I have been making my through the work of Satoshi Kon one by one (though not necessarily in order of their creation), and just when I think he can't get any better BAM! Paranoia Agent came into my hands.
Although a mere 13 episodes long, the sheer amount of storyline and depth that is packed into them is just phenomenal. The series can be split into two relatively equal and fairly distinct halves, the first half involving Lil' Slugger (as he is called in the English dub- Shonen Bat in the Japanese version) bashing seemingly random people over the head with a golden baseball bat. But the whole time, you get the sense that something isn't quite as it seems. Maybe it's the connections each of these characters have? Or maybe it's the strange old man in the hospital gown scribbling complex equations on the footpath? Not to mention his little monologues at the end of each episode that act as a teaser for the upcoming episode, which don't actually reveal all that much upfront. The first half has a sort-of-episodic, sort-of-investigation storyline going on, where it will centre on one character in particular who will be the next victim of Lil' Slugger. These are filled with memorable characters episodes, my personal favourite from the early part being the one Spoilers revolving around Harumi Chono in one of the best depictions of a split personality I've ever seen. /Spoilers
The second half (or about after episode 7 or so) however, seems to go off on its own little tangent, pretty much abandoning our main characters the policemen Ikari and Maniwa for several episodes and dealing more with the reactions of the general public toward Lil' Slugger's rising notoriety. As Satoshi Kon's razor-sharp social commentary shows, this is often even more dangerous than the assailant himself. (Anybody who remembers the episodes 'Etc.' and 'Mellow Maromi' will know what I'm talking about.) It does come back to focus on the mains again by the end to sort-of explain what the fudge is happening, but a lot of it is still up to the viewer's interpretation, which I always love. It is a very clever, very observational storyline that subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) criticises human behaviour. Incredible stuff.
Outstanding animation, overall. I love how Kon experiments with all different kinds to portray all sorts of different things (the fantasy RPG world, the puppet world of Ikari's dreams, the childish simplicity of Mellow Maromi...) Not much else to say except excellent work by the animators!
The music, as is usual with Kon and his frequent collaborator Susumu Hirasawa, is sublime. Most other reviews I've read said that the main theme, while catchy, became grating after a few episodes. I bed to differ- it is the only time I have ever watched the opening sequence in every episode of an anime series without skipping it simply because I adored the song! Besides, becoming familiar with it adds to a rather frightening effect in a later episode as it blares ominously through the radio...
The in-show music is brilliant as well- just like in Millennium Actress, the music here enhances everything to a whole new amazing level that I can't describe.
Paranoia Agent is a very character-driven series, and as such there are a LOT of characters, and they need to be interesting. And let me tell you, there is not ONE boring character out of the lot of them. While there were some I didn't really understand the point of (old homeless lady, the girl who lost her memory etc.) they still serve to add to the suspense, mystery and overall creepy tone.
I highly, highly recommend Paranoia Agent- it is a tragically underrated series that deserves more love and attention than it gets. It is the only other anime other than Trigun that I have given a 5/5, and it is pretty much as close to perfect as you can get.