Striking The Right Note: Paranoia Agent

A little series from 2004 that made a massive impact, Paranoia Agent is a suspense thriller with supernatural overtones that is markedly different from the average anime in a lot of ways. First and foremost, that opening credit sequence.

Before we get to that, let’s note the other ways in which the series stands out. The animation is very different from what we usually see, with nary a blue haired character to be found. Even twelve years later, the animation really holds up, too. It’s beautiful, and possibly, timeless.

The plot is where the show really shines, though. Beginning with Tsukiko Sagi, creator of the runaway success Maromi, a pink dog that is marketed more heavily than Mickey Mouse, facing intense pressure to create an even more successful character. Overwhelmed by it, as she is walking home one evening, she is attacked by a teenage boy wearing in line skates, and wielding a bent golden bat. While not killed, she is hospitalized briefly.

Two detectives are assigned to her case, Ikari and Maniwa, but they find her story very questionable, and suspect she made it up. Until a second attack occurs. Soon, the two detectives find themselves falling down a rabbit hole as the attacker, dubbed Lil Slugger by the media, begins to become even more popular than Maromi, and proves impossible to catch.

Paranoia Agent deals in many themes, such as guilt, regret, fear, self loathing, and heavily focuses on the societal pressure to succeed at any cost. As bad as that pressure is in the States, it’s even worse in Japan, and from that, the series spins out a tale about the crushing self doubt, mental and emotional instability, and psychological horror that pressure creates.

The series deals with a large number of individuals as they encounter Lil Slugger, while keeping a close eye on Tsukiko and the two detectives as their stories intertwine with the others. As a series, it is absolutely a master class in suspense and tension building, and one I highly recommend to anyone, but especially to my writer friends.

Wanna know how to build tension? Watch Paranoia Agent. That’s how you do it.

Setting the stage for all of this, though, is the mind boggling opening credit sequence. Set to “Dream Island Obsessional Park” by electronica pioneer Susumu Hirasawa, everything about the opening leaves you feeling slightly off balance, which is perfect for this show. The imagery of the cast of characters in a variety of strange, and sometimes impossible, locations, laughing their asses off, gives a feeling of dissonance that serves well to brace you for the uncertainty and mind tripping story you are about to see.

Then there’s those bird like tweets going on in the background of the music. I dunno what that’s about, but it still freaks me out for some reason. I’ve no idea why it bugs me, but it does. A lot. It’s the most unnerving part of the whole thing to me.

Which is what makes the entire opening work so well. Everything about it makes you uncomfortable in a way that’s hard to define. Considering the show is called Paranoia Agent, that’s only fitting, I suppose. Whatever the feeling it leaves you with, it most definitely strikes the right note.

 

While I don’t often do this, I do want to add something else about Paranoia Agent here below. Specifically, that this is one of my all time favorite animes. I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and never tire of it.

That is due to Ikari, a character I find myself identifying with for many reasons. In the past, it was his somewhat gruff nature, which I saw myself as having. His dedication to his job, even though he clearly didn’t really like it, another facet of my own personality, that drew me to him.

These days, though, it’s because he speaks to me on a level that, frankly, I have a hard time talking about. Possibly because I’m just not ready to really talk about it. Possibly because I don’t know how to.

What I do know is, at this point in my life, I find strength in Ikari. He is a character than helps me face things, especially the ones I don’t want to. The best way to explain that, is to simply share the scene from the anime, one of the best scenes in any anime ever, that helps me the most.

Fiction is a powerful things, my friends. Never doubt that. We can find ourselves in fiction, we can learn about ourselves in it, and we can draw strength from it when we need it most. Here is where I find strength right now, and so you know, massive spoilers await if you’ve not seen the show.

Seriously, this is from the final episode, so huge spoilers. Skip to te 1:30 mark to bypass a replay of the opening. Youtube won’t let me share it from a time mark for some reason.

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