Paranoia Agent: Volume 4 - Sayonara Maromi Review
Satoshi Kon is so clever it makes me sick! Nah, I’m kidding. There are all too few directors working within the anime industry today who can tell a seemingly complicated story and successfully tie up all important loose ends; there are plenty that struggle with multiple arcs and present twists and turns, only to forget their own purpose. But of course I am generalising, there are a few key directors today who have managed to shape their work into something unforgettable, such as Kenji Kamiyama with Stand Alone Complex. Paranoia Agent has proven to be an intriguing journey and has shown us that Kon couldn’t be any more on top of his game if he tried, truly belonging up there with the best. Actually he does try, that’s why everything he touches is so darn memorable; watch Perfect Blue today and you’ll still find one of the greatest thrillers of the last ten years, or of all time even. Kon’s way of unravelling the human psyche and then putting everything back together again is unique in that he doesn’t approach his stories in a linear fashion; but Paranoia Agent has been a team effort from the start, and it's thanks to Seishi Minakami that Kon’s ideas have become fully realised. He has taken us through some wonderful journies that are as symbolic as they are entertaining. He methodically dissects his plotlines and enables them to effortlessly weave into one another. The skill is knowing exactly where it’s going, how and when it’s going to hit the audience and if it’s all going to make perfect sense. The best thrillers are the ones that need to be viewed on more than one occasion. Paranoia Agent just isn’t as fully rewarding unless you revisit it and pick up on all the little things that are scattered around from start to finish, and Satoshi Kon dares us to by the end of it all, promising us with no uncertainty that it will ultimately make sense, even if one or two mysteries deliberatly remain.
Failure to take on his challenge might leave some viewers a little dejected. Paranoia Agent isn’t an easy series to get through, however engrossing it might be; there’s always a sense of unknowing at some point and not being able to “connect all the dots” when you have several characters exchanging words in alternate realities that forces you to question who is sane and who isn’t, or just how an entity born from the mind of a gifted designer can override an entire city with paranoia. But it’s clear that while nothing immediately jumps out at us there is a solid connection between each and every one of the characters involved. Nothing is trivial.
And so for the final volume Kon focuses primarily on four key players: Sagi, Maniwa, Ikari and Ikari’s wife. The detectives, who hadn’t appeared since episode seven, now find themselves in dire straits; Ikari has lost his job and now makes ends meet as a security guard, whilst also having to look after his sick wife. Maniwa now prances around as crime fighter, Radar Man, while Sagi is under increasing stress having been put in charge to design the next big thing. The daily pressure of everyday life bears down upon our protagonists, forcing them to look deeper into their lives in order to try and make them better. They must face their fears and work in tandem if they’re to eradicate the greater threat that has rapidly taken over the city. As events come together the links between the entire cast who had been established earlier become more readily apparent, as does the cycle in which Kon and his crew has set out to complete.
Episode 11: Entry Forbidden
Misae Ikari has been suffering from a heart defect for quite some time; as a result she’s been unable to carry children and she always worries that she’s not enough for her husband Keiichi. Her built up anguish prompts Lil’ Slugger to visit her house and end things right now, but Misae’s determination sees her question the serial attacker’s existence. Meanwhile her husband, and former detective, Keiichi Ikari runs into a man at his security job who he once arrested. Shortly after talking to him he is drawn into a 2-D world that recalls memories of a life once lived.
Episode 12: Radar Man
Maniwa has set out to find Ikari and take on Lil’ Slugger, who is now becoming bigger than ever – literally! After failing an attempt to take down Slugger he receives some cryptic help from the elderly man, who then dies, leaving Maniwa with thoughts of dancing rabbits. His investigation soon leads him to an Otaku who creates anime dolls, with one in particular, a bunny girl, showing a keen interest in him. Maniwa eventually discovers a similar incident to the Lil’ Slugger attacks which took place ten years ago.
Episode 13: Final Episode
A black ooze begins to engulf the city as Ikari journeys with Sagi and Maniwa tries to locate the both of them. Meanwhile Maromi has disappeared and everything seems desolate.
Paranoia Agent is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, complete with anamorphic enhancement. The series, while colourful has a deliberate muted tone, which is very experimental in approach. Night time scenes fair well, when neon colours are out, with light and shadows being dealt with utmost care. Many of these day and night scenes exhibit brown hues, as opposed to blacks, so take that as an artistic decision as Kon regularly plays with colour. Digital Banding makes an appearance as usual, but everything else seems fine. Edge Enhancement is very high frequency; being noticeable on set ups of around 32 inches upward. This is also an NTSC to PAL conversion.
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, Screenwriter Seishi Minakami and Producer Toyoda invite us to “Paranoia Radio” as they discuss the evolution of the series during the final three episodes of its run. Beginning with the opening credits they discuss how fans and they interpret it, with Kon finding amusement in the hard core viewers who try too hard to find answers that aren’t there. They go onto the closing credits and Kon tells a nice story about how he wanted these to work. Much of their time spent during episode 11 is focused on talking about the extremely tight schedule that they faced, along with informing us about how the development started, with Kon choosing to work with his Tokyo Godfathers team and then meeting Minakami. Minakami talks about writing dialogue in a specific way that would throw viewers off a little. As the commentary runs into episode 12 the trio discuss to production side to a greater extent, and Kon allows Toyoda to summarise his thoughts many times throughout. As a producer his job is tough and he illustrates this by mentioning the amount of difficulties that plagued the production, from staff members quitting early on and people who wanted nothing to do with certain episodes, going so far as to have their names removed from the credits. Cancellation fears are brought up, and discussion on the storyboards and editing becomes widely talked about. There’s some predominant focus on episodes 2 and 9 here and the symbolism behind them. The final commentary heads into recording. Here the friends talk in detail about the sound design, which includes castings, mixing and setting up sound patterns, which we learn become integral in creating a certain symbolism for each episode. As they approach the end they explain the work behind the popular “eye-catches” segments and then their intents to fully complete the series.
This is a very entertaining commentary, filled with more than enough incentive to make the viewer wish to see the series all over again, especially with the crew pointing out things that are easily missed. They’re a well spoken group who don’t bore us with their technical discussion; in fact they provide some fascinating insights into how a how a show gets made, and also bring into to the conversation some funny anecdotes. Don’t expect any deep revelations though; they never talk specifically about the episodes they’re watching, nor do they attempt to clear up any left over mysteries, because that would defeat the point. Kon acknowledges that he cruelly teases his audience and that’s fine.
This comes with optional English subtitles which aside from a couple of grammatical errors read well. This track and the subs cannot be selected during a single episode. You can only access this from the special features page.
By providing a 360 degree spin on things, Satoshi Kon breathes more life into his short series, which will undoubtedly see to it that Paranoia Agent will be talked about for quite some time. More than deserving of repeated viewings the series demands to be picked apart, though whether or not the viewer can be arsed is entirely up to them. However, there are far greater rewards within than we might have realised, and if you should decide to delve into something a little deeper than usual then this is a perfect opportunity to do so.
Starting with volume one of course.