This is the continuation of my analysis of the themes in Boogiepop wa Warawanai (2019). Since the story is put into four arcs, I’ve organized the major themes by arc. The purpose of this post isn’t to explain the events of Boogiepop, but even still, there are content spoilers. Also, please consider letting me know what you thought of this show and/or this post! Thanks!
Arc 3: Boogiepop at Dawn
“The world is not always moving in one direction. Rather, like a swarm of bugs, it moves in all directions. Sometimes, they move in one unified motion, and other times, like this incident, the swarm falls apart and results in nothing. That’s all it is.”~Boogiepop from Boogiepop (2019), episode 13
Boogiepop wa Warawanai is a heavily psychological show. The previous two arcs were more straightforward with their motifs and messages. However, after some consideration during a re-watch of the episodes, I believe the main two themes are fear/fearlessness, and the complexity of people/society. In episode 10, we saw the story of Scarecrow or Kuroda as he betrayed the Towa organization/ system to cure Nagi of an illness that might have killed her.
What is this all about? Well, basically the theme is that there’s no single theme. Everything is complex and made of many elements, people, places, emotions, and circumstances. As for the theme of fear/fearlessness, Kuroda shows great fearlessness in the way he saved Nagi. Kuroda and Nagi both have this immense bravery and an underlying desire to be “seigi no mikata” or heroes of justice.
In episode 11, both themes appear again. During their conversation with Dr. Kisugi, Boogiepop fearlessly explains who she is, how she’s going to hunt and kill enemies of the world, and how Kisugi is probably one such enemy. They don’t show the slightest sign of fear. Kisugi wonders why fear exists. She herself seems to feel no fear of society’s judgment as she manipulates and hurts others, and even becomes a serial killer.
Then there’s the theme of complexity of people and the way they relate. We have schizophrenic patients, psychopathic psychiatrists, otherworldly phantoms like Boogiepop, artificial humans like Mo-Murder and Pigeon, and tweens with savior complexes like Nagi. Do they see themselves as normal, and how do others see them? Do they see the world as stable, or dangerously unstable? What do they want, what are they planning, and what is it all leading up to? Things are complex as a nest of bugs squirming and running this way and that.
Episodes 12 and 13 also show the complexity theme. Nagi’s father Seiichi was an MPLS or evolved human who could wrote books that awoke MPLS powers in his readers. Eventually, Mo-Murder killed Seiichi for this, as well as wiping out many of the readers who became MPLS. Because Kuroda gave Nagi the medicine, she survived and was able to start investigating the murder cases with Mr. Sasaki (Mo-Murder).
Also because of Kuroda, Kisugi found remnants of the mysterious drug left behind and used it to make herself a creature with beyond-human abilities. If Mo-Murder hadn’t killed Kuroda, Pigeon wouldn’t have collaborated with Kisugi to kill him. If not for Nagi and Boogiepop, Kisugi would have gone on killing innocent girls as the Fear Ghoul. One thing leads to another. Things move in all directions at once. A single action has a ripple effect. There is no real point to this story, this arc, except the insane levels of intricacy in society.
Fear/fearlessness come together nicely as a motif in the last two episodes of this arc. Dr. Kisugi’s personality plus the way she altered herself with the Towa Organization drug made her into a Fear Ghoul. Growing up, she always felt afraid and thought she was a coward. Her new powers made her fearless though– or almost. To reach true fearlessness, a Fear Ghoul is driven to kill fearless individuals and, through drinking their blood or eating their brains, derive true fearlessness. The Ghoul is energized by the fear of her victims.
Boogiepop, Nagi, her father, and Kisugi lack a sense of fear. You can see this in their behavior throughout this arc. Boogiepop doesn’t seem to have a sense of fear, not of society or its judgment, and not for their own life. Although they indirectly save people or prevent killings, Boogiepop doesn’t fear for the lives of others, either. They always act calm and confident, even when many are in danger. Seiichi Kirima was surprisingly unafraid of death, and his daughter is incredibly brave. She has a savior complex and isn’t afraid to face off with murderers or monsters.
Kisugi asks several times, and Nagi asks once, “Why does fear even exist?” I suspect most people have their own answers to this question. Mine is a solution rooted in Evolutionary psychology. Fear exists to help animals– including humans– survive and pass on their genes. Without fear, too many humans and other animals would get themselves killed. The population would decline.
What if you felt no fear about walking up an exit ramp and crossing over the highway in daylight on foot to get to your desired location on the far side? You’d almost certainly die, and if you didn’t, one or more drivers could die from trying to avoid you. When humans were evolving, we learned to fear tigers, because they attack humans in settlements without guns or lights. If we had instead thought “what a cute baby tiger,” with no sense of fear, we would have walked right into the nest to be slaughtered by the mother. Fear was necessary to Evolution.
Speaking of evolution, let’s put aside the scientific Theory of Evolution for now. I want to mention the fictional type of evolution where humans or other creatures evolve in new ways due to sci-fi or supernatural causes. This happens in the third arc of Boogiepop. When given the drug from the Towa Organization, people and animals evolve in various ways. The rats Kisugi experimented on developed regenerative abilities, and became near-immortal. Kisugi used it on herself and it turned her into a powerful Fear Ghoul. For Nagi, all the drug did was heal her of the mysterious illness, which might have killed her. Evolution is also discussed in episode 12 when Seiichi learns about individuals who “evolved” special abilities from reading his books.
