It’s another summer holiday weekend, here in the United States. Independence Day weekend no less, the 4th of July being the day when Americans get inebriated and spend the day basting themselves in the hot juices of meats, both various and sundry. Such is the joy we feel when we think about how we could still all be English. We at the FAM are here, however, with you pre-basting. We are unbasted, clean and virginal at least for the moment though this will no doubt soon change. For now, however, you may sit near us and enjoy today’s offering knowing you will be unsullied.
Today the Friday Afternoon Movie presents the first four episodes of Satoshi Kon’s weird and wonderful television series Paranoia Agent (Mōsō Dairinin) from 2004, which represents the entirety of the Complete Collection’s disc one, entitled Enter Lil’ Slugger. Paranoia Agent begins with a mysterious attack on Tsukiko Sagi — a character designer best known for the incredibly popular pink dog Maromi — by an assailant who will become known as Shōnen Batto (Bat Boy in the original Japanese and Lil’ Slugger in English). Soon detectives Keiichi Ikari and Mitsuhiro Maniwatwo become involved as more people report attacks by a boy on golden skates, armed with a golden baseball bat.
What follows is tried and true territory for Kon, beginning all the way back in 1997’s Perfect Blue and, some might say, culminating in 2006’s Paprika. Given it’s thirteen episode run, Paranoia Agent gives him the most room to explore it. Kon’s work is primarily concerned with the examination of the lies we tell ourselves and pop culture. It’s the symbiotic relationship between these two aspects of day-to-day life that form the crux of all his films and is firmly entrenched in the story of Paranoia Agent. Indeed, the main thread that emerges, connecting all the attacks by Lil’ Slugger is that all the victims are attacked during a time of great stress and, moreover, seem almost relieved once an attack has occurred. It is this commonality that will eventually lead the detectives to the truth, long after the case has almost completely destroyed both men’s careers and personal lives.
Kon is a masterful storyteller and he proves it here. Nothing is out of place in Paranoia Agent, each episodes fitting in neatly with the others at a measures pace; taking time here and there to focus on events happening at the periphery of the case, only to deftly weave them back in. Best of all unlike many television mysteries of this sort, anime or otherwise, Kon is aware of the importance of a satisfactory conclusion; and while there are still some smaller aspects left open for interpretation, the main plot of the series is lead to a logical, if surreal, conclusion. The rules of Kon’s world may be different from ours, but they are well defined and his tale adheres to them.
Five years out from the English release I still find new things to enjoy in Paranoia Agent. The animation is top notch, the story is of a caliber rarely seen on television, and the acting (at least the Japanese) stays away from what most people think of when they think of Japanese animation. This may be one of the few cases of FAM in which I feel I need to be outright evangelical about the piece on display. Paranoia Agent is a series worth your time. Even if you don’t like anime you should give this a shot. More so than any other director, I feel that Satoshi Kon manages to transcend the medium. The stories he tells, by and large, do not require animation but he uses it to spectacular effect. Few others choose to use it to examine the human psyche in such detail beyond having androids ponder the subtleties of being human in opaque pseudo-philosophical prose. This isn’t a story about what it is to be human; but about just how hard we make it for ourselves.