Episode 7: MhZ

This could be a shot right out of Kurosawa's Kairo.

This could be a shot right out of Kurosawa’s Kairo.

Paranoia Agent is odd, in that the storytelling, the story, and the apparent intent changes from episode to episode. I was going to begin this review by saying it was not really a character-driven show, but that is only a partial explanation – characters do drive the show, but they’re characters inside a situation where normal human reactions are inadequate. The closest thing we have to audience surrogates are the detectives, and their state of being is near-perpetual confusion.

In “MhZ,” this confusion comes to a head, as the detectives become more directly conflicted. After all, in the last two episodes their case seemed to solve itself and unravel, almost simultaneously. They caught the Shonen Bat, the self-described Holy Warrior, and they learned that Sugi’s attack wasn’t an attack. It was self-inflicted.

For older detective Ikari*, the case is closed. The mystery is solved. He is officially too old for this stuff, and has put it behind him. Young detective Maniwa is not so certain. He believes that the attack on Taeko (in the last episode) was Shonen Bat, that the Shonen Bat they have in custody is only responsible for two attacks. Maniwa’s dreams are disturbed by visions of the old man in the hospital, who eats dinner with him, does a magic act, and becomes everyone in Maniwa’s imagination. The purpose and point of these visions is left unexplained.

Spooky old man.

Spooky old man.

*I refer to them constantly as the young detective and the old detective, because that seems to be the extent of their personalities. Their names are difficult to remember, since they are not the driving force of each episode. In most detective dramas, the will of the detective’s personality is the most outstanding element of the drama. In Paranoia Agent, the mystery is too big to be much affected by these two men. They are small; their impression is small. This is, I believe, intentional.

“MhZ” is one of the more hallucinatory episodes of Paranoia Agent. Ikari and Maniwa’s reactions to their new information are indicative of their personalities – the shortest distance between two points is that Kozuka, the kid they have in custody, committed all the crimes. Maniwa has to believe there’s more to the recent events than meets the eye (and of course there has to be, or there’s no show). He intuits that each of the real victims, Ichi and Kawazu and Harumi and, maybe, Taeko, were purposefully targeted. People “cornered” by personal problems, relieved by the attack of Shonen Bat. It obsesses him to where he’s breaking into the jail, sure that Kozuka is the next cornered individual, the next victim.

He’s right, but Shonen Bat goes further this time. He beats Kozuka to death with a club, then disappears through the wall (paralleling a trick that the old man had performed in Maniwa’s dream). The death is ruled a suicide, Maniwa and Ikari are forcibly resigned, and the Shonen Bat case is closed.

Except for Maniwa, who runs the shortwave radio that has been the aural connective tissue throughout the episode. He broadcasts that Shonen Bat is still out there, not entirely human.

This shortwave radio supplied the title (“MhZ”) and, if it isn’t too anglo-centric to assume, it’s also a pun: all the characters go through mega-hurts, losing their jobs and their ability to control or connect with Shonen Bat. Maniwa has come as close to the truth as he can, but far closer than his job will allow – when dealing with supernatural entities that find them desperate, and free them through violence, it isn’t really a police matter anymore.

Spooky old men.

Spooky old men.

As drama, it’s difficult to assess the episode since it spends so much time in Maniwa’s head, and Maniwa is so confused. We’re in the middle stages of the Paranoia Agent story, where characters are finally catching up to the audience. The last episode’s revelation about Sugi was a surprise. This episode’s admissions from Kozuka are less so. As a character piece, we are starting to see Maniwa’s credulity (remember in episode 5 he was going right along with Kozuka’s Holy Warrior madness) become almost obsessive: he needs his theories to be right. Needs the next cornered person to be attacked.

When that person is Kozuka, and the result of his attack is not the mind-blown serenity of Taeko, the furtive peace of once-whore Harumi, but death, it is harder to solve the real, central puzzle: what is Shonen Bat’s purpose? Does he mete out the only real solution to his victim’s problems? Ichi’s problem was that he was a suspect – being attacked by Shonen Bat fixed that, since he couldn’t have attacked himself (Sugi did). Harumi was interrupted in the middle of her personality crisis, and woke up in the hospital herself, saved from confusion (or was it the passionate worry of her new husband, emotional for the first time upon her waking? In this episode, when Maniwa asks her about her personal crisis, she refuses to talk about it. Issues may not be resolved).

Mop, please.

Mop, please.

For Taeko, her daddy-centered life was destroyed when she found her dad’s picture of her undressing. The only cure for that was amnesia – the self she had has to be lost, so maybe she can rebuild. So for Kozuka, perhaps, cruelly pushed out of his fantasy of being a Holy Warrior by Ikari’s interrogation, living with the reality of his pathetic nature was too much. The only cure for his condition was death, and Shonen Bat knew it.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com