Paranoia Agent (Scott’s Horror Corner!)
If I were to use one word to describe Paranoia Agent, without a doubt, it would be ‘uncomfortable’. It reminded me of when I would go see a ‘kids’ movie. Beetlejuice is a good example. A movie with a lot of humour built in for kids, but has some imagery in it that probably haunts those same kids into adulthood; I still remember being creeped out when Alec Baldwin’s jaw falls off, among other things. As adults, we inherently are a bit harder to scare. It takes more work to move the brain around and loosen it up, and Satoshi Kon used most of his media-making career trying to make people shift in their seats.
Paranoia Agent was an anime that ran in 2004. The story revolves around Tsukiko, a girl under great duress. She successfully created a hit character named Maromi, a small pink dog, and her company is constantly looking to her for the next big hit. As pressure builds, she’s attacked one night on her way home. The assailant is a young man on rollerblades wielding a gold bat; ‘Shonen Bat’ he’s called. As Tsukiko is laid up in the hospital, an investigation is launched looking for her attacker. The legend of Shonen Bat grows, and suddenly more and more attacks are reported. Through Tsukiko’s attacker, we’re introduced to many colourful characters, each with their own stressful situation which he ‘helps’ them with.
The plot sounds rather straight-forward, but if you’ve ever seen a Satoshi Kon film, you know that nothing is that simple. The lines of reality are constantly being blurred. It’s not the uncertainty you feel upon viewing that is so unnerving about the series, it’s really how relatable and real the characters are before he tears them down in front of you. This is most evident in episodes such as “Double Lips” and “Fear of a Direct Hit”.
Kon mostly stuck to movies during his career, but regarding Paranoia Agent, he wanted to make something that’s mood was inconsistent. He felt that with his movies, he was maintaining one method and ‘feel’ throughout. He certainly succeeded in mixing things up. There are episodes like the above that are both chilling and a little heart breaking, but there are also episodes that are comical; albeit rather dark comedy. Then, there are also some that are downright weird. That episode would be “The Holy Warrior” which is an interrogation that takes place inside of a video game. Since I’m listing episodes, the one that encompasses all of those above emotions would be “Happy Family Planning”. As far as episodic media goes, it’s one of my favourite single episodes of any show.
If there’s any place it falters, it may be in the ending, but that is really up to individual tastes. Personally, I had a bit of an ‘Akira’ moment, wherein my eyebrow raised as I tried to figure out exactly what it was
that was happening. Of course, I suppose that would be a fitting conclusion to a show that is constantly trying to make you look at it funny. I mentioned in my review of ‘Monster’ a week or so back that a lot of anime suffers from episodic requirements and adaptation from manga. Paranoia Agent runs only 13 episodes and there is little to no filler or catching up in the series.
The first thing that drew my attention to the show was the opening. I had no idea what the hell was going on and obviously it stayed that way throughout the entire series.
Satoshi Kon unfortunately passed away in 2010 from cancer. Without a doubt he was one of the pioneers who tried to expand anime beyond the formulaic archetype of such shows, ie. Bleach, Naruto, One Piece. It’s refreshing to see things that aren’t built with the sole purpose of being a commercial success, or exploited as such later on. Kon has a lot of terrific movies such as Perfect Blue and Paprika that are in the same style as Paranoia Agent. It’s a shame that animation isn’t given a fair shake alongside live-action in North America, because this show and all of Kon’s work deserves more recognition than it gets. Thankfully, the full series is available on DVD, unthankfully, it’s apparently been out of print for some time and is ranging somewhere between 100 to 600 (?!) dollars. I suggest having a look around YouTube until they release a nice thin box-set.