DVD
Paranoia Agent
Box Set

Starring (voice): Mamiko Noto, Haniko Momoi and Mayumi Yamaguchi
MVM
RRP: 39.99
MVD6007
Certificate: 18
Available 09 October 2006


When a young, successful toy designer, suffering from creative stress, claims she has been attacked by a baseball bat wielding youth on rollerblades, her colleagues and the police suspect it may just be a desperate plea for attention. However, subsequent attacks on several more victims prove otherwise and soon Tokyo is gripped by a form of collective hysteria. As the mystery deepens, the police are forced to ask themselves if the so called Lil' Slugger is real or just an imagined figment brought on by the victims' paranoia...

From the genius mind of Satoshi Kon, the visionary and award-winning director responsible for the anime features Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers and Millennium Actress, comes Paranoia Agent, a 13-episode series which was previously released on four single DVDs. MVW has packaged all four DVDs in a box and knocked them out at the bargain price of £40.

Paranoia Agent is a bizarre collection of tales set in Tokyo. Each episode centres on a different character and as the series progresses we see how their very different lives are intertwined.

The four episodes on disc one revolve around a toy designer who is suffering from a creative block; a young and popular schoolboy who suddenly sees his popularity take a dive over night; a woman with a dual personality (she works in the local school by day and is a high class prostitute by night); and a bent police officer who becomes a masked mugger in order to pay off his blackmailer.

Extras include a brief interview with the show's director Satoshi Kon, a multi-angle storyboard-to-screen comparison and some trailers for other releases.

The second disc features episodes five to seven (The Holy Warrior; Fear Of A Direct Hit; and MHZ) and introduces several more characters and deepening the intrigue as Detectives Keiichi Ikari and Mitsuhiro Manwa continue their investigations into the Lil' Slugger attacks. New characters include a Japanese school girl, who hides a chilling secret from the world, as well as a strange old lady who seems to know more than she's letting on. There are some fantastically funny moments on disc two, and I loved the way that the main Lil' Slugger suspect is convinced that he's on a holy quest to rid the world of monsters.

Extras are very thin on the ground and only include the opening and closing credits without the actual credits scrolling up the screen, and some trailers.

Onto the third disc:

In Happy Family Planning, three people who have been conversing in an Internet chatroom plan to meet up and commit suicide. They don't know each other's real names, only their chatroom names. So when Fuyubachi, an old man and Zebra, a young man are awaiting the arrival of Kamome, they are a little unnerved to find that the third person in this suicide pact is a cute 11-year-old girl. After a big adventure going from Tokyo to the countryside, they encounter Lil' Slugger at a hot spring.

This episode is one of the best in the series. The three characters we are introduced to seem to have the worst luck in the world. Every time they attempt to kill themselves, something or someone intervenes to stop them. Or do they? This is one of those episodes that you need to watch more than once in order to pick up the subtle references as to what is really going on. There are clues early on as to what is happening... Why is it that Zebra sees the suicide victim who dives in front of the train, after he is supposedly already mangled under the wheels?

Also, was that an audio homage I heard to the Peanut's Snoopy show? I'm sure that in the scene where the three main characters are travelling through the countryside by train, that someone gave a nod to the work of Vince Guaraldi. A very deep and intelligently constructed episode, as well as one of the more humorous.

ETC: After hearing of the incident in Happy Family Planning, several women share rumours related to Lil' Slugger, most of which are farfetched. However, one of the women, a newcomer to the area, is having a hard time impressing the other women with her stories...

This tale is rather silly - especially when compared to the previous episode. It's really nothing more than a collection of urban myths, with Lil' Slugger at the centre of each tale. There is a twist though, but this is a little predictable.

In Mellow Maromi, Maromi (the cute little dog creation that is sweeping Japan by storm) is getting her very own anime. Unfortunately the staff start to fall behind as the deadline approaches. The delays are made worse as each member of the production team ends up the victim of various accidents that put them in the hospital or the morgue...

