Review for Paranoia Agent Collection - Collector's Edition
James Ferman is a convenient bogeyman when it comes to the draconian censorship regime that existed at the BBFC once upon a time, the atmosphere which took a bizarre view on obscure weapons and imitable techniques. This is the BBFC that went snip-happy on nunchuks, ensured that the only Teenage Mutant Turtles we got in the UK were heroes, not ninjas, and made sure that we never saw head butts in cinema, chopping up films as innocuous as The Matrix and Star Wars. James Ferman’s reign as director of the BBFC ended in 1999, and he passed away in 2002. Yet for anime fans, one of the biggest travesties of the BBFC came in 2006, when Paranoia Agent was first released here on DVD. That James Ferman legacy had a long reach.
As an anime fan, you really had to pick your battles, and sometimes it never felt worthwhile complaining about BBFC edits to what really was trashy, disposable material. When it comes to sex and violence, it’s hard to debate cuts to shows like Ikki Tousen, Angel Cop, or the Darkness hentai series. Paranoia Agent was different though. This was far from a trashy show, probably the first anime TV series to get a write-up in a mainstream national newspaper (The Guardian), and the sole TV series from anime auteur Satoshi Kon. Yet this show fell victim to the dreaded imitable techniques that the BBFC so loved to hate. The episode was Happy Family Planning, and the show was about a ‘suicide club’. The show was rated 18 to begin with, but the BBFC still saw fit to cut over a minute from the show, actually removing the heart of the episode, the point of the story. They gutted it with the expectation that children would seek out and watch an 18 rated anime, because ‘cartoons are for kids’. I got an uncut check disc for review before the BBFC acted, and for the last 15 years, that disc has been kept in a safe, one of my most treasured possessions.
That security is no longer necessary, as MVM are bringing Paranoia Agent back in the UK, this time on Blu-ray. The BBFC attitude to back catalogue titles on Blu-ray is completely different, what with the expense of manufacturing the discs, meaning you usually get one disc mastered for global release, and the smaller sales numbers to niche audiences; they become a lot more accepting of uncensored material. Paranoia Agent is one of those shows from the interregnum, the period between the end of cel and paint anime, and the advent of HD anime, when TV shows were made at NTSC resolution and frame rate (incidentally the height of the last anime bubble, when the most imaginative shows were produced), and the Blu-ray is going to be an upscale. But the most important thing is that for the first time in the UK, you can get Paranoia Agent uncut.
Paranoia Agent concerns a series of brutal attacks committed by Lil’ Slugger. This mysterious figure, apparently an elementary school student, wears gold inline skates and a baseball cap, and attacks his victims with a dented metal baseball bat. But clues and witnesses are light on the ground, and the only apparent link is that the victims are under some sort of psychological pressure in their personal lives, and may be seeking some sort of escape. At which point, Lil’ Slugger appears like some sort of supernatural saviour.
The thirteen episodes of Paranoia Agent are presented across two Blu-rays from MVM.
1. Enter Lil’ Slugger
2. The Golden Shoes
3. Double Lips
4. A Man’s Path
5. The Holy Warrior
6. Fear Of A Direct Hit
8. Happy Family Planning
10. Mellow Maromi
11. No Entry
12. Radar Man
13. The Final Episode
Paranoia Agent gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080i 60Hz transfer on these discs, which is understandable given that this show comes from the era when most TV anime was animated at SD resolution and in NTSC format. It will have been scaled up from a 480i source, and the only comparison worth making is to the original DVD. Given that the UK DVD release was by its very nature an NTSC-PAL standards conversion to get it working on our old 576i 50HZ TVs, means that these Blu-rays are an essential upgrade, if you want to get away from the soft and ghosty image of those old UK DVDs.
The image is quite clear on these Blu-ray discs, the colour and line reproduction is good, bringing the show’s muted colour palette across with a little more vibrancy. The animation is smooth, but not as smooth as you’d expect from a 24fps source, and the only scaling artefact I noticed was some shimmer on fine detail. The big improvement is in the reduction in banding. While it’s not gone completely, it’s a massive improvement on the DVD release. This is an absolutely stunning animation, with character and world design influenced strongly by a sense of realism, and is of consistently cinematic quality. Satoshi Kon`s work always twists perceptions and realities, and that is reflected in the animation here.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, and for once you get optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. As ever, I went with the Japanese audio, and was happy enough with the experience that I am most familiar with. Make sure you have a Dolby Surround setup, as given that treatment, the stereo really offers as immersive an experience you can get without it being a dedicated 5.1 track. Susumu Hirasawa’s music also gives the show a unique feel. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos, and thankfully it doesn’t look as if Funimation succumbed to the temptation to localise it any further than the original Geneon subtitle translation.
The discs present the episodes with static menus. Each episode is followed by a translated English credit scroll. While English credit reels were created for the DVD releases, they obviously couldn’t be scaled up, and the original Japanese credits are used in the episodes proper here.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Arifureta.
Disc 2 autoplays with a trailer for Cop Craft and has the extras.
The Satoshi Kon & Susumu Hirasawa Paranoia Agent Talk Show is new to the UK and lasts 18:21 and sees the composer and the show’s director talk about the series.
You do still get the Paranoia Radio Audio Commentaries for the final three episodes from Satoshi Kon and the production team.
