Monday, April 9, 2018

Paranoia Agent

"Build a fortress and shield your beliefs
Touch the divine as we fall in line

Destroy this city of delusion
Break these walls down"

Muse - City of Delusion


Satoshi Kon didn't amass a very extensive resume by his untimely demise but he did leave animation with a few raised bars. As much as I liked Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers or Paprika though, Paranoia Agent seems ultimately more memorable, beyond just the hypnotic repetitive screeching of of "maii-ii-aiii-igo" in the opening credits. Shonen Bat is after all a viral meme even in-universe.

For a mishmash of leftover plots that wouldn't fit into full-length movies it holds together surprisingly well, though it takes a second viewing to really catch the multitudinous characters' interconnection and cameos in each others' episodes. A graphic designer gets mugged by a tween boy with a bent baseball bat. Supposedly. The story goes viral. From there on through young, old, male, female, cops and robbers, every episode draws a tangent to this growing urban legend. The vignettes vary wildly in the objective seriousness of their subject matter though they all adopt a generally tragicomic tone, from schoolyard popularity contests to life and death decisions. In fact, by the end, you'll probably be wondering what exactly the show was even about.

But it's obviously about something. Even the most common recurring characters, the two cops investigating the bludgeonings, view Shonen Bat as something like a walking mark of torment seducing the tormented psyches of Tokyo. At least on a superficial level, the series' central theme might be Japanese workaholism, that obsequious shikataganai sarariman devotion to drudgery and putative success which drives so many into hikkikomorbidity. But that's not giving it enough credit. Like the other examples above, Paranoia Agent concerns itself with self-delusion and characters losing themselves to fantasy worlds.

Unlike the more sympathetic hippy-dippy "to each his own" personal empowerment attitude found in Paprika or Tokyo Godfathers, though, Paranoia Agent progresses toward a fairly strong statement in favor of intellectual integrity. It's not the crime, it's the psychological cover-up that gets you, and coming clean about one's faults, inadequacies, errors or transgressive desires would be preferable to fomenting an oncogenic deception. As Ursula Le Guin's character in The Dispossessed put it "Reality is terrible. It can kill you. But it's the lies that make you want to kill yourself."

Paranoia Agent ran in 2004. How much more apt is it now (at least in North America) as snowflake mass hysteria has gripped civilized society? Look at all the kawaii degenerates claiming to be victimized by "institutionalized prejudice" and therefore to be immune from accountability for their own choices and entitled to retribution against their preferred targets of abuse. Observe their pretense of sainthood and martyrdom. Watch the mass hysteria spread, as more and more of the population becomes caught up in the oppression olympics and tell me these idiots wouldn't be improved by a bat upside the head.

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