Paranoia Agent

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Batter Up!

"He comes for those who are desperate."

A grinning boy travels around Tokyo on golden rollerblades. He has a bent, golden baseball bat -- and he uses it to bash people's heads in.

The police are searching for the boy code-named "Shonen Bat" ("Lil' Slugger" in the English dub), but none of the victims are co-operating fully with the police; in fact, many seem relieved and thankful for the mild concussion the boy gives them via his golden bat. All of the victims have something to hide -- but then again, so do the police...and so does the frail old man who draws chalk equations in the hospital parking lot... and so does everybody who spreads rumors about Lil' Slugger. Who is this mysterious boy, who seems to attack people only when they are about to have an existential breakdown and has never been seen by anyone but his victims? Is he a gang member, a creature of the paranormal, or something else entirely?

Paranoia Agent is a thirteen-episode anime series directed by Satoshi Kon, who specializes in mind-bending animes with some social commentary thrown into the mix. At times, the series resembles an anthology, with each episode throwing its star character through a Twist Ending -- but everything later becomes connected in a way that rivals Serial Experiments Lain's levels of conspiracy and surrealism. Besides being perfectly creepy, this show is noteworthy for the (Studio Madhouse) animation alone: the characters all have distinct designs, and apart from some minor Filler, Stock Footage and other cost-cutting tricks were kept to a minimum.


