Behind Anime Lines: Paranoia Agent Part Four

Watching episodes nine, ten, and eleven of Satoshi Kon's Paranoia Agent with Eric and Chingy

Behind Anime Lines is a feature where Eric and Chingy watch an anime together and discuss it—its cultural context, its aesthetic qualities, and how it makes us feel. In this first series, we’re watching Satoshi Kon’s TV series Paranoia Agent, one of Chingy’s favorite series and one Eric hasn’t seen before.

Episode Nine

Chingy: Okay, so I realized: In my view this series is broken up into four sections, and aside from the first section (which is four episodes) each section forms a neat little trilogy. This is the second part of the trilogy that “Happy Family Planning” started.

Eric: Interesting! I am excited to see where it goes. I’m really enjoying the “people gossiping in a giant apartment complex” vibe. It’s definitely one of the best venues for secrets. I really love the horror vibe of this little vignette, and the visual representation of an illness making you forget everything you tried to study. Bizarre use of text!

Chingy: It’s all so silly yet unsettling. I love this serving as an anthology episode in a show that is already nearly all anthology.

Eric: It’s like that episode of Batman: The Animated Series where all of the rogues are telling their Batman stories, just creating an insane venue for people to tell goofy non-canon stories.

Chingy: So “Happy Family Planning,” this episode, and the next I kind of call the Collective Nonsense arc. They explore Shonen Bat beyond just individual experiences with him, and actually examine his influence as a social phenomenon. In any other series it would all feel like filler. 

Eric: Kon is so good at doing this type of thing—like the women in the apartment complex all being like “No of course we won’t tell your secrets!” where he’s simultaneously making fun of them and also absolutely loves it, and somehow is rude without being condescending, if that makes sense.

Chingy: Yeah, I think he tries not to pass judgement on most of his characters, but also likes to tease them. His penchant for absurdist comedy is so spot on.

Eric: The punchline of the ultrasound of the baby looking like Shonen Bat in this Jane The Virgin fertility mixup story is so goofy and like a classic ghost story. “And then…. the baby on the ultrasound…. was holding A BAT!!!!”

Chingy: These women are such haters!!!

Eric: I love it. I want to be in a group chat with them.

Chingy: Sometimes I just don’t think about how key comedy is to his work though.

Eric: And he’s just like leaning so hard into the trope of this kind of romantic melodrama. Not to be all Cinema 101 with this, but it really does have strong Twin Peaks vibes, creating an examination of weird collective trauma and experience as the product of comedy and tragedy smashing together. So many tones in these vignettes, and he has such a good grasp on all of them! You can’t be goofy about this kind of trope unless you understand it really well.

Chingy: Yeah, here more than anywhere you can see that he had a bunch of leftover ideas he wanted to use. It might feel bland to say it’s very Lynchian but it genuinely is. The big thing with this series is examining fantasy and escape. Like, the characters in this episode don’t escape life through kinky sex, videogames, or delusions of being a manga protagonist, they just make up ridiculous stories to tell each other. Oops, I just described myself.

Eric: You have found yourself through the story!

Chingy: “When I said I wanted to be wrecked by older women, I didn’t mean like this,” -That screenwriter’s wife.

Eric: Wow, love a rocket launch in a Satoshi Kon story. Those 15 seconds were also a pretty good summary of Millennium Actress. And while we’re here, I’m surprised you didn’t like Millennium Actress that much! It has a pretty similar vignette vibe in some ways.

Chingy: I liked it very much! I thought its editing, cinematography and storytelling device were brilliant. I just found the core story to be, I don’t know, fine I guess. Like the whole story is this actress was yearning!

Eric: You love yearning!

Chingy: I notoriously do! but also… I don’t know, it just felt like the narrative device carried it more than the actual plot went anywhere. And like yes it is my least favorite Kon piece i’ve seen but also I still think it’s absolutely phenomenal!

Eric: Yeah I think it definitely is like, the most straightforward Satoshi Kon work. I think that’s what I love about it though? Paranoia Agent is great because the distraction and ideas are the point but sometimes it feels like the parts are greater than the whole with something like Paprika. Also the whole point of the movie is that it’s about the journey, not the destination!

