I watched Paranoia Agent years back on Adult Swim and liked it a lot. It wasn’t a favorite or anything, as I was more of an action guy back then, but certain episodes were made of extreme win, and it was a show that was a little strange and a little slow, but just exciting and easy to understand for me to be entertained. I’d always had it as an honorable mention on my favorites list, and actually I’m rather surprise that I remember it so well when it was years ago (though I did probably see most of it like 4 times.)
In any event, it’s very important to know that I have, in fact, seen this show before. In a show like this, that makes all the difference, and in fact, I couldn’t see blogging it episodically if I hadn’t already seen it. So it’s very important to note that while I don’t remember details, there is no mystery in this show for me – I know why these things happen, so I’ll be less thinking ‘what does this mean?!’ and more ‘ah, this is foreshadowing for that thing that I know happens later!’ So while there won’t really be spoilers, this is probably not a good read if you are watching the show for the first time, as it will kind of spoil the fun for you. If you are going to watch along with me, it’d be better if you are re-watching.
Anyway, Paranoia Agent kicks off instantly with one of the most legendary and memorable opening videos ever – Yume no Shima Shinen Kouen. The video is all the characters laughing like madmen in various locales often with total chaos happening. It’s a Susumu Hirasawa song, as are featured in all of Satoshi Kon’s works (and uh.. Berserk) and is strange as hell. I absolutely love Hirasawa’s work, and this is no exception, though the full length is a little repetitive. This video is almost like a way of saying ‘you are in for some seriously crazy shit.’ It’s simultaneously light-hearted and creepy, almost as a message that what you are going to watch is something you should look at deeper than the surface and really give consideration.
We open to a busy urbania. The first minute or so features all kinds of people making excuses – a businessman apologizing that he can’t make a meeting, a school girl who can’t show up for a date, a guy in a truck saying he’s ‘stuck in traffic’ when he blatantly isn’t – countless excuses. This sets the tone for the show perfectly – the lies and laziness of society. Everyone is always making excuses and bullshitting people. It’s a message – everyone is a liar. This could be considered a forewarning that you should not trust the people you meet in this show, no matter who they are. (It’s probably worth noting the scene of the old man writing a huge equation on the sidewalk, though that isn’t really explained in the ep)
Enter Tsukiko Sagi. She’s at a design firm, deleting every idea she comes up with. She is very quiet and has totally dead eyes. A small, worhtless-looking woman. Her boss is a flaming queen who speaks in a manner that is a strange mix of harshness and ease. He is trying to use his light tone to cover the harshness of what he means to say, when really he is being forceful. It’s a way of putting pressure on someone without seeming antagonistic. We can tell that Tsukiko is feeling that pressure, especially because she is the designer of the super-popular dog character Maromi and is expected to create the next hit character by a strict deadline. Her office co-workers shoot her hateful glances, obviously jealous. Tsukiko shows no reaction and leaves work that night.
When she is on the way home, she gets creeped out by the darkness of the streets. She doesn’t display very much emotion on her face, just being the person she is, but it comes through in her breathing (which the show takes pains to accentuate) and her voice. She reaches a parking lot, presumably the place where her apartment is, and falls to the ground, scraping her knee and dropping papers all over the ground along with her bags. She’s in pain, and a little frightened. She starts scooping up the papers.
That’s where we hit a key moment. She finds that one of her sketches has fallen under a car. She goes under and reaches for it, stretching her arm as far as it can go. I can’t help but get the feeling that she must be extremely depressed in this moment. This is a sketch that she doesn’t even care about – a failure, and yet she has to go down and reach for this, on this dark night where she’s scared and in pain. She is here, reaching painfully for a failed sketch. What the fuck is she doing? When she rescues it, she cuts her arm hard. Life officially sucks. This is the purest form of frustration – one of those moments where a series of physical and mental fuck-ups lands right on the heaping pile of shit you call a life and everything just crumbles. in that kind of moment, anyone would just want it all to end. That’s when Tsukiko Sagi is beaten in the head by Shounen Bat.
The next day, we are at the hospital, and we start by seeing a short, ugly man being yelled at by a guy pushing an old man in a wheelchair. It is apparent that the short man is a publisher and that he owes the man a lot of money for having hit the old dude in his car. Meanwhile, in a hospital room, Sagi is talking with a pair of detectives – the old-school detective, Keiichi Ikari, and the young Mitsuhiro Maniwa, both who will be very important to the series. They interview Sagi about the attack.
Sagi is claiming to have a hard time remembering and answers questions very slowly with her usual blank look. She describes the person as a young man with a baseball hat and metal bat. Then she does something very important – she draws a sketch of the assailant. The paranoid Tsukiko Sagi, in desperate need of meeting her deadline and not disappointing everyone, had created her second character. Though the detectives leave her alone afterward, however, she doesn’t look too confident about it.
