In present day Japan, emotionally cornered people are being attacked by a mysterious phantom figure known to the public as Lil' Slugger (or Shonen Bat, if you're too anal to call it by its English name). When two investigators are put on the trail of the street assailant, they slowly unravel the true nature of the attacks.
So, a TV series directed by Satoshi Kon and put together by Madhouse? I'm clearly hallucinating, right?
Well, I'm not, and the rest of the readers aren't either.
Being one of the more inspired directors and storytellers to grace the world of anime, one must be lead to wonder: what can Kon possibly do with more time to expand on his ideas? He can do a lot, actually. Hell, Kon, who ceaselessly leads me to believe that he's a genius because of the creativity to be found in his work, doesn't even need all of the allotted 13 episodes to draw a clear picture of what he wants to say.
Composed of what are probably undeveloped ideas from his feature-film work, Paranoia Agent is essentially an accomplished, well thought-out and polished narrative by Satoshi Kon about how a phenomenon created from stress is sustained and developed rapidly by the mass-media and how people seem to keep on looking to this “messiah” for a quick answer to problems related to modern culture and psychology. The answer that Kon eventually, and gracefully, stumbles on to is that there is no simple, quick-and-easy way out of the situations the characters tend to find themselves in and that to delude oneself into thinking that there is a quick answer to the worries of the world only temporarily solves many of our modern society's increasingly complex problems. The penalty for building on each other's problems with these simplified solutions eventually shows itself in the form of something so huge that it can't be stopped and will only dissipate in the eyes of the compelling power of the truth. Such a commanding, yet subtle, notion in the series comes about mainly because of Kon's ability to seamlessly integrate his brilliantly insightful messages and storytelling; something deeply akin to what he did with his first directorial work: Perfect Blue.
The most interesting aspect of Paranoia Agent is probably how dead-on the depiction of technology, mass-media and communication of information is and how it plays into the daily lives of many of the characters that are featured from episode-to-episode. Paranoia Agent is a very good interpretation of how people generally take in information passively without fully realizing its greater effect and influence on their daily lives and way of thinking.
So vivid is the world of Satoshi Kon's Paranoia Agent that, like society, it is filled with a wide spectrum of colorful characters. Never has there been a more memorable, diverse and accurate representation in anime of many of the personalities found in modern society. What's more is that Kon is able to fully realize many of these real-world characters in just under 20-minutes, a feat only accomplished by the best of directors (at the top of my head, Akitaro Daichi).
Going back to what I said in the opening, Kon doesn't actually use all 13 episodes to tell the main story. With “filler” going on for about 3 episodes, Kon actually makes the most out of it and ends up effectively satirizing everything from suicide to animation production while managing to somehow tie many of his ideas in with the main themes of the series: that being intelligent and meaningful messages about stress, commitment and how people go about dealing with both. While exaggeration is given rise to later on in the story, it actually works to convey the ideas better and didn't detract from the experience at all.
Fairly dark subject matter eased into the light of satire is an approach Kon has taken to convey a lot of his ideas throughout the series, but considering how funny things would tend to get, it's amazing how thick and surreal the atmosphere can become as episodes would progress. This is mainly because of Kon's effective direction and that the animation from his regular studio, Madhouse, is just beyond godly. With most of the work being kept inside Madhouse, what comes out is a slick production of what is some of the most traditional looking animation I've seen for a modern TV series; Paranoia Agent is essentially Madhouse at the top of their game artistically and stylistically. And while Berserk remains my favorite as far as his anime endeavors go, Susumu Hirasawa's hypnotic electronic score for Paranoia Agent is still very welcomed.
Naturally, if you're going to adapt Satoshi Kon's work into English, you might as well give it to the best. It's good to know that Geneon actually got some input from Kon himself in regards to how he wanted the English production to sound like. It's equally good to know that Jonathan Klein and his regular production studio, New Generation Pictures, was chosen to make it all happen. Having the majority of creative control and scripting powers, Klein has created a masterful adaptation of the series into the English language resulting in what is one of the best uses of our local LA-based actors in recent memory. Just about all of his direction, whether subtle or vigorous, and casting decisions were spot-on from end-to-end of the production and rarely was there a moment of awkward delivery to put a blemish on this stellar piece of work. To put it simply, the man clearly knows what he wants from all of his acting talent and that this dub is one of the best you'll ever hear. And it might not seem like it at first, but Liam O' Brien slowly creeps up and eventually steals the show with a memorable performance that he plays out superbly.
So, at the end of the day, the question is probably whether or not Kon was able to parallel the quality of his movies. Has Kon been able to accomplish a quality that is consistent with his feature-film work? I'd say, yes. In fact, a TV series is a much better platform for him to work on, but it must be inconvenient (and stressful) for him given all of the time constraints that come with a lengthier TV production; this coming from a series that actually encourages people to take it a little easier when approaching daily modern life. For what it's worth though, this is definitely what I'd consider a landmark TV series even though this is Kon's first time going at it. And even though it's some of his movie-ideas recycled, he actually breathes new air and insight into these ideas.
With strong production and direction at its forefront, Paranoia Agent is a series that easily stands out with a story and message whose execution is out-of-the-ordinary, but not entirely too hard to grasp when you just sit down, watch and enjoy. Highly recommended for any anime fan.
Deduct a star if you feel that the idea of accumulated stress causing societal catastrophe is preposterous. — Dominic Laeno
Recommended Audience: There's a lot of weird social and psychological issues and dark atmosphere that kind of keeps this out of the reach of anyone below 13-16 years old. It aired on Wowow and at late hours when it first came out, so it's to the point where it apparently isn't suitable to a regular Japanese TV audience.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Paranoia Agent © 2004 Kon Satoshi / Madhouse / Paranoia Agent Committee
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