Title: Paranoia Agent
Genre: Animation, Crime, Mystery, Comedy, Drama
Director: Satoshi Kon
Duration: 25mins (13 Episodes)
With David Lynch, you’ll never understand what he’s trying to say. With Miike’s ‘Gozu,’ there’s absolutely no sense to any of it until you come to realise the missing piece of the puzzle. However, with Satoshi Kon’s ‘Paranoia Agent,’ you think that ‘missing piece’ is obvious, until you realise that it’s really, really not. This is that third category of ‘mindfuck’ story, the one that you don’t realise is playing tricks on you, that you think is a somewhat normal (or at least what constitutes for ‘normal’ in Japan) plot but as the rabbit hole deepens, trying to make logical sense of it all becomes an almost futile task.
I perhaps could be to blame for not picking up on this fact sooner; the opening sequence of half the characters all laughing at you a clear indication that this isn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill animé, and with each episode focusing on a new character, the only consistent appearance is paranoia itself, progressively becoming more intense as the series continues. With each episode closing with an assault from a mysterious assailant on inline skates wielding a bent baseball bat, two detectives hot on his heels and the addictively cute doll called ‘Moromi’ all intertwined in this tale of insanity, prepare to become confused.
Overall the series doesn’t pander to stereotyped notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ instead looking to the darker side of modern society; where everyone harbours some form of dark secret, some overbearing pressures driving them to the brink of insanity, or even those who passed the stage of merely being ‘insane’ a long time ago. Despite this it is never presented without a purpose; the manifestation of their paranoid delusions always acts as a manner of self-defence, as a means of coping with mental trauma imposed on them and it is this that lends its thought-provoking context.
And yet, it never feels as though it becomes too heavy, with incredibly black humour strategically utilised throughout and an array of intriguing characters, it succeeds in maintaining a surface level of interest – that level that doesn’t require intense thought and contemplation of every scene in order to enjoy – and with each episode focusing on new characters, they all are quite capable of standing as a short story in their own right. But then if you do pay attention to every moment of every scene (and quite possibly watch it through twice a couple of times or more) you’ll pick up on little details dotted about the episodes that made no sense at the time but in the grander context of the mini-series has its own place. It’s this kind of plot detail that allows for multiple viewing to understand it better whilst not being so whacked-out weird that your attention fades away the first time.
Don’t let the fact that this is an animation delude you into thinking this has anything in common with the cutesy crap played for kids, or the more ‘adult’ animé which still manages to often be filled with oversized breasts, robots and monsters. Such things have no place in this psychological drama, and now that I’ve seen it through to the end, it all does make an odd kind of sense. I think. Or does it?