Paranoia Agent: Volume 1 - Enter Lil’ Slugger Review
You just know when “Yume no Shima Shinen Kouen” by composer, Susumu Hirasawa is heard for the first time that this series is going to be - odd. Director, Satoshi Kon collects several ideas from his previous films; leftovers that he acknowledges he wanted to do something with. Drawing parallels between this piece of work and any of his other films are a given, though the most immediate signs of evidence point toward Perfect Blue; a psychological thriller and no doubt the foundation for the developments here. Unlike his films the series deviates from any single protagonist/s to bring us a separate character tale each episode; but then this is where things get a little more interesting. Although the characters are different they each bare some kind of connection to one another; and so over the course of this series we see Satoshi’s relay effect take precedence as the events involving a single assailant unfold.
So to set up the series we begin with Tsukiko Sagi, a young woman working at M&F Inc. Tokyo, who has become famous for designing the number 1 toy in Japan - Maromi. Tsukiko’s new job is to come up with a successor to Maromi and she’s having a troublesome time in creating something special. At work her boss, Hotomura is overexcited, while her co-workers give her rude looks and talk behind her back. The stress at work causes her to become a little edgy, induced by paranoia; back at home she lives quietly, checking her emails over at “Tsukiko’s Room” (sound familiar?) and having conversations with Maromi the stuffed toy. One night as she walks home she is suddenly attacked by an unknown skater boy wielding a dented baseball bat, later dubbed “Lil’ Slugger” or “Shounen Bat” - whichever takes your fancy. The crime doesn’t appear to have any motive, and soon Tsukiko gets back to work. Soon she’s hounded by Rumour magazine writer, Akio Kawazu - a bit of a pervert with a greedy side to him, with Detective Ikari looking for some answers. When “Lil’ Slugger” assaults his next victim a chain reaction occurs, which will soon see everyday folk who share some kind of common with the last victim becoming involved in a single mystery. Paranoia is rife in the city of Tokyo.
is for all purposes a social paranoia commentary. We see Tokyo as the huge, bustling city that it is and how the lives within observe their own world. Setting up the tone in the opening five minutes we see dozens of Japanese expressing themselves in ways that may be deemed as paranoid, a word that I can see myself using a lot here, but then that would be the point I suppose. Each episode then takes a main character and has them live out a troublesome scenario. For this volume we have four main players: Tsukiko Sagi, Yuichi Taira, Harumi Chono and Musami Hirukawa, though throughout the volume they make recurring appearances.
As mentioned, Tsukiko has her little problem of thinking that Maromi talks to her. Yuichi is a school boy who has always been addressed as “Ichi”, due to being on top of his studies and sports. When a rumour around school spreads that he’s “Lil’ Slugger” he becomes increasingly delusional; everyone is against him and his popularity drops to zero. Harumi is his only friend, his private tutor who stands by him, but she has problems of her own. Harumi suffers from a multiple personality disorder. By day she’s an average teacher, by night a prostitute named Maria. She regularly visit’s a psychologist but when she gets engaged she knows that her life must change and that she will have to tell her husband at some point. Finally there’s Hirukawa, a police officer who happens to have been one of Maria’s clients. He’s a family man who is financially in the red and has to pull off crimes to pay those who dog him. Each of these social standings in life becomes examined in due course.
Social commentaries aren’t exactly new territory these days so we need to know if Satoshi Kon can introduce any new ideas. The result is good all round. We have portions geared toward the younger generation, where reality and the virtual world has become blurred, with dangers that must be addressed. Perfect Blue tackled a little of this, as did Serial Experiments Lain. While it’s clearly a burning issue that has relevance it’s not exactly a revolutionary concept, but then to be fair it doesn’t over prioritise this aspect, and what does make it a little different is that it is structured far more uniquely. There are too many other factors within for it to become bogged down by a single commentary. There’s also identity, poverty, crime, bullying mental disorders, media manipulation, jealousy, desperation, frustration, pain and rage. Just about every single human emotion is played out at some point and it’s those things that keep each episode fresh, even if we have seen plenty of examples before. It’s the way in which Satoshi gels everything together that makes it ultimately rewarding; how it gets from one single point to the next, and so on.
