Paranoia Agent Collector’s Edition (Cert 18)
2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 339 minutes approx.
Stress is a dangerous feeling, one that can cripple and harm in ways we may not be fully aware of. It can make people behave uncharacteristically and make crucial mistakes in desperation, creating needless trauma with far reaching consequences. Let’s be thankful that stress isn’t able to manifest itself into a sentient being – that would be terrifying.
Timorous character designer Tsukiko Sagi is under enormous pressure to come up with a follow-up to her successful cartoon creation Maromi, the pink dog. Her boss has already promised a public unveiling on TV despite Tsukiko having nothing. Running away from work in a blind panic one night, suddenly Tsukiko is struck by a figure on roller skates wielding a gold baseball bat.
Police detectives Keiichi Ikari and Mitsuhiro Maniwa think Tsukiko might be lying since she said her attacker was a schoolboy and it seemed too random. Then news arrives of a second attack on two boys of the same age, followed by a third on woman, all in the Tokyo area. Named by the media “Shonen Bat”, the hunt is on for this mystery attacker but something still isn’t right.
Finding himself with left over ideas from his three feature films, Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers, visionary director Satoshi Kon decide to not to waste this material and set about putting them to good use, this time via the medium of a TV anime series. Paranoia Agent is the result and is by no means a lazy recycling of his cast offs for a quick cash in.
Granted, some of the main themes and direction of the story echo Kon’s oeuvre, which is understandable given their genus and others turn up in his subsequent film Paprika, but Paranoia Agent is still an original work. The Frankenstein origins of the story allow Kon to move about freely with the specific developments whilst staying firmly within the basic framework of this cynical dissertation of a flawed modern society.
Across 13 episodes, Kon tells a sprawling but defiantly compelling tale, dissecting areas of modern life in dire need of improvement by taking his examples to the extreme. There is no singular target, Kon casts a wry, characteristically esoteric eye over such topics as pressure, bullying, jealousy, paranoia (natch), mental health, delusion, public and media hysteria, and distortion of facts.
Like Perfect Blue, this is a surreal psychological thriller except with dashes of satirical humour and Meta self-awareness, the latter highlighted in an episode devoted to the fated production of an anime show featuring Maromi. In it, Kon explains the role of the cast and their importance to the process, whose efforts are undone by one useless team member, yet in the end they all fall victim to Shonen Bat.
Renamed Lil Slugger in the English Dub, our villain isn’t quite an aimless sociopath – his victims are all people cornered by stress and worry, and ending their lives to free them from this is his duty. That is how he sees it – or at least that is the narrative per the media and people on the street but really knows? It does connect the first few victims but then things take a strange turn.
During the course of the first half of this series, the stories intertwine with a supporting character from the previous episodes starring in their own grim tale. Aside from Tsukiko, there is a schoolboy jealous of a transfer student rival for class president; his personal tutor is a mild mannered office lady fighting her salacious alter ego, a prostitute named Maria; a bumbling police officer thrust into the limelight as a hero is exposed as a corrupt paedophile, and so on.
When Kon isn’t highlighting the seedy underbelly of Tokyo and foibles of individual inhabitants, he takes society as a whole to task for their part in perpetuating to these problems. One episode revolves around group of gossiping housewives, each with their own tale about Shonen Bat which they pass of as true. Bearing in mind this was made in 2004, long before the social media explosion, there is prescience to the “Trial by Twitter” fad that permeates modern life found in this observation.
Yet, the most contentious episode is the one that will be of most interest to UK fans. When originally released in 2006 (and again as a box set in 2011) the BBFC cut almost 70-seconds from episode eight, in which a trio from an internet message board meet up to fulfil a suicide pact, only for one of them to be a young girl. A scene in which they try to hang themselves didn’t sit well with the BBFC and it was cut; now, 15 years later, this footage has been restored.
It’s almost amusing that this was considered more offensive than the violence, nudity, and paedophilia though it still got an 18 rating then which it wears with pride. But there is so much more to this show than its adult content – the writing is incisive, witty, and intelligent, its tone probing but not judgemental, and the production values are not compromised by the TV budget. In fact, the visuals and animation it not only holds up to today’s standards but are superior to many modern works.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Satoshi Kon work if it didn’t drift off into abstract, mind-bending tangents where reality and fiction overlap, and many flights of fancy are taken here. Kon keeps his tongue in his cheek and has fun with some of these absurd asides yet it all works within this unique milieu he has created. Even if you don’t understand it all, terra firmer (or an approximation of it) isn’t too far away.
Paranoia Agent may be the late Satoshi Kon’s most accomplished, ambitious and thought provoking work. In the discussion of “greatest anime ever”, it is never mentioned – hopefully this uncut Blu-ray release will win it a new audience and correct this egregious oversight.
English Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Disc 2 Only:
Satoshi Kon & Susumu Hirasawa’s Paranoia Agent Talk Show
Paranoia Radio Audio Commentary Episodes 11, 12 & 13
Satoshi Kon’s Hand Drawn Storyboards for Episode 1
Rating – *****
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