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Paranoia Agent - volume one:
Enter Li'l Slugger

director: Satoshi Kon

100 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
I don't pretend to be an authority on anime. It's been all get-by and research when a disc in the genre comes my way. If anything, there is dread that a genre dipped into drags me in a little too interestedly in, as there are only so many hours in a life and so little space left on the shelves of the brain library to pay it the tribute of a lingering memory. Ever met one of those people who rent a film, think that, like all media, its a one-off experience... then continue with a life of forgetting everything they've ever seen and heard under the heading and excuse of flittering entertainments. I will never concede that we, the collectors, recorders, diarists, curators and repeat viewers, are the wastrels. Even an appraiser geek like me has to draw the line at certain cultural territories though if I am to lead a real life. Sod the American western, bugger Bollywood and fuck Jesus Franco, for starters. But, fantastic heavens, with the selection of anime chucked at me of recent, I am getting there with 'Japanimation', god help me, well and truly sucked in, fearing that I might miss something that simply should not be missed. Paranoia Agent is a strange kettle of funky fish indeed, introduced in a first volume of four episodes with the subtitle Enter Li'l Slugger. Following encounters with the Haibane Renmei and Tenchi in a feature-length adventure, not forgetting the Ghibli Studios' output, one's keening in this genre's direction cannot be curtailed.

Satoshi Kon is the directorial supervisor of the series. What immediately puzzles is why some of the ideas were not worked up into feature lengths, particularly the third tale, Double Lips. Sense is made of this eventually, assuming you leave the disc extras until after the viewing of the main programme. Kon previously gave us three animated feature films, including Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers. Animated features take time to make and the ideas come to him quicker than that. Kon has already read his own palm and done the mathematics. X (number of years life expectancy) divided by Y (number of ideas) plus Z (expected number of concepts to occur to one in remainder of lifetime) divided further by ? (amount of time demanded by the making of an animated feature) equals: well, it does not compute. Paranoia Agent is the result of creative leftovers, and what a confounding and fantastic package it has resulted in.

It has been made in what has been described a 'relay' narrative style, the story as the baton between its characters. The first clue as to how weird shit it is going to get comes in the opening titles which spit introduce all of the featured characters from the series: standing and in long shot, facing the viewer, laughing jocularly, in a succession of unexpected locations, ordinary, apocalyptic, ironic, while the soundtrack soars with an inspirational pop song asking us to never mind the tsunami (obviously, the series was devised and finished before the terrible tragedy last Boxing Day, the tsunami a present day fascination until that point). Cue baffled, blinking, yet not unexcited me.

Into the first story, Enter Li'l Slugger, and Tsukiko Sagi is the young designer of cute toys, begrudgingly famous for creating a floppy pooch thing called Maromi. Expectations are high on her follow-up design; pressures are heavy on the girl. She is wary of jealous work colleagues and uncertain she can twiddle up the magic a second time. Then she becomes the victim of a roller skating boy with a bent, golden baseball bat - a kid out on a serial cranium-testing spree. She survives, doubly famous, and doubly paranoid as a result of the assault. Her creation is now alive and advising her. An atypically sneaky pig of a reporter, Akio Kawazu, sleazes up to her, trying to score an exclusive and 'coincidently' becomes the second victim of the boy on blades, the Fortean fiend, with a second victim, now earning himself the moniker of Li'l Slugger.

Story two The Golden Shoes is better still. Yuichi is a schoolboy, too popular by far with everyone, that is, until the media starts to bombard the city with an artist's impressions of Li'l Slugger. Now everyone fears him because of the resemblance, just and just as the egotistical youth is going for school presidency. He lays the blame on the rumour mill squarely at the door of chubby contender Harumi, but getting angry and threatening him only worsens the situation. Two more will fall prey to the real Li'l Slugger, and one of them being Yuichi will, at least, free him from the suspicions of others. The episode is a flurry of visual wows.

Story three is Double Lips and is the darkest, worthy of feature film treatment. Yuichi's dainty teacher Harumi Crono has a personality disorder and another life as popular prostitute, Maria. I will leave you to discover the cleverness of this one for yourselves.

Story four and already the links between the characters are being forged. There have all along been the detectives covering the case, now we meet a grotesque patrol cop, a client of Maria's. He has a gambling debt that pushes him into what are initially obnoxious and petty crimes. But they worsen as the story runs, building to the truly shocking. At the point where repulsion is not enough and we take venally to him, that is exactly the point when the director plays a big surprise hand on us, a louse becomes a hero, and a true chapter is suggested closed. Cleverly, MVM have begun with the first four episodes, enough to introduce all the characters and most in some detail. The few glossed over, like the old bag lady, are likely to play huge parts too but, fools that we are, and so much are we already given, we settle for now that a bag lady is all she is, a bag lady. There is enough for us to recover from for the time being.

The story begins again from here, and the hints are that it is going to build again into something catastrophic. What part will all these characters play towards ensuring that grand finale? A breather, I am glad of. I look forward to future volumes. Each episode ends with a suited, grinning, elderly man talking absolute crap into the camera, clearly influenced by Lars Von Trier's closing monologues to the original Riget (aka: The Kingdom) series.

Add to the disc, the Satoshi Kon interview, the dual angle option storyboards for all four episodes, quite incredible they are too, and trailers, one of which is for the incredibly tempting R.O.D. TV. The image quality is crystal, superb. I am truly grabbed by both Paranoia Agent and again by what else might be out there in the world of anime demanding of a viewing.
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