Paranoia Agent (PA) was Satoshi Kon’s attempt to make a series based on his weird ideas for a story and the result is not as powerful as his movies. What can I say, his talent is not that good for long viewing as it is for short bursts of craziness. Not that PA is a bad series or anything; it’s just that the bait of the story can’t keep the fish on the hook for 13 episodes without eventually baffling most viewers in a bad way. Sure, it is made to be confusing and mysterious as hell but even that has its limits. Powerful emotions work best in small outbursts.
The production values are good; nice work given to both animation and soundtrack. The opening video is rather misleading but does indirectly telling you what the series is all about and seeing the characters acting normally in a normal city at first, may even hint you there is something off going on here.
The story is basically a mystery that escalates to metaphysics and even urban fantasy. Some guy is attacking people, an investigator starts asking around, stuff happens, and before you know it WTF IS GOING ON HERE??? I am not going to be specific about what exactly happens in the story, as all the fun lies in the viewer being left completely in the dark all the way to the end. I will just mention the obvious quirk of the show that makes it so interesting.
Each episode is presented from a different POV. That means, each event will be shown through the eyes of a different character each time, and each one will be offering his own little pebble into what is going on with the mystery and the reason behind the attacks. Practically, the show doesn’t have a central character, as it constantly shifts amongst them all the time. Which I must say it is not just uncommon but also prevents anyone of them from turning to a boring stunt. Although some are clearly a lot more important to the mystery than others, there is still nobody completely useless; thus the cast is perfect in terms of storytelling.
The characters themselves are usually not what they seem at first. Although they begin as simple eye witnesses or minor investigators of the mysterious attacks, when the plot centers on them you get to see their dark secrets and how they are practically completely different than what they appear at first. That counts as character immersion and it is a big plus. I can’t say there is development or catharsis for most though, as they usually are off the spotlight after the episode they are the protagonists. There is only one person who gets that (not saying who) and it is because there lies the solution to the mystery.
Now about the ACTUAL mystery in the story, it is mostly interesting rather than well presented. It will keep you interested to see what is going on but there is a high probability you will start to get bored towards the end because the story will keep shifting left and right, as it keeps confusing you without actually gradually revealing anything. And then the final episodes that do that will most likely make you go WTF with the answer. It is simply far-fetched. Cool but just unreal and unlike any other of Satoshi’s works where the perpetrator was always an everyday guy.
Overall, PA is great for its concept and not for its cast or story. The mystery may keep you hooked into finishing it and the constant shift of protagonists may keep you from feeling bored yet at the same time you may feel like there is no actual focus or strong enough objective to care. I personally don’t remember most of the characters exactly because there was very little time invested on each of them, even if they added something to solving the mystery. Satoshi was always making character-centered stories and this is not the epitome of the term; it is working against the viewer liking them for getting to know them.
It is a good series and I recommend it but not if you care too much about characters being likable or the story making complete sense in the end. The concept is great though.