Paranoia Agent ~ final thoughts

November 16, 2011

"What a damn fine world we live in."

Paranoia Agent is a Madhouse production TV series from 2004, and an important part of the artistic legacy of Satoshi Kon, who passed away at the age of 46, in 2010. Paranoia Agent is a 13 episode series that might be classified in the Police Procedural genre, as, on the surface, it concerns itself with a series of murders, the police investigating the crimes, the lives of the victims, and the effect of the crime spree on the population at large. As with several of Kon’s works, Paranoia Agent really is an exploration of the grey area that exists somewhere between reality and fiction. One can say that the real subject of the series are Lies, those we tell to others, and those we tell to ourselves.

This review is intended to be spoiler free, but for those wanting the bottom line: Paranoia Agent is well worth watching.

All characters, places, and events portrayed in this series are fictional. Don't think this is reality ~ merely a really great lie.

The series opens with a prologue, in which people lie, lie, lie. "I feel really tired." "I'm feeling sick, so I won't be able to come in today." "It wasn't my fault."

Several of Satoshi Kon’s major works explore the border between Reality and Unreality. Sometimes Unreality is the Dream world, as in Paprika, and sometimes it is the public personas of actresses (such as Millennium Actress or Perfect Blue). In Paranoia Agent, more than any other, Unreality is the artificial world of lies, that is the stories we tell others and ourselves, to smooth over the parts of Reality to which we don’t care to admit . The genius of this body of Kon’s work is the way it explores the inter-penetration of Reality and Unreality. Dreams, public personas, lies, myth it doesn’t just exist in a separate Unreality, it also has an effect in Reality, just as Reality projects into the mirror-world of Unreality. “They speak many lies, but shreds of truth are hidden therein.”

Tsukiko Sagi (victim #1) is interviewed by the police.

The series pursues the mysterious assailant called Shounen Bat.

At it’s heart this series is about the pursuit of Shounen Bat (literally Bat Boy, although translated as Little Slugger in the English dub). He arrives without warning, wielding a baseball bat, and seems to prey on those who are in states of extreme psychological distress. In his wake he leaves not only victims, but an effect in society. Those unaffiliated with the tragic incidents gossip and opine. Media celebrities are quick to point out that, given the assailants apparent age, his behavior can be attributed to the bad job society has done in instilling a solid understanding of the difference between what is Virtual and what is Real.

None of us are who we are. Everyone constructs a public persona to help them manage the interactions they have with other people. But by the end, the persona that we project, the roles that we play, form the substance of the lives we lived.

The series breaks down into roughly three parts: a beginning in which the plot seems tied more tightly to the police investigation, a middle, in which the focus is moved to the impact that Shounen Bat is having on society, and the conclusion. As a result, the perspective often jumps, so that the whole story is told from a myriad of view points. In fact some reviews will state that the subject of the series is really a social phenomenon, such as that described in Lewin’s Equation, B = ƒ( P, E ).

Episode 10 stands as a remarkable explanation of the process of bringing an anime to life.

This episode explores the process of animation in almost as much detail as Animation Runner Kuromi.

I wanted to point out episode 10, in particular, because I have a fascination with anime that attempts to describe processes, and especially with artistic processes, such as the production of an anime, as is described here. As in Animation Runner Kuromi, a lot of humor comes from seeing what might go wrong actually happen. For anime fans who decide they just don’t have time to watch this series (*shame on you*), I highly recommend checking out episode 10 for an interesting view behind the curtain.

Of course all those who are looking to avoid my withering *shame* abilities, must now watch the entirety of Paranoia Agent. It is dark at times, and philosophical at times, but that really should not scare you off from seeing this series. For those looking for a more uplifting work in the same style, Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress is quite incredible. It is such a shame that this genius creator died so soon.

8 Responses to “Paranoia Agent ~ final thoughts”

  1. Overcooled Says:

    You’re making me want to dig up my box set and watch this whole series all over again. I love Satoshi’s Kon line-blurring comparison of reality and unreality as you put it. It eventually comes to a point where you can’t tell what is actually happening and what is just confabulation and outright lying. The last episode (I’ll avoid spoilers here too to be safe) is absolutely insane. Wonderful, but insane. It’s one of those really memorable moments in anime…along with that crazy parade in Paprika.

  2. hearthesea Says:

    I recently finished watching this series — it’s lovely stuff. Human and distinctive characters, engaging themes, and an odd, interesting visual style that seems to pop up in all of Kon’s work. It also had an unnerving atmosphere that really seemed to work for the story. I still have to watch ‘Paprika’, so I’ll probably go for that next.

    • Joojoobees Says:

      Paprika is really worth it. It is more like straight Science Fiction, whereas Paranoia Agent and Millennium Actress are more like fantasy, but they all get to that same place,

  3. kluxorious Says:

    i remember watching this back when I was still a n00b and don’t really give a rat ass of who produced/directing it or who the seiyuus were but like you said, it was certainly quite memorable because of the story. In hindsight knowing that this was produced by Madhouse answered a lot of questions for me.

    • Joojoobees Says:

      Yes, this is one of those shows that you could think about from a number of angles. It makes so much sense when you put it together with the people involved in making it, but it is such an interesting show that people don’t really need that information to get a lot of pleasure out of watching it. The art work is enjoyable. The ideas are thought-provoking. The characters are complex. There is so much to it.

  4. Oh I miss this series. This one was really amazing~

    Shame on me for not seeing other titles by Satoshi Kon yet >_< But I'm really happy for not missing this one xD

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