Paranoia Agent Vol. #1 (also w/box) -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A+

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  • 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.
  • MSRP: 29.98/39.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Paranoia Agent

Paranoia Agent Vol. #1 (also w/box)

By Chris Beveridge     September 10, 2004
Release Date: October 26, 2004

Paranoia Agent Vol. #1 (also w/box)
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.

What They Say
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!
The first TV series from film director Satoshi Kon, his style carries over perfectly and ends up creating one of the closest things to a film-like experience with this show.

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.

The artwork for the first volume has been used in a lot of promotional materials for months now and it continues to be a very familiar and still creepy piece of work. With a heavy bent towards the red filter, the top of the cover just has a row of the lower half of people standing there while a full color non-filtered version of the "villain" of the show is standing there from the neck down. There's a lot of empty space in the middle given over to his shadow, but it's such a striking image that it works so well. The lower half of the cover even goes so far as to provide both language versions of the series title, which takes up a good chunk of space. 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 dusk 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 becomes the artwork from the second Japanese DVD release with Chono's close-up while the back cover goes minimal and uses the insert artwork of the villain along with some of the same information.

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.

This release comes with some good extras included on it. One of them is the entire first episode, sans opening and ending, done as a multi-angle storyboard sequence or you can just watch the storyboards itself. You're able to flip between languages with it on the fly but you can't, for obvious reasons, select any subtitles for it. Another good extra is an interview with Satoshi Kon done back in November 2003 where he talks about the series, its origins and more. He's a generally interesting person to listen to and avoids some of the usual pleasantries in his interviews and does talk about some of the guts of his projects. Unlike most other releases, there isn't an image gallery included here which is a surprise.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ever since Satoshi Kon hit the scene with his theatrical debut of Perfect Blue, we've been treated to some interesting looks at completely different characters and settings from him in the three films that he's done. Seemingly out of the blue, at least to western audiences, he became an overnight sensation by taking some of the most basic stories and draping them with a layered richness and such a sense of atmosphere and setting that it only got better by very well written scripts and dialogue. His work jumped out into the mainstream and made some rare crossover appeal to the film crowd in general.

But one thing you rarely see a film director do is to remove himself from that medium and do something for the TV market. Often they find the restrictions placed on them due to broadcast standards, advertisers and other factors to be far too much to deal with. When they do actually go forward, you more often get them as supervising producers or used as a "concept by" angle and end up with a watered down show that you always wonder if it could have been better if they had been more directly involved or if it was done without the restrictions. In my mind, to have Satoshi Kon attempt to make the shift is intriguing enough. To see that he's managed to actually one-up what he's done theatrically is both a surprise and yet not.

Paranoia Agent hits you with its different feel from other shows right from the start with one of the strangest opening songs I think I've heard in some time where the visuals are of the various key locations to the series and the main cast members. The cast members fade in and out as the locations change and they're all done in the same pose but in changing outfits as it goes along. Yet they all look like bobble-heads with the way they're laughing and bouncing up and down. And as strange as that opening song is, damn it's catchy.

The series is a strange one to describe but it's very simple in its own way. Each of the four episodes on this volume highlights a different character and the threads that tie them all together. What starts it all off is the introduction of the young woman named Tsukiko who created a "mascot" character in the cute form of Maromi, an almost droopy dog-like design that's become a merchandising blitz. You'll se Maromi items throughout the show in different forms and with different characters. For Tsukiko, the pressure is on to follow-up on her designs while dealing with a boss that's only adding to it and other staff members who resent her sudden success. Tsukiko is a very introverted young woman though and we start to learn slowly of a number of problems about her as it moves along, but only after she has an incident late one night where out of the blue someone on inline skates appeared out of the darkness and clubbed her upside the head with his bat.

Since she's famous as the designer of Maromi, it attracts national attention and the story starts taking on a life of its own. She's soon questioned by the detectives on the case and her impression of the attacker being an elementary school student soon makes its way out into the general public. While enough of a story on its own, it gets even more attention over the coming days and weeks as more and more victims start showing up and there's links between all of them. Followed though by the detectives, the show moves each episode to deal with the particulars of a character there, such as a young school student who finds himself going from the height of popularity to despair as he's a suspect, or the sleazy reporter who gets too wrapped up in the story. Other people end up getting wrapped up in it as well and through the links, the serial attacker who becomes labeled Shonen Bat after the boys bat that he uses in his attacks, continues to appear seemingly when he's almost needed in a way.

With each episode focusing on a particular character, but also giving just the right amount of time to the other characters involved in the story, it becomes very cast heavy quickly but never to the point where you wonder who people are. It plays out like a very deeply played murder mystery of sorts with the two detectives acting as observers, though their own links to some of the characters become apparent as it progresses as well. The show manages an incredible atmosphere to it, particularly when you can take in this many episodes at once, that the mood only heightens and becomes more oppressive feeling as you go through each episode. You can see parts of what's going to happen but then you get curve balls as well. A person that seems completely normal in the second episode becomes a fascinating character with a serious problem by the fourth episode and it isn't a leap at all but rather just a surprising revelation. And the show doesn't shy away from the seedy side of things either, providing a disturbing set of sexual deviances and a lot of bloody violence that comes in fast spurts.

One aspect of the series that appeals to me is that the same kind of designs used for Kon's movies is used here as well for the characters, which means that we don't have a big cast of pretty people wandering around doing things. Some of these normal people are just downright ugly at times, from the reporter who looks close to a fish for a face to the corrupt cop on the take. Even the leads aren't all that attractive. Tsukiko has a flair of innocence to her but she's very plain. The detectives are fairly average and only have their ages to show much. The elderly characters really look like they've lived rough lives. It's something that makes this show appealing since it adds to the atmosphere of things and avoids being filled with characters that just wouldn't work in a setting like this.

In Summary:
Paranoia Agent is the kind of series that leaves all the stereotypical trappings of the bulk of anime series and tosses them aside. While it uses some of the basics of your modern detective drama, it's done with great style and atmosphere and created a film-like experience when you take in multiple episodes in one sitting. The cast of characters here feel fully fleshed out and real, people with serious problems and flaws that are trying to get on with their lives but end up in some strange serial attack situation that alters their lives considerably. There is simply something here that leaps out at me and says that this isn't what we're used to seeing on a regular basis, that this is something special. These opening episodes captured me completely, enough so that I've watched it nearly three times now. It's tempting to say that this is a show made for the adults, for those that want some real meat to their shows, but at the same time it's one that the teen crowd really needs to see as well to know that there really is more out there to anime.

Very highly recommended.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Satoshi Kon's storyboards for the entire first episode as a multi-angle,Satoshi Kon interview "Everything About Paranoia Agent... Can Not be Told" conducted by a psychologist Dr. Tamaki Saito

Review Equipment
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.


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