Paranoia Agent is Satoshi Kon's only TV series, a curveball from his usual M.O. of doing films. Like several of his other works, it strives to confuse between reality and fantasy, often doing so by showing the world as perceived by the characters. Paranoia Agent is, in whole, a story of escapism, how society is falling further into it, and the negative consequences that will follow.
The plot begins as Tsukiko Sagi, a woman responsible for designing the well-known plush toy dog Maromi, is being pushed to create a new design, and is rapidly succumbing to stress. On the way home, in desperate need of a way out, she is suddenly attacked by a boy on rollerskates with a baseball bat. At first, the police don't believe her, and think she is making up excuses, but before long, other people are attacked by the boy now dubbed Shonen Bat (Little Slugger in the English dub). As the series progresses, we see how rumour and truth become distorted, and how Shonen Bat goes from a mysterious attacker into something far, far worse. All of this leading back to the question... just who, or what, is Shonen Bat?
What follows is 13 episodes of social commentary, clever writing, bizarre stream-of-consciousness mindtrips that blur the lines of perception and reality to both the cast and the audience, and overall mystery. Paranoia Agent manages to throw an interesting spin on what initially appears to be a whodunnit thriller. It does, on multiple occasions, dip its toes into the psychological horror genre, and when it does, it does so excellently. These aspects of it make great use of how the audience often does not know how much is real and how much is fantasy, and as a result manage to make some truly creepy moments. Most notably, Maromi is insanely creepy. Yes, Maromi, the little stuffed dog mascot thing. You heard me.
In technical terms, Paranoia Agent is Satoshi Kon, Madhouse and Susumu Hirasawa all coming together on one project, which inevitably means it will excel in every single one of these aspects. The art is a strangely realistic style, if often somewhat exaggerated. The animation is completely fluid throughout the series, and is surprisingly produced to much the same level of high quality as Kon's movies are. The directing is, of course, top-notch, and as mentioned before Kon is a genius at blending reality and delusion in such a way that you often have to take a second to wonder what's going on, in the best way possible of course. The English Dub is excellent, and while nobody really sticks out, it's definitely one I'd recommend over the original Japanese track. The music is often very cheerful, and this is used as juxtaposition against the events of the series, creating something downright weird in the process. In particular, the opening and ending themes are some of the most unsettling things ever shown in anime.
Paranoia Agent does have some flaws, mind you. One is in the pacing. It's entirely possible that Kon's lack of experience (or transition into) the medium of a TV series caused this, but around the middle, a lot of the episodes don't really seem to tie in to the plot. Rather, they come across as episodes that strengthen the point of the series, but don't really lend themselves to it as a story. This is easily forgiveable in that the episodes in question are quite strong in their own right (and in some instances, oddly comedic). Another valid, yet easily forgiveable fault that the series has is that in its switching between the real and unreal, it takes some steps that seriously raise disbelief. In general, it's all done for the sake of a clever metaphor, but it's something that will undoubtedly nag at the back of the mind, especially at the ending, which is a rather monumental example of this.
Overall, Paranoia Agent is an extremely clever series. It's probably the most accessible thing in Kon's discography, if not necessarily (though quite arguably) his strongest. It's been described as a mindfuck series, but I'm not entirely sure it would fit into that category. For the most part, it is a realistic and grounded setting in which abnormal elements are introduced, and barring the aforementioned dips from reality it mostly stays that way. Regardless, Paranoia Agent is one of those anime I would definitely recommend to pretty much anyone, especially those into psychology, who would most likely love it for its insights and observations of the human condition.
English Dub: 9/10
For Fans Of: Paprika, Boogiepop Phantom.
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