I’ve been wanting to watch this series for many years, and it’s the first step in catching up on other series that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while. As Paranoia Agent is hard to review, I’ve decided to also include an analysis in this post. I’m well aware, that the series has been analyzed to death over the past twelve years, but I felt the need to write down my thoughts, which I did before reading any other text about the series, making sure I wouldn’t be influenced by the theories of other people. Having read other peoples thoughts after writing down my own hasn’t changed my mind about what I saw in the series though. But let’s start with a quick review for those who haven’t watched it, but might be interested.
It starts rather harmless, by following people on the streets, making excuses for not being able to do something, trying to find someone or something to blame instead. The series starts taking off when we meet Tsukiko, a young woman working on cute character designs, who has a hard time at work, as she needs to create a new character that is just as cute as her current one named Maromi. Her female co-workers treat her badly, as they don’t think she deserves the attention and fame she is getting for Maromi, and she often has to listen to them talking about her behind her back. Frustrated and scared, she walks home after a long day, only to find herself assaulted by a kid with a bat, after which she finds herself having a slight memory loss.
Two detectives are being put on the case, who start to question an injured Tsukiko about the night before, but can’t get much info, other than a sketch of a silhouette. As Tsukiko is quite famous for having invented Maromi, the news of her assault spread fast over the TV, and the culprit is being named Shonen Bat, as it seems like he is a kid who hits people with a baseball bat. More and more people experience getting hit by him, and one of the detectives find out, that they all have something in common; they felt cornered when they got hit by Shonen Bat.
They even get to catch a boy who fits the description, and put him to jail, which doesn’t seem to end the attacks though, although he admits to some of them. One of the attacks was against a schoolboy who had no issues with his life or himself, and the detectives believe that the Shonen Bat they put in jail is a copycat. Wanting to find out the truth and catch the real culprit, they are in for a disturbing case, where many peoples fate seem to be rooted in what happened many years ago, and is now terrorizing citizens all over Japan.
It’s needless to say, that Paranoia Agent is very psychological, and might not be for everyone, especially not anime newcomers. If you have watched Satoshi Kon’s other works and enjoyed them, you will without a doubt like this one too. If you have already watched it, you can read my analysis, which of course is full of spoilers. D’uh!
Analysis of Paranoia Agent
I am well aware, that the story might mean something different to everyone, and maybe it doesn’t even mean anything to some, but this is what I understood when watching the series. You don’t have to agree with me if you think it meant something else, but maybe my analysis will help you, if you didn’t get any meaning out of this series.
First of all, knowing the creator and his methods of animation and storytelling was a big plus to me. Satoshi Kon was a man of many worlds, and he never felt the need to stick to only one when telling a story. Just look at Perfect Blue and Paprika, if you have watched them. They both take part in more than one world, and at some point, you will be unsure of which one is the real world we all know and live in.
Paranoia Agent is not different. While the first few episodes are build around the characters we need to know before we can understand Shonen Bat, and they all take place in the real world, almost all characters have more than one face, and thus look at this world with more than one pair of eyes. While it’s rather easy to look trough their fake faces, it soon gets hard to understand which world our own pair of eyes are looking at, as it seems to change from episode to episode, and from character to character.
Let’s start by boiling it all down to who or what Shonen Bat is. It’s stated several times during the series, that he shows up whenever a person is cornered, and seems to relieve them of their burden. It’s very different for the characters what that burden is, but it’s always negative, and can’t be neutralized by the person who experiences it. In other words; Shonen Bat is the embodiment of a mental breakdown. He is what happens to a person who is cornered, and cannot escape their own feelings, be it fear, depression, loneliness, or whatever negative feeling drove them into a corner.
Two things in the series made this very clear to me. The first time was when Tsukiko’s lie about being attacked was revealed by the old woman whom Tsukiko thought had vanished, but she saw everything. Tsukiko had a deadline, and no idea how to keep up with it, thus she was cornered, and started harming herself. Just like when she was twelve years old, she made up a story about an attacker to make it look like she was a victim, thus escaping her deadline, and not being cornered anymore for the time being.
The second time was when detective Ikari’s wife was home alone, and had a chat with Shonen Bat. The more she enraged him, the more he destroyed her home, which is once again a sort of destruction coming from being cornered. While she was not directly harming herself like Tsukiko did, she destroyed the things she had dear because she felt guilty and lonely. She must have felt that way many times, as she knew exactly who Shonen Bat was, why he showed up in front of her, and how she could make him disappear again.
From this point on, it’s very clear what is real and what is not. We see detective Ikari’s happy place, where he tries to forget his wife’s illness, but as he knows she is dying, she shines through and brings him back to the real world, where detective Maniwa is already waiting for his assistance, as he cracked the case about Tsukiko and Shonen Bat.
In Ikari’s happy place, we see Maromi wanting to protect Tsukiko, but as the man destroys his own little world, the dog is no longer able to protect the girl, which causes the darkness already in the world to engulf them. This, and the fact that Maniwa told Tsukiko about how he had spoken to her father, and they now both know the truth about what happened when she was twelve years old, causes Tsukiko to relive what happened back then, but looking at it with adult eyes, she comes to terms with it, and accepts it, rather than trying to escape, and once more play the victim.
