Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 2 is the third volume in the Boogiepop light novel series written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata. It is also the third out of four Boogiepop novels to have been released in English. Translated by Andrew Cunningham, the second part of Boogiepop Returns was published by Seven Seas in 2006. In Japan, the volume was released in 1998, the same year as the first two books in the series. Boogiepop Returns is actually a two-part story, and so after reading the first novel in the arc I was particularly anxious to read the second. With all of the setup and steadily increasing tension in the first part, the story needed a conclusion and the final volume of the arc promised to deliver just that. Boogiepop is kind of an odd series which freely mixes the surreal with the real, making use of multiple genres in the process. But it’s also a series that I find peculiarly appealing because of that and because of its willingness to explore the more troubling aspects of the psyche.
A year ago a young woman committed suicide under the influence of an entity known only as the Imaginator. Her life was ended when, being pursued by Boogiepop, the Imaginator failed to change the world through her. But now the Imaginator has returned to inspire yet another person, this time with much greater success. Asukai Jin, with the Imaginator as a catalyst, has begun to use his unique abilities to not only read the hearts of other people but to manipulate them as well. Meanwhile, the mysterious Towa Organization also has a vested interest in the direction humankind is taking. Spooky E, a synthetic human and one of its agents, is actively hunting Boogiepop in order to prevent the spirit’s interference with the organization’s affairs. In an effort to draw Boogiepop out, he has arranged for the love-besotted Taniguchi Masaki to serve as a decoy by impersonating Boogiepop. Masaki didn’t initially realize he was being used as a pawn, and even if he had there was very little he could do to stop the developing crisis.
Despite the title being Boogiepop Returns, the real Boogiepop actually plays a very small albeit very important role in the two novels and is mostly relegated to the edges of the narrative while the other players take center stage. Granted, when Boogiepop finally does make an entrance during the second volume’s finale, it’s pretty spectacular. But until then the story largely follows the more mundane characters, the seemingly normal teenagers who have been caught up in the battle over the fate of humanity and who frequently are the victims of the supernatural and superhuman forces at work. At the same time, they are also dealing with their own personal issues and troubled relationships. In many ways I actually found these smaller struggles to be more emotionally immediate than the novel’s grander schemes, probably because they’re more relatable and the more realistic elements help to ground the stranger aspects of the Boogiepop series.
The doomed love story between Masaki and the girl he likes, Orihata Aya, has always been an important part of Boogiepop Returns but it become especially prominent in the second volume. It is because of his love for her that he “becomes” Boogiepop, his feelings and the burgeoning romance becoming closely entwined with the larger events of the novel. The second part of Boogiepop Returns has some fantastic fights and action sequences, but the novel also has deeper contemplative and philosophical aspects to it as well. Employing the trappings of science fiction and the supernatural, the Boogiepop novels explore thought-provoking themes of free will, personal identity, the individual’s place within society, sacrifice, and what it truly means to be human. The characters are all damaged or suffering in some way but it’s how they choose to live their lives despite that pain that makes them who they are and makes Boogiepop Returns such an interesting and at times even compelling story.