Behind Anime Lines: Paranoia Agent Part Three

Watching episodes six, seven, and eight 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.

This piece carries a content warning for self-harm and suicide.

Episode 6

Eric: I appreciate how much this episode has a classic short story setup. Full on “It was a dark and stormy night….” I also like that Ikari is the stand-in for a particular type of viewer of this show. This old woman is telling an interesting and human story or whatever and he’s like, “I WANNA SOLVE THE MYSTERY.” Who cares?

Chingy: “I JUST WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. EXPLAIN IT.” Yeah, the dark and stormy opening is great, along with how the episode title integrates into the storm warning. Love a storm as a really straightforward but effective way to show things are kicking up and out of control. At this point what’s happening feels less like another incident and more like an uncontrollable force.

paranoia agent 6 old lady

Eric: For sure. And I think the show has done a really good job of basically robbing all of the characters of any real agency—even the cops are pretty feckless, and all they can do is listen as the rest of the show unfolds. And Hirukawa’s daughter Taeko is absolutely in a similar position, learning that her dad installed cameras to peep on his daughter. Not good!

Chingy: Like you said, everyone’s felt compromised and wanted to be stripped of agency so far, but all of them were more or less contributing to their own problems. Whereas Hirukawa’s daughter Taeko has already felt totally violated by simply unearthing the truth, and now just wants to wreck it all.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. I think everyone in the show is fundamentally passive in a lot of ways, but they all have sort of different and varyingly bizarre coping mechanisms, and this girl is just a person to whom things happen. She literally says, “I want to become empty.”

Chingy: It really feels like while others could manifest an attack by Shonen Bat/Lil Slugger, this girl has made this storm—or the storm is a manifestation of her distress.

paranoia agent 6 playground

Eric: With the house standing in as a symbol for an illusion of stability, which contains the site of the violation.

Chingy: And it speaks volumes that like Hirukawa, her dad, couldn’t actually have his “wish” for freedom granted. I don’t think Lil Slugger cares at all about the morality of who he attacks. But Hirukawa could only conjure a pale imitation of Lil Slugger that couldn’t free him because he wasn’t really suffering from anything he couldn’t stop himself. At least Taeko got her wish—she forgets everything, becomes empty.

Eric: No house, no thoughts, head empty, just vibes.

Episode 7

Chingy: I love how Maromi’s appearances are becoming more and more ominous. Though I do not remember the imagery we just saw — the room full of computers and cords — at all.

paranoia agent 7 woman closeup

Eric: I like that Maromi’s expression is constantly like, “Who, me?” At least some of this, as well as the stuff in the last episode, feels like it’s referencing Serial Experiments Lain, but I could be wrong about that. On the other hand, Ikari is being a real piece of shit here. I’m glad the show is reminding us that, in fact, all cops are indeed bastards. Don’t throw a kid!

Chingy: The detectives really do make such varied perspective characters, especially in the contrast between Maniwa and Ikari. Ikari is so static and unchanging. Maniwa can’t help but feel affected by it all.

Eric: He’s putting it together! He’s going to become the paranoia agent.

Chingy: Yeah, I think Shonen Bat, rather than caring about morality, really cares about the conviction of distress. Like, Hirukawa was trapped, but he wasn’t helpless.

Eric: He is helpless in the sense that he cannot be helped.

Chingy: I feel like this is his first real substantial appearance of the old man from all the closers. His connection with Maniwa feels so wild.

Eric: This fucking Being John Malkovich-ass dream!  I think it’s interesting that this version of shocking magic tricks are just things that are really easy to render in animation. I don’t know exactly how to read that, but it feels important. There are shades of a lot of late 90s/early 00s *hits blunt* movies, like Pi or something.

Chingy: Both him and the old man are desperately trying to make sense of things in a very different way than Ikari, who thinks brute force will solve it.

paranoia agent 7 red double

Eric: I enjoy having no idea what is happening.

Chingy: I enjoy that this is maybe the tenth time I’ve seen it and it’s just so confusing still. Like, this may be the episode I remember the least details of, minus the broad strokes.

Eric: Okay, this is the real Shonen Bat, killing the copycat.

Chingy: At this moment, Shonen Bat reminds me of Hannibal. “He is the devil, Mr. Graham. He is smoke. You’ll never catch the ripper. He won’t be caught. If you want him you’ll have to kill him.”

