I guess it’s safe to say that I’m not a huge fan of anime. I realize that it’s a style, and not a genre, but I get weirded out by some of the tropes that seem to pop up a lot in anime stuff. Bikini Werewolf Samurai kinda shit, you know. That said, I know a good movie when I see it, and I’ve seen a number of anime films which are absolutely astonishing. Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies and Ghost in the Shell, to name a few, are all tremendous works of art that I consider to be among the great works of cinema.
And then there’s Satoshi Kon. Of all the anime I’ve seen (not a huge amount, to be frank) Kon is the one I connect with the most. From the twisted perversion of Perfect Blue to the wistful melancholy of Millennium Actress, Kon never loses sight of his character’s humanity. He can do grounded work like Tokyo Godfathers or surreal fantasy like Paprika, but there’s always a core of truth.
Sadly, Satoshi Kon is no longer with us; he passed away two years ago, leaving behind a volume of work that, while diverse and accomplished, cannot help but feel regretfully slim. I’ve seen all four of his feature films, and loved them all. Millennium Actress in particular is one of my favorite films, regardless of genre. I have not, however, seen Paranoia Agent, the thirteen episode series written and directed by Kon. I guess I was saving it. It leaves an emptiness behind, knowing that you’ll never see new art from a beloved artist.
Paranoia Agent, to my understanding, was conceived of as a sort of clearing house for all of Kon’s spare ideas. My impression of it is that it’s an anthology show of sorts, a series of vignettes linked together by the overarching mystery of a strange assailant. I’m going to write out my reactions to all thirteen episodes as I watch them. Here goes.
Episode One: Enter Shounen Bat
Okay. This was both stranger and more straightforward than I was expecting. I guess it sort of falls in the middle where Kon is concerned. So there’s this woman, Tsukiko Sagi, who designs toys, I guess, and she gets attacked by a kid with a baseball bat. That’s basically the plot here. There’s also a talking beanie-baby thing, which is really weird, but it’s probably only in the character’s head.
Besides Tsukiko, we are also introduced to a creepy toadish reporter – who is seriously disturbing, but also sort of funny – and a pair of policemen. These three characters investigate the attack, and the conflict between the cops and the reporter drive the majority of the episode. They don’t get far. It maybe have been a bit of a misstep to start the story off with such withdrawn character, since Tsukiko doesn’t really gives us much to go on.
One thing that really stood out here was how abrupt the ending felt. I get why most a lot of pilots are longer than usually. This is only a half-hour show (twenty+ minutes, minus commercials) and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for much of anything. You don’t often see half-hour dramas, at least not in American television, and I kinda get why. It feels like things are just starting up when the episode shuts down. This is a miniseries, however, so in a way it feels more like the opening of the film than an episode of television.
It’s a bit too scattered and abrupt to function on its own, but I’m quite excited to see where the show goes from here and how the story opens up in the episodes to come.
Episode Two: The Golden Shoes
Hm. This was a somewhat weak followup. There’s a lot to like, but it didn’t quite seem to gel the way you’d hope. Maybe my hopes were too high. I came in sort of expecting a masterpiece, and I’m not seeing it yet. Still, it works.
Here’s the breakdown: There’s this kid see, Taira Yuuichi’s his name, and he’s real popular. Unfortunately, he bears a striking resemblance to our bat-wielding assailant, Shounen Bat. His life falls apart pretty quickly, his little kingdom tumbling down around his ears. There’s some really affecting moments (birthday party that nobody comes to is always sad to see) but the kid is such a fucking asshole that it’s hard to have much sympathy for him.
What I really liked about this episode was one of the supporting characters, Ushiyama, a kid who our asshole main character blames for everything that goes wrong. Ushiyama’s story is really great: basically he was bullied horribly at his old school and came to this new school to start over.
He opens up and people really like him. It was nice to see, a feel-good story buried in the haze of our main character’s rage and paranoia.
There was a very cool scene where Taira lures Ushiyama out behind the school and gets all up in his face. Pretty scary stuff, especially when it switches to creep’s eye view to show that pictures are being taken of the argument.
I kept waiting for Taira to snap and do something really crazy. He does go a bit nuts, but he gets batted before he can do anything. Shrug. Still, the animation here was really cool; it went all wonky – sort of Simpsonsy, actually – and nicely captured his twisted state of mind.
The police carried on their investigation, and the woman from the first episode was back, which I was not expecting at all. I’m not sure how this show will work if it keeps splitting time between old plots and new ones. Overall, this episode was a bit of a letdown. Not bad, but…
Episode Three: Double Lips
This one was more like it. Very Perfect Blue. The bratty kid’s tutor, Chouno Harumi, has a multiple personalities dissociative disorder thing going on. Sometimes she’s herself, sometimes she’s a prostitute named Maria. There’s some creepy sex stuff, but it didn’t feel quite as off-putting as Perfect Blue did. The episode primarily revolves around her relationship with a professor at the school were she’s works as a research assistant. They have a very stiff, formal relationship, in sharp contrast to her alter-egos rather degrading sexing. Their answering machine conversations are eerie and skin-crawly.
Things get really interesting when Chouno decides that it’s time to get rid of Maria for once and all. The two of them have a sort of tug-of-war over Maria’s clothes and make-up. Things finally come to a head in the amazing ending sequence in which Chouno and Maria get into a fight. This was really breathtakingly animated; the image of her thrashing silhouette standing out against the neon lights was really arresting. Then she gets whacked on the head by our roller-skating bat-boy. Surprise surprise. At the very end we hear a report that Shounen Bat has been arrested.
This felt a lot more cohesive then the first two episodes, both as a self contained story and as a continuation of the overarching plot. I’m curious what direction the show is going to take now that Shounen Bat has apparently been caught (something tells me he probably hasn’t).
As an aside, I feel like the police characters are not quite as fully drawn as they should be. If the episodes were longer, they would probably be our main characters, as it is, they feel a bit extraneous. Hopefully they’ll come to the fore at some point.