Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD 3: Serial Psychosis
Lil' Slugger/Shonen Bat becomes a legend as word of his exploits spreads. To those who are suicidal he is a savior; to others he is a favorite topic of gossip and the subject of a growing body of urban myth. To those struggling to get the animated show Maromi the Dog on the air, though, he is a deadly menace who seems intent on striking down the entire staff.
With the aptly-named “Serial Psychosis” writer/director Satoshi Kon steps Paranoia Agent away from the main storyline established in the earlier two volumes to look at the peripheral effects of Lil' Slugger's actions and growing infamy. In one episode we have a mismatched trio merrily trying to figure out the least messy way to commit suicide and lamenting that Lil' Slugger hasn't come to visit them yet – and when he finally does, the result isn't what you might expect. (Pay careful attention to the artistry towards the end of the episode, after the trio's encounter with Lil' Slugger, or you'll miss a telling revelation which only throws up a whole fresh batch of questions about the episode.) In another episode, women gossip about the alleged exploits of Lil' Slugger, with some of their stories being quite far-fetched. The volume rounds out by bringing back Maromi, the doglike creation of the distressed Tsukiko, in a faux behind-the-scenes story about the deaths involved in the production of his anime and a troubled gopher/production assistant in the midst of them – although Lil' Slugger is, of course, also involved. That episode is also noteworthy for providing a rare breakdown of what, exactly, the various positions listed in the credits are responsible for in the production of an anime episode. What these episodes do not do is give any kind of continuation on story elements raised in the first two volumes.
Although the episodes are all creative and well-written, whether or not “Serial Psychosis” actually contributes much to the Paranoia Agent story beyond furthering the mystique of Lil' Slugger is debatable, as these three episodes have the feel of filler. We are talking about the work of Satoshi Kon, though, so it's entirely possible that their importance and relevance will become apparent in the fourth and final volume. There's certainly no shortage of the series' typical disconcerting elements laced throughout these episodes, especially the way some characters move their mouths when they talk or the jaunty tunes we hear while characters set up their own suicides. And let's not forget the seemingly happy girl who can't be more than 10 or 11 who seems as fiercely committed to killing herself as the two older men she has a suicide pact with. (Never let it be said that Kon isn't daring in his subject matter!)
The artistry and technical merits of Paranoia Agent continue to be superb, easily making it one of the top titles of the past year in both regards. Its artistry doesn't stick out as much as some other titles because it isn't as bright, flashy, and pretty, which is why you might not notice the quality at first. Character designs favor rounded features and, unlike with most anime titles, the artists aren't shy about using unattractive and unappealing designs even for protagonist roles. The quality of the work is still exceptional, though. Also, the artists have discovered exactly how creepy a character with an oversized mouth and big teeth looks when talking and exploited it fully, which suits the series quite well. Backgrounds and their integration with the character animation are as good as you'll see in series animation, and animation itself doesn't get much smoother. Also watch for some creative stylistic effects in episodes 9 and 10. Musical scoring and sound effects are very well-done, with the director knowing exactly when to let a scene pass without accompaniment or spruce it up with appropriate – or in some cases diametrically inappropriate - ditties. Music and graphic elements come together to produce one of the best-made and most effective openers of recent memory; any good opener should not only be quality work but should also set the tone for the series, and Paranoia Agent's opener has both factors strongly in its favor. (Anyone else find those maniacally laughing heads to be at least a bit unnerving?) The odd closer is also a delight to watch. Cast credits in the closer list each character with both their English and Japanese voice actors at the same time, which is always a plus in my book.
The English script for Paranoia Agent is done the way a good dub script should be done: stay as close to the original script as possible, but alter wording where necessary to keep it sounding smooth. The only notable discrepancy between the two scripts is one place where a mother refers to her son's “dinner” in the dub but “midnight snack” in the sub. And people will, of course, quibble endlessly over the English script translating Shonen Bat to Lil' Slugger (although, interestingly, there are a couple of places where “Shonen Bat” sneaks into the dub, too). The dub itself is well-done; that it's not one of the better examples of lip-synching out there is irrelevant to the evaluation, since clearly that was sacrificed to maintaining the flow of the dialogue. All of the cast members are New Generation regulars who turn in uniformly solid performances, though the roles in this volume are never longer than a full episode.
Extras found on “Serial Psychosis” include company previews, character designs, and the cover art from the Japanese releases of the DVDs. The reversible cover on this and other volumes features some of this original cover art. Menu design is also good, with a separate “signs only” subtitling option as well as a full English sub option – which is, like any proper anime DVD production, separate from the language options.
The graphic content in this volume is as bloody as in previous volumes and subject matter is mature. This is a series for adults, not the kiddies.
Anime fans have been waiting for years for Satoshi Kon to finally produce a series, and he's certainly not disappointing with this effort. Paranoia Agent is not only creative and original but a perfect example of a series where all the show's elements combine together to establish a certain mood. It is an unsettling, disconcerting series, but that's exactly what it was meant to be.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-
+ top-rate artistry and technical merits, excellent at setting mood
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