Paranoia Agent Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Release Date: Monday, July 04, 2005



What They Say
When darkness overcomes the heart and Lil' Slugger appears...

After the first victim's story the police felt the overly stressed woman was having a breakdown and lied to cover up for some crime. However, after the third and fourth attacks upon unrelated victims led to the same description of a young attacker with a golden baseball bat and in-line skates, the police had to wonder: is the Lil' Slugger real or a sinister phantom?

Explore a contagious madness in the first TV show directed by Satoshi Kon, the visionary director behind 'Perfect Blue', 'Millennium Actress' and 'Tokyo Godfathers'!

The Review!
With quite a bit of fanfare, the first TV series from acclaimed director Satoshi Kon hits UK shores, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Audio:
I listened to the English stereo track for my main review, and I thought the dub was absolutely cracking, and one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. The cast manage to capture the nuances of their characters extremely well in a very short space of time, and I can only praise voice director Jonathan Klein for getting such great performances out of these actors. From a technical standpoint, the track is pretty much your standard stereo track, though it manages to completely immerse you in the atmosphere. I noticed no dropouts or distortions on this track, or the Japanese track which I briefly sampled in places.

Video:
The transfer for this show is excellent. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, there’s really nothing I could find to complain about. Colours are vibrant, cross-colouration and aliasing are non existent and I really didn’t see any artifacting as I watched the show. This is a transfer that really helps you get lost in the atmosphere of the show.

Subtitles are in a clear to read yellow font, and I didn't notice any major grammatical or spelling errors.

Packaging:
No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

Menu:
The menus are quite similar to other Madman menus (Madman authored the disc for MVM), with a brief introduction sequence featuring the show's tagline leading into the main menu. This has the show’s logo at the top with an image of Tsukiko in her scared pose from the cover over on the right. A shadowy image of Shonen Bat looms in the background, while the disc’s selections are on the bottom left. A piece of background music plays over this menu. Sub-menus are all static with no music playing, and while access times are very fast and the menus wholly functional, they do feel a bit bland and static in general.

Extras:
My favourite extra here is an interview with creator Satoshi Kon that runs just over five minutes. In it he describes how the idea for the show came about and what he was trying to portray, and I found myself captivated just listening to him talk about the show. The other key feature is the storyboards for episode 1 presented as a multi-angle feature. Storyboard comparisons always interest me and this is no exception, especially since the storyboards here are so detailed. The only other “extras” are trailers for Samurai Champloo and R.O.D The TV.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Satoshi Kon has directed some of the most outstanding anime movies of recent years. With two of his feature film hits (Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers) already available, and the third, Millennium Actress, coming Later this year from Manga, Paranoia Agent completes the collection nicely. Coming after all those endeavours, this was Kon’s first anime TV series, and so it came under a lot of scrutiny from people itching to see how his unique style would be transformed for the small screen.

Thankfully, Paranoia Agent doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. While the serial nature does mean it differs in terms of pace from his previous endeavours, it nonetheless oozes a unique style that is somewhat synonymous with its creator. It’s fantastic that the series has also got much of the mainstream DVD press talking about it and giving it rave reviews, hopefully setting it up as a sure-fire hit for MVM, and one that will perhaps give a bit of mainstream penetration that a show such as this deserves.

The story of Paranoia Agent revolves around a young boy known as Shonen Bat (or Lil’ Slugger in the dub), but in an indirect way. The first episode follows a young girl called Tsukiko Sagi, who is renowned for creating a character called Maromi, that is something of a merchandising craze with plush toys of it everywhere. Indeed, she carries her own Maromi toy around with her all the time, only sometimes she sees it talking to her. She is attacked one day on her way home by a young boy on golden roller blades with a bent golden baseball bat. This mysterious attacker is nicknamed Shonen Bat by the media, and it’s a name that sticks.

Two policemen lead the investigation to find Shonen Bat, but they turn up little evidence. Things get far more complicated though. As news and rumour spreads like wildfire, a young school boy called Yuichi, a model student and class president hopeful becomes the prime suspect when a boy apparently starts spreading rumours that Yuichi is actually Shonen Bat. When the boy is attacked Yuichi is even brought in by the police, but Yuichi himself ends up in hospital as another victim.

But then, connections begin to form. The next victim is Yuichi’s private tutor, who also works as a University Professor’s assistant. She gets engaged to him but struggles with her split personality, Maria, who is actually a prostitute. Then one of her clients, a dodgy police-officer, starts getting threatened by a mob-type group related to someone he’d been screwing over. But just at his lowest point Shonen Bat appears...

While the stories in Paranoia Agent initially appear unrelated, there are several threads running through that tie them together. It’s wonderful the way, for instance, Harumi appears briefly in one scene tutoring Yuichi in episode two, only for the next episode to revolve around her and her multiple personalities. The rich backstories to each of the characters really helps draw you in and it’s really easy to get completely lost in the story as it carries through, almost forgetting about Shonen Bat until he suddenly appears briefly at the end.

The stories themselves are also quite varied, starting with Tsukiko, the introverted young girl who’s extremely popular, going to the model student getting jealous over his rivals, then to the tutor with a split personality which masquerades as a prostitute, and finally the corrupt cop who gets a taste of his own medicine. Each tale is really well thought out and tied back to the central plot in strange, yet captivating ways.

The main theme of the series is perhaps the hardest to put a finger on though. The central theme is that of paranoia, as the name suggests, but often that takes a backburner as the individual episodes play out and it’s not until the end of the episode that you realise you’ve delved somewhat into the psyche of the characters and have in fact seen a different take on paranoia, as well as the main running talk of the general populace and the media as they try to uncover the truth about Shonen Bat. It’s the ability to delve into the deepest, darkest corners of his characters minds in the most interesting ways that I’ve always admired about Satoshi Kon, and Paranoia Agent just reinforces that feeling again.

Each aspect of the show is hand crafted for the atmosphere and general feeling of everything, from the weird and wonderfully creepy opening song, to all the background chatter of the media and the incidental characters to the music, each part of the show just oozes a certain atmosphere that really makes it a joy to watch.

In Summary:
Paranoia Agent is a rare series that really manages to hit all the right buttons while doing something completely abstract and different from the norm. It’s one of the most captivating series I’ve seen in some time, really provoking thought and interest that lasts even beyond its initial viewings. Not only that, but even more of a rarity is that it seems to have captured the attention of some of the mainstream press and is receiving rave reviews there, which can only be a good thing not only for MVM, but the profile of anime in the UK as a whole. When you have a series like this that comes from one of my favourite anime directors and manages to hit all the right marks, all I can do is give the show my wholehearted recommendation. It’s a fantastic experience.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,Satoshi Kon Interview,Storyboards for Episode 1

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: MVM Entertainment
MSRP: £19.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Paranoia Agent