On the way out of the hospital, the detectives encounter the short journalist who they seem to know. They won’t tell him why they are there and it’s apparent that he is considered a sleaze-ball. The reporter is of course not satisfied with just being turned away so he starts his own research of the incident. He tricks a nurse into giving him the room number they were in which he uses to get Sagi’s name. He gets some kids to let him use a computer for research by letting them look at porn after he’s done (i rofled, it even showed the titties). He takes his search to the streets.
Here we see how word spreads. At this point, most of the people who’ve heard of it think of it either as a joke, a minor incident, or something they don’t want to deal with. It’s all the usual gossipers – kids who read about it on the net, ganguro girls and housewives who spread rumors – there’s even an otaku who he goes to for answers (another lol at the fat guy with a sweatband and anime posters on his door.) The otaku leads the journalist on to a creepy old hobo woman who apparently lives around the area of the incident.
The detectives find a similar trail and end up at the old woman’s tent, but the reporter is already there, whereas the old hobo isn’t. After a little scrounging, the reporter has found one of Sagi’s drawings, though he doesn’t let the detectives on to this.
Next, we see Sagi at home. She is breathing heavily once again – probably worried that her lie wasn’t good enough and that she’ll get into trouble. However, her Maromi plushie comes to life and talks to her comfortingly. It’s trippy as hell, but I guess it represents her conscious – good or bad, who knows.
Daytime again and Sagi is walking through town where the hypnotic road-crossing song fills the air (an absolute necessity for all urban anime!) and runs into the reporter who wants a word with her. She is reluctant at first, but when he shows her the drawing, she agrees to sit at an outdoor cafe and discuss. The reporter has a large ice cream Sundae.
He starts badgering Sagi with questions about the event, even though he probably knows she won’t answer. His manner of speech has a purposeful lack of subtlety and a purposeful overflow of creepiness. His face and voice reek of slime and he acts very unrefined. After Sagi notes that his ice cream is overflowing, he licks it grossly. He knocks the paper on the floor and takes a long look at her legs, possibly aiming for her skirt. As he continually badgers, he puts the cherry in his mouth and chews it very slowly – he is being as disturbing as possible. He wants to make Sagi uncomfortable – to lock her in his pace. He wants to get her out of the comfort of recluse and make her react and spill something. What’s more, he confronts her with lots of spot-on information. He has interviewed her co-workers and dispenses their hateful comments – Sagi knows exactly who each of the comments came from, which only makes her more depressed because she has to think about the hatred of her co-workers.
All the attacks hit home, and Sagi gets paranoid again. She starts breathing heavily. She starts repeating the events, fictional or not, in her head. She is getting closer to that strike – the birth of shounen bat, and the tension is sliced by a group of skaters rolling by with ferocity that makes Sagi jump. That’s when she ‘remembers’. The assailant had been wearing golden roller blades. Now she’s done it – she’s fully created the character. He has become complete.
That night, she is walking home alone again, when the reporter starts chasing after her again. She freaks out, and starts running away. She cries and runs, ducking into an alley just as the man trips and falls. As he’s getting up, that’s when it happens – Shounen Bat skates up and beats him in the head with a baseball bat. He then skates up in front of Sagi and softly says ‘okawari.’ That is – “I’m home.” Shounen Bat has come to life.
It’s all over the newspaper – Shounen Bat has struck again. The word is buzzing around. Shounen Bat – the elementary school killer on roller blades. The same people who weren’t interested before now brim with excitement at his name. He has become a phenomenon – a character – the second character of Tsukiko Sagi. The episode comes to a close.
The first episode has as excellent a production as is to be expected of all those involved. Madhouse is animating and Satoshi Kon is directing, which is basically another way of saying ‘the budget is through the roof.’ As usual, Satoshi Kon has directed this in such a way that it is mysterious, tense, and psychological without coming across as pretentious or boring. It’s as suspenseful and probably more exciting than a detective story, but it isn’t one – it is something all it’s own that only Kon could produce. The character designs have a focus on realism but still have enough of a unique edge to be recognizable, which isn’t an easy feat to accomplish.
Susumu Hiarasawa’s music is as splendid as ever throughout and the sound effects and mixing are absolutely superb. Certain things like the reporter’s voice actor switching for him to do imitations of Sagi’s co-workers or the kids looking at porn were great little touches that added to the fun and awesomeness of the show. I really loved the portrayal of the city as well, since as you may know, I am a big fan of urban settings. One more note – I would so fucking do Tsukiko Sagi. Though I don’t thikn I’d live with her or anything, since she’s a hard person to respect.
Anyway, it was a great first ep, and I look forward to more. Hope this post didn’t kill you TOO hard.