ANIME & MANGA - Review
15:00 - 28th June 2013, by Andrew Osmond

Paranoia Agent

There's a phantom in Tokyo: Shonen Bat, a little boy on roller skates, whacking people on the head with a baseball bat. Is he a terrible delinquent? An urban ghost? And what's his link to a soft toy dog?
Satoshi Kon, who sadly passed away aged 46, directed five anime that were, in critical parlance, "auteur" works, expressing his personal, creative vision. Four were cinema films: Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika (plus, maybe, The Dream Machine, which Kon was making when he died, and which is still in production under the direction of his colleagues). But Kon also made Paranoia Agent, a late-night TV miniseries. It starts as a crime mystery; it ends as a satirical, surreal and metaphysical meditation on the human condition in 21st century Tokyo. With a floppy pink dog. And a pint-sized psycho. On roller-skates...

Paranoia Agent is an enshrined anime classic, so let's start by admitting its faults. It's uneven; all of its 13 episodes are entertaining, but some are deeper and more satisfying than others, and you might be disappointed by the way the show goes, depending on your tastes. (In fact, you can watch the first disc of Paranoia Agent and imagine it developing very differently from the way it does; for example, at times it looks like it was going to turn into something akin to the anime Monster.) Most of the episodes play like short stories, but it still feels strange when the serial arc (about the police investigation of the "Shonen Bat" menace) suddenly vanishes, and the show becomes freewheeling. Though when Kon calls part 13, "The Final Episode," he means the final episode, an all-out crescendo. No wimpy low-key anticlimax or "let's leave it open for a sequel, guys," for him!

But believe us when we say Agent rewards repeat viewing. It's stupendously rich, full of little ironies, themes and interactions, and details you see again and think, "Oh, so does that mean that..?" It's also full of characters. Some are more warped than Little Britain's freakshow, but they're far more human. There are Maniwa and Ikari, young and old police detectives, who each see the Shonen Bat case in radically different ways. There's Yuichi (note the "ichi," Japanese for number one), who's one of the most horribly convincing kiddywinks in anime; he's a megalomaniac not so different from Shonen Bat himself, so how fitting that's who folks think he is! Then there's the world's most loveable suicide club - yes, a suicide club, two troubled men and a chirpy little girl. And the true hero / heroine (we won't spoil who), who brings in some much-needed sanity, battling Shonen Bat with sheer willpower.

It's a dark show, with horribly disturbing moments, but it's far from nihilistic - and bear in mind that it's one side of a dialogue running through Kon's work. (For instance, if you think Kon's condemning dreams and fantasy, then watch his next anime, Paprika.) It's a key part of one man's artistic project, now tragically truncated; and taken by itself, it's a hell of a trip.

This is a landmark series from one of anime's greats; savagely funny, entertaining, and completely accessible even if you're a newcomer to anime. For any Kon fans who haven't seen it, it's unmissable. If you have, it rewards a rewatch. And if you've never entered the twisty, twilight world of Kon, Paranoia Agent is a marvellous place to start.
SCORE: 5/5
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