“Boogiepop Phantom” (2000) Vol. 5: A critical analysis of “Interlude”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the anime “Boogiepop Phantom,” a trippy sci fi-horror mashup that examines memory, aging, the uncanny and other themes. Every week, this blog will analyze one episode of the series at a time, using the episode’s title as an entry point for analysis. This week, we’re analyzing the fifth episode: “Interlude.”

When one thinks of an interlude, one typically thinks of a pause in a play or a movie or a piece of music. It’s something that stops the action to allow the audience to take a break or catch its breath. But the thing that “Boogiepop” wants us to remember is that an interlude interrupts–it can just as easily divide, disrupt and put an audience off kilter.

The fifth episode seems like it’s too early for an interlude in a 12-episode series, but it does function like a kind of microcosm of the entire series, which often feels like it’s built out of overlapping stories that constantly interrupt each other. In this episode, various stories are woven together, their themes and concepts echoing to give a clearer picture of the incomplete whole. Familiar faces like Touka Miyashita and Nagi Kirima, as well as characters like Poom Poom who will be expanded in the future, all make an appearance. All these stories surround a story in the background where Officer Morita teasingly tells his fellow officer about the mysterious Towa Organization. It’s one of the show’s most brilliantly constructed narratives, and certainly one of the best ways to handle something as frequently tedious as exposition.

It’s also arguably the most claustrophobic episode. Morita is first pictured standing gigantic in the center of a police substation, positioned so that he bisects the tiny office. Exterior shots of the station emphasize its small size by burying it in darkness. Both shots are repeated multiple times throughout the episode, grounding the narrative to this spot and giving the other plots something to encircle.

It’s also structurally claustrophobic, with the various plotlines crowding each other and vying for attention. The result is a constant interruption that throws the repeated rhythm off-kilter, making what should be familiar seem unfamiliar, a mood Freud called uncanny.

As soon as an interlude is understood as an interruption, interludes abound in the episode. A ticking clock acts as an interlude on an otherwise lazy evening. A rumor that circulates online acts as an interlude into the flow of the truth. Touka appears mostly as her normal high school self in this episode, although at one point she appears to enter a trance and dispense cryptic wisdom. Is this the Boogiepop personality? And which personality is the interlude into her true identity?

The biggest type of interruption mentioned in the episode–perhaps in the entire series–is the notion of change over time. Change is how the present interrupts the past. It can disrupt both the physical environment and the psychic environment of an identity one has spent a lifetime crafting.

Touka talks to a friend on the train, where they stand among seated travelers, interrupting the uniformity of the scene. “It’s slowly changing, isn’t it?” she notes, looking out the window. “The look of the city.”

Touka is returning from a trip to the hospital where she was once treated for a mysterious psychological break; her parents tell her she was possessed by a fox spirit, furthering themes of change and identity. She went to try to get in touch with her former self, not her possessed self but her past.

“Before I start preparing for the exams, I wanted to take a look at my past,” Touka says. The exams are college entrance exams, and for a high school student, they are a symbol of the future–embarrassing, distant, threatening. The change to get there is frightening, because it involves releasing a part of one’s identity, but its potential for growth can only be achieved by that change.

Certainly Touka’s identity is in flux, since she’s the occasional medium of Boogiepop. She ought to know who she is, but it’s understandable if she seems unfamiliar to herself–if she seems uncanny. Her return to her past is perhaps an attempt to reconnect to her old identity, to make the unfamiliar familiar again and give herself grounding as she looks toward the future.

While Touka finds herself caught between the past and the future–as well as caught between two identities–Mayumi Kisaragi is on the opposite end of the spectrum. She is a 35-year-old woman being treated for amnesia at the same hospital where Touka was treated for possession. She has no short term memory and can’t remember anything since the events of five years ago. Her world is without change, to some degree. Since there is no extensive library of the past, there is no comparison to the present to see what’s different, and no expectations about the future, leaving her in a paradoxical state of pleasant stagnation.

Opposed to change is the Towa Organization, blatantly so. It’s in this episode that it’s given a definition by Officer Morita.”The purpose of this organization is to prevent change int this world,” he says. “The organization doesn’t like change.”

The Organization’s creature is the artificial human that has taken over the identity of Morita, who amuses himself by explaining his true purpose to his fellow officer before using his superhuman abilities to erase the other man’s recent memory, allowing him to do it over and over again. This both erases his ability to comprehend change and sets off the repeating pattern that grounds this episode.

“Morita, haven’t we had this conversation before?” Yamamoto, the other officer, repeatedly asks in confusion. Morita’s ultimate answer is unnerving, giving the exposition a genuine punchline before repeating the cycle, interrupting the audience’s expectations and giving the characters on screen no sense of growth, understanding or change.

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