Trigger warning: discussions of suicide and mental health
“Happy Family Planning.” These are the three words that invoke a variety of emotions within fans of Paranoia Agent. It invokes joy because of how great of an episode it is. Confusion, thanks to the numerous layers it contains. Extreme discomfort, thanks to the discussion of a seven-letter word that chills people to the bone: suicide. To many Toonami fans’ shock, the episode opened with a specific trigger warning for suicide and ended with a message prompting those dealing with suicidal thoughts to ask for help. “Happy Family Planning” is one heck of an episode, not only for its subject matter but also its commentary and direction. This is an episode that I recommend everybody watch twice to absorb everything it has to say entirely. Don’t want to because it’s hard to watch? That’s understandable, and that’s why I’m here.
Let’s look at the episode on a surface level. “Happy Family Planning” follows the story of three online friends named “Kamome” (a young girl, who appears to be no older than twelve years old), “Zebra” (a tall, well-built young man), and “Fuyubachi” (an older, dapper-looking gentleman). The three friends frequented the same suicide chatroom and made the ultimate decision to die together. As the episode progresses, the trio gets into some borderline-wacky hijinks while they try to off themselves. The episode’s tone, in general, is also upbeat, rife with silly music and the trio, Kamome especially, being a little bit more animated (in every sense of the word) than the rest of the characters in Paranoia Agent. On paper, this particular portrayal of such a hot button topic sounds abhorrent and insensitive, trivializing the subject matter in every way possible.
But remember, this is Satoshi Kon we’re talking about here.
Satoshi Kon is known to explore the human mind’s fragility in the most unorthodox of ways, and “Happy Family Planning” is no exception. I know a few of you are thinking: “Why did such a visionary choose to portray suicide in such a whimsical fashion?” While it’s impossible to ask him that now, I don’t think that distinction is particularly important. In fact, it’s one of the many layers of genius this episode contains.
Plot-wise, ”Happy Family Planning” is one of the most intriguing anime episodes I’ve ever seen. “Happy Family Planning” feels like a filler episode in nature and execution, as we move on from Tsukiko Sagi, the policemen, and the apparent murder/suicide of the Lil’ Slugger imposter Kozuka. In the second half of the episode, a casual conversation leads us to the bombshell that the fourth mystery friend in that suicide chat, “FOX,” was none other than Kozuka, our Lil’ Slugger imposter. At first, the kid seemed like just another idiot, but through his chat conversations, we learn that he wanted to “do something amazing” before ending his own life. While the kid himself is still deranged, his derangement was much more calculated than people believed first hand, spectacularly closing the book on his character.
Outside of the canon-specific material, the rest of the episode features some intriguing direction choices and hidden details. For those of you who didn’t catch it, the trio died after the building they hid in collapsed, which was evident through their lack of shadows for the remainder of the episode and the various hallucinations the characters witness. Of course, that makes all of their random attempts after the fact meaningless because they inadvertently accomplished their goal. The friends are none the wiser until Fuyubachi discovers that secret after the “last pill” he took at the beginning of the episode somehow finds its way back into his medicine bottle. This also explains why Lil’ Slugger ran from them. The dead don’t need a mental escape, after all.
At the end of the episode, after the soft reveal of their already apparent death, they walk past a condom dispenser with the words “Happy Family Planning” (episode title drop) written on it. A lot of people seemed confused about it, as it seemingly had no point in being there. That small detail and the double entendre hidden within it brings the whole episode around full circle, both thematically and storyline-wise. The condom dispenser having the words “Happy Family Planning” is ironic because, well, it’s a condom dispenser. Can’t really “make a (traditional) family” if you have sex with condoms. In that same vein, the trio in the episode tries to die repeatedly while, ironically, already dead. And, the three of them, technical strangers before meeting up, grow closer and bond with each other through their mutual death wishes, thus, indirectly, creating their own little “happy family” of sorts.
Satoshi Kon’s subtlety with his characters is one of my favorite things about this episode. The characters themselves are colorful and full of quirks that make them all the more human. For instance, I loved Zebra and Fuyubachi’s constant penchant of trying to ditch Kamome because, while they wanted nothing more but to die, they felt crushing guilt in getting a little kid wrapped in their selfishness. Kon’s magnificent displays of humanity make these one-off characters some of the best-written suicidal characters in fiction.
Despite the focus on the act of taking one’s own life, Kon fully humanizes these individuals by dodging a trope that many fiction writers seem to cling to a little too hard: giving the characters “13 reasons why” they wanted to die. Instead, he has the characters tell the stories themselves, through either personal possessions (Zebra owning a love locket of his boyfriend) or through their words and actions (Kamome’s complex of being left alone). The implications of the trio’s circumstances are more for speculation fuel, but the episode itself doesn’t feel the need to shoehorn said circumstances as an important piece of the plot. It avoids romanticizing these characters, but also gives the episode room to breathe and move along at a consistent pace.
The depiction of suicide in this episode is probably one of the best, if not THE best I’ve ever seen. Despite their apparent “accidental” death, Kamome, Fuyubachi, and Zebra go on about life still “ready to die” while expressing hesitation at almost every method of death they explore. They spend the rest of the episode doing things together that they couldn’t/didn’t do before, like take train rides and visit a hot spring. Those scenes paint a perfect portrait of the lingering, threaded connection to the world of the living that some suicidal folks cling to when they have second thoughts.
The almost-slapstick nature of the episode is another perfect design choice. Contrary to what you may think, it doesn’t represent suicide being taken as a “joke,” nor does it consider the act to be “silly” in any way. While not the case for everybody, many suicidal people use laughter as a proverbial bandage for years of internalized trauma, creating the facade that everything’s okay when things clearly say otherwise. If the tone of the episode made you feel uncomfortable, then it did its job. It’s not meant to invoke joy, but to show a representation of what many folks feel emotionally on a daily basis. “Happy Family Planning” manages to tackle such a difficult topic without romanticizing the act or disrespecting the characters involved, creating one of the most heartbreakingly realistic portraits of suicide ever witnessed. I would say that there’s almost a certain “beauty” to the method of how Kon framed it, but “beauty” is definitely not the best word to describe an episode containing all of that.
As somebody who’s been battling suicide for the past eight years, this episode is very near and dear to my heart. I relate heavily to the troubled emotions on display from Kamome, Zebra, and Fuyubachi, and it’s one of the few instances I’ve seen of suicide being portrayed in such a depressingly accurate fashion. It always hurts to watch, but the episode’s powerful commentary, multiple layers, and sublime direction make it not only my favorite episode of Paranoia Agent but one of my all-time favorite episodes of any anime. I hope this indulgent look into “Happy Family Planning” helped you understand this work of art a little bit more, and I wish all of you who are currently dealing with suicide (or have already beaten it) the best in life.
If you or a loved one are dealing with heavy suicidal ideations, please reach out and ask for help. Call or direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Alien.Renegade is a writer and reviewer for Toonami Faithful, a Toonami-styled video editor, and the creator of many Toonami-inspired tracks. You can follow him on Twitter @AlienRenegade
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