Molly’s Extra Special Special II- Paranoia Agent

Posted on Sep 02 2010

“To Begin…”

Thanks to some unforeseen technical difficulties, I, Mollybibbles, will be watching the nest as the owl temporarily leaves the rafters to get his computer fixed. Ok, that’s enough of the owl puns. Let’s get down to business.

In commemoration of the popular director, Satoshi Kon’s life and the creation of titles such as Tokyo Godfathers, Perfect Blue and Paprika, our resident Mr. Owl, Tyto, had planned a full anthology of his work but technology has a way with timing when it decides to break down. To stall for time while the problem is solved, I’m going to take you through Kon’s famous 13-episode anime series, Paranoia Agent.

“Enter Li’l Slugger”

If you thought Inception was a mind trip, this Studio Madhouse series is sure to incite some feelings of excitement and oblivion. Compiled of unused ideas he still felt were usable and recognizable concepts from his past works, Paranoia Agent takes you through a paranoid society’s fear of one Shonen Bat (also known as “Li’l Slugger” in the dub), a “young boy with golden in-line skates and a crooked golden baseball bat”.

Why the quotation marks? It is implied partway through the series that perhaps this Li’l Slugger is not a boy but the culmination of the victim’s wishes to be freed from their inhibitions. The victims become “freed” when the crooked bat held by the kid with the smile meet the victim’s skull. Though, after these attacks, the victims seem to experience a release and calmness. Truly a creepy concept.

Each attack is unrealistically connected to each other by way of simple association. Father and daughter, journalist and subject, student and tutor, even “customer” and “server.” Even then, the connections run deeper than that. Even when “Li’l Slugger,” a delusional junior high student, had been detained, he too was attacked (though he was “asking for it.” Once more, you’ll know what I mean when you get to episode 8). “He is one person, yet he’s not”. Take that quote as you will, though as you traverse through each episode, you’ll come to understand it’s meaning.

“Mellow Maromi”

If you haven’t noticed by now, the most successful anime series have some form of fluffy, animal-like mascot: a marketable product to get fans to spend more money. Take for example Kon from Bleach or Mokona from various CLAMP series. In the case of Paranoia Agent, we’ve got the adorable pink pup, Maromi, designed by the first Li’l Slugger victim, Tsukiko Sagi.

This little guy wasn’t made for retail though. Maromi acts as the thread that connects everything from reality and delusion to past, present and future (which is one screwed up future. If you get to the end of the series, you’ll know what I mean).

Maromi reminds the watcher that you are, in fact, watching the same series because wild turns come at the moment you least expect them. Each episode depicts very different lives with very different stories. Maromi acts as your tether. A freakishly adorable tether or a freakishly adorable danger. Take that as you will. *All knowing snicker*

“Happy Family Planning”

The details of this series are immaculate. Everything down to the reoccurring crows and the subtle themes. The soundtracks differ per episode, shadowing the mood of the plot. In the episode “Happy Family Planning,” an obvious parallel to Satoshi Kon’s film Tokyo Godfathers (another must-watch that Tyto will outline for you in his Kon anthology), our intrepid trio of suicidal misfits in this episode wander around Japan with a soundtrack mimicking their hilarious coincidences. The music from this episode would be what I consider my favorite in the series if not for its refreshingly comical feel.

The details Kon packed in don’t stop there. Each episode title in and of itself plays into each episode in the most subtle manner. You really have to pay attention in order to catch recurrent titles as, perhaps, a billboard advertisement or text on a computer screen. If you don’t keep your eyes open, you’ll miss it completely. It took me a couple watches to catch them all.

Paranoia Agent is a perpetual “I-Spy” full of obnoxiously subtle nuances here and there. You’ll notice that pieces of Li’l Slugger’s attire (i.e. the in-line skates, the hat, the bat) show up in ways that seem like they should be obvious to the given scenario. It’s the little things in this series that make it the mind bender that it is. Zone out, and you’ll miss out on what makes this anime so unique. Subtle subtle subtle.. If I use that word anymore, my head will implode and we don’t want that. So let us move on.

