Paranoia Agent Overview:
Paranoia Agent, or Mousou Dairinin, starts innocuously, if violently, enough. Tsukiko Sagi, a timid character designer, is the victim of a street assault. However, as the story is told again and again, the perpetrator takes on urban legend status as the gold roller-blade wearing Shounen Bat. As the story spreads and more victims are found, paranoia sets in and relationships are strained to breaking point.
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Paranoia Agent Review:
Paranoia Agent isn’t one of those anime that you just should watch if you want a straight forward story.
From the director who brought us the likes of Paprika and Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon, you kind of have to expect that this anime is going to be a little on the more perplexing side or at the very least provide you with something you need to think about.
That said, I’m not particularly a fan of a lot of those particular anime so the appeal for me going into Paranoia Agent was the fact that this one was billed as a psychological, mystery with the supernatural tag thrown in. And I do love a good supernatural, psychological mystery.
The first time I watched this series I spent the majority of it wondering just what was happening and even when it became clear, the ending kind of makes no sense unless you suspend most of your logical thought processes (okay, that might be going a bit far because thematically it ends very well, it just doesn’t end in a way that could be considered realistic).
And that’s more or less what Paranoia Agent seems to be trying for. The building of its thematic core is pretty solid and you are left feeling as though there’s been a relatively profound exploration of society, urban legends, the way we deceive ourselves and allow ourselves to be deceived, as well as our basic desire for an easy scape-goat. Yet while thematically this anime is incredibly solid the actual narrative is a little messy.
Then again, that should have been evident from the opening theme with its surreal visuals and juxtaposition of a range of characters laughing in settings that seem somewhat disastrous. You could almost write an entire post just on the opening alone by the time you pull apart the imagery thrown up by Paranoia Agent before you even dive into an episode.
With that said, it is basically impossible to review the plot of Paranoia Agent without giving away things that need to be kept in the dark in order for the story to work the way it is supposed to, so I’m going to keep this pretty vague.
Timid girl goes to hospital after an assault. Detectives try to figure out what happened. Meanwhile the rumour mill goes crazy. Soon everybody else is going a bit crazy. Everything else, you will just have to watch it to find out.
The plot isn’t ridiculously complicated, but they do deliberately keep the audience in the dark and you can’t really trust a lot of what the characters are saying at times. In fact, it will become apparent fairly quickly that characters are either lying to others or to themselves most of the time.
Which makes a lot of what you see and hear ultimately lacking in a purpose because some scenes you see are actually just a particular character’s ‘version’ of what happened in a given situation and certain scenes ultimately just serve to muddy the waters rather than move things forward.
I also can’t really get into specifics of the characters of Paranoia Agent without telling you things that you really need to find out at the time when they are revealed.
I can say that the majority of these characters are mostly horrible human beings, but they are intriguing. Largely each character seems to serve as a representation of some societal defect or undesirable personality trait so a lot of the characters feel more like stand-ins for concepts and collections of people you have met rather than as an individual character.
There’s quite a bit of enjoyment to be found in getting to know the characters here, even if you hate them, largely because of how well they translate into society at large. And despite Paranoia Agent coming out in 2004, if anything these characters and the warnings they share are actually more relevant now than they were then.
What works even better is the way the characters are intricately connected through the events in the story. As you would see in the opening we have a diverse cast of characters from all walks of life in Japan and yet their lives and fates become intertwined through the snow-balling craziness that unfolds.
Visually, I wasn’t a fan of the character designs in this show finding them fairly ugly though I kind of understand that this adds into the overall development of the main themes. Honestly, I doubt this show could have worked with the usual moe anime designs that we see in the majority of titles.
The male characters are particularly ugly at times largely because the characters are repulsive and you are supposed to be repulsed by them so if you are looking for something pretty to look at Paranoia Agent isn’t likely to deliver. However, if you want something that where each visual serves a narrative purpose, this anime will definitely hit the mark.
I probably wouldn’t recommend this one as a starter anime to anyone however if you are looking for an anime that isn’t yet another isekai and you want a story that has a bit of meat and social commentary to it, Paranoia Agent will probably hit the mark.
What are your thoughts on Paranoia Agent?
Images from: Paranoia Agent. Dir. S Kon. Madhouse. 2004.
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17 thoughts on “Paranoia Agent Series Review – When Alternate Facts Take On A Life of Their Own”
It’s great that you’re covering a Satoshi Kon work on the blog. I think it’s the worst Kon work, but it’s still good and better than a lot of anime TV series. It certainly was trippy as to be expected and there was some good social commentary there. However, the animation wasn’t as strong as his film projects though. This was a good review anyway.
As I said, I’m not a big fan of Satoshi Kon’s works. I appreciate them because they do interesting things but they just aren’t for me. Paranoia Agent was probably the work of his I’ve enjoyed the most.
No problem. We’ll agree to disagree there about Kon since I’m a big fan of his work. Paranoia Agent is still worth watching though.
I recommend it too. I’ve seen it a few years ago and I have fond memories of it. Should you like something more serious, I’d recommend Box of Goblins
Never heard of it but will look up.
It’s proper name is Mouryou no Hako. There should be a review of it on my blog 🙂
I’ve yet to watch this one, even if it does top my to watch list, but it seems to me that the breakdown of realism and logical narrative could itself be to parallel the often illogical nature of paranoia and anxiety. I’m even more excited about watching it now ^^
Never watched but it’s one I’ve hears about, so I really should if it’s as mysterious as you say! (´∀`)
Paranoia Agent has been at the top of my PTW list for a good while now and is probably within the next 2 or 3 shows I watch so I’m looking forward to it. It sounds like a difficult show to review given all the stuff you have to keep in the dark so respect to you on that front haha. I’m going in expecting Satoshi Kon and from what you’ve written I’m likely to get what I came for. Thanks for the review!
I love Satoshi Kon’s work, and this one was no exception. The surreal world, not being able to tell where reality ends and delusions begin, and characters slowly descending to madness were all great to watch! I think the show touches on some social commentary as well, like how rumor is more powerful than truth and how work can push the workers over the edge and so on. A lot of the characters are quite… disturbed, hell, one made on to my Top 10 worst Dads list. I think the most memorable character for me was the nice teacher who had a double life. All in all, I liked a lot! Great review!
I like your description here. I was really struggling with how to explain this series without giving away spoilers.
Haha, thank you! I agree that this show is so story driven almost anything you say is a spoiler.
This show and Paprika are the only ones I remember sending me on a ‘trippy’ experience. Maybe I should rewatch them to get a better feel of the ‘logic’ behind it all. I definitely enjoyed them when I first watched them though.
It’s had really to remember what Paranoia agent is about after watching it. You remember more how the experience felt than the details.