Judge Joel Pearce is quite excited that one of his favorite anime directors has made the jump to television.
When darkness overcomes the heart, Li'l Slugger appears…
When I first heard that a television series was coming out from Satoshi Kon, my favorite anime director, I was very excited. His films are among the most innovative and intelligent anime being produced, and a new format for him to explore and stretch sounded like a good idea to me. So far, I have not been disappointed.
The story, such as it is so far, goes something like this: a young boy in golden roller blades and a sports cap has been showing up and slugging people with his baseball bat. Each of the victims has become disheartened in some way ahead of time, and it seems that they are all connected in some way or another. Each of the episodes focus on a different victim, and the circumstances that seem to lead to the attack. The first is Tsukiko, a toy designer who is trying to create a worthy follow-up to a popular doll (which sometimes talks to her). She is feeling the pressure to deliver, and wishes for a way out. The second episode features a popular young boy who becomes alienated when his classmates believe that he could be the assailant. The third episode follows the boy's personal tutor, who has a multiple personality disorder and whose alternate personality turns tricks for a living. The last episode on this disc follows one of her customers, a corrupt cop who has gotten a bit too deeply involved in some local organized crime in order to make things better for his family. This disc ends with a bizarre twist, and I now have no clue where the show is headed next.
The first scene of Paranoia Agent follows a number of people through a large city, all trapped in crowds of people but talking on their cellphones, complaining and making excuses for things. It's an image of what our world has become—something we are all wrapped up in, but that none of us really wants. This scene gives way to a crazy old man writing a long equation on the pavement in chalk. Eventually, this equation balances to one. I'm not sure whether this is meant to make a statement about the understood complexity of the world or the pointlessness of the daily bustle, but the major characters in each episode all have their problems simplified by the violent assault of Li'l Slugger. At this stage, I am not sure what Satoshi Kon wants to say about these events, but I am looking forward to finding out in future volumes.
In fact, the whole show is startlingly postmodern. The network of characters is complicated and opaque, so there is no real sense of where the story will take the audience next. The whole thing seems to revolve around questions of identity, puzzling over the things that make us behave the way we do. Most of the major characters seem to be slightly crazy in some way, hearing voices in their heads or fracturing into completely different people. There are many specific moments that are fascinating and strange, but I don't want to spoil them for you here. I definitely know that there are surprises ahead, and I believe that they're leading the show in surprising directions.
The animation of the show is quite good, and it's been delivered in a top-notch transfer from Geneon. The anamorphic image has plenty of detail, and the colors appear accurate. The characters all have a very distinctive look, and are very expressive. The sound is good as well, although like many other Geneon releases it only contains stereo tracks. Paranoia Agent is an atmospheric show with a number of interesting environments, and I think it would have benefited from a surround track. As far as stereo tracks go, however, this one is fine.
The disc also has several special features. The first is a set of animated storyboards, showing some of the creation process. It's an interesting thing to take a look at, and they are remarkably detailed compared to most of the storyboards I have seen. There is the option to see simply the storyboards or a screen with both the storyboards and the finished product. The other major extra is an interview with Satoshi Kon. He describes this series as an opportunity to explore the ideas he needed to leave behind during his three film projects, which is definitely clear throughout the beginning of the series. He then goes on to talk about the premise of the series as a way that the characters create the situations that they are in by projecting their fears onto the real world. This notion of the self-fulfilling prophecy is an interesting one, and it makes the series make just a bit more sense.
I realize that I haven't told you much in this review. To be honest, I am pretty much at a loss for words, and I have no idea where the series is headed. I am enjoying it immensely, though, and even if it carries on as it has so far, I will be content at the end. I'm sure that any adventurous and philosophical-minded anime fans will feel the same way, although fans of straightforward giant robot action shows may want to keep their distance on this one. Personally, though, I think we have something very special and unique on our hands here, and it's a maze of ideas that I am going to enjoy getting lost in.
Paranoia Agent is not guilty, and I hope the rest of the series is as intriguing as this first volume.
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Scales of Justice
• Interview with Satoshi Kon
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