Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anime review: Paranoia Agent

Following the attack of Tsukiko Sagi by a bat-wielding assailant on rollerblades, police officers Keiichi Ikari and Mitsuhiro Maniwa try to track down and interview anyone who might have seen Tsukiko on the day of the incident. Before the two get far into the investigation, however, a string of similar attacks takes place in the same region of Tokyo and the case becomes a higher priority. As word of these attacks spreads around town, the populous begin calling Tsukiko's unknown attacker by the name of Lil' Slugger.

Who Lil' Slugger is and what his intentions ultimately are is the central focus of the story, and this is told from a variety of perspectives. The many different narrators are often witnesses or victims in the cases involving Lil' Slugger, though their personalities couldn't be more different. The first three episodes put the spotlight on artist Tsukiko Sagi, sleazy freelance journalist Akio Kawazu, popular school kid Yuichi Taira, and split-personality school aide/call girl Harumi Chono, and the characters only become more varied from there.

Each episode is centered around a single character or group of select characters and act as separate chapters in the overarching story. While some characters may not seem particularly important right away, each and every one plays an instrumental role in the events that unfold over the course of the series. Some characters see return appearances to weave into others' storylines and add an extra level of depth to things.

The series is difficult to classify as belonging to one specific genre. At its core, Paranoia Agent is both a psychological thriller and a police drama. Viewers are introduced to all of the characters via their real world interactions in the early episodes, but their psychological statuses are key for viewers to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Keiichi and Mitsuhiro's investigation is gradually pushed to the backburner as the series progresses and puts greater emphasis on the other characters. As each character plays a different role in the series' events, they also see the world much differently than one another. Through this, fantasy and sci-fi elements break through, as do a number of comedic moments that are quite cleverly scripted.

While the series as a whole carries a consistently dark and beautifully detailed animation style, a few episodes mix the art style up. One episode takes place within a fantasy realm and involves wild landscapes and beasts, while another delves into the psyche of one of the major characters through a peaceful watercolor-splashed environment. The soundtrack is a mixture of all sorts of sounds and it's difficult to pin a distinct style to the series. There are, however, a few notable pieces that serve as some of the main themes that recur as the story events require them to.

The English voice actors in Paranoia Agent are incredibly strong at conveying emotions and carrying the plot. Michael McConnohie and Liam O'Brien carry the majority of the show as strong as any viewer could hope for as Keiichi and Mitsuhiro respectively. Some of the supporting characters are voiced by rather well-known voice actors, with Yuichi Taira voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch (Lelouch in Code Geass), Tsukiko Sagi voiced by Michelle Ruff (Yoko Littner in Gurren Lagann), and Zebra voiced by Patrick Seitz (Raul Creed in Ergo Proxy). Others are voiced by relatively unknown voice actors, or those whose previous works include relatively low-key roles/projects. With two groups of major opposites working on the same series, potential viewers should take comfort in knowing that the entire cast does a phenomenal job.

At thirteen episodes long, Paranoia Agent doesn't overstay its welcome. It's certainly possible that the Satoshi Kon and his team could have carried the series further and it probably would have still been as enthralling as the previous episodes, but by the time the last few episodes roll around viewers will have all the necessary pieces in order to understand the conclusion. Paranoia Agent doesn't take a terribly long time to watch, tough it does require viewers to pay attention to details. Because of its mysterious nature, the series isn't exactly straightforward and requires some patience out from viewers. That said, the story rarely becomes or repetitive so things remain relatively fast-paced. The final wrap-up is a bit confusing and some minor elements are left open-ended, but the story as a whole is genuinely thought-provoking and the characters believable. All of this adds an extra level of depth and realism without sacrificing creativity - something that many other series try but ultimately fail to pull off successfully.

My rating: 9.5 (out of 10)

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