Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Lil' Slugger continues to grow along with his infamy and the desperation that spawned him, and people turn more and more to the lovable character Maromi for comfort. Though Lil' Slugger is thwarted by one woman and opposed by the hero Radar Man, nothing seems capable of stopping the all-consuming monster he has become. The last hope of defeating him seems to lie at the place where it all began: Tsukiko Sagi, who also is the creator of Maromi. In what way are the two linked?
With this concluding volume the series returns to the plot threads established in the first two volumes and finally answers questions about the origin and nature of Lil' Slugger. The truth, which trickles out over the course of this volume, should not come as any surprise to fans of the series to date, as it is a logical extension of what has been hinted at or revealed so far concerning certain characters. The reason for naming the series what it is also becomes much clearer. As has been implied since the very beginning, everything about Lil' Slugger comes back to Tsukiko and her character Maromi. Like all of Satoshi Kon's other work, Paranoia Agent ultimately proves to be about its characters accepting who they are and facing up to their personal demons—only in this case the consequences of not doing so are far more dangerous than in real life. The best and most dramatic moments come when characters dispense with the falsehoods they use to protect themselves and/or make themselves feel more comfortable, and face reality as it is. These are some truly powerful and moving scenes, the kind that can bring a lump to your throat or make you want to cheer out loud.
All of the characters visited in episodes #1-7 who are still alive are revisited, at least briefly, in this volume, though the emphasis falls on Tsukiko, Maromi, and the (now former) detectives Keiichi Ikari and Mitsuhiro Maniwa. Misae, Keiichi's wife and the only character featured in the opener and closer who hadn't appeared by the end of episode 7, finally shows up at the beginning of episode 11 and plays a crucial role from that point on. Though not an appealing character visually, one has to admire (or pity) her devotion, and respect the way she is able to hold up in the face of Lil' Slugger when no one else in the series can. As it has in previous episodes, the series explores the fantasy worlds of some of its characters and how they do—or don't—intersect with reality. The nature of these fantasy worlds is just as meaningful as what goes on in them, especially the obvious artificiality of Keiichi's.
As with previous volumes, the artistic and technical merits are top-notch. Character designs continue to be exceptional, even the ones that are visually unappealing; when was the last time in anime you saw a character with a long-term illness who was convincingly depicted as such? The fantasy world of Keiichi is a novel and interesting touch, especially in the way it contrasts its simpler style with the completely refined animation of the lead characters as they walk around in it. This volume packs more action than previous ones, but it is supported well by the animation. The opener continues to look great despite the fact that, startlingly, it uses less than 100 cels, according to Kon himself in the audio commentary. Though it was reportedly a rush job, it doesn't look like it. The very simple artistry of the closer, which also reportedly had to be rushed to completion, also works; notice how the way the characters lay forms a question mark? No other hidden meaning was intended, though. Taking a careful look at the eyecatch in episode 13 is worth the effort, as it blends snippets from all the previous different eyecatches.
As with the previous volumes, musical scoring and general sound support is very good when present, though sizable chunks of some episodes pass with no backing music. The audio commentary mentions that each episode had a “theme” sound, but the one place where this is particularly important is in episode 11, where the theme is the whistle. When blown by the security guards, the whistle indicates that a person is going somewhere they shouldn't. That idea gives the whistle heard a couple of times in the background in a bar scene late in the same episode an entirely new significance, as its timing and the way things turn out later seem to signal that Keiichi is contemplating a dangerous path. (You have to listen carefully for the whistles to catch them, as they're easy to miss or ignore.) What a wonderfully subtle touch! The high-energy opening musical number, which was designed to “wake viewers up” since the series aired in a midnight time slot, continues to contribute to the opener being one of the best of the past year, while the much more sedate closing number perfectly suits as a piece designed to tell people that it's time to go to bed now that the series is done.
The English voice acting is uniformly good enough that there's no let-down shifting between the dub and subs, with all roles being well-cast and nearly every performance closely following the tone of the original performances. The English script drifts just a little more than it did in volume 3, but never so much that it changes the essential meaning of a scene or statement. Yes, the dub does change Shonen Bat to Lil' Slugger, but the dub and its script are so well-done otherwise that it's only likely to be a major issue for diehard purists.
Paranoia Agent volumes have never been known for being beefy on extras, but this volume makes up for its lack of quantity with quality. Aside from a reversible cover and company previews (which are strung together instead of individually listed, in the manner that Geneon used to do it prior to 2004), the only extra is “Paranoia Radio,” which is ostensibly an audio commentary for all three episodes by creator/director Kon, the screenplay writer, and the producer, although only in the last few minutes of the final episode are the trio actually commenting about what's going on in the episode—and they only do it then, I think, because they have run out of other things to discuss. During the first episode they spend their time talking about the creation of the opener and the production scheduling, while the second episode is almost entirely spent talking about getting the animation done. During the third episode they talk about the sound production, the dubbing process, and the eyecatches. A lot of this is very insightful; all of my inside knowledge provided above comes from this source, so it's well worth the time to listen to it (or read it, since it's all subtitled with, thankfully, notices about which person is speaking). Some of the most interesting tidbits that I did not address above concern how beautifully the series turned out despite how haphazard its production apparently was.
This final volume of Paranoia Agent offers up enough revelations that fans will find themselves going back and reevaluating what happens in earlier volumes in light of what is revealed here. Is everything completely explained in the end? No, but with a series like this, would you have expected it to be? It does come full circle, however, as the end returns to the very beginning. Overall, it is a fitting end to what has been one of the better recent series. If you have been a fan of the series so far then you will not be disappointed.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Exceptional writing and plotting, inventive artistry.
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