Episode 2: Golden Shoes

Ichi's poster, defaced. Refaced, really.

Ichi’s poster, defaced. Refaced, really.

Ichi is the golden boy in the “Golden Shoes”. The opening moments of this episode of Paranoia Agent could be the beginning of a comedy show, something about a elementary school kid whom everybody loves and looks up to. Wins all the prizes. Maybe a new kid would come to school, a bit of the shine would come off him. Or he would help lift the kid up, make himself an example of the Japanese Kaizen. It would be uplifting.

But within a minute, we see Ichi’s world collapse. The girls who smiled at him in his intro rush past him. The thousands of love letters in his school locker become one note: shonen bat.

Ichi shares a superficial similarity to Shonen Bat – Lil Slugger. Everywhere he goes he wear golden rollerblades and a baseball cap. These are his trademark, his sign to the world that, yes, Ichi is number one. But then Shonen Bat, wearing the same things, being the same age, holds a crooked golden bat (and doesn’t Ichi use a golden bat in his baseball video, the one with all the girls in short-shorts screaming “Ichi”?) His desk is defaced, and in a terrific sequence after the commercial break, his school president campaign poster is vandalized until he becomes Shonen Bat.

It’s all the fault of the kid running against him, Ichi thinks. The fat Ushiyama (Ichi, even in the initial throes of his ordeal, calls him a pig) is new at school, and is running for president to make new friends. He is a little meek, a little bit of a wuss, and Ichi is sure that he’s responsible for spreading the nasty rumor that he is Shonen Bat.

Paranoia Agent, as I argued in the first episode review, is about connection – the terrible way we’re all together. Ichi’s entire identity was

Who is Shonen Bat? A boy with a punctuated face.

Who is Shonen Bat? A boy with a punctuated face.

wrapped up in how others saw him. He was great because he was praised, his entire identity centered on being loved. When the love is taken away, his identity goes with it. Unlike the previous episode, “Golden Shoes” is told almost entirely from Ichi’s perspective. There are two very short sequences with the police following up with Sugi, and one scene with Sugi alone, talking to her stuffed animal dog who is still walking around the apartment, determinedly alive. But the rest of the mise en scene is in Ichi’s head, and it turns out it’s a screwed-up place. His internal monologue is a direct contrast to his sunny (golden?) exterior – all doubts and viciousness. Twice he lets out his internal burning fury – once when he yells at Ushiyama, and later when Ushi walks him home, carrying a palm tree and being so sympathetic that Ichi practically demands that Shonen Bat crack his skull open, so he can catch him and be loved again.

So Shonen Bat does, looking just like Ichi as he runs away.

Shonen Bat is some kind of avenging spirit, taking the ugliest wishes of those who call it up, and making them real. Sugi was desperate to have something help her get out from under the pressure, then the golden bat appeared. Bam. Ichi specifically wishes the bat boy to take out Ushi. Bam.

It doesn’t solve Ichi’s problems, but rather sends him further around the bend. He sits in his room, watching past glories on videotape, until his perspective is so warped the world around him seems to melt. Faces become huge, everything flattens. He tries to run away, but the distorted, mad vision follows him, until only one thing is clear in the world: Shonen Bat. Bam.

Distorted Detectives

Distorted Detectives

An advantage of animation (one that, unfortunately, anime rarely takes full advantage of) is that, since it is completely sui generis, points of view can be exaggerrated or distorted without breaking the narrative. Throughout the episode, Ichi sees his classmates shift and distort. They start out in the same style as the rest of the animation world, then their images flatten, their mouths widen, and they crawl all over the screen. In a live action show, this would take forever to set up (first you’d need to establish we’re in a POV – tight on character, cut to his field of vision, then back and forth at least once to make sure we all get it, get it?), and then the distortion would likely involve jump-cutting, a loud noise on the soundtrack. A special effects budget and a lack of confidence in the reality of the distorted image would weaken it. It would be a gimmick, not a world view. In “Golden Shoes”, these distorted shots are held, so the grotesque images of the people spread over the screen. It’s queasy, and strange, and something few directors would even attempt (and fewer get right) in live action.

In a messed up world, sometimes the most you can hope for it to get hit in the face by a bat.

In a messed up world, sometimes the most you can hope for it to get hit in the face by a bat.

Again, the theme of connection and identity are central in this episode – Ichi, like Sugi, is defined by the world around him. Sugi found this terrible, and wanted some way out of the world. Ichi has been forcibly severed from his identity, forced to invent himself again. But for Shonen Bat, his world is distorted and terrible. The certainty of injury, the risk of death, is better than being stuck in the horrible world where Ichi is not the golden boy. Bam.

Rating: B+

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com