Classic Review: Paranoia Agent
by Nick Creamer,
Paranoia Agent has been a slow burn from the beginning, always crafting a sense of unease that threatens to boil over into overt violence. As characters shuffle through their anxious days, the specter of either Shonen Bat or Shonen Bat's failure to arrive is always waiting, and often it's hard to tell which is worse. But in this episode, with little time left to “solve the mystery” of Shonen Bat and modern unrest, things got very loud very quickly. Shonen Bat may not be real, but that won't stop former detective and current “Radar Man” Mitsuhiro from hunting him down.
Unlike Keichi, whose failure to capture Shonen Bat caused him to abandon the case and embrace his cultural irrelevance, Mitsuhiro never gave up on finding the truth. More willing to engage in fantastical reasoning from the start, Mitsuhiro has now totally embraced the idea of becoming the great hero who defeats evil, and spends his days tracking Shonen Bat in a cape and goggles. This episode opens with Mitsuhiro caught in an epic battle with Shonen Bat, a clash across rooftops and billboards that saw Paranoia Agent returning to the excellent animation and consistently gripping direction of the earlier episodes.
After suffering a grave injury in his attempt to defeat Shonen Bat, Radar Man retreated for a time, going to meet the “ancient master” in the hospital. There, he learned he was supposed to “dance with a rabbit” - a cryptic clue that was then supplemented by a visit to Mrs. Ikari, who told him that Shonen Bat and Maromi are the same. Emboldened by these clues, Radar Man ended up following a spectral bunny girl back to the home of the figurine-loving otaku, whose figures came to life and ended up revealing to Radar Man that Sagi actually first met “Shonen Bat” ten years ago, when her difficult relationship with her father found her caught in a corner back in primary school. Riding on truck-tops all the way out to her family home, Radar Man finally learned the whole truth - that Maromi was Sagi's childhood dog, and that when she told her father she was attacked, he swore he'd protect her with an old wooden bat. Maromi and Shonen Bat are two sides of the same coin - Maromi the comforting figure assuring you it's not your fault, and Shonen Bat the grinning enforcer ready to make that blameless state a reality.
The line between fantasy and reality was even more blurred than usual this episode, as all of its central characters spent their time wandering through the individual fantasies they've constructed. While Radar Man clashed with Shonen Bat and consulted with anime figurines, Sagi received consistent advice from her little friend Maromi, and Keichi wandered through the flat fantasy of his own childhood. The Radar Man focus meant this episode's sound design emphasized static and its absence - fuzzy interference for Mitsuhiro's radar intel and television broadcasts, and sleepy, unsettling music for Sagi's increasingly oppressive daily life. And the visual compositions remained as strong as ever, with Radar Man's battles, Sagi's trials, and Keichi's wanderings all being articulated through strong animation and inventive style choices.
These three equally unnerving, equally urgent narratives wove together in the episode's last act, when Mitsuhiro called Sagi at work to tell her he knew the truth. Apparently trying to prevent Sagi from learning anything that might wake the demon of anxiety, Maromi cut the line, screaming at Sagi to run as Shonen Bat slammed into the office door. In a moonlit atrium that might or might not exist, Radar Man leapt down to save Sagi, fighting off Shonen Bat with her father's legendary sword while Sagi fled into Keichi's fantasy. And as dawn broke with the news of one more murder, the world awoke to find all the Maromis of the world had disappeared, taking with them the security so many found in Shonen Bat's shining embrace.
This was a terrifying, propulsive, and beautiful episode of Paranoia Agent, making terrific use of all its characters and pulling together a broad set of seemingly disparate narrative threads. Both the writing and execution shined this week, and the sense of urgency throughout kept me on the edge of my seat. Paranoia Agent looks to be closing out in the best way possible.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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