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.
Chingy: I love the layers of meaning in this episode’s title: “Double Lips.” It’s the name of her escort service, and it’s both of the personalities speaking to each other.
Eric: There are a lot of women with dual identities in Kon’s work, but this is the only one, I think, who has her condition medicalized in any way—Harumi has a doctor she talks to about Maria’s existence, and actively tries to fight off those parts of her. That’s really interesting to me, and suggests that we’re supposed to think about Maria as a specific set of Harumi’s instincts and personality, rather than a separate person. Harumi wants to settle down, wants to have a “normal” life to the point where she accepts this seemingly out of nowhere proposal—but also she clearly derives some thrill from her life as Maria.
Chingy: I’m partial to the idea of them as separate entities with different values stuck inhabiting the same body. I especially see it in those sudden cuts to Harumi coming to in the wake of Maria’s debauchery. There’s a sense of violation in realizing someone else (or what she perceives as someone else) using her body to profit and to experience pleasure. But at the same time, I really can see your perspective too and am into it as a statement on the immutability of desire, which in and of itself can feel like violation.
Eric: One thing that nudges me toward that interpretation: Paranoia Agent’s increasing emphasis on the idea of victimhood as a status that can be bestowed, and that changes the way you deal with your problems. Being attacked by Lil Slugger somehow allows Harumi to be “freed” from being Maria—or at least, that’s what she thinks is happening.
Eric: Wait, is that Maria and Harumi as two different people in the ending?
Chingy: Yup! They’re separate individuals in the opening, too.
Eric: Do we want to pause before episode four, or just keep rolling?
Chingy: Let’s roll with it, this next one is wild in a different way.
Me before every episode: “THIS SHIT IS WILD YO.”
Eric: There is something interesting in the contrast between this monstrous cop and Harumi. If you think about Maria as a part of her that she wants to cut off or repress by getting married, Hirukawa has something similar with wanting to build his unseen family a house — he feels this sense of obligation to be secure and decent, but also gets off on the fact that he is a huge scumbag, and is way less conflicted than she is.
Chingy: On this rewatch I’m noticing the duality in each perspective character more and more. Each of them is struggling to maintain their sense of self as well as others’ perceptions of them, and their real struggle seems to come in making those things match up. Like with this asshole cop, I can’t fully tell if he believes his bullshit! But yeah, the episode’s title “A Man’s Path” plays at that.
Also the way he reads those heroic macho manga.
Eric: Wow, is this cop gonna beat up an old lady…. Satoshi Kon really said ACAB!
Chingy: He really did! The more of his stuff I see, the more apparent it is that Kon is interested in the archetypes of detectives and sleuths, but has no commitment to portraying the police as a positive force.
Eric: Absolutely. His outfit definitely has a tinge of like, that movie where Rainn Wilson puts a sock on his head and starts beating people up—this asshole thinks of himself as heroic and dutiful while being a total psycho.
Chingy: This episode loves juxtaposing noble dialogue with montages of despicable behavior.
Eric: The passage of time in the show is just great. Every time the mob guy shows up, he just brutally, efficiently raises the amount of money the cop owes, the house keeps getting built somehow in the background—again, it feels related to how quickly the engagement moved in the last episode while staying largely in the background.
Chingy: It’s so good.
Eric Thurm: Oh no. Oh no.
Chingy: Like really masterfully showing how editing can straight up make the story
Eric: Probably the most tasteful way you can imply that someone sexually assaulted a teenager. On a lighter note, I did not realize the other cop was named Ikari.
Chingy: Yeah that’s Gendo.
Eric: With this injury on his forehead, his ears, the ruddy cheeks, I’m reading Hirukawa as an increasingly grotesque Buddha. It adds even more resonance to the “path” language for the way he thinks about himself while constantly falling short.
*watches as douchebag cop throws something at Lil Slugger after he tries to attack him*
And that’s it. The mystery ends.
Eric: It’s very funny that Hirukawa cries out for someone to stop him — channeling noted anime icon Jim Carrey in The Mask — and then when Lil Slugger appears to attack him, as if to answer that prayer, he responds by screaming “Why would you do that?” and beating the shit out of this kid. Where Harumi accepts Lil Slugger’s offered grace of victimhood, Hirukawa absolutely fucking rejects it.
Chingy: Just the absolute worst character in this whole show. Not one redeemable trait. It’s a great subversion — the truth is, no one could stop him.
Eric: I appreciate how many characters there are in this show who just think they’re manga characters or whatever. Obviously there are a lot of different types of delusion in the show but the layering of pop culture onto people’s lives is a really specific and good one.
Chingy: Yeah it works really well in speaking to all the ways we practice escapism.
Eric: And the suspect is, I guess, just a guy who’s convinced he’s living in a game or a classic fantasy anime? “What Is This Guy’s Fucking Deal: The Series.”
Chingy: I appreciate Detective Ikari as like the main character that actually can’t fall into delusion and escapism and just smokes through his stress, while his partner goes full Dale Cooper trying to understand this kid’s delusions.
Eric: “Since when did this world become the children’s place” would be a good epitaph for the show.
Chingy: This is definitely the goofiest, most absurd episode. In my opinion, it’s also probably the weakest installment, which is saying something because I still really enjoy it. It’s just like, “What if Satoshi Kon did an isekai?” And when Ikari says, “Even though the world has become a rotten and unjust place, we still have to live in it.” Such a good line! He’s really the antithesis of every other character.
Eric: I really appreciate that the episode ends with another added layer to the game, some other goal they need to achieve to win. The idea that there will always be this mythical figure who knows how to “solve” the problem of human evil, or a quest you can finish or a monster you can slay that will fix everything. In a way, Ikari is just as childish. I get what you mean about this being your least favorite episode — it definitely doesn’t fully add up, but it’s so fun.