Posted by Lenlo on 30 April 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Finished Series: Mystery/Suspense, Paranoia Agent, Reviews by Lenlo, Throwback Thursday

In an era of the mundane, where every series is the same moe blob, the weird sticks out. Even the most mediocre series can get attention just by being weird. Paranoia Agent is not mediocre, and it is far beyond simply “weird”. Written and Directed by Satoshi Kon, Paranoia Agent is one of his last works before his untimely death. With only Paprika and Good Morning coming after it. Known for a radical style and a penchant for the odd, Satoshi Kon was an extraordinary director, unique to any other. Paranoia Agent lives up to this reputation, being unlike any other series I have ever seen. Its horror is Lovecraftian, its style chilling though as interesting as it is, this isn’t always in it’s favor. For the most part, the series is a joy, but when you try something new, it doesn’t all stick.

Welcome to Paranoia Agent, one of the hardest reviews I have ever written, lets jump in!

Art/Animation

Starting off, let’s talk production. Paranoia Agent is incredibly inconsistent on this front. Sometimes you will get an episode with fantastic, fluid animation in Kon’s style. Very fluid faces and muscles, where the cheeks, tongue and chin all move and the skin stretches as they do. It’s a style I love, and it looks fantastic when it’s shown. There are also the occasional experimental animation, where they go off the book and do something… weird. However other times there is barely any movement at all. Lots of stills, pans and zooms. The direction, which we will get to soon, usually makes these visually interesting. But when talking animation, a still is a still. On their own, for its age, this wouldn’t be a big deal. It’s only in comparison to the high’s that these start to disappoint.

As far as Art Style goes, I mentioned it a bit just now, but Kon has a very distinctive style. You could recognize it purely based on his characters faces in any of his works. If I had to pick out why, it would probably be the mouth, and the focus he puts on it. The shadows of the lower lip, the cheekbones and jaw. It’s all very distinctive, and since I watch Tokyo Godfathers almost yearly at this point, I find it easy to identify. Outside the characters however Paranoia Agent is very… not generic, but metropolitan. It most likely used a lot of actual streets, buildings and angels as references for its backgrounds. It’s all generally rather bland. This only changes when Paranoia Agent goes off the rails, completely inventing its own environments, where the style changes completely. These are always a treat, standing out in the episode.

Direction

Personally, I find Paranoia Agent’s direction to be much stronger and augments its animation well. Kon goes for a lot of interesting or informative angles. Telling the viewer how to feel based on these angles. One might call this, “good film making”. For instance, take the screenshot above. The downward angle and direction of the eyes conveys a very oppressive atmosphere. Making it appear these balloons are watching you, marking your every move. These kinds of tricks are found throughout Paranoia Agent. Informing the viewer how to feel about scenes long before any dialogue. It manages to make what would otherwise be a dull, still shot, captivating, at least until it needs to change scenes. All in all, I found the Direction and Cinematography to be the most interesting part of Paranoia Agent’s production, as it has a distinctly Kon flavor.

 

Story/Setting

Now though, let’s get into perhaps Paranoia Agent’s most ambitious segment, its Story and Setting. The setting is, for the most part, just Tokyo. A large, metropolitan city with plenty of conveniences and people. The story though is… its weird. It is simultaneously the best Eldritch Horror, most inane mystery and expert social commentary I have ever seen. It starts off telling a singular story, slowly splitting off to multiple characters that tie into the lead story. Then it splits of completely separately, before somehow wrapping it all up in a single episode, retroactively granting context to many of the more questionable episodes. Even now, I have yet to decide whether or not that was intended, or if its complete bullshit. But what I can say is this: I have never been more confused, yet wholly satisfied, than when Paranoia Agent’s credits roll.
 
For the actual story content itself, and why I was satisfied, I felt Kon presented it well. Each of Paranoia Agents characters hits on another aspect of society, effectively taking pot-shots on it. Whether it be gossiping moms, machismo in Japanese society, the stress of a workaholic culture or the power of rumors, Kon hits it all. All the while using it to build a greater narrative about accepting one’s own mistakes, the suddenness of life, and moving on. Using Shounen Bat to turn all of our characters into victims, so their problems are no longer their fault. The only major issue I have with Paranoia Agent is the effective filler episodes. After the fact, they fit a little better. But in the moment, they don’t really fit the narrative leading up to that point. They feel out of place, and really drain away the stories momentum.
 