This episode is by far the weirdest to date - and certainly the hardest to follow. Why is Lil' Slugger behind each attack? And what is his problem with Maromi? Yes, in case you hadn't been paying attention over the previous episodes, Mellow Maromi shoves the fact down your throat: That Maromi is tied in to every victim (for example in Happy Family Planning it was the fact that the three suicide pact members had all agreed to wear Maromi backpacks so that they would recognise one another. So, what does Maromi have to do with everything that is going on? All will be revealed (hopefully) in the next three episodes on the fourth, and final, disc.

Again, extras are pretty thin on the ground. All we get are Japanese cover art; character art, trailers and DVD credits.

Disc four opens with Entry Forbidden. Keiichi Ikari has started work as a guard at a construction site. He recognises one of his new colleagues as a man he put in prison years before. Later Ikari starts to reminisce about how great the world was when he was younger, and before he knows it he has entered a strange two-dimensional world where everything is perfect. Meanwhile Keiichi's wife, Misae, returns home to find Lil' Slugger waiting for her. As he is about to attack her she starts to unburden her past troubles, as well as her incurable illness. It soon becomes apparent that Lil' Slugger can only attack those that are weak and have given up all hope. Any signs of a strong personality and he starts to get weak - he feeds off people's weaknesses and their paranoia. Misae realises that Lil' Slugger's doesn't really exist and that he is merely an illusion. Furious that he has been rumbled, Lil' Slugger vanishes.

Radar Man: After an encounter with Lil' Slugger, Mitsuhiro Maniwa asks the strange old man for advice. The old man dies after mentioning something about a rabbit. Maniwa turns up at the Ikari house to find that Lil' Slugger and Maromi are one and the same. Digging around, he discovers that an incident that is very similar to the recent spate of Lil' Slugger attacks occurred ten years previously. What's stranger is that the victim was Tsukiko Sagi, the creator of Maromi. Maniwa tracks down Sagi's father and discovers the truth behind the attack.

In Final Episode, Keiichi is still living in the strange two-dimensional world. He realises that this world is a product of his imagination and starts to destroy it. Meanwhile a huge formless cloud starts to engulf Tokyo. The cloud is the new manifestation of Lil' Slugger. Maniwa is all that stands in the way of Lil' Slugger's plans - as he believes he has a weapon that should destroy Lil' Slugger once and for all.

Final Episode doesn't clear that much up, and it doesn't make that much sense either - almost as thought the writer ran out of ideas and thought: "I know. I'll end it without explaining everything and then I'll look like a genius." You may come to this conclusion, or you may feel cheated.

Extras are a little healthier than the previous discs in this collection. This time we get audio commentaries with Satoshi Kon (creator and director), Seishi Minakami (script writer), and Satoki Toyoda (producer) on all episodes, as well as trailers for other releases.

The audio commentaries are interesting. They reveal that the opening credits are not supposed to mean anything at all - despite the fact that there are Internet chatrooms filled with theories on what all the segments mean. It was also interesting to discover that this show was originally broadcast late at night and the reason why the opening title music is so manic and the closing sequence music is so mellow is down to the fact that they wanted the opening sequence to wake the audience up and the closing titles to prepare them for going to sleep.

At the end of the day this is going to divide those that have sat through the entire series. Some will believe it to be a stroke of genius to leave everything so unresolved, while others will feel cheated. Personally I did feel slightly short changed, but then I also thought that the reveal of how Lil' Slugger was originally created was a little unoriginal. I also couldn't help thinking of Akira in the scenes in Final Episode where Lil' Slugger is engulfing Tokyo.

But, on balance, this is an enjoyable collection of stories. Well worth £40 of anyone's money.

Darren Rea

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£30.89 (Amazon.co.uk)
   
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£29.45 (Foxy.co.uk)

All prices correct at time of going to press.