The arrival of Autumn means Halloween is on the horizon, and many are getting into the spooky mood. Sometimes, however, anime fans may want a creepy show that isn’t full-on horror — especially those saving the really scary anime for the days leading up to Halloween night. In that case, Boogiepop Phantom — one of Madhouse’s best but forgotten shows — might be just the ticket.
Madhouse is one of the most well-known animation studios in the world, famous for its work on hits like Trigun, Black Lagoon and Death Note. However, despite being well-reviewed, Boogiepop Phantom remains criminally overlooked. Hitting screens in 2000, Boogiepop Phantom is based on a series of light novels written by Kouhei Kadono. The anime tells a story set after the first light novel — Boogiepop and Others — but also includes material from the sixth novel in the series which acts as a prequel to the others.
Boogiepop Phantom’s Plot & How It Stands Out From Its Peers
Boogiepop Phantom is set in an unnamed Japanese city that seems to be the epicenter of some strange and unusual activity. Five years before the official story begins, a string of murders occurred. A local legend blamed these killings on the Boogiepop, a supernatural urban legend believed to be the personification or envoy of death. A month before the anime’s first episode, a strange pillar of light appeared in the sky — and no one was able to work out why. To make it worse, several people have recently disappeared, with rumors starting to spread that the Boogiepop might be back.
The series has a fascinating format; rather than being a straight narrative, it features an ensemble cast that is involved with or witnesses significant events within the story. However, each character is only involved in a small fragment, meaning viewers must piece the complete narrative together themselves. Several scenes are shown out of order while some parts are shown twice from different perspectives, showing how one person’s perception of a moment might be clouded or altered by their thoughts. On top of this, each character also has a life outside their interactions with the events. This means each episode tells a second story on top of the overarching one.
Boogiepop Phantom’s unique storytelling style helps it stand out and builds its atmosphere. The fractured nature of the narrative means viewers are constantly on edge, waiting for the moment when a character interacts with the events of the overarching story. Because of this, the show has a looming sense of dread hanging over it the entire time.
Non-chronological storytelling also means viewers never know what is coming next, meaning they’ll frequently be surprised by how events play out. However, while the show is confusing, it always feels like the writers know what they’re doing. When the story ends, nearly all loose ends are tied up satisfactorily. It feels satisfying to see the pieces click into place and to see if your guesses about the various characters and situations are correct — or if you’ve been deceived by clever writing.
Boogiepop Phantom Has Horror Elements But Feels More Like a Thriller
Boogiepop Phantom‘s visuals greatly help to set its atmosphere. The entire show uses a very dull color palette, and most episodes have a vignette effect over them, further dulling the brightness. This makes the show feel highly atmospheric, especially in the city sequences where the dark shadows feel quite imposing. There are also plenty of places to hide, meaning viewers are constantly peering into the shadows, wondering if something or someone is going to suddenly burst out — or if something lurking within those shadows will be the next piece of the overarching puzzle.
While the show has its horror elements, it feels much more like a thriller, with the scares being rare and mostly there to drive the plot forward. This makes those scares all the more intense as they often catch viewers off guard, meaning they get a great instinctual reaction despite being tamer than those found in many other horror anime.
Boogiepop Phantom is a masterpiece that combines a complex and intriguing plot with creative direction to make something memorable and unique. At the same time, it never feels inaccessible or pretentious. Every clever detail about this series exists for a reason and serves to improve the overarching story. Without the fractured narrative and unique visual style, the sense of unease radiating through the city wouldn’t feel as visceral. The show’s moody, dark atmosphere and focus on memories and change make it the perfect series to watch this fall for those who want a spooky thriller rather than an outright horror show.
Boogiepop Phantom is now streaming on Crunchyroll.