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.
To be honest, I really wanted to like Paranoia Agent. I like the mindf*ck genre a lot and tends to be a favorite of mine. This was recommended by a friend of mine and I tried to watch it 3 separate times and now I finally stuck with it and was surprisingly disappointed in the whole thing.
The story is: Shounen Bat is a kid who wears gold roller blades and a baseball hat. He likes to hit people over the head with a kinked golden baseball bat. The police take on an investigation to try and catch Shounen Bat, but matters prove to go deeper than just a mere kid who hits people with a baseball bat.
Did you ever get so stressed and feel cornered from the weight of everyday life? Paranoia Agent plays on this theme pretty heavily and had tons of potential to fully explore a theme like this, but never quite rounds second base. The story starts out great. Very creepy vibe and makes you wonder what is going on. However, after about episode 5 is where things start to make, practically, no sense. The middle starts with the so-called "filler" episodes that have, honestly, nothing to do with the main story and loses itself until the last couple of episodes. The last episodes feel rushed and full of wasted potential due to the useless filler episodes that plagued the middle of this series. Paranoia Agent took a chance to try out a theme that speaks to all people because we all feel like we are being cornered by life. It didn't fully realize that potential nor did it really stick with that mind frame throughout and resulted in: BEGINNING- Great premise and sense of fear, MIDDLE- Fillers with no connection to the main plot, END- Rushed and feels like corners were cut.
The animation felt very simple. I'm no animation expert, I'm a storyline and character analyst, so animation isn't ncessarily my specialty. I didn't mind it other than I believe it could've been better. You can definitely tell they cut corners towards the end it's almost hilariously sad. It started off great, but throughout the course of the 13 episodes, you can tell it starts to fall apart the further in you get.
The sound was hit or miss for the most part. When it wanted to be creepy, it could be. Only problem is that the further into the series you get, those moments become further and further apart until they don't happen anymore. The opening theme, in my opinion, set the tone for the show because it's kind of mentally insane. The closing theme is more soft and calming. It's nothing special, but it works for this show. The voice overs were fantastic for some of the characters, but otherwise I'd leave it at mediocre.
Characters in Paranoia Agent are, frankly, just not that interesting. The only people that had any kind of growth were Shounen Bat and the Chief's wife. Everyone else was very one-sided, one-dimensional, and never showed any intent to stand out as a character to be remembered. Except for Maromi. How could you forget that creepy/cute pink dog?! I didn't really care for most of the characters because of what I stated earlier, but some of them didn't really play as much of a role as I felt they should've or some of the characters were just unecessarily there with no purpose to the story. I am a strong believer in having characters become the story. You can tell a crap story with strong/memorable chracters, but it doesn't work with a brilliant story with crap characters, then it just feels like a great story was wasted. All-in-all, the characters are mostly un-important and serve no real purpose in bringing Paranoia Agent to it's full potential.
Overall I wouldn't say Paranoia Agent was the most terrible anime ever. It was more disappointing than anything. It had a lot of potential to be something that could've really stood out in the crowd. It took themes that everyone can relate to and tried to make a great story out of it. Instead it failed in realizing where they wanted it to go as a whole which resulted in something that started out truly excellent, then it slipped and fell not realizing it can't get back up, but when it does get back up, it does so too quickly resulting in slipping again. There are a lot of people that like this anime, I thought/hoped to be one of them, but sadly, I can't really join that crowd. Paranoia Agent isn't bad, I wouldn't really recommend it personally. I say at least watch it because a lot of people do like it and see where you stand on this anime.
Ok. So intense psychology is one thing, but anime is not the bet method to portray it.
I only watched 2 episodes, than read a brief version of the storyline and concluded that its not worth watching. Compared to Serial Experiments Lain its still good. At least something happens here.
