Paranoia Agent 1-4

1 Enter Lil’ Slugger

Tsukiko Sagi (Mamiko Noto) is a designer of plush toy characters. She becomes famous overnight when she crafts the adorable Maromi, a pink dog. However, the success of Maromi places a lot of creative pressure on her and as the higher-ups press her for a new hit design. She finds herself on the brink of emotionally breaking when, on her way home one day, she is attacked by a figure she describes as a young boy with a baseball bat. Detectives Maniwa (Toshihiko Seki) and Ikari (Shozo Iizuka) begin investigating the case while reporter Kawazu (Kenji Utsumi) starts stalking Tsukiko to get more info on the assailant.

While a lot of this episode is setup for the series, right off the bat the series jumps into the subjectivity of perception. A Maromi plush often comes to life and animates in front of Tsukiko and they have conversations. Maromi becomes this soft, comforting figure to Tsukiko as she is caught up the the pressures of  expectation. It’s a technique that really sets the tone that the show is just as interested in the interior lives of the characters as much as it is concerned with the plight of their exterior circumstances.

2 The Golden Shoes

Taira Yuuichi (Mayumi Yamaguchi), or Ichi as everyone calls him, is the most popular kid in the sixth grade. He has the best grades, does great in sports, and is a cool cat. However, when word gets out that the assailant known as Shonen Bat wears a red hat and golden skates, all the kids suspect Ichi is the mystery attacker. A game of bullying begins and Ichi begins attributing these acts to Uchiyama Shougo (Makoto Tsumura), the kid who is competing against him for student council president. As Uchiyama tries to reach out as a friend, Ichi’s hatred of him only grows.

This episode is a masterful demonstration in tone. The episode plays Ichi’s fall in broad, comedic tones. When Ichi’s pride leads him to unironically says “I’m so cool,” watching the gradual downfall becomes humorous. While it is at Ichi’s expense, the show also exposes how Ichi is a very conceited and arrogant character who needs to be taken down a notch.

Further exploring the interiority of characters, this episode is peppered with many of Ichi’s daydreams. Here, exposing the deep desires of Ichi reveals his hatred of Ushiyama is to the point of wanting him to be killed by Shonen Bat. But more than that, he also wants to capitalize on the potential death of Ushiyama, exposing the cruelty of this kid’s heart. And when Shonen Bat ends up attacking both Ushiyama and Ichi, the kid finds his wish-fulfillment has been achieved, just not quite as he expected.

3 Double Lips

Strands of Perfect Blue weave themselves into this episode. By day, Chono Harumi (Kotono Mitsuishi) is a research assistant at Jiai University. At night, her alter ego takes over and she becomes Maria, a high-end prostitute. When a colleague proposes to Chono, she tries to shove Maria out of her life, throwing out her clothing, but soon finds the gaps in her memories and evidence left behind suggest that Maria is only growing more defiant as Chono tries to take full control.

These competing personalities allow for a great visual contrast between the two identities. Chono dresses in plain, muted colors in professional business wear: skirts that go past the knees a blouse and a pants suit. In contrast, Maria wear short skirts or thin dresses with plunging neck lines. She also alternates wearing wigs with bright colors and puts on a lot of makeup.

As Chono and Maria compete, the episode explores a modern tension of identity: is a person who they are publicly and professionally or the dark secrets they try to repress and hide? Or ar they simply two separate people who cannot be reconciled. Once again, the show delves into issues of identity and perception. As Maria and Chono battle it out one night in the streets, Shonen Bat strikes again.

4 A Man’s Path

Masami Hirukawa (Toshihiko Nakajima) is a crooked cop with a taste for women, (in fact, he’s one of Maria’s clients). At the same time, he spends his bribe money on building a new house for his wife and daughter, claiming that he’s a family man. However, when he ends up owing the Yakuza money, he begins another life as a thief. Reaching the end of his rope in a dark alley, he begins crying out for someone to stop him. However, when Shonen arrives, Masami ends up taking him down and arresting him.

Once again, the episode explores the secret lives of people. Masami’s cry for help in the last act of the episode brings up an interesting idea: Is Shonen Bat a dark savior to these people? So far, his attacks seem to have relieved people of some sort of burden: the pressure of creativity, the weight of gossip, the demons of a past identity.

I’d also like to talk about the design of the character of Shonen Bat. The most striking feature is the crooked bat, a twisted instrument. The red cap and golden skates also give a splash of color to the otherwise dark and brooding character, a demonstration of the childish characteristics Shonen Bat. But it’s the sadistic, chilling smile that makes Shonen Bat such a memorable figure. Also, the fact that his motives are still unknown makes him a dark mystery that is both off-putting and compelling, something that should repulse us but also makes us morbidly curious.

© 2014 James Blake Ewing