You can tell a lot about an anime from its opening credits. Set to a typically earwormy-y song, it shows Shonen Bat's victims laughing as the camera pulls away from them. The first time you see it, of course, you don't recognize any of the characters, but as you progress through the series, you realize why each person has a place in the opening. In the end, Shonen Bat is laughing at you.
Paranoia Agent is not your typical anime series. Okay, it is typical in that it starts out intriguing, then gets weird, then gets really weird at the end, but it's the storytelling and focus that sets this series apart. The story is told from the perspectives of multiple characters whose lives are connected in sometimes unexpected ways. The first half of the series is basically a series of character studies, and I wanted to know much more about the characters than we're shown. The detectives in charge of the Shonen Bat case try to uncover the pattern, the connection between all these attacks, and one of them finally does: these aren't just random attacks, and all the victims do have something in common, but it would be a mistake to think of this as a mystery show. The question you should be asking is not who is Shonen Bat or what is Shonen Bat but why is Shonen Bat. Satoshi Kon is interested in examining people as both individuals and as a community: the myth of Shonen Bat takes over Tokyo, and the stories begin to warp out of shape as the city is both stricken with fear by and completely fascinated with this new figure. The final episodes attempt to bring the saga to a close but go off the deep end in a way that seems to make most of the episodes seem completely pointless, as the resolution comes practically out of nowhere. It's been a while since my last anime series, so it was foolish of me to expect the finale to make sense and be totally satisfying!
What I loved most about Paranoia Agent was that although there was focus on specific characters, the story was really about the general populace. The first character we're introduced to is the creator of Maromi, an incredibly popular toy character that has taken Tokyo by storm. Maromi's likeness pervades the city. There are Maromi dolls, Maromi backpacks, Maromi keychains, and so on. There's a strong sense of societal groupthink that comes through, especially once Shonen Bat arrives and people have something else to be obsessed about. While we see the stories behind specific characters, these characters exist in a larger culture that Satoshi Kon is commenting on. For instance, episode titles are integrated into the background scenes and often taken from signs or advertisements.
While Paranoia Agent isn't as fully satisfying as Perfect Blue or Paprika, I do think Satoshi Kon is an interesting storyteller, and I like the way he views and presents the world. As in his movies, there are some great moments of blurring the line between reality and fantasy. He uses multiple storytelling styles and narrative tricks throughout the thirteen-episode series, playing with the conventional associations of editing and the audience perspective. And despite all his experimentation, the narrative is always accessible, never esoteric. Well, except for the PROPHETIC VISION at the end of each episode. That's just utter nonsense. But it's creepy, unnerving nonsense, and isn't that the best kind?