Paranoia Agent Vol. #4 (of 4) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, May 10, 2005
What They Say
"The Lil's Slugger epidemic runs rampant in Tokyo while Umaniwa researches Tsukiko's childhood and discovers the disturbing origins of Maromi! However, before he can do anything, he is attacked by a giant Lil' Slugger! Soon the mass psychosis threatens to destroy the city, but does Tsukiko hold the key to salvation?"
What goes around comes around and the past becomes key to the present and back again as the secrets are revealed and the simple truths must be faced.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix for the show is quite well done and has ample use of the ambient effect sounds and incidental music to really push a scene and create a sense of sound around you through the forward soundstage. The show is very dialogue heavy at times and it's all clear and free of problems such as dropouts or distortions. We sampled the English language track while writing this and didn't notice any issues there either.
Originally airing in early 2004, the transfer for this show is presented here in its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Much of this show has such a theatrical and film like feel that it's easy to forget you're watching a TV series, particularly if you've been a fan of the films by Kon. Many of the techniques he employs there are used throughout here and it gives it such a sense of life and movement at the right times but also a real sense of stillness during a lot of the creepier times. The colors for the show are definitely a varied mix, mostly done real world style, but there are some scattered moments where the colors are just so rich and vibrant they stand out against everything else. Cross coloration and aliasing are both pretty much non-existent throughout this and the colors maintained a good solid feel to them, particularly good since there are so many darks and other earth tones throughout.
Using the Japanese artwork again, the cover for this round has a close up of Maromi in full figure with its body in some kind of motion since it doesn't exactly move like a regular creature moves. It definitely deserved its own cover and it is sufficiently creepy and cute at the same time. The back cover takes the blood splattering style and lays that over one of the main images and then has a few shots from the show on top of there. The summary is very minimal so as to not spoil much and we get a listing of the discs episode titles and numbers, features and a small round of production information. The insert uses some great imagery on one side to list the chapter stops with a lined filter over the villain again set against an alley while the reverse side gives us the creepy old guy with the chalk writing more and more. In addition to all of this, the cover is reversible. The main cover uses the home video cover that has Tsukiko on it.
The menu layout is decent but it uses one of the methods that I don't care much for where the actual menu selections are generally obscured and hard to see or simply invisible. The large block letter text fades in and out as the animation clips from the show plays to a brief loop of music. Moving the cursor does highlight the selection piece with a static color but I've just never liked having a menu come up and you having to wonder what the selections are until you highlight all of them. Access times are nice and fast and while it selected the right language from our preset list, it grabbed the wrong subtitle track as the sign/song track was labeled as the first English subtitle track.
The only extra included this time is a really good one for this series called Paranoia Radio, where it's essentially an audio commentary by Kon, Minakami and Toyoda set to all three episodes on this volume and running just about the entire length of it. I was glad to see some definitely clear labels for who was speaking when since in the past some commentaries with multiple people have been hard to discern who is talking when. I didn't make it through the entire commentary but skipped around here and there to get information on various scenes and listening to these guys is definitely fun and informative. This is one of the best extras for a series like this for those that want to go through the window to what was going on behind the scenes.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Paranoia Agent comes to a close with the fourth volume and its last three episodes. With it being very much a psychological thriller with some supernatural events tied to it, it's pretty heavy on explanations and dialogue at key moments so it gets bogged down a bit in that but it's also well balanced by the visuals that help keep it flowing. With everything coming back to the beginning and you realize just how the events are tied together, everything really falls nicely into place even if it doesn't have the same kind of oomph and power that the first two episodes of the series did.
We learn a lot about Shonen Bat in this volume, a good deal of which comes early on when we see how the lives of Ikari and his wife have changed since the incident. With him no longer a detective, he's taking all sorts of jobs and does a number of security details at construction sites. While he spends most of his time out, his wife is essentially dying on him from an illness she's had since she was born. Her time has been spent hearing what the voices are saying about Shonen Bat and she's become cornered herself which is how she's almost able to summon him it seems.
But as we see, she's come to grips with what's going to happen much as her husband has with the way his life changed and she's able to see through what Shonen Bat really is. His attempts to kill her are futile here as she's managed to gain the upper hand and even as he grows massive before her, which demonstrates exactly how he's been able to take on different forms to different people which has helped to grow the stories about him, she's still able to keep him firmly in hand and essentially castrates him with her ability to back out of the corner and stand tall alongside her husband. It's one of the few times in the series that you see someone go to the brink and come back of their own power and without Shonen Bat's help.
What provides the most avenue for change in this volume though is the "re-introduction" of Maniwa as he's taken on a new persona since going slightly mad. He's living his life like the person they questioned early on in the series and views himself as a hero of sorts that can save Tsukiko from Shonen Bat and often rumbles with him throughout the city. He's using his hero persona to track down what really happened which eventually leads him to Tsukiko's father where he learns the truth and finds the original bat that was the origins of Shonen Bat. Taking a number of cues from that earlier episode, it's a nice bit when the bat transforms into a beautiful sword that you can envision becoming the monster slayer.
Tsukiko's life continues to be everything she doesn't quite want it to be, from the unwanted fame over Mamori which includes lots of interviews and promotion as the animation is about to start to the way her bosses and manager are hounding her for a new character or two so they can expand their empire and profits. Her life is at the center of everything though and her return to the stage in this volume brings everything back to the first couple of episodes and we see the parallels much more clearly now as the secrets are revealed. While the end secret that is the root cause of everything is quite simple, I found it so incredibly easy to identify with Tsukiko over this based on my own past experiences so it may have had a bit more impact for me. In fact, some of these feelings still haunt me today, which makes it all the easier to believe the manifestations it took on, albeit in a supernatural way, for Tsukiko.
Paranoia Agent wowed us from the start and kept us engaged throughout the entire series. What some considered the lull episodes were ones that I thought ended up doing a good job of really expanding the playing field of the show and at the end it's apparent how important it was to do those episodes as it plays out here. Taken as a whole, the series is a great piece of work that is very creative in a number of ways and almost enjoyable on a wicked level. There are so many disturbing scenes throughout it that give you a chill or excite you when you think you shouldn't be. Though there are some obvious riffs on Kon's previous work, I think he did a terrific job overall of taking what he's done before and applying parts of it to a TV series for a wider audience who was getting to see his works for the first time. For those who've been fans since his earlier material, it's a real treat to get something of this length from him and to see the nods towards what's earned him the reputation he has. There are few shows out there like this in recent years and that alone is worth recommending it on. Thankfully, there's plenty more reasons as we've talked about throughout the reviews to recommend it and Paranoia Agent is something that will be our short list for years to come.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Audio Commentary by Satoshi Kon; Seishi Minakami & Satoki Toyoda On All Three Episodes
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Paranoia Agent