Scattered Thoughts – How Boogiepop adaptation failed its first arc

     Show, don’t tell. That’s probably the most important rule of any film or TV show. Instances like Bakemonogatari are very scarce, and even there the visuals are not the least important element of the story. It seems like the easier route is to stick to the rule and avoid exposition dumps as much as possible, and then it should be ok. It’s true that the new adaptation of Boogiepop light novel series doesn’t tell. Only the problem is that neither does it show.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai Miyashita Touka

     It’s a very unforgiving job to try to adapt Boogiepop. If you watched any of Junji Ito’s anime adaptations, you should know how that sort of thing may play out. It’s just that another medium isn’t always capable of retelling the same story without some important pieces being lost. A non-conventional retelling might do the source justice, but so far Boogiepop wa Warawanai has received nothing but conventional adaptation, and it doesn’t really work. Why?

     The key structural feature of Boogiepop is that just like Baccano it tells multiple stories that interconnect and make up the grand narrative. The story itself isn’t too complicated or mysterious (though individual characters don’t know that), so a lot rests on the strength of the characters. And a logical way to show their inner worlds is to have multiple POV chapters, which LNs do. Thus each of the individuals may show their worldviews and various sides of other characters, bit by bit completing the grand puzzle. But what if you strip the characters of their real personalities and leave them only with facades they show to the outside world? You get this new anime adaptation.

     Just take the very first episode, the part based on the first chapter of the first LN, showing how Keiji Takeda had to deal with Boogiepop who turned out to be an alternative personality of his girlfriend Touka Miyashita. The very first encounter and Keiji’s shock of seeing so well-known face acting weirdly and indifferently in the LN ran like this:

It was then that I finally got a clear look at his face.
Words can’t begin to do justice to the shock I felt at that moment.
Perhaps the best example I can give is to describe it like one of these nopperabou ghost stories – you expect a faceless ghost, but instead, the ghost looks just like you. At first you just don’t get it, but then you do, and it totally freaks you out.
I stared at him, eyes wide open and mouth agape.
But for him, I seemed to be little more than another face in the crowd, and he soon shifted his glare to the man next to me.

     How does the anime express Keiji’s shock? Like this.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai Takeda Keiji

And this.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai Takeda Keiji

     It doesn’t seem like a guy just saw his girlfriend doing something absolutely unexpected. Not really freaked out, was he? More like he was slightly surprised by seeing an acquaintance he hasn’t met a few weeks.

     Another thing that bothered me was the anime version of Boogiepop himself. Let’s just return to the LN for a bit:

Boogiepop made a strange expression. Beneath the low brim of his hat, his left eye narrowed and the right side of his mouth twisted upwards. It was a very asymmetrical expression that Touka herself would never make.
Later, I wondered if that expression was a strained sort of grin, but at the time, it baffled me. It was a sort of grin that seemed both sarcastic and somewhat diabolical at the same time.
I never did see him smile, though.

Compare that to this:

Boogiepop wa Warawanai Boogiepop smiling

     In my book that qualifies as nothing but a smile. It can be argued that a limited TV production simply can’t deal with as complicated facial expressions as was described, but that doesn’t deny the fact that the anime Boogiepop smiles all the time. I struggled hard to find any decent screenshot with Boogiepop not smiling, and failed (to be frank, there aren’t many great screenshots in this show to begin with). And that smile is neither asymmetrical nor unnatural. A smile that we see, paired with Aoi Yuuki’s performance, made me think that Boogiepop was arrogant and smug, thinking he knows everything better than anyone. And that’s a far reach from a straight-forward guy from the LN, who says he’s sincerely happy because he eventually could call Keiji his single friend.

     I really can’t stress how important that Boogiepop’s sort-of-smile is. Even in later novels other characters who haven’t encountered Boogiepop yet sometimes notice that weird expression on Touka’s face, stating that it makes her look very un-Touka-like, and even her voice starts sounding somehow strange. For everyone who knows the reason of that such moments feel very fulfilling in a sense that “Ah, I know what’s happening, and you don’t, haha”. Boogiepop can never smile, otherwise he’s not Boogiepop anymore.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai Boogiepop smiling

     In the anime the flow of time was so quick that by the time Boogiepop and Keiji had their final talk (with Boogiepop expressing thanks to Keiji for becoming his friend), even a single Keiji’s thought like

Everything  I wanted to say but couldn’t express…he could and would at the drop of a hat. That’s why I liked him so much.

could’ve made things better. Now it seemed like the two of them have seen each other several times at most (contrary to long conversations that the LN provides), so this “hey, thanks for being a friend” came out of nowhere. It could’ve also been emphasized that Keiji was one lonely guy because everyone was preparing for entrance exams, and he wasn’t, so he couldn’t always stand on the same ground as even his girlfriend. Meeting someone as open-minded and as lonely as Boogiepop was also very healthy to him, and that is left outside the adaptation.