Paranoia Agent contains examples of (spoiler warning!):
  • The Ace: Ichi starts out as one.
  • Agent Mulder: Detective Maniwa.
  • Amnesia Danger
  • Anime Theme Song: A very, very weird one.
    • It's very consistent with Satoshi Kon, though.
      • More with his longtime collaborator Susumu Hirasawa, the song's author.
  • Art Shift: Usually a sign that things just got weird.
  • Bait and Switch Credits
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: Occurs in the final episode.
  • Black Comedy: "Happy Family Planning" milks every bit of slapstick it can get from the characters' suicide attempts.
  • Blame Game: The entire anime boils down to Sagi blaming an imaginary villain for an accident that she was responsibe for. However, as if reflecting back on the core issue, Sagi's co-workers also place the blame on her repeatedly for whatever goes wrong, continuously talking about her behind her back. Ironically, although this comes from their own dissatisfaction, jealousy and ineptitude, because Sagi is constantly trying to avoid feeling guilty about the one thing that she can be blamed for, the death of her pet dog, she is unable to confront any kind of blame whatsoever, using Maromi is a shield.
  • Book Ends: The last scenes mirror the very first almost perfectly.
  • Break the Haughty: All of episode 2, for Ichi.
  • Cast of Snowflakes
  • City of Adventure
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Tsukiko is a deconstruction.
  • Companion Cube: Maromi. Or is it? Probably not.
  • Completely Missing the Point: See Irony.
  • Contemplate Our Navels : Interesting case with Mrs.Ikari. Her telling Lil' Slugger her life story could be symbolic of meditation and mindfulness, which are a huge part of Buddhism. The fact that she's the only character to reveal a great deal of her back story is a contrast to how virtually no one else ever discusses their past and how they became as messed up as they are, and it's implied this happens because Japan is losing the ability to make peace with the suffering that comes with being alive.
  • Cruel Twist Ending
  • Cute Is Evil: Maromi, definitely.
  • Dead All Along: Zebra, Fuyubachi and Kamome in "Happy Family Planning". In a variation, it's made to look like they were actually alive at the beginning of the episode, but then committed suicide, and the resulting ghosts failed to realize they were dead, so they kept trying to kill themselves, and it's left intentionally ambiguous when exactly they finally managed to do it. Played for Laughs.
  • Dead Line News
  • Deconstructed Trope: Tsukiko and Yuichi are rather dark deconstructions of the Cloudcuckoolander and The Ace respectively, for starters.
    • Mrs. Ikari is an unusual case- she is set up to be a Yamato Nadeshiko, but like almost everything in this anime it's soon deconstructed: she acts like a submissive housewife because she is deeply depressed. But then, as her episode goes by she actually seems to be a partial Reconstruction of the trope. As she talks with Lil' Slugger she is able to acknowledge her troubled past and understand... well, see the entry under Contemplate Our Navels. The point is, in the end she does display her "subtle touch of iron" in that she is the only character to "defeat" Lil'Slugger while being calm and thoughtful, without raising a finger. Too bad she just makes things worse; her act of giving Shounen Bat a Reason You Suck Speech makes him/it flip the fuck out and begin the climax of the show.
    • Also, that producer from the Mellow Maromi in-show cartoon is a deconstruction of the Plucky Comic Relief character, showing just how obnoxious and dangerous such a person would be when put in charge of anything.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Who Lil' Slugger comes to. His purpose, it seems, is to fix the situations that have driven them there by making their problems irrelevant in the face of an entirely new problem -- recovering from being beaten half to death.
  • Dirty Cop: Masami Hirukawa looks like an honest cop, but in fact he takes bribes from the Yakuza to cover up a prostitution ring.