This sci-fi type of evolution is a metaphor for the “psychological evolution” of humans, which could happen on the individual level or the societal level. People change in mysterious ways. People drive society, and society moves. Eventually, the whole world moves. However, it’s not moving in one consistent direction, as Boogiepop pointed out in the quote at the start of this section . Humans and their personal ways of thinking and relating to the world and each other are too intricate and complicated to ever analyze completely. Things won’t always make sense.
Arc 4: Overdrive: The King of Distortion
The final arc of Boogiepop (2019) is more thrilling and suspenseful than the others, in my opinion. In terms of its main or major theme, though, it’s much simpler than the previous arc. A cognitive distortion is a falsification or misrepresentation in the way we think. That’s the major theme. The King of Distortion is a possibility within Shirou Tanaka which appears to many others with the intention of helping them turn their pain “into gold.”
In other words, this being is trying to help people make something good–something glittering– of their pain or hardship. It tries to do so by drawing out the underlying or hidden problems in people that they don’t want to think about. However, the King of Distortion often creates or reinforces cognitive distortions in the people it faces. You’ll see what I mean as we discuss each episode in the fourth and final arc of Boogiepop wa Warawanai (2019).
King of Distortion appeared to Kei Niitoki in the form of the deceased Saotome Masaki. The thing he drew out into the light was the fact that Kei had feelings for Keiji Takeda. The distortion in her mind that the King reinforced was the idea that Takeda won’t respond to Kei’s feelings because he thinks she is a goody-two-shoes, being the upright class president with amazing grades trying to get into a good university. Boogiepop appeared to Kei as well and “saved” her before the distortion caused her to do anything rash. It’s much the same for the other characters, too.
In episode 15, we learn a lot about Sakiko Michimoto. I wrote another post about her if you’re interested. In short, the King of Distortion brough to light the grief and guilt Sakiko felt about losing her best friend Hinako. The distortion created was that Sakiko needed to do something about her pain to change it, rather than go on with her life and acknowledge and accept her pain. For Sakiko, it meant she had to die to put her guilt at ease and to eliminate the “bad person” she was, to make the world a better place for people like Hinako. Sakiko finds Boogiepop in episode 17 and begs to be killed, but Boogiepop refuses since she is not an enemy of the world.
Another example from episode 15 is Kentarou Habara, who met Distortion in the form of Nagi Kirima. The thing that was brought to light was the fact that Kentarou had unrequited feelings for Nagi after a meeting they had at a cafe some time earlier. There was no cognitive distortion created or reinforced, though. Kentarou knows there’s nothing he can do about not confessing to Nagi before, but he can always try again in the present. He escapes his meeting with Distortion on his own, when his “dream” with Nagi was interrupted by Makoto’s nightmare about Zooragi.
Episode 16 contintues the story of Sakiko and Hinako, the efforts of Kentarou to fight the King of Distortion, and the nightmare of Makoto. Boogiepop comes to save the boy. What exactly is going on with this kid and his Zooragi nightmare? Well, the King of Distortion only shows up in the form that the person wants to see. Makoto wished that a monster would destroy the tower so he could go home and play games. So, once the illusions in the tower started, Distortion appeared to the boy as the monster of his own creation: Zooragi. What it tried to bring to light was the fear that Makoto feels because he had no father. The cognitive distortion, which already existed in Makoto’s head, is that his father is the monster.
Zooragi is the strongest illusion of the King of Distortion, and it’s encroaching on reality. It’s destroying the tower for real, though normal people perceive it as destruction caused by some device of the building’s creator. Boogiepop was able to stop the raging Zooragi by making Makoto believe in her. To correct the distortion that Makoto was powerless because of not knowing his father, he needed to believe that someone strong would save and protect him. So Boogiepop was that person for him. Zooragi toppled the building within the illusion or nightmare, but only a portion of its power crossed into reality and damaged the actual building.
Episode 17 completes the rest of Sakiko’s arc, wherein Boogiepop convinces her she doesn’t need to die and her pain has already produced feelings as valuable as gold. We also see Kentarou and Shirou trying to figure out how to stop the King of Distortion, believing that its true identity is Teratsuki, who set up this tower and the sleeping gs trap in it. It turns out it’s true that Teratsuki the artificial human set up the trap, and it was all so he could leave a video message to the few that made it to the control room. The message is lost on Kentarou, but Shirou understands.
After helping Niitoki, Makoto, Sakiko, and others, Boogiepop finally realizes (in episode 18), that the real Distortion is Shirou Tanaka. He’s the one who’s been giving everyone dreams and illusions, and conducting a mass experiment, but his goals are pure. He explains how Naoko’s death gave him the ability to understand what was in the hearts/minds of others and pull it our into the light. He wants to show everyone the distortions in their minds.
Boogiepop suggests that if Shirou is one who has despaired at the world, it’s their duty to end someone like that. However, Boogiepop does not fight or put an end to Shirou, because he hasn’t truly despaired, and isn’t truly evil. He’s not an enemy of the world, but simply someone with his own cognitive distortion regarding his feelings for Naoko and his reaction to her death. After being talked down by Boogiepop and the brave Kei Niitoki, Shirou or the King of Distortion ceases his experiments on others and returns to normal. Then Kei finishes things up with the tower control room with a little help from Boogiepop, and all is well again.
I’d like to discuss some other themes in Boogiepop (2019)– such as how Boogiepop represents the status quo for society– but this post is already getting lengthy. I can always write more about this amazing show later, so I’ll wrap things up for now. To restate, the main themes in the third arc were fear, complexity, and evolution. The theme of the fourth arc was cognitive distortion. What do you think about any of the topics or episode events mentioned here? I’d love to hear thoughts. This has been Anime Rants. Ja ne!