Sorry for the delay with other reviews but I have been busy with other larger reviews than I’m preparing for later. Spookfest will be back next week, just in time for October. But now let’s talk about the anime industry taking risks. With the recent news of Kadokawa dumping the creative team behind the unlikely success of “Kemono Friends” and Madhouse passing the opportunity to do another season of One Punch Man one has to remember we live in a time where the majority of anime being produced is within a safe bet for the studios. Almost everything is limited to certain formulaic shows: “Trapped in a RPG world”, “Idol shows”, “Fujobait”, “Generic highschool LN”, “Fate/Recycling”, and so on. And even if good shows came from these safe adaptations, such as Konosuba or Oreigaru, the space for shows that try to be different or present a different story has being reduced. Today I’ll be talking about one of those shows that tried to break the mold with its own ideas, I’m talking about Paranoia Agent.
About the show
Paranoia Agent (妄想代理人) is an original series created and directed by Satoshi Kon. The show aired during the 2004 Winter season. It consisted of thirteen episodes, 22 minutes each.
Seemingly unconnected citizens of Tokyo are targeted for bludgeoning by a boy with a golden baseball bat (Shounen Bat). As detectives try to link the victims, they discover that following the assaults, the victims’ lives have improved in some way.
Recently I finished watching the new season of Twin Peaks and it probably was the best TV show I’ve seen in a long time. But this also made me realize that it’s been a while since an Anime show delivered a similar feeling of wanting to know more about it and whose interpretation wasn’t unique or shoved it in your face. I can draw several parallels between Twin Peaks and Paranoia Agent but the most notable is the approach by their creators to go beyond the normal boundaries of their genre and media. Paranoia Agent works both as an examination of collective hysteria manifested on a corporeal entity that tears the concept of reality on our characters and also satire about the anime media and the tropes of that time (which some of them still prevail to this day). The show does not take the audience by the hand to deliver exposition, it is left to us the meaning behind each scene. While some can encounter problems with this style of direction and I include myself not wanting to suffer watching artsy-fartsy bullshit, if it’s done well, I can appreciate that effort. Paranoia Agent is not abstract just for the sake of weird, but there’s a clear story and characters you can empathize with. One of the major topics in this show is detaching yourself from reality.
The core topic in this show is the detachment or break reality that our characters want to do. As life goes on, there are times where everything seems too much to handle and we wish for an easy escape from those troubles. Anything, from being able to call sick or wishing for a tornado to destroy a city, no excuse is too small to get rid of the burden that is modern life. Shounen Bat is a physical manifestation of that desire, more and more the characters and the population to the myth of Shounen Bat to justify their fears and uncertainty. But not he is not the symbol of escapism in the show. Sagi, the first victim of Shounen Bat, is the designer of a popular mascot called Maromi. Maromi is the embodiment of cuteness and reaches a peak of popularity directly related to the population’s fear of Shounen Bat. Both sides of the same coin, the show dives into these interactions and the consequences that go beyond what you can imagine.
While it’s not a secret that Paranoia Agent was born from leftover ideas that Satsohi Kon could not fit in his previous works, I don’t think it’s justifiable look down on this show because of this. One of the best episodes in this series is “Happy Family Planning” which is very loosely connected to the overall plot of Shounen Bat. Through this episode we are greeted with a trio of characters that look forward to commit suicide and when their efforts are stopped every time by the hand of fate, they go to the country side to enjoy their last minutes and plan how to end their lives and be happy. I don’t want to spoil more of this episode but it’s a wonderful tale of life, death and enjoying the smallest things. Suicide is a difficult topic to portray and most of the approaches that we see in animation are tragic or dramatic. But in this single episode the series go beyond the usual conventions and is wonderfully done. It also reminded me of a great novel called “Hurmaava joukkoitsemurha” (A Charming Mass Suicide) by Arto Paasilinna that also has a similar tone to this episode and I highly recommend it.
Mistakes exist within this show and there are several key ones that could turn off the audience. Paranoia Agent is one of those shows that benefits from a second viewing. There’s a ton of subtle hinting and references across the show that even if you closely pay attention some of them will go over your head. The benefits also comes from the interpretation you can get from the story. I remember the first time I saw it and thinking it was a tale of magical mystery about people dealing with problems. The show also could have work better as an anthology with different stories that might come together at the end, but the way is done is clumsy and sometimes forced. Episode 8 did not need Shounen Bat to work and it feels like an unnecessary reference to the overall plot. The mystery also could have better kept as a secret until much later, the early reveal of the forces behind those attacks can make you lose interest on the show.
Compared to other Satoshi Kon works, Paranoia Agent pales in comparison to Perfect Blue or Paprika, but as a standalone series it is worth a shot. If you like the works of Satoshi Kon and have not gave an opportunity to this anime, I’ll invite you to check it out. And if you already saw it, believe when I told you that a second viewing will give you a new perspective on this work. Anime is available where anime is.