Paranoia Agent

3 out of 5

Directed by: Satoshi Kon

‘Paranoia Agent’ wouldn’t have worked as a movie, as condensing its themes would have sacrificed the allure of its rambling, cyclical construction.  But it doesn’t quite work as a TV show either, with an entry point forced upon a somewhat non-linear story in order to get us to connect A to Z, thereby amounting to some blind alleys down which we’ll inevitably assume things are going to develop (but don’t).  However, none of this prevents the show from being an incredibly compelling and addictive viewing, and once you’re aware of its intentions – though my rating is based on how obtuse the show seems prior to this point – it is incredibly rewarding to re-view, spliced up, taken at your own pace.  Tsukiko creates the character Maromi, a bobble-headed pink dog that becomes a sudden sensation.  Her bosses are pushing her for a follow-up character, which the quiet Tsukiko has been unable to produce.  One night, she is attacked by a shadowy character wearing golden skates, a hat, and wielding a crooked bat.  More attacks follow, with the attacker named Shōnen Bat, or Lil’ Slugger, and lore quickly discerning that he ‘appears’ to anyone who feels cornered – a theme we are able to see represented episode to episode as we are re-set with a new character and new scenario each time.  The overall churning plot in the background concerns two detectives trying to suss out the identity of Shōnen Bat, and what, if anything, ties the victims together.  As ‘Agent’ sets up this mystery premise fairly directly with the first couple of episodes – the only real tip-off that things might be stranger than expected are the overwhelmingly cryptically juxtaposed title and end title sequences (which are awesome, and like the whole show, become more meaningful with time) – it’s likely that we’ll start trying to put pieces together ourselves, only to be thwarted when Kon begins to madly experiment with styles and tones starting about the fifth episode in.  From here on out, the mystery takes a backseat to themes, but because we have a set start and finish, ‘Agent’ keeps plucking out little details to bring us to a ‘resolution’ in the last episode.  It’s underwhelming as a reveal.  Because it’s fairly unimportant.  ‘Agent’ comes across as the mash-up of ideas that the wiki entry offers as Kon’s motivation for creating the series: a need to deposit some loose ends from larger projects.  The beat-by-beat nature of the show is habit-forming, especially once you sense how all of these pieces relate, but it also tears down the curtain of it being a sequential series.

Agent’s composition is tight, nigh-flawless, and… sprawling.  Satoshi Kon gives us a ramp-up and dribbles of a linear plot to rope us in before unleashing more and more surreality.  The core story is actually straight-forward, and a bit of a letdown if considered as the only reason for watching through to episode 13.  Once the cyclical nature of the series is accepted, one can revel in its depth and details, but this effect might not come from one viewing, or going into it cold turkey.

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