     Speaking about the events prior to the eventual disappearance of Boogiepop, there’s a scene like this.

“You’ll just disappear when this ‘danger’ is over?”
“Yes, I will be a little sad to go this time, though. I won’t be able to see you again.”
This surprised me.
“You won’t…?”
“Right. Miyashita Touka will be here, of course. I imagine you prefer her.” His shoulders slumped a little.
I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I remained silent.
The two of us stared quietly up at the evening sky.
Boogiepop began to whistle. The tune was fast and bright, his breathing skillfully alternating fast and slow, but it was a whistle, so it sounded rather sad somehow.
I remembered that Touka couldn’t whistle.
(A suppressed possibility…?)
Even as her boyfriend, I suppose I was suppressing some part of her.
This thought weighed heavy on me.

     Nothing like that happens in the anime. Nothing. A face like this

Boogiepop wa Warawanai Takeda Keiji

can’t express these sort of emotions. It simply doesn’t show on the face, and thus we’re left with a particularly bland Keiji who isn’t interesting to anyone.

     So that’s that with Keiji. I could elaborate even more, for example saying that Touka as herself (and not as Boogiepop) is left as an unimportant character. It isn’t clear what type of relationship she and Keiji had, so it’s difficult to understand what thoughts the appearance of Boogiepop made Keiji think. For example, it isn’t told that Boogiepop had  already emerged from Touka several years before and had caused quite some problems. Touka had to deal with psychiatrists, her family became much stricter. There’s a scene in the LN where Keiji calls Touka’s home to see how she’s doing, though they had previously agreed that he’d never do that because of Touka’s family. Keiji still does that, and is forced to evade the minefields of not revealing their relationship and to somehow get information from Touka. She also can’t be clear, as everything she talks about can be heard by her family, so a normal girlfriend-boyfriend conversation is a clear no-no. Sure, anime has sort of a similar scene with Touka calling Keiji via a cell phone, but this technological advance since 1998 doesn’t really help to build the relationship between Keiji and Touka.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai keiji takeda, Miyashita Touka

     Another thing that left me quite sad was the omission of the LN chapter whose star was Akio Kimura. For one thing, there’s a part there that takes place two years after the main events, and by meeting Touka, Akio was able to make the readers glimpse into the future relationship between Touka and Keiji.

     Still, the main point of Akio’s chapter was to provide a more complete profile of Naoko Kamikishiro, who, all things considered, played the most important role in this arc. Yet, in the anime she seems more like an afterthought, shown only when absolutely necessary. And I think that such a complex girl that has two boyfriends (and a set of complicated feelings about them) should deserve a closer attention. Especially since she took care of a complete shabby-looking stranger that turned out to be Echoes, an act that Keiji himself sadly commented with “the rest of us ordinary people can’t understand that way of thinking”. And it’s really sad that a person who basically saved everyone was killed by simply walking into a wrong place at a wrong time. Just like that, without any rhyme or reason. If that isn’t tragic and worth more screen time and a decent portrayal, I don’t know what is.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai Naoko Kamikishiro

     I really don’t know how such an internal-thoughts-heavy light novel should be adapted. Probably making each of the characters voice out their thoughts would make it too text-heavy and go against the same “show, don’t tell” rule. But maybe some balance can be reached because the choice not to reveal the thoughts of the characters entirely clearly made them bland and altogether unrelatable. A poker-face doesn’t tell anything, if what’s underneath it isn’t known. Paper-thin characterization (sometimes not sticking to the source for no reason) of too often expressionless characters, some cut out material (that in my opinion was very important) and numerous missed opportunities to make this adaptation more relatable ended up making Boogiepop wa Warawanai a rather poor adaptation compared to effect the original LN had on me. I can only hope that the next arc will improve a lot, even if I don’t have any reason to believe that. Oh well, at least the LNs aren’t going anywhere, and that’s what I recommend trying.

     TL;DR: go read the manga. Oops, the light novel. Though I guess the manga also should work. As long as it presents a more complete story than the anime. Anyway.

     So, how did you like the first arc of Boogiepop wa Warawanai? Have you read the LNs? If so, how does it compare with the adaptation?

 

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10 Comments

  1. It certainly sounds like this would be a lot more fun to read than the anime has been so far.

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
  2. Oscar

     /  May 15, 2019

    Have you watched the live action movie? It’s an ultra low budget flick that was conceived as a side-media to the 2000 anime but I really liked it. I think it did a great job at making Boogiepop and Keiji’s relationship endearing and it shows Kamikishiro’s two-timing. It was great when the purity-obsessed otakus didn’t have full control over the industry

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
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