Satoshi Kon News

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A certain episode in the second half this series opens with three individuals communicating via an internet chat room about their intentions of committing suicide and how they could best go about achieving their goals. Finally deciding to meet to execute their wishes, the individuals are somewhat pleasantly surprised and horrified

The young man and elderly fellow pleasantly surprised to meet each other; both gentlemen horrified to meet the third member of their little suicide group, a little girl no older than 13, cheerfully anticipating death at her own hands.

Three individuals representing the major stages of human life, all seeking to commit suicide, a task they spend the day trying to accomplish, following an attempt by the two men to dissuade the young girl from the position she has taken (mind you she convinces them to allow her to tag along by making some silly argument about feeling left out); an episode that, while disturbing, is also quite funny.

This episode, I believe, best exemplifies the anime that is Paranoia Agent, a psychologically disturbing yet none the less thrilling ride, as confusing in its narrative as it is entertaining.

A must watch? Most definitely, if you are one anime fan searching for something…different, that will leave you pondering on its mysteries for several days on end.

THE PLOT:>

An elementary school kid dubbed "shounen bat" has been going around attacking people with his bent, golden baseball bat. When two detectives are put on the case, charged with putting his shenanigans to rest, they quickly learn that what might have seemed like mere juvenile behavior could be something so much more sinister.

MY REVIEW:>

I will admit that this was a rather anticipated experience for me; listen to enough opinions and thoughts and comments about any given element and it is only rational that you will seek to explore it, to understand whether it holds the water imputed to it.

And I have heard a TON of praise heaped upon Satoshi Kon without ever having watched any of his material. One might say that it is fitting that the first of works I am exposed to is his very first TV series, a foray out of the more complex field of movies, because that then allows me access to several hours of material to analyze in my attempts to truly judge Kon’s abilities.

I read a recent Miyazaki interview in which he had no positive comments to make about anime in today’s age; and a lot of that criticism (actually applicable to anime within the past decade) seemed particularly aimed towards the animation techniques utilized, most of which, he posited, failed to bring a sense of realism to their virtual world and its characters.

Watching Paranoia Agent one would be hard pressed to ignore the rather unique animation style utilized; I say unique only in comparison with today’s average anime series; there was a weightiness in each scene, each character generating a sense of realism in the way they moved, bringing to the fro Miyazaki’s comments and allowing me to appreciate the sense of realism that animation from older series brought to the table, but which has all but disappeared-and that doesn’t even take into account the fact that the characters where drawn with more than a few straight lines.

I emphasize the animation style because it was crucial in allowing the story to impact the way it did. I avoid mentioning the story because of how intimately intertwined it is with its characters; and how do you speak about an anime without mentioning its characters?

Because that is the one subject I find myself avoiding in this review. Paranoia Agent isn’t merely filled with a enormously intriguing cast; but rather each character is a story of its own, one more or less independent yet just as important in the final narrative.

And what makes Paranoia Agent work so well are the various revelations that litter its episodes, those events that aren’t necessary sudden twists and turns, but illuminating points that improve one’s overall enjoyment of the story. And it would be a shame to deprive anyone of the opportunity to experience these moments by spoiling them.

+So what was my first Satoshi Kon outing like? Well, I am still a little way off from calling him a legend. Yet I can see the appeal, as this anime spins quite the thriller. The series is brutal, not in any physical means or amounts of gore, but rather the psychological destruction it unleashes upon its various characters.

The series thrives on its various mysteries and delusions, and keeps you guessing with its numerous questions. Certainly the concept seems rather straight forward, a boy on roller blades going about murdering these innocent men, women and children.

But why? Who is Shonen bat and who are these various victims to him? How can the name of one little boy shake the lives of so many people, most of whom have never even encountered his wrath. And what is his wrath? What is shonen bat?

Does shonen bat even exist? Yes, that question rocks the series most of all, the idea of the insanity and delusion driving what might be truth and what could just as well be myth.

+VERDICT:> A simple appeal. Watch this show. Whatever your thoughts on its rather odd ending or rather confusing narrative –especially in the middle, where the show seems like it might have veered off at a tangent-you will not regret what should be a unique experience in anime.

+RATING:>7/10, a few glitches in the middle there that I thought the series could have dealt with better; certainly I understand the role they played. Butwatching the members of an anime studio literally kill themselves in an attempt to complete the production of an episode on time (which was not only intriguing on its own but very educational about the anime production process) seemed somewhat detached from a story that might or might have not wrapped up a few episodes earlier.

Not that I could call that an egregious failure; Paranoia Agent is still quite brilliant.

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 Background Reading - is going to become my sporadic attempt to put together a series of articles based on various books about anime and manga - to give give long time fans like myself, burgeoning fans like our own Tom Pinchuk, and absolute newcomers something to check out to give them background on the genre, recommendations for new to watch, or general explanation of various cultural idiosyncrasies. What better way to start then a general primer on the medium, eh?

Finding a “canon” of important works in any field is generally difficult to settle on. Do you go by popularity, artistic merit, influence on other works, early works of prominent creators, or a combination thereof?

