Technically, a thematic analysis is a structured technique and essay form for analyzing research papers and studies. However, when I say this is a thematic analysis, I just the refer to the literal meaning of the words, and only applied to stories rather than research: it’s a careful taking apart (analysis) of the themes (recurring messages) in a story. Boogiepop wa Warawanai (2019) is my favorite of the Winter 2019 anime. It’s full of so many themes that it gets me pumped. So I’ve chosen to focus on that story for this post. Since Boogiepop 2019 is split into four arcs with different stories, this is a theme discussion arranged by arc. As always, this is my personal interpretation and not any more wrong or right than those of others. Warning: spoilers for Boogiepop.
Note: Boogiepop isn’t a human personality. She uses the body of the human girl Miyashita, and uses the pronoun “Boku” which is traditionally more “male.” I refer to Boogiepop as “they,” rather than she or he. “They/ them” is also what people in the anime call Boogiepop.
Arc 1: Boogiepop and Others
“None of you feel anything when you see someone crying? Unbelievable. So this is what you call a civilized society?”~Boogiepop (2019) episode 1
The main theme in the first arc is the eternal question of whether humans are innately good or innately evil. I believe humans are both in equal measure, and for the most part, it seems like Boogiepop 2019 agrees. Episode 1 starts the discussion by showing the fact that humans are social creatures who need support. As humans, we need to connect with others. We need friends. We should rely on others when we’re suffering, and when we are stable, we should learn to be the ones who reach out to those who are suffering. Episode 1 makes all these points and more.
Throughout the first episode, emphasis rests on Keiji Takeda, who is Miyashita’s boyfriend, and his interactions with Boogiepop. He is kind to them, or at least he tries his best to believe their story and explanation of who they are. When it seems that Boogiepop may be an alternate personality of Miyashita, Takeda tries to help. After that doesn’t work, he continues to talk to them. Near the end of the episode, Boogiepop says Takeda is probably their first friend, and they are glad of it. Even the ever-calm and OP Boogiepop wants a friend.
Related to helping people is the theme that it’s hard for humans– and nonhumans like Echoes and Manticore– to understand each other. Takeda says that other people needing help isn’t as obvious to normal people as it is to Boogiepop. It’s hard for people to tell when others are suffering. Or, even if we know, we often aren’t brave or confident enough to try helping. This brings us back to the central question, is humanity kind-natured or not?
In episode 2, it’s clear that Masami and the manticore are unkind humans who use, abuse, and take the lives of others. Meanwhile, Nagi and Naoko are kind humans who try their best to help others. Naoko is also endlessly kind. If she hadn’t cared for and sheltered Echoes, he might have reported that humans were unkind creatures and did not deserve to survive. The first scene in episode 1 shows Boogiepop helping Echoes when he is hurt, lost, and in tears. Nobody else in the crowd lifts a finger to help him. Since Echoes came to earth to test humanity and see if it was a kind species, this interaction might have been just as important to “saving the world” as his interactions with Naoko later.
The Manicore, who technically isn’t human, said humans are foolish. They value others too much and leave themselves at risk. By that definition, even the Manticore’s lover Masami is foolish. At the end, he pushed Manticore aside and was killed in the blast that Echoes fired as he warped back to his home world. When she realized Masami had been completely obliterated for her sake, Manticore lost her mind from rage and presumably grief. She loved him. Even those that act like inhuman demons and take the lives of others– even they have emotions and can love. “Demons” can be kind to fellow “demons.” And a human like Masami fell in love with a nonhuman “demon.” That’s further proof that the nature of humans/ humanoids is social and kind.
Another theme in the first arc–one that’s more minor– is courage. First, there’s the way Takeda has the courage to become friends with Boogiepop, despite them being an existence he can’t quite understand, and one that could be called monstrous. Naoko Kamikishiro has the courage to trust Echoes not to hurt her or take advantage of her, even though he’s a big, male stranger from her view. Finally, note the courage of Shirou Tanaka, the boy who killed the Manticore with his great archery skills. At first, he ran away from the carnage screaming. However, he had the will to come back and finish the Manticore after thinking that she was probably the one who killed Naoko.
Arc 2: Vs. Imaginator
This arc is twice as long as the last, so it’s full of many different meanings. In my opinon, the most prominent message is to think for yourself and live for yourself, rather than being controlled. Similarly, don’t allow anyone to manipulate you into becoming standard or conforming; even if mental and emotional instability are the alternatives, those are your struggles and you shouldn’t dismiss them. First, let’s look at the theme of manipulation.
