Review: Paranoia Agent

Well, dear readers, it’s the first Friday of October. You all know what that means, right?

That’s right. It’s time for me to break out the shovel and pickax, shuffle off to the old cemetery, and unearth a fresh batch of RERUNS FROM THE CRYPT.

For those new to this, the set-up is largely similar – each -Friday, I’ll be looking at a short horror-themed series/season (as last year I split the bill for Twin Peaks and The Kingdom. This year it’s a full five, I promise) to do an overview writeup on.

This year, I decided to try my hand with the animated side of things to get the ball rolling. So for this run out, I’ve compiled five televised anime series of varying styles and degrees of horror.

And with that in mind, what better way to kick off the festivities then with the only series helmed by the late Satoshi Kon – Paranoia Agent?

Paranoia Agent title
True to form, Kon explores a different stripe of horror in his time as a showrunner. The whole thing starts with Tsukiko Sagi, an introverted character designer whose recent creation – a pink dog named Maromi – has become an unexpected smash.

With pressure mounting to create her net big hit, Tsukiko is attacked one night by an unknown assailant with golden skates and a metal baseball bat. The attacker, dubbed Lil’ Slugger/Shonen Bat (depending which language you watch in) by the press soon proves to be more than a mere flavor of the month. As two detectives investigate the attack, more people have encounters with the enigmatic boy and the mystery deepens.

It’s honestly a shame Kon didn’t get the chance to do more with the television format. I love his movies and they’re very well made, but it’s interesting to see the man playing a long game in a serial format like this. In particular this show’s blend of a greater mystery and an anthology approach (each episode exploring a new victim or group reacting to the phenomenon) is well-balanced. Particularly in the second half as the lines between each start blurring, and the former seemingly benign Slugger becomes increasingly more malevolent, building to an utterly apocalyptic finale.

I imagine the design session for this character went something like "60% Sanrio, 40% Where Is Your God Now?"

I imagine the design session for this character went something like “60% Sanrio, 40% Where Is Your God Now?”

As the lynchpin this story turns on, the cast are an interesting spread. Whether it’s a muckraking reporter, a former golden boy gone off the rails, or a straight-laced teacher with a racy alter-ego (for just three early examples), each feels like a full thought out character with their own arc that still continues even after their focused episode ends. That these seemingly disparate figures are all somehow tied into this greater mystery is part of the big hook that, besides the interesting single stories, keeps things worth watching.

Further adding to this, the show has some great direction on an episode to episode basis. Between things like the weirdly comic The Holy Warrior, the blackly charming Happy Family Planning and some of the more nightmarish offerings of episodes like MHz (and the blending of many of these styles in the vignette-styled Etc) the show gets a chance to show a great range of styles and approaches that speaks well to the versatility the series gets out of only thirteen episodes.

A sampling of Happy Family Planning to get an idea what I mean by 'blackly charming'. It's only gonna get stranger in context.

A sampling of Happy Family Planning to get an idea what I mean by ‘blackly charming’.
It’s only gonna get stranger in context.

Probably the closest thing I could say this series has to a weakness would be some of its animation at points. Not all of it, mind you. In fact, there’s a number of moments that are actually pretty well done, but there are also some episodes that definitely feel a bit more rushed and off-model (Happy Family Planning has some of the easier to spot moments of this). At times, this isn’t bad, and in some sequences the action is moving enough that it winds up fitting in well anyway, but there are a few moments where it can get distracting. Think of this more as a ‘it may be off-putting’ than a major strike against the show.

Dovetailing on this, care of the shows first silly, then slowly more unsettling opening sequence, is the soundtrack by longtime Kon collaborator Susumu Hirasawa. He continues to be in top form on this series, providing both the show’s opening and ending (the insanely catchy Dream Island Obsessional Park and the more subdued and calming/creepy White Hill (Maromi’s Theme)) as well as its overall score. As is often the case with Hirasawa’s scores, he has instrumental pieces that, on their own, one could recognize, but when played in series, they blend into the scene and become a part of it rather than an individual feature.

"He's beating them! And then he's going to beat me! OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!"

“He’s beating them!
And then he’s going to beat me!
OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!”

If you’re looking for straight-up scares, there’s likely shows that will get you there better. As it is, however, this makes for an interesting and sometimes creepy and/or unsettling puzzle of a series. Alongside the direct mystery, there’s a number of themes of isolation and desperation that can potentially resonate with some viewers, coming in to the final arc that gives one a lot to unpack.

Having said that, it’s still an unique little series, both thematically and visually, with enough bits of psychological horror in its mystery to make it worth working into your month’s festivities.

We’ll be going a bit older for this next week’s entry and a bit of a different style.

Till then

Till then

 

Pros:

-Blends overarcing mystery and anthology to create a fascinating narrative around numerous seemingly unrelated characters

-Atmospheric and creepy score by Susumu Hirasawa

-Interesting food for thought that also serves the narrative and leaves you unacking it without feeling frustratedabout ‘what the Hell did I just watch?’

Cons:

-Animation gets dodgy at points, albeit not to an irredeemable degree

-The fact this show is currently out of print over here is perplexing and a little bit frustrating

Rating: 4.5/5

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This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... ...is this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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Guyinthe3rdrow

This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... ...is this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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