wonderful old BBC documentary series by science historian James Burke called Connections, which traced historical events through their, well- connections to each other. The idea being, no idea or event can be viewed in a vacuum – each is the result of a chain of decisions taken by people with no idea or even interest in what the ultimate consequences would be.
The connections can be traced all through this arc, this pair of episodes being no exception. A boy reads the novels of Kirima Seiji (Kawada Shinji) – Nagi’s dad – and is emboldened to tell the world about the strange powers he possesses, even though he knows it will lead to his death. The boy’s case brings Kirima to the attention of the Touwa organization, who send the same assassin who killed the boy after him. That would be “Mo Murder”, Sasaki Masanori (Sakaguchi Shuuhei) – who is of course the same man who killed Scarecrow. That brings the ire of Pigeon (Kakuma Ai), Scarecrow and Sasaki’s fellow artificial human, who loved Kuroda. This thirst for revenge makes her a perfect tool for Dr. Kisugi, who’c already identified Nagi as a person of interest where her proclivities are concerned.
One thing that’s striking here is that Nagi has a very bad run of luck with the men in her life (though theirs is undeniably even worse). First her father, then Kuroda, and soon enough Sasaki-san – all were close to her and all were murdered. Mo Murder is no innocent, certainly – it was he that killed Scarecrow of course, and apparently dozens more like him – so perhaps there’s a certain karma in the fact that it was his getting drawn into Nagi’s game of superheroes that led to his own demise. Nagi, as it happens, was indirectly responsible for the death of both Kuroda and Sasaki – which certainly highlights the role of unintended consequences.
Imaginator/Minahoshi makes an appearance here too, a brief encounter with Kirima Seiji where she informs him he’s about to die which seems coincidental – except that the nature of Boogiepop suggests coincidence doesn’t really exist in this world. Or perhaps it’s all that exists? In any event the Nagi we see here still seems to be acting mainly out of boredom and a lack of direction in her life – it’s why she sets to trying to find the serial killer. Echoes suggests that Nagi does what she does because she’s carrying on the feelings of those she’s encountered (who’re all dead), which I suppose is as good an explanation as any for why she’s turned into the person she has.
All this eventually leads us back to that initial conversation between Echoes and Boogiepop – which was indeed taking place at the end of the world (a world, at least). This whole stream of connections were related to answer Echoes’ simple question about how Boogiepop got his name – but as Echoes wistfully muses, “nothing is ever simple”. That’s the understatement of the eternity, both where Boogiepop wa Warawaranai and real life are concerned, but watching the series go about demonstrating that is proving to be a fascinating experience.
Author’s Note: A big thank you to Pancakes for all your help capping this series, especially this arc.