Rated: 16+ :: Released: 02 February 2004
Director: Satoshi Kon :: Starring: Daisuke Sakaguchi, Mamiko Noto, Shozo Iizuka, Sam Riegel, Michelle Ruff, and Liam O'Brien
By Hannah Krueger
24 September 2010 — Paranoia Agent is the essence of Satoshi Kon. It blurs the line between fantasy and reality, it's occasionally trippy, and builds a subtle interconnecting mystery around a young elementary school child with golden skates and a bent bat.
The first episode kicks off with character designer Sugi being pressured to follow up on her first hit, and dealing with creative block. On her way home, she runs into an older woman rummaging through garbage who randomly disappears — never a good sign, especially in a Satoshi Kon work. Things get progressively creepier from there, culminating in Sugi getting beat over the head by the aforementioned elementary school punk. Of course, this draws suspicion from the detectives investigating the case. Soon, others are attacked in the same way, all giving the same description of the kid, who is dubbed "Shonen Bat."
From there, a different director takes the helm for each episode, and they become one-shots that focus on the various victims of Shonen Bat. For the most part, each episode is self-contained, but at the same time they all link together in the tiniest ways to become a part of the larger series. It's only in the last third or so of the series that episodes actually pick up where they left off the last time and connect to each other. And though the victims have one major common factor (which I won't spoil), they connect to each other in smaller ways.
This story is nothing short of phenomenal. You'll be on the edge of your seat as you watch each victim's tale unfold, wait for the inevitable attack, and try to figure out the mystery of Shonen Bat.
Length-wise, this is perfect. If it were any longer, it would've started to drag, but if it were shorter, they probably wouldn't have been able to tie everything together like they did. The length allows for the perfect exploration of each victim, and for the larger mystery to unfold as it does.
Madhouse's realistic style fits this production to a tee. They tend to use darker colors and shades, except for when they use brighter hues, usually to a more sinister effect. (Yes, I know that's an oxymoron, but trust me here.)
With each new director and story comes a new art director, too. This results in a slightly changing style that conveys what each director most wants to get across, while still retaining Madhouse's trademark realistic style. Art directors can even change several times within an episode, which makes for some interesting stylistic changes within the episodes themselves.
Satoshi Kon almost never worked without composer Susumu Hirasawa, and this is where the latter has a chance to shine. The OP ("Yume no Shima Shinen Kouen", or " Dream Island Obsessional Park") is absolutely eerie, and sets the tone for the series perfectly. And the ED ("Maromi's Theme") manages to make bright music seem like the damn creepiest thing ever. The music for the series alternates between these two extremes, but it never gets old. The ED (which is also the theme for one of the series' main characters) and the theme for Shonen Bat will never fail to send shivers running up and down your spine.
On the voice acting front, there are no particular standouts or actors that I recognize in the original or English dub. Overall, though, they did a good job.
At the end of the day, this is a Kon work through and through, with a phenomenal story and amazing art, all because of the changing directors. This is one of the 10 animes that I believe you must see at least one episode of before you die. So go look it up, especially since Kon just passed away from pancreatic cancer. If you see no other of Kon's works, see this one.