Characters

Speaking of the characters, Paranoia Agent is rather hit or miss here. In the first half, many of them are well established. They get entire episodes dedicated to them. Only connecting them to the greater story as a whole by the end. Each of them then return in future episodes, to sort of check in on where they are. To make it known that their stories are still ongoing. However, in the latter half its almost as if Paranoia Agent wasn’t meant to be 13 episodes long. As there are 2 episodes worth of characters that aren’t really relevant to the overall story. Such as the ghosts, who exist almost solely to comment on society’s treatment of children or Homosexuals. I think these stories are worth appearing the Paranoia Agent, but not in this very fillery way.

Weirdness 

Finally, I want to talk about the sheer… weirdness, of Paranoia Agent, as this is where it excels. More than any other series, Paranoia Agent is unique. Unlike anime I have ever watched before. Its story is cyclical, without being a complete loop. Pushing the nature of the world as one that inevitably repeats, what its events have happened even before now. That humanity needs a continuous reminder as to its own screw-ups. Yet, it doesn’t feel cheap or unearned. It progresses each character through the story such that their ending fills the hole left by another. On top of that, it also doesn’t pop this out of nowhere. Paranoia Agent has suffused Eldritch Horror into its story from the very beginning. With an unknowable, unstoppable, inhuman monster beyond human comprehension. Basically, Paranoia Agent is the closest thing to a Lovecraftian anime I have ever seen.
 
The only other place I have seen this from Japan come from Junji Ito. With his works such as “Spiral” and “The Enigma of Amigara Fault”. It’s something that, even if it can’t happen, resonates with the very core of what it means to be human. Junji Ito does that with the unknown, and human curiosity. Our inability to stop ourselves when confronted with terrible knowledge. Paranoia Agent does it here with our refusal to accept reality, to fool ourselves into believing our own lies. Creating gods and monsters where there are none, and having them strike at us just so our faults can be blamed on them. If nothing else, I think this makes Paranoia Agent worth the watch.
 

Conclusion

So, all in all, how was Paranoia Agent? In my mind, it is a flawed masterpiece. A one of a kind series that, for all its faults, is wholly unique in anime. Is it objectively the best thing ever because of this uniqueness? No, it has plenty of flaws and for those who aren’t into Lovecraftian Horror, I imagine it would be very boring. But for those like me, who love that kind of stuff, the flaws are easily looked past for the themes and style of the series. Yet even then, as much as I love Kon, I can’t just waive away its problems. The series drags heavily in the middle, the production varies greatly and it just feels stretched thin for a 13 episode run. I feel that, had Kon made this a movie like his other works, it would have been better served.

But hey, it’s not his fault. Shounen Bat probably wrecked his production team is all.

Thank you for joining me for another season of Throwback Thursday! I apologize for how long this took, but it is a very difficult series to write about. Even now I am not happy with this review, but the show must go on. Starting this thursday, Throwback Thursday picks up with Serial Experiments Lain! You all just love messing with my mind, don’t you? See you then!

6 Responses

  1. AidanAK47, thanks so much for the post.Much thanks again. Really Cool.

    • Avatar Lenlo says:

      Not Aidan, but I appreciate it! Glad you liked the read. Make sure to check in for the next Throwback Thursday, I am going over Serial Experiments Lain!

  2. Avatar afgm says:

    For having so many positive things to say about the show, the review is very low. Do you believe that the show deserves a D+?

    • Avatar Lenlo says:

      I believe that 50 is an average score, and 60+ is, by virtue of that, Above Average. I dont like the American grading system of “Anything less than a 70 is Failing”. I think we also have an issue with inflated scores in things like TV/Games/Anime journalism. Where a 7 is average and anything below that is terrible. Compacting an entire scale somewhere between 7-9 just seems… inaccurate to me.

      For me, 50+ is a positive experience. 70+ is something I would wholeheartedly recommend, 90+ is exclusive to my personal top 10.

      • Avatar afgm says:

        Ah, I see. That is fairly confusing. I think a weighted point system would be clearer.

        • Avatar Lenlo says:

          Understandable, I will see what I can do. At worst, I can include a small disclaimer at the top of each review to point people to how my scale works.

          Thanks for letting me know its confusing!

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