  • Did You Just Sit Down And Have A Chat With Cthulhu?: You might think this is meant to pothole into the tea variation. It isn't.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The entire city of Tokyo is swallowed up by a giant black blob because Tsukiko lied about how her dog died when she was in sixth grade.
  • Doppelganger: Makoto Kozuka and Lil' Slugger.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him
  • Ear Worm: The OP is tremendously catchy, despite being very weird.
  • The Ending Changes Everything
  • Enter Eponymous: Episode One "Enter Lil' Slugger"
  • Episode Title Card: It's always worked into the episode somehow.
  • Essential Madness: Mirawa. Really, the only way to beat Lil' Slugger is to go entirely insane.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Maromi tries to keep Tsukiko safe during the Slugger-induced destruction of Tokyo.
  • Fan Service: Despite the disturbing atmosphere, the show manage to get some fanserivce in here and there.
  • Finagle's Law
  • Foreshadowing
  • Freak-Out: Every episode.
  • Freudian Excuse: Though she herself is not evil, Sagi's destructive turmoil comes from her father being too strict, making her an introverted child, leading to the creation of Maromi and Shounen Bat. Of course, this is "Radar Man's" interpretation, so he may be oversimplifying a lot.
    • More to the point, Tsukiko has such a fragile mind, that the one relatively innocent lie she told as a child distorts into a psychosis that dominates her whole life because she doesn't even have the capacity to accept that it happened. It really is quite ridiculous when you compare it to all the far more vicious and elaborate lies and schemes that all the other characters create.
  • Gainax Ending: Adult Swim said in a blurb "we've got some new shows that are pretty f'ed up. And we know f'ed up- we saw the end of Paranoia Agent"
  • Gayngst: Zebra. What exactly brought it about, we never find out for sure.
    • It's impossible to be sure it even was that: it could have simply been generic angst over a lost love, judging by how happy he seems in the locket picture with his boyfriend.
      • His lover is later seen in bed with the Yakuza that bribed Hirukawa, he may have been dumped.
  • Generic Cuteness: Averted. Kon's fond of this.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The first episode's airing on Adult Swim had the word "bullshit" uncensored. This was fixed for all future airings.
  • Gossipy Hens: "Etc." focuses on a group of them.
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual: "Radar Man"'s goggles are apparently connected to the police database, amongst other things, but considering how bat-shit insane the guy in the costume is at that point, it's kind of hard to tell.
  • Good Cop, Bad Cop: Maniwa and Ikari both intentionally and unintentionally fall into these roles during interrogation.
  • The Heartless
  • Here We Go Again
  • The Idiot From Osaka: Subverted.
  • Ill Girl: Misae Ikari, an ill Middle-aged Housewife with traces of Plucky Girl-- unless she's too old for the trope.
    • The girl from the third story the housewives tell.
  • The Ingenue: Tsukiko is a variation. She has the innocence of a child... quite literally. She doesn't understand why the people around her blame her for what's happening.
  • Instant Fanclub
  • Irony: Because of the anime's success, you can buy Maromi merchandise in real life.
  • Jekyll and Hyde: Harumi Chono/Maria. Tutor by day, prostitute by night.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: In the DVD Commentary, Kon himself says that one of the challenges of working on the show was deciding how much of the story he should tell the viewers.
  • Karmic Twist Ending
  • Kawaisa: This anime is a critical view of this aspect of Japanese culture.
  • Killer Rabbit: Maromi.
  • Lolicon: Played very darkly. Hirukawa (a police officer who was taking Yakuza bribes) was something of a pedophile and had a fetish for young girls calling him "Daddy." Later, when he begins robbing houses to pay off a loan, the daughter of the family who owned the place walked in on a drugged-up burglar and her parents Bound and Gagged. The implied aftermath was... unpleasant.
    • And there's more. Still later, it is revealed that Hirukawa set up a secret camera in his own daughter's bedroom so he could spy on her getting undressed. And she finds out.
