Anime master Satoshi Kon is best known for his dark thriller Perfect Blue and the charming action comedy Tokyo Godfathers, but Paranoia Agent marks his first foray into television. Spread across 13 parts, Paranoia Agent is ostensibly an urban thriller, the first volume (episodes 1-4) being populated by cops – both dirty and straight – hookers, gangsters, plus a violent street thug known as Lil’ Slugger.
Slowly, Kon introduces a cast of characters, largely unconnected when the series begins. There’s Tsukiko, the reclusive inventor of the popular Maromi toy, on a tight deadline to finish her latest creation. Yuichi is the school golden boy, whose popularity takes a distinct turn for the worse when his classmates begin to suspect he might be Lil’ Slugger. Long-serving policeman Hirukawa seems to be a dedicated officer, but is actually a sex-addicted party animal who takes a regular pay-off from a local yakuza-connected pimp. A secretary called Harumi leads a schizophrenic double life as a high-price hooker. And at the centre are two beleaguered cops trying to catch the roller-skating, baseball bat wielding Lil’ Slugger and piece together what links his victims.
Kon has stated that the initial purpose for Paranoia Agent was to use up the large number of character and story ideas that he had left over from his films. As in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (a possible influence), events unfold slowly, and a character that was only glimpsed briefly in one episode might reappear later as a major part of the story. Not that Volume 1 really establishes what the series might ultimately be about – we’re left with a clearer idea of where the characters sit, but no real clue as to the direction Kon is taking us. Indeed, just as David Lynch surprised his audience by revealing the big secret of the show relatively early on (the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer), so too does Kon end Volume 1 with the capture of Lil’ Slugger, an event that you’d expect further down the line.
Paranoia Agent’s animation is rich and vibrant, and even more importantly, it is superbly directed by Kon. He effortlessly transfers the live-action technique that make his films so striking to the small screen, with freeze-frame, montages, slow-motion and dreamlike interludes all adding to the unsettling atmosphere. This is as much a portrait of modern city life as it is a dark, adult thriller, and the emphasis on the lives on flawed, often desperate people puts it streets ahead of its rivals in terms of style and maturity. There are no obvious heroes, and the strange, almost joyous opening and closing credits and the bizarre riddle that follows each episode further suggest that there is much more to Paranoia Agent than this first third indicates. But what exactly, I haven’t got a clue. Bring on Volume 2.
Japanese director of intelligent, innovative anime. A former comic book artist, Kon worked as a background artist on a variety of anime projects before directing hs first feature, the psychological thriller Perfect Blue. His subsequent work met with equal acclaim - Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, the complex TV series Paranoia Agent and Paprika. Sadly, he died while working on his final film, The Dreaming Machine.