What it’s about: Tsukiko Sagi, creator of the beloved cartoon character Maromi, is on her way home from work when she’s attacked from behind. The description she gives of her assailant – a young boy with a bent golden baseball bat and inline skates – leads the media to dub him “Shonen Bat” (‘Lil Slugger in the English dub). But while Tsukiko was the first victim, she’s far from the last. The police are put under increasing pressure as more and more people are attacked, with seemingly no connection between the incidents or the people involved.
Why you should watch it: Paranoia Agent is the sole foray by the acclaimed director Satoshi Kon into TV anime. It’s a psychological mystery show aimed at an exclusively adult audience, and it isn’t afraid to swim in deeper waters in its content and themes. While loosely episodic, every character’s story ties into the central plot in some fashion, providing different insights into the mystery of Shonen Bat, little snippets of this giant world that you are trying to piece together. In the end, the multiple pieces come together to form something pretty amazing, that may or may not leave a good mark depending on how you enjoyed the rest of the show. The animation and character designs really stand out from the crowd, and Kon’s use of dreamlike sequences, magical realism and blurring the lines between fantasy and reality makes this a surprising and fun watch, especially as the plot comes to a head in the final few episodes. It also has one of the weirdest and most subtly disturbing intros of all time.
Caveats: This is a weird show. It doesn’t so much play with your expectations as throw them out and invite you to keep up. Disregarding convention can work really well for some people, but for a general crowd it’s just off-putting, and opinions are split on how well the show treads the line. It can also at times seem like it’s not really going anywhere, particularly with the trio of almost standalone stories in episodes 8-10.
Themes: The lies people tell themselves, and the false fronts they put up for others. The way that people tend to seize upon easy solutions and escapes rather than actually solve problems, and the way this comes back to hurt themselves and others. The power that fear, stress, paranoia, gossip and imagination hold over human society, and the way that mass media only heightens the effects. People more familiar than I with Japanese society read it as a condemnation of post-war Japan itself, particularly “kawaii culture” and otaku-ism. There’s a lot of different ways to read the show.
Similar works: The works of Haruki Murakami. Wind-up Bird Chronicle and maybe 1Q84 in particular. David Lynch too, now that I think about it. Within anime, look to Kon’s film work, such as Paprika and Perfect Blue, or to psychological shows like Serial Experiments Lain.