Paranoia Agent Vol. #4 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Release Date: Monday, May 22, 2006



What They Say
When Darkness Overcomes The Heart, Lil' Slugger Appears...

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?

Episodes Comprise:
11. No Entry
12. Radar Man
13. The Final Episode

The Review!
The final volume of Paranoia Agent brings the story full circle, and thankfully doesn't cause the same controversy as its predecessor with regards its rating...

Audio:
I listened to the English stereo track for my main review, and I thought the dub maintained the exceptional quality of the previous volumes. This is one of the best dubs I've heard in a long time, and captures the atmosphere of the original Japanese track perfectly. The cast manage to capture the nuances of their characters extremely well; everyone involved clearly made a great effort to get it right. 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 menu begins 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 Maromi on the left side. A shadowy image of Shonen Bat looms in the background, while the disc's selections are on the bottom right. 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:
The only extra on this release is the biggie for me, and that's a commentary with Satoshi Kon (Director, Creator), Seishi Minakami (Screenwriter, Series Development) and Satoki Toyoda (Producer). It's not your standard commentary in that the folks don't just sit there talking about the episodes they're watching, but instead discuss many facets of the series as a whole. They talk about the opening and ending animations and their significance (or lack thereof, I love how essentially they're done in a way to wake you up then send you to sleep!), and they discuss many of the issues they faced during the production as well. There's a lot of information here and although I haven't managed to make it through the whole thing yet, I've seen enough to wish more series had this kind of thing at the end.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The final volume of Paranoia Agent is, for me, pretty much as perfect as you can get. In some ways the story has been a little convoluted, taking several side-trips away from the "main" story along the way, but this volume brings us full circle back to the three characters that started the whole thing off.

With the two detectives Ikari and Maniwa, who didn't feature at all in the last volume, having lost their jobs, Ikari has been forced to do several other jobs including working security at a construction site where he does so alongside an ex-con he arrested years ago. His wife, meanwhile, is at home suffering from a heart disease, and has been contemplating giving up because she can't be the wife she wants to be, and at her moment of final despair, Shonen Bat appears to help her on her way.

Meanwhile Maniwa has taken on the guise of Radar Man and goes about the city trying to find Ikari and Shonen Bat, having, you would have to say, been driven slightly crazy by the Shonen Bat case. But his search leads him to a strange place, where a nerdy fan of Maromi makes dolls that hold several answers Maniwa is looking for, and lead to him making an amazing discovery about the truth behind Shonen Bat and Tsukiko Sagi.

Tsukiko herself has continually been regressing, and eventually joins Ikari in a surreal 2D world where the problems they face in the real world don't exist, as Shonen Bat becomes larger than life and soon starts engulfing the city in the raging black ooze he turns into. But Maniwa refuses to let the world be destroyed for such a silly reason, and determined to put a stop to it all he works to reveal the truth and save the world.

It's really hard to say too much about the events of this final volume without spoiling them, and that's something I'd rather not do. Satoshi Kon, Seishi Minakami and their team have crafted such a wonderfully intricate story that joining all the dots from earlier episodes as you watch the final revelations come to the fore is where a lot of the fun comes in, and it really goes to show how hard they all worked on making everything tie together. It's quite rare for an anime series to wrap up quite so conclusively while still leaving itself wide open to some interpretation, which seems odd in itself, but much like with his feature films Kon has managed to do just that (with the help of a superb array of staff).

This volume does a great job of reintroducing the three characters it spends most of its time focussing on, and it makes me even more glad that time was spent in past volumes on showing just how entrenched Shonen Bat had become in the city's culture, as it helped give the events here even more impact than they would have on their own. It also manages to involve some of the incidental characters in different ways, like the old man who appears in the next episode previews (and several times in the show itself).

The ending itself is interesting, since it really does bring things back full circle. What we find out is both surprising and yet not, and it makes a lot of sense especially given the many hints we've been given throughout the series so far. As urged at the end of the episode, going back and watching the whole series again to join the dots would be a really good idea, especially if you're a little confused by what happens, because the hints and clues are there, and like every mystery it'll take a bit of work to find them all. This was my second time through the series and I found myself noticing several different things and seeing things perhaps in a different light to first time round, so other viewings are definitely recommended.

In Summary:
Paranoia Agent has been a great psychological thriller/mystery series that is quite unlike most other series around. It's a series you have to give some thought to and spend some time thinking about to get the most out of it (though it's not a necessity to enjoy it anyway), and it's extremely well crafted story wise. Fans of Satoshi Kon will lap this up and love it (and it gives several nods to his other works along the way), and it's a series that can quite easily appeal to those outside anime fandom because it's the kind of cerebral story that has a universal appeal that almost transcends anime in many ways. This series easily gets my highest recommendation.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,Commentary on all 3 episodes by Satoshi Kon with Seishi Minakami and Satoki Toyoda,Character Art

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: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Paranoia Agent