First things first, rest in peace, Satoshi Kon (1963-2010).
Second, I still can’t believe it. The anime classic that boggled numerous younger minds had its license saved in early February. For years, many have waited for the opportunity to see Paranoia Agent again, whether on TV again or through a legal re-release. FUNimation answered their prayers by putting up the entire series, complete with its original English dub, on their site and confirmed a Blu-ray release in the future. And just like that, Toonami added the icing on the cake by bringing Paranoia Agent back to its old home on Adult Swim.
So, what exactly is Paranoia Agent? Before I enlighten you, I want to tell you about the man behind the masterpiece, Satoshi Kon. Kon was a writer, director, and animator with a prolific and consistently high-quality body of work. If there were ever an anime creator edition of Mount Rushmore, Kon should be one of the four faces displayed in the midst of that glory. Kon’s genius and mind were on another level, excelling in formulating and orchestrating some of the most beloved psychological works, such as Perfect Blue and Paprika. Kon was no one-trick pony, though, if the drama films Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers have anything to say about it. While Kon had a penchant for boggling the mind, he also knew how to craft compelling characters, fantastic drama, and introspective looks into the human mind and reality. Unfortunately, Satoshi Kon passed away in 2010 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, leaving his final project, Dreaming Machine, unfinished.
Now, Paranoia Agent aligns more with Perfect Blue and Paprika as one of Kon’s signature psychological thrillers. It’s not a horror anime, so those of you that are faint of heart shouldn’t have to worry about any big jump scares. Paranoia Agent won’t toy with your heart rate, but it will toy with your mind. It’s not just any simple murder mystery. While the mystery of Li’l Slugger is heavily ingrained within the main plot, it’s not the central focus of the series, per se. Paranoia Agent delves deep into the human psyche, displays the fragility of the human mind, and shows how hysteria can detrimentally harm society at large (talk about a timely acquisition). Without giving too much away about the individual stories, expect some uncomfortable depictions of depression, escapism, dissociative identity disorder, suicidal thoughts, and much more.
One of Paranoia Agent’s highest points is that it tackles these tough subjects and manages to not be excessively edgy with it. Part of that is thanks to Kon’s penchant for framing these situations in the craziest ways while keeping everything grounded enough to keep the viewer engaged. It’s nowhere near easy to keep all of that into account, but Kon makes it work thanks to the wonderful cast of characters. While a good chunk of the series’s cast only has one episode dedicated to them, those 22 minutes were all he needed to flesh out their individual stories fully. Kon’s masterful command of the audiovisual aspects and his well-developed writing converge into a fully fleshed-out universe that enthralls the viewer in no time flat.
Paranoia Agent is a testament to Kon’s marvelous directorial abilities. Even though the show originally premiered in 2004, it still holds up spectacularly 16 years later. The general aesthetic does scream “early 2000s” and is probably the only real “aged” part of the show. Thanks to Kon’s timeless direction style, Paranoia Agent still looks excellent and operates even greater. To my surprise, even the English dub, which I haven’t heard since its original TV airing in 2005, still sounds solid. Paranoia Agent’s dub boasts an all-star cast of some of American voice acting’s biggest names, such as Michelle Ruff, Liam O’Brien, Sam Riegel, Kari Wahlgren, and Michael McConnohie. Everything about this show aged so well, showing with great fervor that both Paranoia Agent and Satoshi Kon were truly ahead of their time.
For everybody that remembers (vaguely or otherwise) watching this in the late hours of the night back on the old Adult Swim Action block, I hope you all enjoy this 2020 rewatch as much as I did. For those of you who haven’t seen it or are new to Satoshi Kon’s works, you’re in for a ride unlike any other. It feels so wonderful to have this timeless classic back on the airwaves, and I hope Paranoia Agent succeeds so that Toonami can obtain more thrillers. Paranoia Agent is one of my top five favorite anime series of all time, and I’m stoked to have a broader audience experience why it holds that spot.
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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