Episode 11: No Entry

PA11_shot1Confusion and ambiguity are different, but are easily mistaken for each other. It may be an oversold notion that an ambiguous narrative is superior to a clear/fully realized narrative, but ambiguity is distinct from confusion in that an ambiguous story-line/event has multiple possible interpretations. A confused narrative just does not add up.

Where Paranoia Agent is strong, and where so much anime is weak, is in the recognition that it is telling a story rife with ambiguity – but one that can make sense, at least within its own context. Texhnolyze, as a counter-example, is confused. It withholds narrative to create false mystery. The idiot decision to somewhat arbitrarily change the running order of Shamanic Princess (so that episodes 1 – 4 tell a story that is set up in episodes 5 and 6) is confused.

In an episode with lovely writing and terrible animation (suffering the late-season blues that hits many anime series, where the budget is thinner than thePA11_shot2 ambition), “No Entry” demonstrates the power of an ambiguous narrative. Whether what we’re seeing is in the characters’ heads or in an objective reality – whether the two leads of the episode actually know each other as well as they think – it is not directly stated, and so the end is open to several plausible interpretations.

The story: Mrs. Ikari (the old ex-detective’s wife) is a very sick woman. Hospital bills pile up, money is running out. She has a moment of despair, and when she arrives home, Shonen Bat is there waiting with his golden club of escape.

And instead of trying to run and being beaten down, Mrs. Ikari tells SB, in effect, to shove it. She had a moment of weakness, she’s been sick all her life – but the escape offered by Shonen Bat is illusory, and she’s not going to give in. Nobody is going to solve Mrs. Ikari’s problems (whether to get a necessary but expensive surgery) but Mr and Mrs. Ikari.

PA11_shot3Shonen Bat has, over the last few episodes, become a murderer, a judge of all humanity as too weak, too disconnected to be forgiven or endured. Mrs. Ikari (hilariously, talking to SB like he was an unruly child, ordering him to sit, which he does immediately) explains to the murdering Bat Boy that she doesn’t need him, because she has her husband. Her connection with him is so strong, it beats out the weakness of the moment. For the first time in the series, there is an explicit rejection of SB’s path based on a real, valuable social connection.

Except when we see the scenes of Mr. Ikari’s post-detective life, it isn’t as sanguine and assured as Mrs. Ikari tells SB it is. He’s working three jobs, all of them security work at different construction sites (which seems to be the go-to “I need a job” scenario in anime. The hot chick from Key: The Metal Idol worked security, Excel did in the first episode of Excel Saga – it seems to be the only job open at all times, to anyone – and with the economy that Japan has been enduring for the last – what, twenty years? – you wouldn’t think there’d be a whole lot of building going on). At one of his jobs, he’s partnered with a man he’d arrested years ago, an old burglar. They become fast friends, reminiscing and complaining about how life used to be.

And all the while, Ikari doesn’t go home to his wife. Despite the reported strength of their connection, despite a co-worker telling him he should, he doesn’t. Even when work is over, he goes out drinking with the old burglar instead of heading home to his SB-enduring wife.

The quick friendship between Ikari and the burglar is one of the better aspects of the episode. They reminisce nostalgically about how old-fashioned Ikari’s PA11_shot4police work was, how old-fashioned the burglar’s crime was. That made sense to them, in the way Shonen Bat and his attacks never could. For them, cops caught bad guys. Bad guys stole money. There wasn’t some ideological wish-fulfillment nonsense, just two people doing their honest (or dishonest) day’s work.

When Ikari leaves the restaurant, something amazing happens. The world becomes flat, 2D, where everyone on the street is a 2D cutout with an illustration style that brings to mind 50s cartooning.* The world is simplified, no one has any real animation; and when Ikari chases a burglar (wearing a black mask and carrying a burlap sack full of his ill-gotten gains) it’s an old-school cops and robbers chase. Has Ikari succumbed to the very sort of escape that his wife assures SB they avoid?

* I’m completely unfamiliar with Japanese magazines and manga from the 50s. But the illustration style has the kind of quality (cross-hatching, the shapes of faces and the style of dress) one would expect to see in 50s mags – pre-Mad Men style, but just. 

The last scene of the episode involves young detective (whatshisname) dressed in his bulky, crazy “Looking for Shonen Bat” jacket and hat. Mrs. Ikari says, sadly, that her husband hasn’t come home yet.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com