Episode 1: Enter Lil Slugger


Sagi, the toy designer. Shonen Bat’s first victim.

Paranoia Agent opens with a quiet demonstration of what has become a narrative banality – everyone on the planet is connected. This is usually related by a main character after some ordeal. They say, through gritted teeth to the ignorant enemy, “Don’t you get it? We’re all connected!” Paranoia Agent sees this unremarkable truth, and says, quite reasonably: “Yes, we are. Isn’t that horrible?”

An opening montage (that echoes a remarkable section of another millennial-tension anime, Serial Experiments: LAIN) shows people trying desperately to sever connections over their phones, walking through streets or packed into trains, never looking from one side or the other to see the people around them. They’re focused on reaching out to someone far away, and telling them, “No.” All of these connections are negative, many of them frustrated.

Sagi, a character designer plagued with success, is connected to millions of people, though she feels very much alone. Everyone loves the little Maromi, a stuffed animal she created for her company. It’s so beloved that she’s under terrible pressure from her boss to create something newer and better (a request with an implied ‘or else’). Her co-workers despise her, and revel in her creative block over following up the popular design. Everyone loves her and knows her, and it drives her a little crazy.

Enter Lil’ Slugger.

Sagi is attacked on her way home, hit by a elementary school kid with a bent golden bat. She ends up with a busted leg, a presumed extension on her design deadlines, and sympathy from the world around her. But not universal sympathy – the lead detective on the case bets a nice dinner that she made it up. That’s what her co-workers believe, as do some noisy fans on the internet.

Luckily, Sagi has the sympathetic ear of Maromi, the pink dog she created. When she’s feeling low, it talks to her, and walks around her room.
Whether this actually happens, or is the result of Sagi’s growing madness, is not made clear. What is clear is that we’re in a Satoshi Kon story, where reality and the perceptions of it are in constant flux. Did Sagi make up the attack? It seems likely, but at the end the sleazy newshound that dogs her every step gets attacked himself, and ends up in the hospital. The lead detective loses his bet.

The terrifying feet of Shonen Bat

The terrifying feet of Shonen Bat

Satoshi Kon’s elliptical approach to storytelling moves from point of view to point of view. In this episode we follow at least four point-of-view characters, and the show shifts its story-telling, depending on whose perspective we inhabit. Consider the scene where the newsman interviews Sagi, reading her co-workers’ negative quotes to her. His voice shifts to match that of each woman, whom Sagi can recognize (with a smile) from their varying levels of cattiness. His face changes, too, the women’s varying make-up covering his eyes and face as he reads each biting remark. Then, the scene shifts to the reporter’s leering point of view. He drops his spoon and he goes under the table. His gaze fixates between Sagi’s legs. When she has a mild panic attack, and pants, we can see through her white shirt to her bra. We become the sleaze bucket, trying to see the crease lines of her underwear. This, Kon shows us, is what it means to be connected.

Thematically, Paranoia Agent is an exploration of personal apocalypses – about how our connections form us, and what happens when we try (and maybe succeed) at cutting the connections that bind us. The opening animation exemplifies it perfectly: with an almost manically cheerful song, we watch the main characters laugh while they stand on the edge of a building in the rain, while they drown, while they fall through the sky. The character designs were not done by Kon (who did the design work on his first three features) yet have the Kon features – the same childlike proportions typical of anime productions, but with faces that are somewhat more human, more apt to express boredom or contempt. Subtler.

Paranoia Agent, (its early episodes in particular), is special. It’s real horror fiction for the 21st century. The horror here isn’t being alone on a scary road at night, or locked in a haunted house. It’s being surrounded, constantly, connected, with no hope of getting out. Enter Lil Slugger.

Rating: A

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com