July 24, 2014 § 2 Comments
I suppose that I’ve felt some trepidation about this post. It’s the trepidation that anyone feels, spelling out their mixed feelings about a media work that enjoys a good reputation everywhere else. And really, it’s not that I didn’t like Paranoia Agent. It might be my favorite thing that Kon Satoshi did, after Millennium Actress maybe. It’s just… complicated. Bear with me.
The thing is, I enjoyed the first four episodes of Paranoia Agent about as much as I’d think possible. I clearly remember sitting on my couch, watching with Katie, and feeling that swelling of excitement. That’s one of the big reasons I got into anime in the first place, because unlike most other kinds of serial media, you never know what really to expect from anime. It could be a completely bog-standard slog without anything in the way of visuals (Legend of Legendary Heroes, I’m looking at you) or it could be the most insane rollercoaster you’ve ever ridden (I’m going to go with X/1999 as the most divisive example of this).
The beginning of Paranoia Agent had all the signs of being the latter. It was ostensibly a procedural, a genre of which I’ve come to fond, but had psychological and supernatural elements shot through it. This retributive force, embodied in a young thug, was stalking these characters, each forlorn and desperate in their own way, and seemed unstoppable. And then, when the momentum seemed high enough to carry us through the other two third of the show, it stopped short. Shounen Bat (or Lil’ Slugger, as he’s called in translation) was caught and the show became something else entirely.
Actually, it became several other things entirely, each in succession. I’m not going to spoil the rest of Paranoia Agent, but I’m going to talk about how I was spoiled for it. A few years ago, I remember hearing Bruce Geryk on the strategy gaming podcast Three Moves Ahead talk about what he thought was the lifecycle of a wargamer. A wargamer starts out playing games that recreate the historicity of the period in which they are interested. The problem is, as the wargamer learns more and more about their period, seeking more and more complicated games to complement their knowledge, they eventually reach a point where no game is authentic enough. At that point, Geryk said, a wargamer either learns a different way to appreciate their games or, more often, finds a different pastime. In lieu of actually having an episode to reference, I’ll link his review of wargaming itself.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’ve gotten to the point in my consumption of anime where I ought to be be called a “rivet-counter,” to use Geryk’s term for the increasingly joyless interest that a wargamer takes in wargaming. I say this because, once Paranoia Agent violated my initial expectations of where it was going to take me, even though those expectations were of being taken someplace unexpected, all that remained for me to see was what reminded me of other anime. The premise was purely Boogiepop Phantom. The themes were purely Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The ending was purely End of Evangelion. And I hated myself for that! I’d indulged my love of anime as something always fresh and new so much that I was now too good at recognizing the ways in which it wasn’t. I was bummed out for the better part of a week when that occurred to me.
Of course, I’m being melodramatic here. My comparison between wargaming and anime doesn’t even hold up, because wargaming is restricted to historical events and anime is restricted to… nothing? Maybe it’s restricted to whatever can appear on a television screen, although some stuff, like the last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, makes to challenge even that. Still, it’s a useful thing for me to have thought, if only because it has helped me to realize how my appreciation of anime has gone from one of naivete to one of knowledge. Even now, the reasons that I think back fondly on my time with Paranoia Agent are those having to do with Kon’s expert synthesis of three of the greatest anime of the late nineties and early naughties into a single show that holds together more often than it doesn’t.
With anything, there’s always be the risk of knowing too much, won’t there? But if the alternative is knowing nothing, by giving up a pastime of mine, then it’s a risk I’ll learn to love. Who’s to say that my mixed feelings for Paranoia Agent, informed as they were by a decade of watching amazing shows, weren’t stronger and subtler than those of someone who came to it a tabula rasa and loved it?
Well, I doubt that’s the case, but it’s a nice thought to have.