Anime Reviews: Paranoia Agent

2005; Director: Satoshi Kon; Studio: Madhouse
2005; Director: Satoshi Kon; Studio: Madhouse

In his unfairly short career, director Satoshi Kon has made a name for himself in the anime industry. His films, Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika have been lauded by critics and viewers as interesting character studies with engaging casts, realistic artwork and well-developed plot structure. Paranoia Agent, his first and only foray into television, was composed out of unused ideas from his movies which he felt could be better utilized for a thirteen-episode TV series.

Life can be a seemingly endless cycle of turmoil and misery, especially if you’re someone like Tsukiko Sagi, a shy woman who works as a character designer for a Japanese toy company. Her latest creation, a wide-eyed mushroom-shaped dog named Maromi, has brought her overnight success, as well as the scorn of her coworkers. Now her company wants another hit character, and Tsukiko is creatively drained and under constant pressure. Finally, at her wit’s end, her silent pleas of relief are answered when a passerby strikes her with a crooked baseball bat in a random parking lot.

The attacker, referred to for the rest of the series as Lil’ Slugger (or Shounen Bat for the sub watchers), immediately becomes the subject of a lot of gossip for the citizens of Tokyo. Two detectives, the old experienced Ikari and the more up-to-date Maniwa, are assigned to the case and learn from Tsukiko that LS/SB resembled a junior high school boy with golden Rollerblades. A sleazy reporter, who we learn is in a stew of his own, hounds the detectives and Tsukiko for information regarding the attack, growing increasingly desperate in the meantime. By the end of the first episode, he himself becomes LS/SB’s second in what looks to be a disturbingly long list of victims.

As the story continues, a number of grotesque characters pop in and out frequently, which only adds to the mystery—a strange old man who scribbles math equations on the ground that seemingly connect to plot points, an old homeless woman wandering the streets, and an overweight otaku with a large collection of female models. Maromi is especially prominent late in the series, and he is quite possibly the scariest character of all of them. Cute, yes, but we’re not talking Chiyo-chan cute. Maromi’s cuteness is more mysterious and frightening.

The show’s structure packs a lot of story into each installment. Episodes two through four feature the lives of LS/SB’s next few targets; a junior high school kid who fits the attacker’s description, his tutor who suffers from a split personality, and a cop who’s in debt to the yakuza. Five, six and seven depict the two detectives interrogating a possible suspect as the stress slowly gets to them. Eight and nine, while being filler, are the most lighthearted episodes of the series, despite the themes of suicide and desperation, while ten is perhaps the darkest one yet. Eleven and twelve set the stage for the aptly named “Final Episode” which while being fifty-seven varieties of surreal unveils the final shocking truth of LS/SB and brings the series to a satisfying albeit loosely tied conclusion.

Each victim’s tale is interesting to watch, and a little shocking at times. The terror and delirium they experience makes it sort of fun to countdown to the moment they get whacked, and the lifelike facial expressions are icing on the cake. The character designs are on-point for the most part. Tsukiko looks rather plain-Jane, while two of LS/SB’s victims most deserving of a smack in the mouth sport big heads and look like bullfrogs. The look of the show is almost mesmerizing, from watered-down colors for indoor scenes to occasional uses of different styles of animation (the end of episode two looks particularly trippy) to the title sequence, featuring characters of the show standing and laughing amid scenes of floods, devastation and nuclear apocalypse.

In short, there is nothing Kon hasn’t put into Paranoia Agent that is not the least bit alluring. It is highly recommended for those who love a good mystery, psychological drama, or if you just like to watch something crazy.

And remember…just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean HE'S not out to get you.

PROS
CONS
Mesmerizing art design and animation
Not for all ages and constitutions

Paranoia Agent: awesome or crap?

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