Classic Review: Paranoia Agent
by Nick Creamer,
This week's episode starts with one more of Paranoia Agent's classic tonal confinement-chambers, but swiftly gets very, very weird. With essentially every non-police character from the opening now having been visited by Shonen Bat, Paranoia Agent's world took on a strange, eerily quiet tone. In contrast to last week's overcast skies and constant thunder, this week's episode was characterized by an oppressively clear sky. Blinding sunlight made for consistently oversaturated scenes of brightly lit faces and heavy shadows, set to a soundtrack of… nothing. No music, no background noises; just a heavy silence to match the white light, broken occasionally by sharp, intrusive static. Shonen Bat's visits have left the world in a kind of peace, but violence still lurks behind the heat and smiles.
In this eerie world of hypersaturated sunlight and silence, we followed Mitsuhiro, as he finally began to pull together the pieces of the mystery as we've come to understand them. As the chief seemed to give up on connecting the cases and concluded “our case is closed,” Mitsuhiro wandered closer to the theoretical truth, catching himself in delusions with the strange old man, Makoto's “ancient master.” While Makoto finally dropped his hero act and admitted he was a copycat who'd only attacked Shogo and Hirukawa, Mitsuhiro returned to the other victims, slowly piecing together the conclusion that even though this case made no logical sense, there was still a coherent thread there. All the victims had felt cornered, and all of them had been “released” by Shonen Bat.
The pragmatic chief would have none of this magical-thinking theory, but also admitted that his own detective's instinct had “dried up long ago.” That admission was accompanied by one more piece of graceful symbolism, as he realized he'd run out of the matches that Hirukawa had applauded as old-fashioned, prompting Mitsuhiro to light his cigarette with a modern lighter. The visual imagery in general was as strong as ever this week - the use of a candle to symbolise the officers' investigation in a vast, inhospitable world, the constant light saturation, the way closeups and angled shots evoked the building pressure of both men. The visuals weren't always ostentatious, but they were very effective.
They certainly got ostentatious in the second half, though. As Mitsuhiro's investigations drove him further and further inside his head, he ended up falling into either dreams or delusions starring the old man, seeking a truth unrelated to the physical world. A dinner between the two of them on a lonely highway shifted to a magic performance, which was cut short by Mitsuhiro's realization that he was sitting in an auditorium entirely filled with the old man's laughing, smiling face. Paranoia Agent understands restraint, but it can also get pretty darn weird.
In the last act, Mitsuhiro's wild investigations reached a conclusion - if Shonen Bat only appears to relieve those that are feeling cornered, then surely Makoto must be his next target. Rushing to his cell, Mitsuhiro and the chief arrived just in time to see Shonen Bat disappear through a wall (one of the old man's magic tricks, along with separating himself into multiple selves). In the cell, Makoto lay dead, a tragedy publicly labeled a suicide. Disgraced by their negligence, the two officers were forced to resign. Sitting in his room, Mitsuhiro whispered his truth into the radio, static paranoia floating into the oppressive open sky.
This was a very consistent episode of Paranoia Agent, and a necessary turning point in the narrative. It didn't quite match the highlight of last week, but its own tonal focus was a strong change of pace, and frankly “standard Paranoia Agent” is still far better than 95% of shows out there. With the two officers fired, Paranoia Agent will likely be shifting its narrative style going forward, and with half of the show still to come, I look forward to seeing where we go from here.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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