“Radar Man”

Though the series focuses on Li’l Slugger and his victims, we also follow the detectives that are tracking “him” down. One, Mitsuhiro Maniwa, loses sight of reality and becomes the ever-so-epic “Radar Man,” a delusional superhero character. The other, Keiichi Ikari, the detective in charge of Li’l Slugger’s investigation, attempts to let go of the chase. The detectives are fairly run-of-the-mill, Ikari being more old-fashioned and Maniwa being young and overly understanding.

If I went through every single character introduced in this anime, I would bore you with a twenty-page analysis. I will tell you that each victim was almost too mundane. But because each character has their own time to shine, it’s not boring at all. In fact, this allows the watcher to relate to the victim because in most instances they are struggling through normal social situations. We’ve got your over-achieving students, your overbearing journalist, your over-stretched industry workers and so on and so forth.

When you get right down to it, each and every character is very plain and predictable. They are people of a normal society. This makes them relatable and that much less fictitious. And though they present different lives and troubles all strangely connected to each other, each are similar in that they go through this time frame feeling emotionally and socially cornered. It is then Li’l Slugger’s job to “set them free,” so to speak.

If I had to choose my favorite character, it will be the little old man you will get to know very well with each episode. I speak only of the bizarre, old prophet who shows up at the most unlikely of times. He plays a role similar to that of Maromi. The old man, though speaking complete nonsense, is what keeps our characters in reality, because he too is associated with one of the attack victims, though it could also be argued that he’s the one that introduces you to the overall delusion.

His “Prophetic Visions” become one of the main drivers of the plot. Though it seems you’re watching the preview for the next episode, if you listen close the mish-mosh of words he’s spewing out, you’ll gain a very strange understanding. If you think about it, it seems that Satoshi Kon was trying to speak indirectly to the watchers through our bizarre prophet. Plus, I just love his creepy old man voice.

OH! When you get to the end of the series don’t forget to watch the final Prophetic Vision after the closing credits. You won’t regret spending that extra couple of minutes.

“Fear of a Direct Hit”

This is possibly my favorite episode title and the title to finish out this review. Satoshi Kon, a mastermind in creative story telling, created something that could rival any anime on the market. He worked constantly to blur the line between reality and delusion, something used heavily in his film Paprika. People is never sure whether they are witnessing a dream or reality. I’m fairly certain no reality I know of has a giant exploding puppy. What a way to scare the living daylights out of the watchers than to have the city overrun by pink, fluffy puppies.

There is something truly uncomfortable about this anime. Once “The Final Episode” comes to a close, a feeling of relief will overcome you, if not a feeling of familiarity. Upon finishing the series for the first time, Tyto had recommended that I rewatch the first five or so minutes of the first episode. I say you should as well. The sense of coming full circle is almost eerie.

Paranoia Agent is the definition of an intelligent series. If you yearn to stray from the everyday drudges of mainstream anime, this is a step in the right direction. Combining the flawless storytelling of Kon and the seamless and pseudo-realistic art style, we get a real treat to get your mind running again after the loads of diabetes-inducing, mind-numbing pop anime you may (or may not) have been watching (I don’t judge).

This anime is truly satisfying; a feeling induced by all of Satoshi Kon’s work. I could say that the anime industry will never be the same without the mind of Satoshi Kon, but I will instead say that this is our chance to celebrate what he has given us. Paranoia Agent and all of his works are something to be celebrated for years to come. It is up to us, the loyal fans of the anime industry, to keep his visions alive. With that, I will be giving the nest back to Tyto. Hope you enjoyed this second Extra Special Special.

Bibbles out.

“And then…”

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  • Llian September 3, 2010 at 10:49 PM

    I loved Paranoia Agent A LOT, I really wish I had the series physically.

  • Tempest Wind September 4, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    O__o I remember being utterly disgusted by the concept of Paranoia Agent. But now that you’ve explained it to me, I feel less disgusted and more disturbed. I guess that’s a good thing. Lol. A sick part of me wants to see this, just like a sick part of me wants to buy Persona 3 just to see kids shoot themselves in the head a lot.

  • […] from his film projects. I’ll try not to take much time with this, in favor of directing you to Mollybibbles’s article on this instead: I will say however, that among Kon’s many work, Paranoia Agent may be my […]

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