Episode 3: Double Lips


Hi, fans! Anime maker hates you!

Does Satoshi Kon have contempt for his audience? Fat, ugly Otakus have infested a couple of his shows – one is a potential stalker in Perfect Blue, and this episode of Paranoia Agent opens with that stalker’s doppleganger banging a whore, all the while staring at his PVC figures of magic anime girls. When he’s finished, he doesn’t even look at his prosty, but thanks one PVC figure in particular for her “elastic” move. Maria, the prostitute, slips out, and checks her messages. It’s some woman screaming at her, angry. When she gets home, and checks her answering machine, we hear that same woman, then the prostitute replying – it’s her life, she can do what she wants.

“Double Lips” wastes no time showing us that both angry women are the same woman, living a double life. Maria and Harumi, Ichi’s tutor from the previous episode. During the day she is mild-mannered and quiet. When she isn’t at Ichi’s bedside in the hospital, she is attending to a university professor, who speaks almost as little as the unconscious Ichi. At night, she’s Maria, call girl for Double Lips. She does costumes, becoming whoever the client wants.

Multiple personality stories have a tendency to become tedious – it is difficult to take seriously, and to see the same person talking in multiple voices feels like a trick, not a sickness. It’s easier for animation to make the condition believable, since the alteration of a few visual cues eliminates our major tools for differentiating one set of lines from another. Maria and Harumi have different silhouettes – for the viewer, they are entirely different characters, vying for the same psychic space. Maria is destructive, but fun. Harumi is boring, and no matter how far she goes she can’t seem to shake the need for Maria. She throws out all the prostitute’s clothes, and finds them all back in her closet again.


Duality. Schizophenia. Kinda hot.

Eventually the boring professor asks boring Harumi to marry her, sending Harumi cascading through a wilder spiral. In a way, the marriage is depicted as a more elaborate costume trick than Maria could ever achieve, with a fake ceremony in costume to take place weeks before the couple go to the registrar’s office to sign a piece of paper. The viciousness of the conflict plays out in the middle of the street, with Harumi/Maria tearing at herself, covered in makeup and hideous, until Shonen Bat comes to set her free.

Those are the exact words the character uses – Ichi says them to Harumi – that Shonen Bat has set him free by turning him from a suspect into a victim. For Harumi, it has an entirely different meaning. I’ve played on the theme of connection in these episode reviews, because I think it ties directly into what Paranoia Agent addresses. Sometimes the connections are oblique. While the police try and suss out the specific connections, finding why one person or the next is a victim of Shonen Bat, the more general notion of connection, what separates one person from the next, is what plagues the Bat’s eventual victims. Maria’s job was fake connections – men would pay her money to pretend to be the person (or persons, for the weird otaku) they want to stick it to. Harumi was once removed from these men, through the conduit of Maria, but found it impossible to maintain that separation. The other personality wanted to be more real. She wanted Harumi to go away as much as Harumi wanted her gone. Crows pick through the trash, and squawk at Harumi, the personality-switching butterfly, threatening to eat her like any other bug.

This is from the next episode. I include it because I'm creepy.

This is from the next episode. I include it because I’m creepy.

What Shonen Bat gives to his victims is a release from modern complexity. Paranoia Agent doesn’t make any particular judgment on which of Harumi’s parts was more valuable – Maria was a whore, and the men she sexed were mostly gross, but they weren’t (apparently) BAD. No snickering rapists, but leering creeps. Kind of gross guys, while Harumi’s fiancee is the exact opposite. Thin, calm, a man of no apparent appetite. But Harumi brought something new to the fight for control of her body – she prayed to the street’s new god, Shonen Bat.

Paranoia Agent has, I feel, some parallels with Harlan Ellison’s “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs.” That story posited that the disconnect and protective shields, the anger and discompassion, engendered by modern city life created the need for a Pagan cleansing ritual – public murders for the new gods. Shonen Bat is a god who answer prayers. His violence creates clarity for his victims. When Harumi, touched by the golden bat, wakes in the hospital, her fiancee is, for the first time onscreen, overcome by emotion. Harumi gave up control. She let herself be sacrificed by Shonen Bat, and she found peace.

Rating: B+

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com