Story: Weak! 2 episodes, 2 different storylines, I expect the rest to be the same until lets say the fina 2 episodes. Nothing special. A kid appears in the city, who attacks people who have some sort of crysis in their lives. I wont spoiler, but the origins of thekid are pretty predictable after 2 episodes and I guess that after watching 4-5 everyone would come to the same conclusion. 5/10
Animation: stylish, it portayes the psychological struggle of the charcaters and its ugly as hell. It repulsive. You should adjustr the animation according to the story, not the other way around. Im pretty sure they juts didint have the resources to create something good to look at so they found a story that more or less can handle it. I would expect much more in 2004. At least make some decent backgrounds if nothing else. Also, they didnt animate the attacks at all, just people walking and talking, so they were just lazy. 4/10
Sounds: Nothing memorable. 5/10
Characters: 2 episodes and the only 2 characters I dont hate are the detectives. Everyone is despicable, repulsive, annoying. I dont dare to guess how bad the rest will be. 0/10
Overall: I might be a bit harsh, because I didnt hate this. Its watchable, but nothing in it tops mediocre. They story is weak(at least it could be way better), the conclusion is weak. The charcaters are horrible, the anmation is lazy and wont keep you glued to the screen and the music is not memorable. We have some action, the story has its moments(rarely), you could have fun with it(the pace is pretty high even though basically nothing happens- yeah, I know this sounds starnge, but its the truth-). They try, but they dont succeed. If you want intense psychology, its still better than Serial E. L. (everything is), but I would recommend you watching something else. A show only about psychology doesnt work. Let me give you a few examples: Death Note, Code Geass, Elfen Lied, FMA, or to be more modern: Parasyte, Tokyo Ghoul, Zankyou no Terror. All of these havve way deeper psychology than this one, but they also have other strenghts. And Im saying this altough I didnt even like all of them(TG-not one of m favorites). Paranoya Agents is probably the lazyest anime I have ever seen. They thought one aspect can carry the whole story. It cant. The psychology actually felt weak at times, the only real good thing in this was the style. Even though I didnt like it, it had a distinguishable, strong atmosphere. 4/10
This isn't a review per se, but rather an explanation of why Paranoia Agent is a very underrated series.
Because of his tendency to eviscerate the hypocrisy of Japanese society as well as otaku subculture, Satoshi Kon's work is not that popular in Japan. It is said that Kon liked to create work distinctly targeted at adult audiences.
You can see traces of experimental approaches even in his earliest titles, where he manages to blur the lines between fantasy and reality.
Paranoia Agent is his critique of the escapism that pacifies our modern lifestyles.
"You're thinking too much. That was a long time ago."
If you want to understand the main symbolism attached around Paranoia Agent, I personally believe it is crucial that you read the following article from the Nichi Bei Times Weekly. I found this hidden gem before starting the series and it really helped me notice the symbolic nature of the anime :
Entertainment Re-oriented: Atomic Pop Pt. II: Hello Kitty and the Rape of Nanking
From the Nichi Bei Times Weekly August 10, 2006
By BEN HAMAMOTO
Nichi Bei Times
“The lost children are a spectacular Mushroom Cloud in the sky,” the theme song of the anime “Paranoia Agent” joyously proclaims. The corresponding image? A middle-aged man laughing arms extended to the sky with a huge mushroom cloud in the background.
The television show is a surreal and epic exploration of what it means to be Japanese, (in that way similar to Haruki Murakami’s “Wind-up Bird Chronicle”). It makes a case that the culture of kawaii (cute) was birthed by the atomic bomb and functions as a mask for Japan’s World War II atrocities.
The series opens with scenes of Tokyo: packed commuter trains full of people text messaging excuses to phantom friends and not acknowledging the real human beings around them. They are a perfect illustration of what artist Takashi Murakami calls, in his essay “Earth in my Window,” the “monotonous ruins of a nation-state… perfectly realized in the name of capitalism.”
Artist Noi Sawaragi argues that in the 1960s, the government promoted economic expansion over cultural preservation, thus dissolving community life and regionally distinct tradition. Families moved to large cities to find jobs and thus formed danchi, grid-like housing complexes. Fathers became largely absent out of devotion to work.“Those who inhabit this vacant crucible,” Murakami writes, “spin in endless inarticulate circles.”
There is an entire episode of “Paranoia Agent” devoted to a kind of dark joke at the expense of Japan’s disproportionately high suicide rate: you can’t kill yourself when you are already dead.
“On the benches on danchi rooftops,” the “Paranoia Agent” theme song goes, “dreams blossom.”
The first episode of the show focuses on a woman, Sagi Tsukiko, designer of the popular character Maromi.
Like Hello Kitty, Maromi is a cute cartoon animal (in this case a pink dog), developed expressly as a marketable icon.Maromi has become a runaway success and the creator Tsukiko is under intense pressure to replicate the lucrative magic. She walks home overcome by anxiety, but is injured along the way. She becomes the focus of media attention when she makes claims that she was hit with a baseball bat by a youth. The bat-boy, she says, wore shorts, a baseball cap (bearing an inverted peace-sign pin) and golden inline skates.
The year 2000, I believe, saw two incidents of a teenager assaulting people with a bat (the first killing his mother, the latter attacking random people on the street). Curiously, baseball bats were a huge metaphor in “Wind-Up Bird” as well.
The bat-boy then sets off on a violent spree, assaulting people afflicted by various social problems. The people awaken at peace.
Both the bat-boy and Maromi become sort of a pacifying force for the troubled people of Tokyo. They are both very much connected to the bomb.
“Whatever true intentions underlie ‘Little Boy,’ the nickname for the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, we Japanese are truly, deeply, pampered children,” writes Murakami.