Eric: And now Maniwa is going full conspiracy wacko Dale Cooper. This episode has strong Twin Peaks vibes, I love it.

Episode 8 — Extreme CW for Suicide

Chingy: Tonal whiplash this episode. From last time’s brutal murder to an upbeat romp about a trio of goofballs trying to kill themselves together.

Eric: Oh man, what. Is this a message board for people who want to commit suicide?

Chingy: Yes.

Eric: Yikes! The way it’s being framed as if they’re just hanging out.

Chingy: It’s just played with total normalcy and frivolity to the point where if you aren’t listening closely and reading the message board messages that break up the scenes you won’t know what this episode is about at all. The first time I watched it I was clueless until the end, but really it’s such a brilliant short story idea.

Eric: And they are all literally carrying Maromi on their backs.

Chingy: Maromi is a character/symbol that is vastly popular and widespread in their culture. I think that’s how they decided they would recognize each other. Also, I want those backpacks so bad.

paranoia agent backpacks

Eric: I like the idea that they also bonded over being like, we all love Maromi let’s make a suicide pact.

Chingy: Just a bunch of suicidal goofs.

Eric: In some ways, this is the ultimate form of helplessness and victimhood. They’re trying and struggling to do the one thing that everybody has to do, eventually—and really, they’re just trying to avoid pain in the process.

Chingy: Yeah! But what’s so charming is the absolute lack of desperation they express. It’s like a day trip.

Eric: Just hanging with the boys! Is it just me or did that musical motif sound like the Peanuts music?

Chingy: It absolutely sounds like the Peanuts music. The left hand piano part sounds almost identical. These people want to die, and yet it’s such a stark contrast to how Shonen Bat’s distressed victims act.

Eric: I think it says a lot about Kon’s mastery of the medium that he can make this so funny. The romping horn music! Absolute Looney Tunes shit.

Chingy: I bet Kon really enjoyed himself making this and felt so pleased. Very few creators could pull off a madcap goofball comedy about two men and a little girl who wanna kill themselves together—and give it so much heart. They just end up finding a community in each other.

paranoia agent 8 hand bottle

Eric: Sorry, are they letting this child drink?

Chingy: ERIC, THEY ARE LETTING THIS CHILD KILL HERSELF!

Eric: Okay that’s fair. But they are being at least somewhat paternal toward her, and kind of trying to stop her from participating!

Chingy: Finally, the tinny percussions of a Shonen Bat appearance.

Eric: This episode rules. It’s the kind of thing Kon could only have done in TV, too—spending so much time building up the menace of Shonen Bat so that you can just totally flip it on its head for madcap comedy. His movies are great, but you couldn’t do this in quite the same way in that format.

Chingy: Yeah, absolutely.

Eric: Wait did he take the pill or is he just having a heart attack?

Chingy: They’re dead. They’ve been dead awhile.

Eric: Okay damn, they totally got me.

Chingy: No shadows!

Eric: Did not notice that! With the gas at the beginning, I guess?

Chingy: Yeah, the gas. No one was interacting with them—EXCEPT SHONEN BAT. This episode title, “Happy Family Planning” is so cute. They’re a family now!

They’re a family now!

Eric: I think any American version of this would have had to contain a moment where they were like, “Oh I don’t want to die,” and it just 100% doesn’t happen here. Seems like they are having a great time. Why do you think Shonen Bat appears to them if they were already dead?

Chingy: He didn’t! He just manifested to attack someone else and they observed it, and then they chased him. He can’t do anything for them. They felt cornered maybe in a larger sense, but not desperate.

Eric: What do you think it says about the show’s perspective that they are probably the happiest people we have seen? In the same way that Shonen Bat is an infectious idea/force, they all just kind of decided they wanted to die. it doesn’t even seem like they’re especially hurt, just all set on the same course as if they were characters in a pilgrimage story or whatever, which is definitely the same root feeling the other victims have.

Chingy: I think they wanted to live and felt trapped. They all just felt unloved in the world they were living in. The girl said she wanted to make the world pay in the message board. In contrast to everyone else, they had agency despite their pain. They knew Kozuka, and are jealous he’s dead.

Eric: It’s the type of agency everyone else abdicates! Or wants to.

Chingy: I mean oddly enough, I kind of think suicide is actually the antithesis to what Shonen Bat is.

Eric: Yeah?

Chingy: One is wanting to live free of the burden of agency and begging someone to take it from you. The other is taking matters into your own hands.

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