  • Lotus Eater Machine: Ikari's 2D cut-out world.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The song accompanying the opening credits. In a sense, also applies to the superficially soothing song that plays over the end credits, although the dissonance is with the images rather than with the non-existent lyrics.
    • Both are intentional. Word of God gives the reason for the cheery opening music and the soothing ending music as being due to the late timeslot the show received in Japan.
  • MacGuffin: Shonen Bat is much less important than how the cast reacts to him.
  • Mad Dreamer: Tsukiko. The things she creates talk to her! Most of the time she's off in her own private world read psychotic delusion. If those delusions are threatened expect her to turn into a Nervous Wreck.
  • Mad Oracle: The Old Man, whose equations reveal numbers that are important to the plot. In the end, Maniwa seems to have taken his place.
  • Magic Realism
  • Meaningful Background Event: Mellow Maromi combines this with Danger Takes a Backseat. The episode is told in flashbacks, with the present being Saruta (the production coordinator) driving frantically to deliver the taped episode for the new Maromi anime to the network to air while he frequently flashbacks to the past, which presents how the anime was made and how Saruta basically offed several members of the staff over the course of the production process. As the episode returns to the present, we begin to see Lil' Slugger trailing behind, getting ever closer to the car with each jump. Saruta finally notices him and drives frantically to escape. For a moment, he seems to have lost Lil' Slugger only to find out that the guy is now behind him in the backseat!!!
  • Meaningful Name: The production manager in the episode "Mellow Maromi" is called Oda Nobunaga after the famous warlord. Just like the real Nobunaga, he is betrayed by his subordinate and killed.
    • Two more: Sagi can mean 'heron' or 'fraud' and the "cho" in Chono is one way of saying butterfly another; chocho the former is tied into the main plot the latter refers to the multiple personalties of Harumi.
  • Memetic Mutation: An in-universe example - In the episode "ETC", the housewives are talking about the attacks they heard about, trying to outdo each other, the stories becoming more surreal and outrageous than the last.
    • Arguably, Shounen Bat himself. It's a particularly bizarre and violent example, but it has been brought up.
    • That is because Shounen Bat himself is nothing but another side of Maromi. Maromi's idea is everywhere in Japan: toys, drawings, clothes and an animated series.
  • Menstrual Menace: The onset of her first period is what distracts Tsukiko long enough for the original Maromi to be run over, starting the entire plot.
  • Mind Screw: Boy, is it ever.
  • Moving the Goalposts: In "A Man's Path," the Yakuza boss keeps raising the amount of money the corrupt cop owes him so he'll be forever in his debt.
  • Naughty by Night: Harumi Chono, a mild-mannered tutor, has a split personality named Maria, a prostitute that takes over at night.
  • Noblewoman's Laugh: "Princess Flyer" in Makoto's story.
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: Ikari's Lotus Eater Machine is powered by this trope; rejecting it is how he eventually breaks out.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Maromi. Sort of. Sagi is psychotic, though, so this is very much debatable.
  • Nuclear Weapons Taboo (Inversions/subversions)
  • Offscreen Teleportation: One of the first signs that something about Shounen Bat is... A bit off. Most egregiously used in episode 10.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Ikari and Maniwa
  • "On the Next...": The episode trailers are narrated by the Old Man, and are mini-Mind Screws in and of themselves.
  • One Degree of Separation
  • Otaku: One of the creepiest characters in the show, and that's saying something.
  • Paranoia Fuel: As you might guess, this show contains a good deal of in-universe Fuel. Li’l Slugger is basically powered by it. This may inspire you, however, to fear fear itself.

