Boogiepop Phantom (2000)
Directed by Takashi Watanabe

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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Various strange events, including mysterious deaths and disappearances, all somehow involving a shadowy being known as Boogiepop Phantom, begin occurring to the students of a Japanese high school.

Takashi Watanabe's twelve episode animated television series Boogiepop Phantom is both atmospheric and visually distinctive. Unfortunately, it is also so slow moving that, whatever its virtues, it may allow the viewer's attention to wander.

Each episode of Boogiepop Phantom tells a separate story, although all of these are loosely but intricately interrelated. The character around whom a given story revolves may not be the focus of any other, but it is almost certain that the viewer will see that character again in different episodes. By so introducing the protagonist of a given story into prior or subsequent episodes, the director reveals to the viewer the ways in which that character's life is connected with those of the protagonists of the series' other stories, whether such connections are significant or merely incidental. As a consequence of this intriguing and complex web of interrelations, Boogiepop Phantom, despite its lack of an overt narrative structure, never seems disjointed.

Sadly, the program's individual installments are not all perfectly realized. Some of the stories told are frankly dull, and most, in fact, are fairly slow. Even though some of its episodes are genuinely well crafted, eerie, and affecting, because it is occasionally boring, the series is not nearly as satisfying as it could have been.

Fortunately, Boogiepop Phantom's surprisingly dark themes are frequently engaging and repeatedly draw the viewer back into the program's world. What is more, instead of merely arousing a sense of fear in the viewer and then dispelling it by having some character heroically overcome whatever danger he is facing, the director allows the fear he has aroused to give way to tragedy and sorrow. By taking such an approach, Watanabe sustains and enhances the feelings of sadness and dread he evokes with his fearful, uncanny, and weirdly distorted world so that the viewer is able to experience these emotions with a real poignancy.

Having so produced such an emotive effect, the director is, usually, able to complement it with the images by means of which he brings his tales to life. Boogiepop Phantom is, in fact, fascinating simply to look at. Dominated by shadowy sepias, the series is infused with a strange, dreamlike, and vaguely ominous sense of unreality. Regrettably, the program's character designs are not nearly as captivating as are its backdrops and range from undistinguished to ugly. While competently realized, they are, nonetheless, the series' greatest visual weakness. Fortunately, there is so much in the program to catch the viewer's eye that its faults, though distracting, do not substantially detract from its appeal.

Boogiepop Phantom is among the most inventive television series I have encountered. It is visually distinctive, narratively creative, and thematically daring. Sadly, it is rarely as well executed as it could have been. Because it does include such a number of interesting elements, it is worth watching, but it is best not to expect too much of it.

Review by Keith Allen

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