Episode 4: A Man’s Path

She's into him. He could hit that, if he doesn't push too hard. Scare her away.

She’s into him. He could hit that, if he doesn’t push too hard. Scare her away.

“You don’t need a character to be sympathetic, just compelling.” It’s become an old saw, at least since anti-hero characters have been mainstreamed (something that happened in American cinema in the 70s, and in comics in the 80s.) Anti-heroes have always existed, of course – it seems to be a more recent phenomenon, at least within my lifetime, that a wholesale preference for unlikable characters has taken over. In each episode of Paranoia Agent a different main character appears, and in “A Man’s Path”, it broaches its first wholly irredeemable monster, Hirukawa.

Hirukawa was first seen in the previous episode as one of Maria’s regular clients. Here we find out he’s a police officer, in deep with the local Yakuza, and he milks the relationship for all it’s worth. Money, a constant stream of girls (who he makes call him “Daddy”) and an obnoxious, ugly attitude to go along with his ugly face and build. It is a constant  in Satoshi Kon’s films that the outside of the character reflects their inner nature, and the fat and ugly usually have major character deficiencies (this is used as a misdirect in Paprika.) So, for Hirukawa, the ugliest outside hides the ugliest inside.

When the bosses tire of the cop pushing their officer, they squeeze him, demanding millions of yen in very short order. So, ugly awful Hirukawa puts on a ridiculous disguise, including a pink mask (the exact pink color as Maromi, Sugi’s dog doll). He begins to rob, but the Yakuza wants more, and more. It all culminates in a horrifying home invasion, where he ties up a man and wife, ransacks their safe, and, when their daughter interrupts the action, he makes her call him Daddy. Cut to the exterior of the apartment building, the girl screaming.

"Call me Daddy"

“Call me Daddy”

Two separate plotlines intersect with Hirukawa’s ribaldry, robbing and rape. First, we have old friend detective Ikari, who likes to stop and chat with Hirukawa, complain about how he can’t find the connections in the Shonen Bat case. Here we see the central horror of Hirukawa’s loathsome existence – he and Ikari are on the same side, colleagues. Ikari praises Hirukawa’s commitment to his family, whom we never see in the show. All we know about them is that the house he bought for them is the source of his impecunity, why he has to rob and burgle to meet the Yakuza demands. All Ikari can see is the surface; right after Hirukawa rapes the schoolgirl, he and Ikari share a drink, and from Ikari’s view they share a perspective on why criminals do what they do. But all Hirukawa does is ape procedural commandments.

The second plotline (and indeed gives the show its title) is The Man’s Path manga, which Hirukawa reads and, bizarrely, identifies with. He sees his indiscretions and even monstrous behavior as noble, a man doing what a man has to do. Even the home invasion that leads to the rape is interspersed with a young woman, who the manga hero rescues. The self-justification and the excusing is fake. Hirukawa is all lies and pretense and unsheathed ID.

Even his exhortation at the end – “Stop me” – is fake. Lil’ Slugger attacks him, but the attack doesn’t stick – Hirukawa doesn’t believe in his own redemption. So Hirukawa arrests him, gets away with his own perfidies, and is now a hero to everyone.

Shonen Bat triumphant.

Shonen Bat triumphant.

As a snapshot of a horrible man’s horrible life, “A Man’s Path” is…interesting. That Lil’ Slugger (if, indeed, his attacker was the real one) couldn’t redeem Hirukawa through violence raises many questions…but that’s all. It is an unpleasant episode, as should be the case with this subject matter. The interposition of the triumphant manga with the bad cop action seems to mock Hirukawa’s self-aggrandizement, but the commentary doesn’t go deeper than that. It’s time for Paranoia Agent to change its plan of attack, because here the formula shows, and it needs shaking up.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com