Classic Review: Paranoia Agent
by Nick Creamer,
Paranoia Agent took a hard stylistic left turn this week, jumping from its usual character study-slash-horror aesthetic to become a straight farce. Shonen Bat, or middle schooler Makoto Kozuka, has finally been captured. And as our two police officers begin their interrogation, they swiftly discover Makoto doesn't seem to be living in the same world as them - that in his mind, he is The Holy Warrior, doing all in his power to stop the evil machinations of Gohma.
So basically, this episode was a twenty minute visual elaboration of that classic old-person fear, the idea that playing too many violent videogames is making the kids unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. As Makoto frames his various attacks in terms of the mythical monsters he imagined himself defeating (complete with a game guide detailing weaknesses and item drops), Mitsuhiro and the chief listen and match his statements to his various crimes.
Outside of the central characters and plot, there was very little that connected this episode to those that have preceded it. Instead of a viewpoint character with a personal struggle, we got a running interrogation and fantasy adventure. And instead of the usual subdued, atmospheric style, we got an episode heavy on slapstick and silly faces. Paranoia Agent's usual tone and semi-realistic character art were largely absent here, as the chief's face contorted into all manner of silly or disbelieving faces at the various exploits of The Holy Warrior. Giant fishes were hit on the head with swords, characters were flattened under massive feet before reinflating Looney Tunes-style, and the chief even kicked one monster out a window, causing it to explode just because.
It was certainly a change of pace, but not really a welcome one. Paranoia Agent has succeeded so far by essentially never giving the audience a moment to breathe - its atmosphere may feel oppressive, but that atmosphere is its greatest strength. In this episode, the show instead tried to rely on tricks that are both much more mundane and much less polished. The slapstick jokes and faces were an awkward match for the material, and the usually taut direction and animation took a step back, making for a generally flatter visual experience in spite of the episode's fantastical content.
It wasn't all bad, though. The dip into Makoto's fantasies allowed for a nice array of inventive backgrounds, and I particularly liked the way the episode staggered its descent into Makoto's world. The first attack was described in Makoto's terms, but the show itself remained in the interrogation room - following that, the second description bounced between Makoto's self-image and the chief's counterpoints, and by the third, the chief and Mitsuhiro had both become active participants in Makoto's fantasy. Additionally, although this episode overall lacked much of the strong animation and nuanced expression work characteristic of the show, Makoto's final battle was a nicely choreographed and animated spectacle. But overall, this was definitely a much weaker episode than Paranoia Agent's usual level. Abandoning the show's usually careful tone to embrace a straight farce made for a weird disconnect, and nothing said here really added much to the ideas the show has already established. Hopefully this one just counts as a one-off lark, and the show will be back to its usual business next time.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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