It's the live-action movie prequel to the 12-part Boogiepop Phantom
anime series. Or to put it another way, it's also an adaptation of the first Boogiepop novel. There are a ton of them. It's become a franchise. The first one won the fourth Dengeki Game Novel Contest, was published in 1998 and seems to have been snowballing ever since. Boogiepop Phantom
was an original storyline set after the first two books, but this is a straight adaptation, faithful both to the first novel's plot and characters. There are twiddles, but nothing big. The most important thing this does is set up the anime with that beam of light at the end.
The big question of course is whether you need to see one in order to understand the other. The production teams' intention had been that this film should be watched first, but I'm tempted to say that each might be stronger without the other. They're too different. The anime's far more sinister and enigmatic, so it might make it less mysterious and thus diminish it if you've been associating its characters with a gaggle of Japanese teenagers. Conversely the movie isn't without its own strengths, but they'll be harder to see if you're comparing it with Boogiepop Phantom
all the time. On reflection, since it probably takes two or three viewings to get to grips with the anime's deeper meanings, perhaps it's best to slot this live-action film between your first and second run at it?
The important thing though is that this is a stand-alone film. You don't need to have seen Boogiepop Phantom
to watch it. Indeed it might be better if you haven't.
So, what's it like?
Firstly, it stars Japanese teenagers. This isn't a promising start, but they could have been worse. I wasn't gouging my eyes out or anything. Furthermore the director seems to have been trying to get something from the performances, since he's talked about wanting his actors not to seem too up-to-date. Here's a quote. "The characters that appear on screen embrace all of their loneliness and that's something that doesn't change in any era." He also encouraged them to improvise and adapt their characters.
The tone feels right for Boogiepop, although not nearly as intense as the anime. There are heroes who are protecting the rest of us, but they're cold, emotionally distant and not particularly good at stopping children from disappearing. Both get accused of having Messiah complexes. Meanwhile everyone else's characterisation is emphasising their anxieties and suppressed unhappiness. A boy has a better relationship with an Angel of Death inhabiting his girlfriend's body than he does with the real girl. Another girl openly has two boyfriends and even takes both of them shopping with her simultaneously. (They're not happy about it.) This is a world of vulnerability and psychological problems. Admittedly it's more of an undertone compared with the anime's nuclear approach to the downbeat, but you can't say it's not there.
Meanwhile the storyline and plot structure are similarly Boogiepoppish. The film's split into overlapping episodes, which we see approximately in reverse chronological order. We also have similarly bad things happening. It takes a while to build up to them, but wherever you have Boogiepop, you'll also have a monster that's preying on the weak. In this case, it's the Manticore. It eats people, but in an unusual way. There's no gore. Instead you have a disturbing intimacy that almost looks as if it's about to become lesbian porn, complete with eyeball licking and some ambiguous sound effects that are twice as gross as straightforward grossness.
How it looks though is like an ordinary movie, on a lowish budget. Boogiepop herself looks a bit silly, while the music can be heavy-handed. Admittedly they do sometimes reduce the film's colour palette, but visually this is a real-world Boogiepop as opposed to the anime's hallucinatory dream.
Overall, I think I liked this. I didn't love it, but it's clearly following the same Boogiepop path and it's found enough unique qualities of its own to make it a worthwhile experiment. Its strongest suit are its characters. They're more vivid and memorable than in the anime, although obviously a lot of that's simply the result of putting real people in front of a camera. They stand out clearly from each other and seem like real people with whom you can identify and perhaps even care about more than their anime equivalents. I feel I know them now. That's a crucial advantage, especially given the sombre, delicate character work of the script. This is an elusive film, blending SF, fantasy and horror into something that's practically its own genre and at the very least more distinctive than you'd imagine.
It's confusing, though. Less so than the anime, but don't imagine for a moment that you can switch your brain off. The title's not as good as Boogiepop Phantom