AKA: Moso Dairinrin
Genre: Psychological Thriller/Mystery/Experimental
Year Released: 2004
Running Time: TV series, 13 episodes, 24 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: 16+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Perfect Blue, Paprika, Death Note, Serial Experiments Lain, Key the Metal Idol, Twin Peaks, The X Files, Videodrome, Eraserhead, Roujin Z, Akira
-The original Geneon USA DVDs were used and I watched the Japanese language track.
-The assailant character will be addressed as Shonen Bat. He’s called Lil’ Slugger in the dub.
-Paranoia Agent is the TV directorial debut of Satoshi Kon and the 2nd original screenplay he created after Millennium Actress. Unfortunately, this would be the only time that Kon would create a TV series since he died six years after.
-This anime got mainstream attention when it premiered in America on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and after being re-licensed by Funimation, it got rebroadcast under the revived Toonami programming block. Paranoia Agent would also be the only Kon project to be shown on that network.
-Director Bonus: When the detectives interrogate Makoto Kozuka, they both get enveloped in this video-game like story as he talks. This isn’t the first time Kon has used that as a narrative device since it plays a huge recurring element in Millennium Actress albeit with movies instead.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: In the English dub, Shonen Bat is played by Sam Riegel while the eccentric detective Mitsuhiro Maniwa is played by Liam O’Brien. After watching Comic Party, I got a chuckle hearing that fact since Kazuki is the former and Taishi is the latter In the Japanese version, the two kids competing for student council are played by Digi-Destined. The arrogant Yuici Taira is Henry while Shogo Ushiyama is Takato from Digimon Tamers.
-Avant-Garde musician Susumu Hirasawa is responsible for composing the score and theme songs. He’s also with with Kon on Millennium Actress and Paprika.
-Paranoia Agent takes place in Musashino which is a Western suburb of Tokyo. The only other anime to use that town as a locale is Maria Watches Over Us. It is also home to several animation studios such as JC Staff, Studio Ponoc, Production I. G., and Ghibli used to be headquartered in Musashino. Given how Tsukiko is an animator and character creator or how one episode revolves around a local animation studio, there has to be a satirical element with that working sector that’s lost in translation.
-Language Bonus: Many of the characters have named associated with animals and the motifs show up in different parts of the series. Also, there’s a stealth wordplay with Tsukiko’s name as she has her Maromi blog up, the character is shown on the moon. This is a dual reference because “Tsuki” means “moon” and if you used the Japanese naming order (last name going first), her name is Sagi Tsukiko. Anime fans, does that name sound familiar when you say it that way? It rhymes with Usagi Tsukino AKA Sailor Moon. Side note: The princess of the Moon Kingdom’s own VA Kotono Mitsuishi shows up as Harumi Chono, the tutor harboring a dirty little secret (spoilers avoided).
WONDERFUL! It took several months, but I finally got to finish a major goal for 2020. That goal in case some of you forgot is reviewing the entirety of the late great Satoshi Kon’s directorial filmography. This is certainly an achievement that I personally appreciate because I was slacking in that regard. I didn’t start reviewing his works this year though. Just a couple of years ago, I reviewed Perfect Blue which is a masterpiece of a psychological thriller film and better than live action films of the same genre. I also revisited his final film Paprika which was also stunning in it’s own right and it’s also the first movie I saw in my life where I saw the original before the ripoff came out when it comes to film plagiarism cases (**cough** Inception! **cough**). This year, I managed to have an awesome collab review with Ashley Capes from The Review Heap as we took on Tokyo Godfathers which is probably one of the best remake movies I’ve ever seen so far. A week after that post dropped, I rediscovered Millennium Actress and I felt ashamed for not noticing how phenomenal that movie was back when I first saw it in my teens. I wish Kon-sensei was still alive today because I know he would’ve made some more amazing animated films. He’s one director that makes me keep watching anime and really set the bar with artistic animation styles as well as stories that anyone can take seriously. Truth be told, his movies probably wouldn’t be half as effective if they were done in a live action setting. Unlike his theatrical works, this will be the first time I would’ve watched something of his for the first time and that would be his only TV series to date since I missed it the first time around back in the 00s.
Is Kon’s foray into TV anime worth it like his directorial works that got play on the silver screen in Japan as well as limited releases worldwide? Don’t be scared or use a baseball bat for protection. We’re getting into a series that managed to get play on Cartoon Network of all places.
