An anime for people who don't like anime.
Satoshi Kon is one of the most interesting people working in animation
in Japan today. On the strength of the three movies he's made (Perfect
Blue, Millennium Actress, and my favorite, Tokyo Godfathers)
he has gathered a legion of fans on both sides of the Pacific. The
striking thing about his films is that all of them are very different and
they are all exceedingly good. He eschews the standard trappings
of anime and by doing so crafts works that are easily accessible to non-fans
and fans alike. I've often recommended Tokyo Godfathers to people
who claim to hate anime with favorable results. With Paranoia
Agent, Satoshi Kon turns for the first time to the small screen and
creates a series that is simply amazing.
It all starts with Tsukiko, a young designer. She's under the
gun to come up with a new and original mascot for an advertising campaign.
The last one she created was a huge success, generating lots of revenue
from all the associated merchandise that was sold. The fame, but
not wealth since she doesn't own the rights, has caused her coworkers to
envy her, and her boss to assume that she can magically create another
pop-icon at the drop of a hat.
Walking home one evening after working late with no luck, Tsukiko is
savagely attacked by a young boy wearing roller blades and wielding a golden
baseball bat. Lil' Slugger as the press comes to name him (though
a more accurate translation would be "Bat Boy" Geneon wisely decided that
moniker wouldn't work well in the states.) has just started his crime spree,
and attacks several people disappearing without a trace after each crime.
The thing is, there may be a pattern to these seemingly random attacks.
The victims; an envious schoolboy, his schizophrenic tutor, a muck raking
journalist who is deeply in debt and a bullied student, all have some connection
to each other. Not only that, but they all have problems that are
solved, or at least helped, when Lil' Slugger puts them in the hospital.
Curiously they all awaken looking relieved after being beaten.
Satoshi Kon has created a wonderful and powerful show. He's managed
to make a show that is a triumph of both style and substance. Taking
the latter first, the show intriguing to watch and think about. Do
Lil' Slugger's random attacks have a purpose? Can violence against
someone be a good thing? Is there a pattern to the beatings, and
if so how does he chose his victims? The show also lightly plays
with reality. Does Harumi really have a second personality?
And which one is the 'real' person? Does Tsukiko's stuffed animal
really talk to her? It is a show that asks a lot of questions without
being confusing or obtuse. You can easily watch the show without
worrying about any of these questions. That is one of the show's strongest
points: It is also very entertaining.
Each of the four episodes on this DVD is like a mini-movie, with its
own cast of characters and situations. The programs each have
their own plot that is independent of the overall theme of the show.
Like a good movie, each show tells an interesting story, but in the end
these separate stories are all part of a larger whole.
The style of the show also makes it a treat to watch. The opening
song that has the characters standing and laughing in odd locations will
be enough to hook most viewers. This credit sequence is both humorous
and rather unsettling. A first it seems that they are just happy,
but as the sequence continues it seems that they might be hysterical.
Or even mad.
The character designs are excellent. There aren't any impossibly
large breasted females or saucer eyed kids, everyone in the show looks
like a real person. This firm grounding in reality (there are no
super deformed faces when someone gets mad) makes to eerier parts of the
show that much more unsettling.
The backgrounds are wonderful too. Filled with detail and awash
with color, even if the story wasn't good, this would be a show that was
beautiful to watch. The mix of gorgeous images and a compelling and
engrossing story make this show nothing short of a work of art.
Like the show itself, this DVD has excellent production values.
The stereo tracks in Japanese and English both sounded full and clean without
any hiss or dropouts. I viewed half of the disc with each track,
and they were both excellent. From the lightest background effect
to the loudest outburst, this track reproduces the sounds faithfully.
The English dub is very good too. There are some studios that really
take care to produce a quality dub track, and one was used for this disc.
The voices sounded realistic, not high pitched or with phone accents.
They took a lot of pains to make sure that the audio matched the lip movements
on screen too. If you haven't heard a dub in the last few years,
you will probably be surprised at how good this one sounds.
The anamorphically enhanced widescreen video was also top quality.
The picture was very sharp, with the fine details easy to see. I
was really impressed with the amount of work that went into creating the
images for this show. From the reflection of someone looking through
a window to the ghost image on a TV screen this show had a level of detail
that is rarely seen in animation. This DVD reproduced it all without
a flaw. The contrast was also excellent, making night scenes dark
but not murky. The show used a wide color palate, with bright colored
clothes and dark dingy alleyways both seeming real. Digital defects
were practically nonexistent. A truly great looking DVD.
This disc comes with some interesting bonus material. The first
extra is something that you don't see too often: a story board layout
for an entire episode. They animated the story boards for the first
episode by panning and zooming like they do in the show, and you can watch
this alone or with the final image as an inset.
There is also a five minute interview with Satoshi Kon, the creative
force behind this show. He talks about how he had a lot of ideas
left over from his three movies, and decided to utilize them in a show.
An interesting and informative talk.
There are also previews to three other Geneon DVDs.
I watch a lot of anime, and this is the best TV show that has been released
this year. It works well on so many levels and looks so good, that
I'm sure it will show up on a lot of "top ten" lists this year. A
great show to screen for someone who doesn't care for traditional animation,
this program is bound to attract a wide audience. The sound and video
quality was outstanding, and the extras were very interesting. This
disc deserves to be in the DVDTalk Collector Series.