The Rough Guide to Anime, by Simon Richmond – in Penguin Books Rough Guides series, probably has the best “canon” list of anime titles available, and certainly makes for the best English language primer to anime currently in print in the US, and makes for interesting reading for long-time fans and newcomers alike.

As the title states, this book is a “rough guide” - not only in terms of the series, but in terms of the depth of the book. It's not supposed to be any sort of academic text to the appreciation of the medium. It simply tells you what you need to get your feet wet. The book opens with a brief history of animation in Japan, from before World War Two to the present, discussing the evolution of the medium and its outgrowth from manga. We get some general information on some of the big names (Tezuka in particular), and some basic background to set up, in terms of Japanese society, where we are when we get to our “Canon”

The “Fifty Greatest Anime” takes up the majority of the book. Lists tend to be generally controversial, but the list in this book manages to be successful at not only being “safe” but also “comprehensive”, a difficult task at best. Unfortunately, this also means that many titles on the list are also out of print, or will be out of print soon as of this writing. Classic works by Tezuka like Jungle Emperor Leo and Astro Boy make the list, as well as the complete filmography of the late Satoshi Kon (still alive when the book was written), and many of Hayao Miyazaki's works. Other classics like Evangelion, Mazinger Z, Cowboy Bebop and Utena have made the list as well. It's a fantastic list, and I simply cannot disagree with any of the choices on the list.

The later section of the book covers various genres, like Eastern and Western Fantasy, comedy, and historical fiction, as well as names to look for, in terms of studios, directors and writers, and voice actors, as well as a basic tourism guide. The genres and names sections include examples of works by those names, studios, and in those genres. All of that is generally useful, though unfortunately they don't do a good job of indicating whether the shows mentioned are licensed or not. While I have no doubt that Richmond would rather his book be ever-green and have to worry about license statuses of some of the works he mentions – considering that Legend of the Galactic Heroes has not been licensed and likely will never, ever be licensed, it would be probably have been helpful to mention what series would not have been available in the US at the time of the book's printing.

Nonetheless, long time fans of anime and newcomers to the fandom alike will find a lot of value in this book, both through background on the medium as well as recommendations for new series and films they might otherwise have overlooked.

 

The Canon

In The Rough Guide To Anime, author Simon Richmond lists these films and series as his "canon" of the greatest and most important anime in the history of the medium. Reasons for their inclusion are listed in the book, and they are presented in the order they are listed in the book (ISBN 978-1-85828-205-3).

1. Akira
2. Astro Boy

All three Astro Boy series are included under one entry.

3. Barefoot Gen
4. Castle in the Sky
5. Cowboy Bebop
6. 5 Centimeters Per Second
7. Fullmetal Alchemist

The TV series and movies are included in this entry.

8. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
9. Ghost in the Shell
10. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
11. Grave of the Fireflies
12. Gunbuster
13. Howl's Moving Castle
14. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
15. Kiki's Delivery Service
16. Kimba the White Lion
17. Little Norse Prince
18. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro
19. The Super Dimension Fortress Macross
20. Metropolis
21. Millennium Actress
22. Mind Game
23. Mobile Suit Gundam
24. My Neighbor Totoro
25. Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind
26. Neon Genesis Evangelion
27. Night on the Galactic Railroad
28. Ninja Scroll
29. Only Yesterday
30. Panda and The Magic Serpent
31. Paprika
32. Paranoia Agent (TV)
33. Patlabor The Mobile Police (OVA)
34. Perfect Blue
35. Porco Rosso
36. Princess Mononoke
37. Puss in Boots
38. Revolutionary Girl Utena
39. Samurai Champloo
40. Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal
41. Serial Experiments Lain

42. Star Blazers
43. Steamboy
44. Spirited Away
45. Taro the Dragon Boy
46. Tekkon Kinkreet
47. Tokyo Godfathers
48. Urusei Yatsura
49. Whisper of the Heart
50. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise
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I'm a bit surprised that I wasn't more curious about this 3 piece collection of films based on Otomo Katsuhiro's short works. Around that time I still was incredibly fond of Otomo's work, and still revered his Akira as a masterpiece.  It wasn't until someone reminded me that Memories existed by recommending I see Magnetic Rose, that I finally got acquainted with this gem of a production.  I will say, though, that its reputation as uneven, and thus flawed on the whole, is justified.  The middle work, Stink Bomb, is a single joke played out WAY too damned long.  But Cannon Fodder manages to set a distinct mood with its art style that transcends the ease with which people seem to reject it (the only thing that bothered me about it, other than the ending that seemed to lack a strong punch (though I get where it was going, so it's not so big a deal), was the lazy foley work when people walked around).
 
I understand why the two other works get mixed reviews, though.  The first piece, Magnetic Rose, overshadows the rest.  It is a tightly scripted, excellent example of science fiction done in the literary, discovery style.  I can't remember the last time I was gripped so tightly by ANY film, let alone a work of animation. It has to be experienced if you're willing to discover the potential of animation to tell a story.
 
Magnetic Rose was written by the late Kon Satoshi, with haunting music by the always masterful Kanno Yoko.
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