Chingy: You still havent seen Tokyo Godfathers and we will be fighting until then, I know this. No, I get it! It’s a cool journey! “Maybe the sexy painter boyfriend was the acting I did along the way” and all that.

Eric: I think for me it’s the combination of the way the plot manages to also be about the making of the movie/making art while also still being a sort of clear, simple story—I often find the stuff I love the most is about both the conditions of whatever artistic medium and also something else. Even if Satoshi Kon can parody the ending of Millennium Actress in 15 seconds in this episode of Paranoia Agent, it will still make me tear up every time and that’s okay!

Episode Ten

Chingy: Given what you said about Millennium Actress, you are going to love this episode.

Eric: YES. HELLO.

Chingy: This is the perfect ending to the Collective Nonsense arc, it’s getting all kinds of meta.

Eric: AHHH. YES. HELLO.

Chingy: I know Maromi is supposed to be creepy but I fucking love him.

Eric: I appreciate how goofy the episode is about the process of animation so far. It definitely feels like this is the right time in the history of the medium for a really good episode about anime production problems.

Chingy: I think it’s funny, but also thoroughly digs into the crunch and work conditions of the industry.

Eric: Have you seen Shirobako?

Chingy: Nope!

Eric: It’s a very different type of Making Anime About Anime but i’m glad I had that in the background.

Chingy: I appreciate them continually saying “production is near impossible without this person” as production goes on after more and more of these people disappear or are injured.

Eric: Absolutely, it is very silly. I hope the animation starts to break down! I also wonder if this is like working out grudges or just fun ribbing.

Chingy: I also like that not only is the episode looking at how Shonen Bat is changing and growing more prevalent, but Maromi as well! These two big cultural ideas are taking hold and changing over time and getting bigger than where they started.

Eric: I think that’s definitely his relationship to the career in Milennium Actress and the dual self in Perfect Blue, a movie in large part about how you should not Google yourself.

Chingy: “If I was stressed, I would simply not conjure Shonen Bat” -This guy.

Eric: YES! Give me the “last two episodes of EVA vibes,” or the puppet episode of His and Her Circumstances.

Chingy: I think this series, on that meme tip, really interestingly explores how your art takes on a life of its own and becomes uncontrollable once you put it out into the world.

Eric: HAHAHA. THAT’S HOW YOU DO A BIT. KING.

Chingy: The anime industry!

Eric: The little Maromi interjections are such a good accelerating structural gag. We love to see the boundary between fiction and reality break down, don’t we folks. This is the first episode that has made me wonder whether Kon identifies with Shonen Bat at all.

Chingy: Maromi is talking to me!

Eric: So if I’m reading this right, the idea is that that guy went on a killing spree through the studio and he was the only one who got got by Shonen Bat? My man Satoshi Kon made Joker (2019) but about anime.

Chingy: I don’t think so, because he finds the art director dead! But also I don’t think it’s wholly clear. My reading is that he killed Oda, his bully, but that everyone else was genuinely stressed, distressed, and backed into a corner by the nature of their industry. I think if we think about what Shonen Bat does and how he functions, him not just attacking but mostly murdering an entire animation department is a solid indictment of the working conditions faced in that industry. I also genuinely think it’s a love letter to his team in a very silly way!

Eric: I hope so! I honestly can’t 100% tell, which is cool but also unsettling.

Episode Eleven

Eric: It feels like Shonen Bat has gotten progressively more malicious over the course of the series? Or at least he comes off that way. The way Shonen Bat communicates in mouth sounds is great. This is also by far the most we have gotten the sense he has a personality.

Chingy: I don’t know how much this speech works for me sometimes to be honest. I love this sequence, it’s just like, “and who stood up to this monster but the most fragile of us all.”

Eric: Yeah for sure. It has a touch of like, Madonna/suffering woman archetype too.

Chingy: This dude looks like Maromi. Wait, his name is Inukai. He’s a dog! Like Maromi!

Eric: Wow, this shot! I like that Shonen Bat has basically transformed into a JoJo.

Chingy: Yeah, him swinging away works for me.

Chingy: Ikari’s exhaustion is interesting. He feels like a man out of time. and just doesn’t know how to cope with the changing world. He acts above fantasy but he just has a fantasy that’s different than everyone else’s: it’s nostalgia.