The bomb rendered a previously aggressive Japan a helpless child. The United States Army moved in and occupied the country, setting up a puppet government. Since the bomb, Japan has remained completely dependant on the U.S., economically and militarily, with no hope of achieving any kind of autonomy.
It was in this environment that characters like Hello Kitty emerged. She has short limbs, a blank stare and the lack of a mouth. It has been noted by animator Yasuo Otsuka that long limbed cartoon characters tend to be extroverts, while those with stubbier appendages are introverted. A quick survey of popular Japanese characters reveals a preference for short arms and legs, Totoro, Doraemon, the entire Sanrio lineup.
Such characters can be described as yurui, an adjective difficult to translate into English. The closest equivalent might be “self-deprecatingly endearing.” The word never has a negative connotation. It can mean, “slow,” “bumbling,” “lethargic,” “forgiving,” “mild” and “loose.”
Such characters also tend to be popular with adults and children alike in Japan. Some have attributed this to Japanese culture not drawing as distinct a line between children and adults as Western countries (men and women often live with their parents their entire life). However, this aspect of the culture is not new and kawaii and yurui characters are all post-war.
While cute mascots appear in every country, it is their use in promoting adult products and ideas that is unique to Japan. City governments, credit card companies and even condoms make use of yurui characters. This often amuses and puzzles foreigners and one could argue that it represent the way the world sees Japan — in the “Daily Show’s” book, “America,” the section on Japan adroitly lists the Prime Minister as “Hello Koizumi.”
Maromi from “Paranoia Agent” is a self-conscious example of a kawaii, yurui icon. Near the end of the show, we learn Maromi’s true identity. She is Tsukiko’s childhood pet, who got run over by a car when she wasn’t being watched. The corpse that was the real Maromi is transformed by Tsukiko’s pen into a cartoon dog, soft and cuddly, with no blood, no fragile network of organs, no accountability and no ability to hold others accountable.
This can be seen as a metaphor for Japan’s self image and the way it sees the world. Urban isolation and rapidly advancing technology have helped erode reality in favor of representation. Connection with real human beings becomes less desirable; cartoon characters to which you will never be held accountable become ideal friends. Some fear that eventually real human beings will no longer be seen as different from their digital and plush counterparts.
Rendering the country a cutesy 2-D figure also provides a way to mask the bloody dog corpse that is Imperialist Japan. Human experiments (including vivisection without anesthetic), abduction of women for use as sex slaves, and the infamous Nanjing Massacre; all of these things hidden beneath Hello Kitty’s vacant stare.
Japan was also an unofficial participant in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the Iraq Wars. Still Japan is seen as doe-eyed and peaceful.
While pop culture often serves to mask government, it does occasionally reference them both directly and indirectly.
In the original Godzilla film, the government tries to hide the monster’s nuclear origins from the people to avoid mass panic, but a female senator takes a stand for the truth.
This may reference the way the Japanese government conspired with the American military to cover-up the effects of radiation poisoning.
It is also curious to note that Godzilla, in the original film, is not foreign at all. He’s a legendary monster, sleeping off the coast of Japan since ancient times. It may be a stretch, but I think this is an implicit recognition that Japan brought violence to its own country with its aggressive imperialist war.
In “Akira,” the holocausts are clearly the result of human rights atrocities committed by a power hungry Japanese government.
In “Barefoot Gen,” the protagonist’s father advises him that Japan’s war is one brought on by the greed of the ruling class.
A subtext can even be read into “Doraemon,” one of the most beloved Japanese cartoons of all time. Nobita, the protagonist of the series, seems to embody yurui. He is helped by a cute robot-guardian, Doraemon, who always gives him some sort of fantastic device with which to solve his problems. It is interesting to note that a twisted desire for power sometimes emerges from beneath the generally good-natured boy’s hapless exterior, but the gadgets he uses always have an unforeseen consequence.
In “Paranoia Agent,” Maromi provides comfort to a number of people who are in some way or another victims of larger social problems: A boy who cannot bear to be less than number one, in a school system that demands competition. A “proper” woman destined for a bland marriage and career, the only outlet for her sexuality being a split personality who is a sex worker. An avid video game fan who has lost his ability to see a reality. A homosexual man.
They cannot reconcile their true self with social expectations and long for a release, which comes to them in the form of the bat-boy. Once assaulted, the characters become victims and they are alleviated of responsibility. They are docile; some are amnesiac.
I will end this column the way I began last week’s: with a riddle. What turned Japanese people into blameless victims, wiped away their memory of history and left them hollow, amiable and passive. In the anime “Paranoia Agent,” it is the bat-boy. In reality it was the atomic bomb.
"Forget about things that happened a long time ago."