Must not run away... Must not turn your back on him... He comes for people who've been driven into a corner and have nowhere to go. Must not talk about him... Must not think about him... Rumors help him grow. Imagination... paranoia nurtures him! Nowhere to go...

  • Parody: Maromi takes after the real world Tarepanda.
  • Pensieve Flashback
  • Perp Sweating
  • Pervert Dad: Hirukawa.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Lil' Slugger. Subverted when it's revealed that he can change his size at will.
  • Plague of Good Fortune: "Happy Family Planning".
    • Less "good fortune" and more "dead people can't commit suicide" by the conclusion.
  • Playing Sick
  • Post Modernism: The animation team must have had fun working on "Mellow Maromi", eh?...
  • Psychological Horror
  • The Rashomon
  • Reluctant Psycho: a couple, most notably Harumi Chrono.
  • RPG Episode: Episode 5 is this, told from the warped perspective of Makoto Kozuka who played on too many RPGs and saw the world and his victims as game characters. Only not really, as is revealed in episode 7. He was just doing it to screw with people before he died.
  • Sanity Slippage: Most of the cast suffers it over an episode. Three suffer it over the series. One does not ever lose it. Two recover from it. Everyone is smiling by the end. Unless they died already. Except in "Happy Family Planning," where all three died and were singing happily in the end.
  • Shadow Archetype
  • Shout-Out: Tsukiko Sagi looks like a grown-up version of Osaka from Azumanga Daioh, though given the context it could be more of a Take That.
    • Ikari's younger self also looks identical to young Genya in Millennium Actress both of whom are played by Shozo Iizuka so it could double as an an Actor Allusion
    • Radar Man hitches a ride on "Speedy Bat" delivery truck in a nod to Batman also a play on words since you know...Shonen Bat.
    • Of all things, Monty Python's Flying Circus. In episode 5, Kozuka seems to have defeated the monster. Then he looks up:
    • Also in episode 6 Taeko's last line in the episode is oddly reminiscent of another work by Satoshi Kon
  • Shower Scene
  • Show Within a Show: As Hirukawa falls farther and farther from grace, he begins modeling his mindset on the Determinator hero of a Rated "M" for Manly manga in a desperate, twisted attempt to justify his actions to himself.
    • And, of course, there's Mellow Maromi...
      • And Makoto Kozuka's video game. The series has quite a few of these.
  • Snowy Screen of Death: When the black blob invades the TV studio in the final episode.
  • Something Person: "Radar Man," whose powers include mastery of metaphor and non-linear thinking.
  • Sorry I Left the BGM On: The OP theme is already very creepy. Having it suddenly blare out of a radio is enough to scare anyone out of their wits.
  • Space Whale Aesop
  • Split Personality, followed by Split Personality Takeover.
  • Spoiler Opening: Subverted.
  • The Stinger: Borderline Gainax Ending.
  • Surreal Horror
  • Superhero: "Radar Man". Although, how much of his "powers" are made up and how much is actually happening is, as always, up for debate...
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Mrs. Ikari comes very close; her "The Reason You Suck" Speech clearly causes him real, physical pain.
  • Theme Naming: Nearly all the major characters have animal names - Sagi (heron), Ikari (boar), Maniwa (horse, also his internet handle), Ushiyama (cow), Chouno (butterfly), Hirukawa (frog), the Otaku Kamei (turtle), the internet handles of Zebra, Fuyubachi (Winter Wasp) and Kamome (Seagull) in "Happy Family Planning", and so on. Note that some of them have character-related double meanings, as well - written with a different kanji, Tsukiko's last name, Sagi, means "fraud".
  • There Are No Therapists: Partially subverted in that Harumi Chono is seen talking to one (all those other loony characters, on the other hand....) He doesn't seem to help much at all though, so rather than There Are No Therapists one could say All Therapists Are Useless....
    • Perhaps not. The moment Maromi disappears and people are forced to face the lies they've created, Maria appears in front of Harumi's husband. She never came to peace with herself or directly faced her problems, probably her blatant self-repression in a sexless life/marriage, she ignored the therapist's advice and it bit her in the ass. The therapist may very well have been helpful to someone more willing to listen.
    • Debatable, but comes more under All Therapists Are Useless, considering that the very last thing you want to do with someone who has Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder or simply lapses into Dissociative Fugues is to let the primary personality deal with it completely alone, with no medication, psychotherapy, or support, particularly when at the point we meet Harumi, it's very clear that she is very very sick and should be institutionalised.[1]
  • The Tokyo Fireball
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: In many episodes, you aren't sure what's supposed to be real. Tsukikho is the most notable example though, considering that it is her initial paranoid psychosis based on a lie that devolves into the current situation. Your first clue that there's something more substantially wrong with her than just being a Cloudcuckoolander is when you see Maromi talk.
  • This Loser Is You: The unnamed otaku. Even his figurines don't give him any respect.
  • Together Umbrella: One is seen drawn on a door in a school, in Ikari's dream world.
  • Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe
  • Tomato Surprise
  • Trick Twist
  • Twinkle Smile: Yuichi "Ichi" Taira starts out with one (along with Audible Gleam, natch) in the second episode but quickly loses it as things start going wrong for him.
  • Twist Ending
  • Twitchy Eye
  • Vicious Cycle: The anime is implied to be this at the very end by Maniwa, who's seemingly taken the place of the old man.
  • We Could Have Avoided All This: Sagi Tsukiko created Shonen Bat only to avoid her strict father's scolding for losing Maromi. but Maniwa revealed that her father always knew the truth: He only went to search for Shonen Bat to avoid the fact that he was so strict and her own daughter feared him, so he lied to the police and took a bat and pretended to search for Shonen Bat to show Tsukiko he cared for her.
  • Yakuza: In the episode, "A Man's Path".
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Misae Ikari.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: We find out in later episodes that Shonen Bat/Lil Slugger is a negative apparition fueled by the paranoia of the growing and out of control rumors of the public (hence the title). How he came to be was due to Tsukiko lying due to stress of her successful anime character (Maromi). Of course the original lie was due to her losing a puppy after begging so hard to get it and not owning up to the consequences from telling the truth. It isn't until she eventually confronts and admits her mistake that Slugger disappears.
    • Crosses into What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic territory when you realize that Maromi/LS are all about excuses. Think about the Book Ends for a sec. They give you a valid excuse...but that doesn't mean they're helping you.

Notes

  1. Considering the therapist did nothing when Harumi was re-arranging her life by getting married - something bound to trigger a relapse - and beginning to doubt the validity of her own identity whilst having no familial support whatsoever, it's pretty clear he was effectively useless. Especially considering that she was prostituting herself, something that would be a grade-A red flag indication for hospitalisation. Hypnotising someone to talk to their alter ego and giving some half-assed life advice does not a good psychiatrist make.