Eric: I appreciate how much these two are like “we are invested in being cops and robbers.” Though on some level if this is the direction the show is going it is also a pretty classic anime message / also similar to those eva episodes. “I mustn’t run away!”

Chingy: Yeah, I almost dislike how direct this message is… but I still think it’s pretty bitchin’.

Eric: I don’t love it, but I appreciate how effectively it has been rendered and how interesting it looks, and I like that she looks a bit like a villain. On the other hand, everyone is being brought together by watching anime.

Chingy: I’m very confused by what Satoshi Kon actually believes about fantasy and escapism.

Eric: Definitely feels like a love hate relationship.

Chingy: The message seems almost very “buck up buttercup” but also doesn’t match my understanding of Kon’s work or his statements on it. In an interview he did on the series, he said, “In order to go through life, everyone needs to have something apart from reality, such as fantasy, dream or maybe paranoia. Otherwise, life can be surprisingly hard. The world as a person perceives, it is filtered through their fantasy or paranoia. In that sense, I don’t think fantasy and paranoia are necessarily unhealthy.”

Eric: That makes a lot of sense.

Chingy: Ikari wants everything to be simple and two dimensional.

Eric: By now, the connection between Maromi and Shonen Bat feels pretty explicit.

Chingy: I feel comfortable saying what Misae already said in that they are “the same thing,” described as “a crutch people use for temporary relief.” Which, I dunno, that’s what relief is.

Eric: “Shonen Bat and Maromi are just substitutes for jacking off.”

Chingy: How dare you predict my essay!

Eric: I can’t tell if that’s a joke or if that’s actually what your essay is about, it could go either way.

Chingy: It is kinda what it’s about—it’s about fetishes that revolve around helplessness and how Shonen Bat represents that same mindset, and fantasy in general.

Eric: Hell yeah. Shonen Bat is not a healthy way of expressing those things!

Chingy: So what do you think so far?

Eric: I’m really interested in the way the show explores the relationship between the collective and individuals. It feels like the show is interested in some notion of personal responsibility, especially given that the way Ikari’s wife defeats Shonen Bat is just by owning her shit and being like ‘yes, I will continue to have this shitty life I have chosen.’ Satoshi Kon really did say “we live in a society” but is interested in this very specific and fascinating aspect of what it means to—which is to say, being an individual who has agency but is also a product of social systems and forces out of their control. And, maybe, the fantasy or paranoia is the thing that bridges that gap or is produced by that friction. Not to get Way Too Meta/Serious about it but there is something genuinely postmodern about it, I know we don’t use that word anymore but that’s what it is!

Chingy: No, I fully agree.

Eric: This is the real deal! It is pretty rare that I watch something that makes me think, ‘Ah, yes, this is why I am interested in this kind of art, because it makes me feel this way.’

Chingy: He was very clearly critical and curious about how we engage with media and art and pop culture, and I think this is the crux of that.

Eric: Absolutely. Fredric Jameson crawled so Satoshi Kon could run, etc.

Chingy: And again, I’m not quite sure where he stands from just watching this.

Eric: I don’t think he does either!

Chingy: A friend of mine mentioned how like Kon’s position might be similar to how Anno is typically read and is based in like Japan’s NEETs/otakus/hikikomoris who let fantasy consume them and not so much a condemnation of fantasy and escapism as a whole. I wasn’t on that, but I agree on the ambivalence. He feels something very strongly about something. But what is it? I dunno.

Eric: I think there is an element of that but he definitely is not quite intense about it in the way Anno is.

Chingy: I’m so excited to see it through to the end with you and get your perspective. What do you think about Maromi and Shonen Bat being the same? What do you feel about Marom?

Eric: I think the main difference or thing I would want to consider is that Maromi has clearly been in some way produced more by industry and commercial interests than by sort of organic iterations of humanity. Shonen Bat is in some way the cute character she felt like she had to come up with, but that pressure exists because Maromi is so commercially successful and has gotten to the point of existing as that kind of collective delusion.

Chingy: Maromi calmly says “take a rest,” but Shonen Bat is for those who can’t take that calm affirmation.

Eric: There is also something sinister about “take a rest” though.

Chingy: Oh absolutely.

Eric: Like you could imagine a self care Maromi.

Chingy: Infographic-ass Maromi says “you are valid.”

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