Paranoia Agent involves a very mysterious case that’s tied to an enigmatic assailant who is bashing people around with a bent baseball bat while riding around in matching golden rollerblades. This criminal is named Shonen Bat (or Lil’ Slugger if you watch the dub). His first victim was the character designer of the mega-popular Maromi named Tsukiko Sagi. She survived the attack, but is called into question by two detectives Keiichi Ikari and Mitsuhiro Maniwa. Tsukiko is currently recovering in the hospital, but other people around town have been getting attacked by Shonen Bat. He becomes an urban legend of sorts as people fear for their lives. As more people get attacked by this bizarre figure, Ikari and Maniwa wonder about the connections between the victims and Tsukiko herself. Also, is there some kind of indirect connection with the anime mascot Maromi and Shonen Bat of some sorts?
I felt bad for missing out on this anime when it first came out and even questioned my own credentials for being an admirer of Kon’s work, but I guess it’s better late than never. Paranoia Agent was certainly a cerebral and unpredictable watch as to be expected for many of his works. The plot kept me on the edge of my seat and I legitimately didn’t know how everything would play out with the story. The plot had a much larger cast than his movies, so having it as a TV show was definitely an advantage. Each episode focuses on certain characters living their lives and how Shonen Bat gets involved. There were connections that did make sense with Tsukiko’s case despite the weird story. Much like other Kon projects, the duality between delusions and reality play a major role. These delusions aren’t always about mental illness, but rather a character flaw. Yuichi “Ichi” Taira was one example with him thinking way too highly of himself (his initial popularity really fed into that), thinking he’s too cool, and having a rack of teeth that shines so much that Guy from Naruto would go to the dentist in shame. He feels that everyone is out to get him especially after Shonen Bat has been attacking people and Ichi just happens to fit some of the descriptions since he wears a cap, is on the baseball team, and has golden rollerblades. These individual stories were fascinating as well as horrifying in seeing so many corrupt psyches out there. The animation style even changes with these delusions or points of view such as intentionally distorting when a character is being bullied, turning into a video game during the interrogation episode with Makoto, Maromi popping up to explain animation roles in one episode as if Kon collaborated with David Cronenberg to make Animation Runner Kuromi, and with one delusion involving flat 2D environments. These were all creative choices as to be expected with this auteur. The music was bizarre, yet it really fits the show. The opening theme was an experimental tune that involved an atypical electronic background, yodeling and weird lyrics while the ending theme is an angular ambient tracks with synths and chopped up vocals. The Japanese version had great voice acting all around with characters really harboring multiple emotions and one can really feel some of the insanity with some of them. The satirical aspect with Maromi and the fans involve some convicting digs to otaku or at least those who are in different fandoms. Maromi is a clear parody of a mascot a la Sanrio’s roster of characters, Pokemon, or even multiple Disney characters while this fandom gets beyond obsessed in their escapism to buy all the paraphernalia involving that pink googly-eyed dog. This really hits home with Ikari’s ideology of “false salvations” when people fall prey to their fandoms that they don’t want to see reality. When Maromi is talking to Tsukiko and how he constantly says it’s not her fault about everything, it has a very dark undercurrent when her past is revealed which I won’t spoil. Yes, there is a connection between Shonen Bat and Maromi, but that connection is something none of you will expect and it will hit you in the feels HARD once the revelation happens.
For those who have followed my blog for a while and/or at least know about my thoughts on Kon-sensei’s work, you might have the assumption that this will be another masterpiece from this director who died way too soon. After all, the lowest scores I’ve given to his works were 9s when I reviewed Paprika and when Ashley and I collaborated to review Tokyo Godfathers, so I am going to give this TV series some of the highest praise possible?
Now, for those who are extremely savvy to my blog and certainly my writing style in this case, I think you all should know what’s going to happen whenever I start writing something like this much like this. If you’ve read my reviews such as Your Name, RErideD, or even Kai Doh Maru, then you know exactly where this is going.
Spoiler alert: Paranoia Agent is going to be the lowest-scored project involving Satoshi Kon.
