As if for the first time, Judge Joel Pearce realizes that anime is a little... weird.
When darkness overcomes the heart, Lil' Slugger appears…
Key events have occurred since the first volume of Paranoia Agent, though I can't fill you in on the details. Through circumstances beyond my control, I've had to skip the second volume and move right on to this, the second-to-last disc of the series. The good news is that it doesn't much matter what has happened in between, for although it's been hinted at, the third volume doesn't do much to carry a real plot (presuming for a moment that there is one). Each of these episodes is completely different, demonstrating how much the Shonen Bat myth has permeated the Japanese culture.
The first episode on this disc follows three friends who met on an Internet chat forum and have decided to get together in order to kill themselves. While it sounds like a grim concept, it's actually quite light as they fail repeatedly, and eventually hope for the help of Lil' Slugger and his golden bat. The second episode centers around four women from the same apartment complex who share stories about Lil' Slugger, which become increasingly far-fetched. The third volume has some connection to the original volume, as the animators from a new Maromi (the strange toy from the first volume) anime show are systematically taken out by our mysterious antagonist.
This volume is more frustrating than satisfying. In a series that only has 13 episodes, it seems strange that a whole volume would be devoted to unrelated stories. It again raises the question of who Lil' Slugger really is and how he is able to take out so many people, but three episodes is a lot of time to devote to explaining how the culture is absorbing this strange phenomenon.
That said, these small episodes are quite entertaining taken on their own merits. The first is especially delightful, showing both the discouraged members of society and their eventual hope found in each other. The episode is touching and darkly funny. The second one toys with the audience, beginning with stories no stranger than have already been included in the series then stretching farther and farther until we wonder why we are drawn in to any of it at all. The third is more typical of Satoshi Kon's work, as it tells the story of the Maromi production through flashbacks intercut with a single character driving a car. These events flow from reality to the imagination, and we are never quite sure what is real. It's edgy and playful and postmodern, and even though it only runs a bit over twenty minutes, it works great as a self-contained story.
The quality of the animation and production values are just as strong as they were early in the series. Each of the characters is injected with life, and they are animated with detail and skill. Whether you listen to the original language track or the dub, the voices match the characters perfectly, and never distract from the overall experience of the show. The transfer on the disc is exceptional as well, bordering on the quality of current theatrical anime releases. The real failing is in the extras. If they're only going to put three episodes on the disc, surely they could toss on a few more extras than a small photo gallery and some character design images.
Should you be collecting this series? That's a difficult question to answer. If you enjoy the style and don't mind the lack of a concrete conclusion for the series, Paranoia Agent creates a dark and fascinating world with an entertaining cast of characters. It's always puzzling, but each segment contains something to recommend it. Those expecting a strong story and consistent characters will be so frustrated by the playful nature of the series that you may as well skip it and move on to something else. It's unlike anything I have ever seen before, though, which is refreshing in the anime industry.
It may be frustratingly obtuse, but Paranoia Agent is still plenty entertaining. Not guilty.
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