Episode 8: Happy Family Planning


Our happy family.

The title of this episode is only revealed at the very end, after all of its secrets have been divulged (or, at least, implied). Happy Family Planning, on a condom dispenser machine. Maybe a bit of unpacking will get to the bottom of this. HFP’s premise is, for the most part, divorced entirely from our series narrative except in terms of tone – it takes a desperate and terrible topic (child suicide) and turns it into a wacky adventure. This is done deliberately, with funny music and goofy character reactions. The three heroes of our adventure are friends in death who have met on the internet – Fubiyachi (hereafter, F), an old, fussy man who looks like he was a professor, Zebra (hereafter Z), giant, gay and kind of childlike, who in the few moments we see him appears to be a very sweet, sad man. And then there’s Kamome, K, the most enthusiastic suicide, who cannot be more than 10 years old.

When they meet in person, F and Z are shocked at K’s youth, and try to outrun her. But K’s too enthusiastic, too excited about this great suicide they’ve all got planned. K is not a precocious annoying TV kid, but is genuinely charming in a silly kid way (in a way few but Satoshi Kon could pull off with any skill). When she meets Zebra and Fubinachi, she says their names several times in succession, as if she just wanted to feel them coming off her tongue. Every word and every expression bursts with joie de vivre. Her suicide is gonna be the best!


Run over by train = not pretty.

So the plot involves F and Z trying to get themselves properly killed, while saving K’s life. She’s too young, and there’s no reason for her to die – none that she offers. F murmurs about a Soya in his sleep. Z has a picture of a young man in a heart-shaped locket. They’ve got broken hearts and deep reasons, foolish or not, for wanting an end, and all three of them are following the example of their online friend, Fox, who knows all the ins and outs of killing yourself, and who disappears – successfully, apparently, reaching their mutual goal.

It would stand to reason these three characters, grandfather, father, daughter, are the happy family. In trying to protect K, F and Z seem to find a new lease on life – though, as F notes, all the fun things they do (take a trip to the mountains, go to a hot spring) are special treats that Fox said should be a prelude to suicide. But in their travails, and misguided, empty suicide attempts, they become happy with one another, all wearing their big pink Maromi backpacks everywhere they go. To take the title at its most literal, they are the happy family, planning their end together.

Suicide Attempt #3

Suicide attempt #3.

But why would Kon (or one of the artists, writers, designers, whoever came up with the idea) decide a condom machine was the proper place to christen this crew? Family Planning is a euphemism for interrupting that natural reproductive process. After all, without the intercession of the thin layer of latex, the happy little sperm would plan to make families of their own. But no, the conception is contravened. The irony of family planning is that it is (especially, one might note, in Japan) the planning to have no family. And as these three planned to end their family ties, they found a new family, together.

Paranoia Agent isn’t really a dark comedy, though it does have some of the tone and tropes, especially in this episode. The trio at the hot springs pine after having Shonen Bat come and fix their problems. F knows he couldn’t have been the boy they had in custody, (because he happens to know that boy was Fox, their erstwhile mentor, who tried to lead them to their own happy end), but couldn’t come up with his own, and needed Shonen Bat. “After all,” says F, “if he comes after cornered people, he should have come for us long ago.” Then at night, he does come – for someone else. K and Z chase him down, but an apparently terrified Shonen Bat makes his escape.



And he escapes because, as the ending implies, these three are already dead. People pass them without noticing, they have no shadows. The show puts a button on this by having the trio photobomb a portrait of some school girls at a shrine. When the schoolgirls look at the photo (that we do not get to see) they cry out in genuine fright.

They’re all dead. Shonen Bat, whatever he is, was running away from ghosts. The scene is prefigured by an early abortive suicide attempt, where the trio plan to jump in front of a train (with F telling Z to throw K back before they go). But someone else beats them to a suicide, and K decides that she doesn’t like what you look like after you get hit by a train*. Z sees his spirit walk away from the strain, spurting blood from his head, complaining about how much he hurts. No-one else notices the spurt, just as no-one else notices the trio, after they do an apparently (but perhaps not) ineffective suicide with carbon monoxide.

*K’s objections to other methods of suicide are all aesthetic, or comfort-based. No drowning for her, it might get her clothes wet. And jumping off a building? You end up just as yucky as if you were hit by a train.

Photobomb victims.

Photobomb victims.

This is what keeps Paranoia Agent from being a comedy (despite its tone). There’s real horror in poor K’s fate. F and Z wanted to save her, but they failed, and don’t even know it. They’re as irredeemable as awful old Hirukawa,  so much so that Shonen Bat runs from them. Maybe they’re a happy family in their undeath, but they are doomed to go on, planning their deaths again and again, unaware that they’ve already occurred.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com