I was disappointed with parts of this series. From an animation standpoint, this is easily Kon’s worst effort. The earlier episodes are just fine and the final battle was handled spectacularly, but everything else felt mediocre especially coming from Madhouse. If this was KSS, Studio Pierrot, or even Gainax (yeah, I said it), then this would be some of their best and most artistic work from a visual standpoint. Characters get off-model, background characters freeze up, and there are multiple drops in production across several episodes. Madhouse, I know you can do better. How is it that Texhnolyze came out a year prior to Paranoia Agent and had more episodes, yet that series aged less in production than this one? During the ending animation, I thought the imagery of the characters sleeping on a grassy field reminded me way too much of the visuals in Angelic Layer’s second ending theme “Ame Agari” which is way too weird for me to think about. Here are the videos for both, and tell me you don’t see that connection.
The pacing and plotting get hampered multiple times. Some episodes feel padded and some of the characters weren’t that necessary to the plot like the suicide pact trio who had nothing to do with the story other than the fact that they meet Shonen Bat at one point, yet they’re never mentioned again. Kon is certainly better at directing movies than TV series because I’m not seeing his story gel as well in an episodic context as opposed to a film where one can get the whole story in one sitting for less than two hours. Much like my complaints about Your Name, I felt that Kon was rehashing so many of his story and animation chops in Paranoia Agent. Sure, the Makoto delusion being a callback to Millennium Actress was just fine, but I felt like he was reusing so many things. Harumi’s episode felt like a Perfect Blue rehash at times especially with the “split personality arguments” and the delusions in the mirror. You have a homeless subplot which felt like a Tokyo Godfathers redo, but with none of the same kind of impact as that film. There’s even a mass delusion plot that happens later on in the show and I thought Paprika handled that so much better as well as being more creative. I know Kon uses dark comedy from time to time (Tokyo Godfathers being an example done quite well), but some parts were way too morbid or funny for the wrong reasons. The suicide pact involving the two adult men and a girl who probably is middle school aged at most was the biggest example. I know the men don’t do anything sexual with her, but it was still creepy with them together traveling around. When the girl got way too excited to hang herself by jumping up and down, I cringed so hard seeing that happen and not just because her club mates are hanging themselves on the same branch, too. During the interrogation episode, Ikari gets annoyed by the video game delusions as well as his partner Maniwa playing along. At one point, he punches out a monster that resembles the latest Shonen Bat victim and screams “I’m surrounded by idiots!”. Kon, I get that you’re trying to make Ikari grounded in reality, but I guarantee you that whoever watches this episode is either going to be reminded of a Wrathchild America song, Barney from How I Met Your Mother, or a VERY certain British-accented copycat of a 60s anime villain after hearing that (most likely the last one, let’s be honest). Seriously, this was funny for the wrong reasons and a flub with the dialogue.
Paranoia Agent was a tiny letdown compared to his other works, but this is still good to watch. Kon’s creativity does shine more often than not. The unpredictability really helped the story and I wanted to see what would happen next. The voice acting, sound design, and music all helped add to the atmosphere of this series. Unfortunately, I thought Satoshi Kon did reuse core concepts in lazy ways and the animation quality can’t even tie the shoelaces of all of his cinematic projects. Paranoia Agent is his worst work as a director, but this is still better and more cerebral than a lot of anime even today. I would recommend this, but I do have some reservations though.
Adjustable Point Scores:
-Add 1-2 points if you’re a diehard Satoshi Kon fan.
-Add 1 point if you like intelligence in your thrillers or horror stories.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you want pristine animation especially if you really like Madhouse.
-Subtract 1 point if you’re not a fan of dark humor or satire.
-Unpredictable storytelling and plot twists
-Effective voice acting
-Subtle usage of satire that isn’t overbearing
-Inconsistent animation quality
-Some characters were meaningless in hindsight
-Humor either goes too far or funny for the wrong reasons
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Advisory: Paranoia Agent is definitely a series better off for older audiences. There’s profanity even though it’s not as bad as Perfect Blue, Paprika, or even Tokyo Godfathers. The crux of the plot involves assaults and even murders. Some of those attacks get quite grisly and there’s one death scene in the final episode that will shock people and make them cry. There are disturbing psychological elements of severe mental health issues on display or characters taking part in delusions. One character is a prostitute, so there are sex scenes as well as nudity from her and other characters. The opening animation has tons of fridge horror as all the characters are laughing in dangerous places and one example involves a character laughing on the moon (with no space apparatus, I might add) as Earth is being destroyed behind him. Some parts of the plot get very sickening such as incest, child abuse, torture, suicide, voyeurism, pedophilia, and severe bullying.
All photos and videos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Paranoia Agent is property of Funimation. The poster is from Funimation and is property of Funimation.