Wednesdays Watching Anime – Paranoia Agent

October 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

Sorry for missing last week! I’ll make it up to you with the OP for Paranoia Agent, “Dream Island Obsessional Park” by Hirasawa Susumu.

I honestly don’t like much of Paranoia Agent, like I’ve said before. Its cocktail of good ideas that it shares with Boogiepop Phantom, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and End of Evangelion makes it feel derivative, even if they’re all actually examples of convergent evolution, and the direction of Satoshi Kon only elevates it so far about that feeling.

Still, if there’s anything praiseworthy in the anime, it’s embodied in the OP. The first impression is the song, which Katie once described as “Japanese ‘world music,'” assaulting one’s ears. Despite its composition by a pioneer of Japanese electronica, the odd tones of the throaty singing give it a more ethnic vibe, I guess. It’s interesting that the lyrics are still unreleased, as far as I know, and that two fan-sub groups have managed to glean even remotely similar translations of them by listening. Their protean quality adds to the fundamental foreignness of the music, a foreignness that I’d think to apply to audiences both in Japan and overseas.

And then there are the images. As has almost universally been pointed out by everyone, from YouTube commenters to professional bloggers, the different characters are set in life-threatening situations — atop a skyscraper, in a flood, underwater, falling through the air, in a landfill, after an earthquake, in the middle of traffic, within the blast radius of an explosion, on a mountaintop, and on the moon — but laugh with utter abandon. There are a variety of interpretations, but the most plausible to me is still the intention to disorient and distance. The visible emotions of the characters do not match their situations. Are they aware of what’s going on? Are we aware? If the viewer pauses to consider these questions, they is forced to disengage from the show for their act of self-reflection and self-assessment. No, the OP does not serve the usual function of drawing people into the anime, but instead is disruptive and disorienting in its choice of music and images.

Ultimately, I’m not sure that all of the above serves any larger purpose. Sure, the green field at the very end is recycled for the ED, wherein all the characters lie asleep around the manufactured pop-culture icon of Maromi, but like the silhouette of Shounen Bat that haunts it, it mostly seems to be a self-contained commentary about mental illness and memes placed in various contexts, rather than a set of arguments that goes anywhere or links with anything. A lot of the show is like that, probably due to its origin, as Kon himself explained in a 2004 interview:

During the makings of my previous three films, a mountain of unused ideas for both stories and arrangements has piled up in my drawers. Not that I dropped them because they weren’t good enough, but they just didn’t fit into any of the projects. It hurts to see material go to waste, so I looked for a chance to recycle it. Plus, in the case of a film to be shown at theatres, I’m working for two years and a half, always in the same mood and with the same method. I wanted to do something that allows me to be more flexible, to realize instantly what flashes across my mind. I was also aiming at a sort of entertaining variation, so I decided to go for a TV series. I’m looking forward to meeting and working with a new team.

Kon goes on to envision an interlocking series of plots, with a peripheral character or theme of one becoming the main character or theme of another, but my experience is that this format peters out partway through the series and Kon is forced to exploit the accumulated goodwill of his audience to pad out the remainder of the anime with interesting one-off ideas — honestly, some of his best ones, but tenuously connected at best and totally unrelated at worst — before his Götterdämmerung of a conclusion comes crashing down.

I don’t know, maybe that’s how he wanted it? The vision of societal and cultural decay in Paranoia Agent is mirrored in its disturbing and disturbingly disjointed motifs, for sure.

Shounen Bat strikes while everyone's asleep in Paranoia Agent

Shounen Bat strikes while everyone’s asleep in Paranoia Agent

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