The Episode 1, Director Satoshi Kon’s Hand Drawn Storyboards run for 21:00.
You get the Trailer for the show (0:32), and the Promotional Video (2:26).
What you don’t get with this release but are on those original DVDs include the Production Art and Stills (but SD vs. HD makes that less of a loss), but you might want to hold onto the Volume 1 DVD for the five minute interview with Satoshi Kon.
Given that this is the eighth time that I have watched Paranoia Agent, you can pretty much accept that this show has excellent re-watchability. My opinion of this great series really hasn’t changed that much since I first watched it way back in 2005. In fact, there’s only one aspect of Paranoia Agent that has begun to grate through repetition, and that’s only in one episode out of the thirteen. I’d actually say that Paranoia Agent has a lot more relevance now in the age of social media than it had even back when it was first released. The idea of memes, of social trends developing and evolving with breathtaking rapidity has become part of our everyday lives in a way that just didn’t exist in 2005. The idea of social pressure to conform, and to live up to expectations is also certainly a lot more relatable today as well.
Paranoia Agent is an episodic show with an overarching storyline. At first it follows two policemen investigating an assault on a young designer. Keiichi Ikari is the seasoned veteran cop, methodical and by the book, while Mitsuhiro Maniwa is his young, idealistic partner, a tad more open-minded, and very much in the vein of Season 1 Fox Mulder from the X-Files, both in terms of character, and art design. The young designer, Tsukiko Sagi was attacked in a dark alley by a boy of elementary school age, on roller blades with a twisted metal bat. But there are holes in her account, things that don’t add up. But then Lil’ Slugger strikes again.
There’s public interest in the case, after all Sagi has designed the latest fad character, a cute purple dog named Maromi that is spinning off all manner of merchandise, and even an anime show. The ‘legend’ of Lil’ Slugger quickly becomes an urban legend, and soon people are saying that Lil’ Slugger appears to those who feel paranoid and cornered by the circumstances of their lives, to deal them a blow that offers an escape. Sagi was facing a deadline to create a new design, the journalist that interviews her has issues with owing money, a young boy faces losing popularity in school when his resemblance to Lil’ Slugger sees him become the victim of bullying, his tutor has a multiple personality disorder, and both of her personalities are in conflict with each other and so on.
Ikari and Maniwa begin by approaching this case conventionally, looking for suspects and evidence, but as it slowly becomes clear that this is more some sort of social, even supernatural phenomenon, the investigation dead-ends, with both men going off on tangents when conventional police work fails them. It’s at this point that Paranoia Agent itself goes off on a tangent, taking a break from the main story and the investigation. The first episode of this three episode diversion, Happy Family Planning is the best episode for me in the whole series, turning the concept on its head. Lil’ Slugger is still out there, growing in notoriety and power, but this episode concentrates on a suicide club, three people who are determined to end their lives for whatever reason. Lil’ Slugger is background noise in their lives, just something people are talking about. They’re more focused on their own troubles, as they try to find a way to commit suicide that will be painless, or aesthetically pleasing. They met up online, and have discussed various methods, and as they keep trying and failing, they eventually come to the conclusion that Lil’ Slugger might be the one to end their respective pains. A hanging sequence in this episode initially caught the ire of the BBFC, but has been restored now, and it’s the funniest moment in the episode.
But then there is ETC, which for me is the worst episode in the series. It concentrates on a group of housewives in a housing estate, having a good gossip about the latest Lil’ Slugger rumours. Basically, it’s as if they took all the various ideas they had for the episodes in the series, picked all the ones that didn’t make it out of the creative trash-can, and used them for the gossip sequences, all of which leads to the most disappointing conclusion for an episode. The diversion ends with Mellow Maromi, which brings things back on form, and leads into the conclusion, taking a look at the anime spin-off from that cute purple puppy character I mentioned earlier. But really this episode is one big snark at the anime industry, the work hours and the way creative talent is treated. It’s the anti-Shirobako, and almost up there with Happy Family Planning in my estimation.
The final three episodes of the series break away from the episodic storytelling to tell one narrative, bringing back Ikari and Maniwa to wrap things up, although things get weirder and approach apocalyptic, as society’s obsession with this particular meme gets out of hand.
You can draw direct connections when it comes to themes, plot points and story ideas to Satoshi Kon’s features, from Perfect Blue all the way to Paprika, and you will often notice echoes and presages of things that he has done in those films. But Paranoia Agent has a lot to say about society that is very important, which is relevant in our modern age more than ever before, regarding people’s ability to obsess with the meaningless and trivial, and our unhealthy ability to create monsters that spin out of control. In Paranoia Agent, the allegory is taken to extreme levels, allowing for supernatural means to make those obsessions and monsters manifest, which helps pass the show off as a brilliant piece of entertainment, and offers a satisfying if ironic conclusion. In reality, we don’t need physical manifestations of our collective subconscious, our id to do us damage.
There are TV shows that can transcend their genre, but entertainment that transcends its medium is a lot rarer. Paranoia Agent is far more than just another anime, but then again, what would you expect from the imagination of Satoshi Kon. The director that gave is Tokyo Godfathers and Millennium Actress delivered an anime series unlike any other. Finally with this Blu-ray, we can see the uncut episodes in the UK, and you really shouldn’t miss this chance to own this superlative series.