Coming from a feature film background, Satoshi Kon’s foray into anime television isn’t tackled lightly. Paranoia Agent is as epic looking as his films. Much like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (another fine example of film to TV transition) it retains a lot of little details, and with a director like Satoshi and the animators at MADHOUSE we know we won’t be disappointed. This series doesn’t rely completely on its script; though indeed it’s a fine one, its visuals provide an extension of the themes being tackled. Satoshi uses his imagery to an extent that shows us just what paranoia is and how dangerous it can be to any individual. Things progressively become surreal as reality is blurred and we see a variety of visual trickery being used. In effect we have a bizarre yet effective device that is far more subjective than had the series tried to have forced us with wanton images. Here the human mindset is played out in believable fashion, and with a huge amount of fluidity everything is pulled off with conviction. With this comes several brilliant character designs, which are nicely removed from any stereotype; they just look like normal people in a normal environment. In terms of its overall look it’s amazingly realistic, with as much life coming from the backgrounds as it does in the forefront, and for a television series it does well enough to get away with spots of nudity and some blood soaked violence; though don’t expect anything on the same level as Perfect Blue. What you can also expect is many familiar traits from Satoshi; from skewered effects to scenes of rapid panic, things that have made the likes of Perfect Blue so memorable.
So for now I’m going to cut things short. This series is far too spoiler intense and I’ve tried not to get too involved in its discussion. So far it’s hugely enjoyable, even though its ideas are simply recycled from past projects. Paranoia Agent is a very polished series, from one of the most renowned modern anime directors. Check it out, I dare ya.
Episode 1: Enter Lil’ Slugger
Tsukiko Sagi is currently working on her latest toy project; she’s been under a lot of stress lately and it’s not helping that her co-workers are bad mouthing her. One night whilst walking home she is attacked by a shadowed roller-skating figure, brandishing a baseball bat. As she recovers from her minor injuries she is questioned by detectives and a local gossip magazine writer. It seems that the attack may have been a figment of her imagination, according to the police.
Episode 2: The Golden Shows
Yuichi Taira is the number 1 kid at school; he’s even earned the nickname “Ichi”, but when a rumour gets out that he is “Lil’ Slugger” due to a physical resemblance he finds everyone starting to ignore him, with only his private tutor, Harumi paying him any attention. When he becomes convinced that a kid named Usshi is spreading the rumours he sets out to take revenge and clear his name.
Episode 3: Double Lips
Harumi Chono is a seemingly normal woman who teaches school kids during the day, but she leads a troubled life. Harumi suffers from a personality disorder, which distances her from those around her. At night she prostitutes herself as Maria, but when her professor boyfriend proposes to her she must try and put an end to her night time activities. Maria is not about to let that happen so easily.
Episode 4: A Man’s Path
Officer Hirukawa has gotten himself into a considerable debt with local gangsters. When he’s threatened he is forced into a life of crime in order to try and pay off what he owes.
MVM brings us four episodes and a small selection of extras for volume 1 in the series. Inserting the disc brings up a static menu, with some creepy sound effects.
Paranoia Agent is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, complete with anamorphic enhancement. This is a very colourful show, even during its night time scenes, when neon colours are out and light and shadows are painted in different tones. The colours throughout the series are very warm and the transfer handles these well. I only spotted one example of ultra-slight colour bleed during one of Yuichi’s paranoia induced moments, when we get a close up of a pair of dark red lips. Otherwise don’t worry, there’s nothing else to cause concern. Digital Banding is back to haunt as usual but everything else seems fine. Edge Enhancement is very high frequency; barely being noticeable and it might as well not be there at all, so no major complaints there
In terms of sound we get Japanese 2.0 and English 2.0 tracks. First up this is a superb score. Susumu Hirasawa sets up the series nicely and keeps a steady rhythm throughout, having a firm grasp of its content. When it wants to be it can be very jarring and sudden and it generates a fair amount of atmosphere. There are plenty of ambient effects throughout; with lots of background noise when outdoors, as well as the score providing plenty of strange effects. The English track is slightly louder, though I wouldn’t say that was necessarily better, but overall both are solid presentations.
There are optional English subtitles that come in an easy to read yellow font. These are well timed and free from error.
Satoshi Kon Interview (5:22)
Recorded in 2003 for satellite channel, WOWWOW comes this short interview with the series’ creator. Although it is brief he manages to cover a little background and explain the series’ history. We hear a little about the relay method, along with certain perspectives, personal fave characters and series attributes.
Storyboard for Episode 1
Using the multi-angle function you can either watch the storyboard sequence full-screen or have a much more recommended split-screen option, where you can compare it to the finished product on the right. I don’t usually find storyboards to be particularly interesting as extra features but this isn’t too bad. It’s amazing how incredibly faithful the series ended up looking to it.
Here you’ll find trailers for the upcoming MVM released, Samurai Champloo and R.O.D. The TV.
Man, there’s never a clean opening and closing when you want one!
If you love Satoshi Kon then it’s a no brainer; you know what to expect. Paranoia Agent is an intriguing series, with genuinely interesting characters and situations. Satoshi takes his ideas and develops them well for his first anime series, which I hope will continue to come up with new things to explore. Volume 2 is shaping up to be interesting so I’ll look forward to it.