Let me preface this review by saying that this is my first experience with any of Satoshi Kon’s work. I know he is a very renowned anime and film director, and I am looking forward to watching his other films at some point. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing there’s a good chance you might have seen Paranoia Agent and/or some of Kon’s other famous works such as Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actresss, or Paprika. So I guess you could take this review with a grain of salt compared to the review of somebody who is already familiar with his style.
Paranoia Agent is a 13-episode anime series that was released in Japan in 2004. American audiences received the dub on Adult Swim in 2005. The series follows a large cast, with each episode focusing on one or a few specific characters. The characters are connected by attacks from a mysterious assailant they call “Lil’ Slugger,” who is described as a kid wearing a baseball cap and inline skates and wielding a bent metal bat he attacks his victims with. Although the Blu-ray won’t be released until December, I got excited when I received the review copy the week before Halloween. What an appropriate time to watch a series with a plot like that, huh?
Providing to my first impression that this would be a horror anime, I was immediately taken aback by the opening when I began the first episode. Immediately, you’re hit with this rambunctious wail of “RAA-EEE-YAA RA-RA-EE-YO-RA!” while these creepy people look directly at you shaking with laughter. The one word I would use to describe it is “unsettling.” Not knowing who these characters were, I half-expected them to be minions of the Joker from Batman, fresh out of Arkham Asylum. Thank God for the skip button on the remote so I never had to see that nightmare fuel again!
Already traumatized, I was expecting some disturbing imagery and grisly violence throughout the first few episodes. I assumed Lil’ Slugger would be bashing in skulls, breaking bones, and all-around beating people to a pulp late at night. I expected bloody deaths or at least graphic injuries. We do get more blood later, but not to the extent that I thought. From the straightforward plot description of a boy attacking people with a bat, you would assume that this would be a simple mystery series which culminates in the discovery of who the attacker is and what his motivation is. But there is way more to it than that! What you get instead is a psychological thriller that evaluates the lives of people with too much stress and anxiety. Lil’ Slugger is just one cog in the machine of the city that is giving people paranoia. This isn’t your typical crime scene investigation show. Kon has created an anime series that utilizes themes and styles from a wide variety of genres. Everything from horror and mystery, to fantasy, comedy, and even documentary is used among the diverse episodes to create a larger picture.
But why didn’t I like it? Have you ever seen a film or read a book that received critical acclaim and that everybody seems to love except you? Let’s take Christopher Nolan’s Inception for instance. Almost everybody I know who has seen it absolutely loves it! So am I wrong for not liking it? I thought it was confusing, had sloppy pacing, and was way longer than it needed to be. I felt the exact same way about Paranoia Agent. That’s not to say I hated it. On the contrary, I admired the aforementioned diversity of styles and themes and thought some of the individual episodes were brilliant. But the series as a whole left a little to be desired for my taste. Before I explain, let me tell you there are slight spoilers, but I won’t give away any of the huge reveals that come towards the end.
“To begin,” as the old man says, one of my biggest criticisms of the series can ironically be seen as one of its strengths. Something I touched on earlier was the diversity of episodes. Instead of following one plot chronologically, each episode is like it’s own story. The problem here is that some episodes were really good while others lost my interest completely. And some of the episodes didn’t really further the narrative or have any reason to exist if I’m being honest. In episode 5, my least favorite episode, the detectives apprehend a young boy who matches the description of Lil’ Slugger. The boy even admits to being behind some, but not all of the attacks. This took me by surprise thinking that they would reveal this so early on. But the boy goes on to talk about his over-imaginative belief that he is living in a fantasy world and that he is a hero who must strike people who are possessed by an evil monster to save them from the monster’s possession. The episode then depicts the fantasy world he has been imagining, but it all seems inconsequential to the plot, especially since the boy wasn’t the prime suspect after all. Episode 8, the episode about the suicide pact could also have been omitted, but funnily enough it was probably my favorite episode due to the intrigue and surprising amount of humor it provided. So, when I say the series is longer than it needed to be, I’m not saying that 13 episodes is too long. It’s just that the material wasn’t necessary to tell the story.
On the bright side, the first episode and the last episode are very nice bookends and complement each other perfectly. They’re almost like two slices of bread on a sandwich where the best episodes are represented by your typical lunch meats and cheeses, while some are pickled herring and sauerkraut. The first person attacked, a character designer named Tsukiko Sagi, is vital to the beginning and conclusion of the story, but you wouldn’t know that based on how little she appears throughout some of the middle episodes. I also really liked her creation, a pink cartoon dog named Maromi, but I felt like it was underutilized until the last few episodes. And without giving away the ending, let me just say that I was completely confused and will admit that I had to watch a few explanation videos on YouTube for it all to make sense. I felt like this could have been avoided had I been directed to what was important to the story instead of wading through misleading information that may or may not have happened in reality.
The animation of the series varied from really good to kind of ugly, with many different styles of animation used occasionally to change things up. One of the most creative episodes focused on the process of creating anime, narrated by Maromi. It was very cool to see the episode start with a storyboard and develop into a final product. On the other hand, there were plenty of distorted, nightmarish animations that took place in the characters’ imaginations, including a world of 2D cardboard-cutout looking people which I was NOT a fan of.
Overall, I would say that Paranoia Agent is an anime series that you should experience at least once. Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of it personally, I can definitely see why people enjoy it and why it received praise. It’s a very unique anime unlike anything I’ve seen before. Some of the episodes were very compelling in their own right when you don’t force them to be connected to the overarching plot that tries to thread the disjointed story together. I know I would probably get more out of the series with a second viewing, but I don’t feel compelled to watch it again. However, if you have seen Paranoia Agent before and liked it enough to watch it over and over, this Blu-ray release was made for you. You have the option to watch it subbed or dubbed (I did the latter), and there are some commentaries and interviews with Satoshi Kon and company in there as well. I’m not much of a steelbook collector, so that’s your call if you want the steelbook or not. As for me, I have no regrets watching the series, but I plan to watch the rest of Satoshi Kon’s films in the hopes of finding one that better suits my tastes.
From Satoshi Kon, the legendary director for Perfect Blue and Paprika comes a dark and mysterious psychological thriller. Citizens across Musashino City are being assaulted and terrorized—and two detectives must figure out the mystery of Lil’ Slugger."Add to CartLearn More