Episode 4 shows the story of Jin Asukai and how he begins to use his special ability after meeting the Imaginator. She shows him the possibility of using his power to modify human hearts, which at first he rejects. Imaginator manipulates Asukai into changing his mind, possessing and killing a drug-addled former student, and encouraging him to tamper with the student’s dying heart.
Asukai “sees” human hearts/minds as rose plants, and changes them by manipulating the plant. For some, he removes the thorns to take away their worries, grudes, and capacity for aggression. For others, Asukai tears out their heart and leaves them in a nearly dead state. He reveals in episode 8 that he’s trying to “standardize the psyches” of as many humans as possible, believing it will make them happy and it’s for their own good.
Asukai is being controlled or manipulated by Imaginator. He then uses his power, which she awoke, to manipulate the hearts of others. Meanwhile, Spookie E is also manipulating people with his power to brainwash and control people by using electricity on their brains. In episode 5, poor Shinjirou Anou is made to forget about his love for Masaki Taniguchi, and used as a mechanical slave (or “terminal”) by Spookie E. Though he’s freed from the villain by Boogiepop, Anou still can’t remember that he was so in love with Masaki. Speaking of love, Masaki and Aya (Orihata) hit it off and start dating. Aya is also being controlled by Spookie E. As you can see, manipulation and control are the salient motifs in this part of the story.
One other significant theme begins to show up strongly at episode 6: the way people (especially adolescents) are unstable, unpredictable, and fragile. Because she’s using Masaki, Aya feels guilty. She’s also obsessed with making sure nobody hates her, but is afraid that Masaki already does. So she considers killing herself. However, she’s talked back down by Suema-san. When asked about what Boogiepop might be, Suema says they are the protector of the instability and disorder of adolescence. In addition, Suema quotes the book her father wrote and says that all humans have to battle with whatever is out there trying to do their thinking for them: the Imaginator.
Brief tangent: what exactly is Imaginator as a being? In Boogiepop, Imaginator is a force of human evolution that wants to make everybody have similar minds and values. In reality, an imaginator is someone who creates. In a way, Imaginator is trying to create a new world and a new humanity. This requires controlling and manipulating the hearts and minds of others.
Episodes 7 and 8 continue with the theme of adolescents being emotionally unstable, each having their own problems with issues like love and personal identity. Orihata and Masaki fight and break up for the time being. Kinukawa-san is in love with her cousin, who happens to be Jin Asukai. Spookie E resets her mind, makes her believe she is the clone of Kinukawa, and sends her to find out information about the Imaginator. It isn’t until Asukai acknowledges her love and rejects her that Kinukawa begins to remember who she really is. Masaki almost killed someone because he was so angry. All of them are fragile. Even Spookie E himself is so. With his “thorns” and hatred taken away by Asukai, he kills himself with his own electric power.
In episode 9, Asukai, working with Imaginator, plans to “standardize the psyches” of everyone in the city by extracting the heart of Aya, and planting its seeds into all the people. Boogiepop is able to stop him. They then tell Aya that Asukai misunderstood his own ability. Any changes he made to hearts and minds are temporary. Even if he had ripped out Aya’s heart, she would heal before too long, because she had her love for Masaki anchoring her. The point is that humans are fragile, but resilient. Our hearts break, and then we pick them and put them back together, or time does so for us. Presumably, those brainwashed by Spookie E will also eventually recover their minds and memories.
Boogiepop also mentions that conforming to society is like brainwashing yourself. This brings us back to the main theme of the arc. Something is always going to try to control or manipulate you, including the greatest imaginator of all, human society. Teens have a harder time, but all humans are fragile. Nevertheless, they must fight the imaginators– that is, whoever is trying to do their thinking for them. Besdies, even if you as a master manipulator like Asukai or Spookie E, the changes you make to the minds of others won’t last forever. Our minds will always fight.
That concludes my thematic analysis of the first two arcs of Boogiepop wa Warawanai (2019). In a day or two, I’ll have the second part of this post ready. It will contain the analysis of arcs 3 and 4, which are “Boogiepop at Dawn,” and “Overdrive: The King of Distortion.” Thank you for reading. This has been Anime Rants. Mata ashita!