As she defeats her inner demon, the darkness disappears, and the world goes back to normal, although it looks like it has been destroyed, which Ikari describes as a world that looks ravaged by war. Two years later, a new character has replaced Maromi, and taken the world by storm. A world which now seems to have recovered from Shonen Bat’s havoc. Maniwa has taken over the role as the old man who knows everything, and reveals how it has all started over again.
So, looking back, Shonen Bat was the personification of a little girl’s fear, or in other words; the first character created by Tsukiko. By believing in him, and telling the police about him, he became real to many people in the city. All he was though, was a rumor which got bigger the more times he was talked about. When cornered, all you want is someone to take all your negative feelings away from you, and whom you can blame for what happens, which in this case is self-harm. Tsukiko’s Shonen Bat was just that, and exactly the type of person many people needed.
Maromi was also created by Tsukiko, but since he was created in her beloved dog’s image, he was a happy memory, and the one people wanted to cling to in order to feel comfortable. You could say that Tsukiko created two characters that couldn’t live without one another, as people wouldn’t feel the need for happiness so badly, if they were not afraid of Shonen Bat. She created the depression people needed to swallow her happy pill, even if it was unintentionally. Funny enough, she needed Maromi to protect her from Shonen Bat, although Shonen Bat was created in her mind because she was unable to protect the real Maromi in the first place.
Another thing about the series that I’d like to point out, is how it shows the infection of Shonen Bat. We can say for sure that everyone affected by mental breakdowns all had something in common, and that’s being cornered. Even Kozuka committed suicide in his cell when he felt that he had no other option, although he tried to be Shonen Bat himself. But let’s start with Tsukiko again, with whom it all begins. She creates Shonen Bat once more after ten years, in order to escape the truth. Out of the two detectives put on the case, Maniwa is the one whom she has the most impact on, because he can put himself in the shoes of others rather easily. He has now been infected.
From there on, the story goes viral via the news on TV, and people start the rumor. Yuichi, who is already feeling cornered by his schoolmate Shogo, is being accused by his whole school of being Shonen Bat, because he fits the description. The constant bullying leads him to see the world with different eyes, and he soon suffers a mental breakdown, which he of course thinks must be Shonen Bat. The relieve comes in the form of him not being suspected anymore, and as his rival Shogo was constantly by his side, they more or less become friends.
Yuichi carries on the infection before it all turns out good for him though, as he tells his tutor Harumi about his problems. She becomes very concerned for the boy, which doesn’t help her inner struggle, as she is being cornered by her own third personality. Being schizophrenic, she has two other personalities, and while one of them is rather harmless, the other one makes her life a living hell. Until of course she breaks down, and Shonen Bat magically rids her of that third person in her head.
Taeko’s incident can be explained by her father catching the fake Shonen Bat, and having sex with Harumi. She talks to him on the phone while she breaks down, wanting to forget everything he has done to her. Waking up at the hospital, it appears that she got her will, as she now suffers from happy amnesia, not recognizing her father at all. It is never actually stated what he did to her, but thinking back when he had sex with Harumi, he wanted her to call him daddy, just like his little girl used to do. In a rather terrifying scene where Taeko sits in front of the computer in her new home, she finds photos of herself coming home from school and undressing. After that, she finds the hidden camera that shot those photos, and as her father was obviously rather obsessed with her, we don’t need to dig deeper into this mess…
It’s also disturbing that the animated series with Maromi airs right about the time Shonen Bat turned into a monster, or so the rumor has it. Right when everyone suffers from the traumatic experiences they have with the monster, a huge happy pill is being brought to them. A happy pill that was produced by a team that got murdered by a man who then saw Shonen Bat, and had a deadly accident with his car. Suicide is one way of expressing a mental breakdown when being cornered, as we saw earlier with Kozuka, though it’s unclear if this was actually the case, as he was also very tired and scared while driving. It’s quite obvious why, as he was the one who murdered his co-workers, because he felt treated badly by them. Rightfully so though.
I’m going to sum this all up by explaining how the opening and ending work with my analysis. The quite disturbing opening shows the main characters all laughing in various places, some of which they do not belong in, showing how this series is not only taking place in their real world. As we work through the series, we know that neither of them have anything to laugh about, which makes this opening animation so disturbing. The happy opening tune is a man who sings about death, but also about a nice day, dreams and ideas. This shows the thin line people who experience a mental breakdown walk on. The destruction and death caused by Shonen Bat, versus the happiness and comfort provided by Maromi. He is also the character sitting in the very middle of a lot of sleeping people, whom we all know so well at the end of the series. They all look very peaceful as they are being watched over and protected by their big happy pill, who seems to have erased whatever they felt in the opening.
Thank you for reading, and feel free to share your own thoughts on this series, or about my analysis. I’d love to know what you saw during the thirteen episodes.