Boogiepop and Others (ブギーポップは笑わない) is a 18-episode 2019 supernatural/psychological sorta-horror series by Madhouse based on 5 of the first 6 light novels1 by Kouhei Kadono.
There is an urban legend told among high school girls about a shinigami named Boogiepop which comes to take you away when you’re at your most beautiful. What people don’t know is that Boogiepop is real and is really a primal force of nature living as a split personality in Touko Miyashita’s mind coming to the surface to fight against various elemental monsters and/or twisted human evolution’s spurred on by an evil conspiracy…
…and none of that really matters. For all that it sounds like an action series Boogiepop’s focus remains on the fringes of everything happening, it cares more about the ordinary humans trying to survive, those trying to fight back against whatever monsters are on the hunt, and perhaps most pointedly on those who willingly help some of these dark forces arguably becoming bigger monsters than the literal maneaters. It is a deeply humanistic series that wants to explore the mentalities of everyone in these different situations and how they react to what happens around them, so much so Boogiepop itself usually only appears very briefly near the end of each arc.
To that end, strap in because Boogiepop will hit all of your Psych 101 highlights in its contemplation of morality, the human soul, nature/nurture question of evil, evolutionary ethics, and most importantly- fear. Aside from one of the villains being literally named the Fear Eater there’s a lot of exploration of horror itself and what people do when faced with things beyond their ken letting it serve as a near deconstruction of horror as a genre. All of which is a long way of saying bring your thinking caps, this isn’t exactly a light series to breeze through.
Shout out to the animation as well. It employs a much more realistic animation than you usually see, a style which can be a bit rough in places at a distance yet has remarkable detail in close ups. Boogiepop is described in the novels as pointedly inhuman and “unable to smile properly” when its controlling Toukas body, a detail that could be very hard to animate for a lot of studios and Madhouse does a great job of conveying it here.
There’s a fairly large overall cast of characters running around, unfortunately only two of them (Boogiepop/Touka and Nagi Kirima) actually appear in every novel with everyone else popping in and out of stories with varying levels of involvement. This makes actually following who’s connected to who and how somewhat difficult without a flow chart, especially as there’s effectively two different timelines to keep sorted out since there’s a lot of references or flash backs to a serial murderer from 5 years prior. Case in point, the last arc is centered around a kid who was a minor character in the first arc and you’d be forgiven for not knowing he had ever appeared before, especially since the anime cuts his appearance in the first arc to basically a wordless cameo from the subplot it is in the novels.
This is the other major point to consider, as an adaptation the series is… ok. Its forced to trim some subplots and minor characters for time, but when so many of them are where the stories real focus is trying to be and they can be very important later it creates a something even harder to follow then it really needed to be. I wouldn’t be as upset about this except the show is 18 episodes long (4 of which it dropped in a single night for reasons Ive never deduced), why not just make it a full 24 and flesh out these subplots more? Hell you could even try and fit in the skipped 4th novel2.
Weeb Level: Low. Nothing about the animation screams ANIME, arguably the opposite even, and it deals more in horror tropes than Japanese-y ones.
Content: Minor obscured nudity in one of the arcs, nothing egregious in fanservice. Being horror adjacent there is a fair bit of off-screen violence and a high body count, enough so its practically a joke that Shinyo Academy has any students still attending it by the end, with some minor visible gore.
Worth Watching: Seek it out if you like humanist psychological dramas and/or are a fan of Paranoia Agent or Serial Experiments Lain. Watch it if you want something very different than most series and have some time. Probably skip it under other circumstances as its oblique storytelling and heady content are not for everyone.
Where to watch: The big three- Crunchyroll, Funimation and Amazon Prime all have it, although you do need to pay per episode on Prime.
But wait- there’s more!
Boogiepop Phantom is a 12-episode horror series from 2000 by Madhouse inspired by the same novels, although it tells an original story roughly taking place in between the first two novels.
Roughly a month after the events of the first novel/first arc of Others a group of students at a different school are experiencing some of the lingering effects from the fallout of that conclusion dealing with their own brushes with the super natural. Also the villains from the first novel are running around as maybe ghosts maybe not and there’s another Boogiepop who may actually be evil?
Phantom is straight up more of a horror series than the novels/Others is, really leaning into the eldritch terror of what brushes with the supernatural end up doing. It was known as a cult classic of horror even long before the novels were available in the US as its ability to constantly keep you off balance and uncertain about where its going and what exactly is happening. It couples this with a really strong sound design and score, heavy on synth and reverb that seems to bore into your mind along with the story to drive you insane. By also telling an original story it doesn’t have to worry about adaptation issues and can let itself breath over all 12 episodes.
A contemporary of Serial Experiments Lain and Haibane Renmai, Boogiepop Phantom exists at an odd junction of where those two would meet, deep on making you thinking while also not giving you many answers or easy explanations to work with. Its art style is very much a mix of those two as well, using a subdued color palette heavy on the dark colors not usually seen in anime.
When the first Boogiepop novel was released it got a bit of notice for being possibly the least linear novel ever3 and in an effort to emulate that each episode of this is from a different characters perspective frequently overlapping its own chronology. All of which is to say its really fucking hard to follow even before you throw in all the cameos from characters in the novels. Ive read the first 6 novels a couple times each, seen Others and seen this before yet attempting to rewatch it I was still wildly confused. Granted, this does work to also keep you always off balance to sell its horror easier so its effective there.
This makes it really hard to recommend in some ways. While it was a cult classic for years before the first novel was ever available it can stand on its own without prior knowledge of events. But it really shouldnt. At the very least you should read the first novel or watch the first arc of Others now that they are available in the West.
Weeb Level: Low. Despite being 21 years old the animation is still remarkably similar in style and still not ANIME at all.
Content: Minimal to non-existent fanservice. Ramping up the horror also ramps up the violence with a lot more happening on screen.
Worth Watching: If you want something more horror oriented, this is straight up horror. If you really like Others you should also seek this out to get a different taste of the same type of stories from an alternate angle. Skip it otherwise though as its even harder to parse than Others.
Where to watch: The whole series is on Crunchyroll and Funimation. It looks like Amazon had it but it is currently unavailable.