A grinning boy travels around Tokyo on golden rollerblades. He has a bent, golden baseball bat — and he uses it to whack people in the head.The police are searching for the boy code-named "Shounen Bat" ("Lil' Slugger" in the English dub), but none of the victims are co-operating fully with the police; in fact, many seem relieved and thankful for the mild concussion the boy gives them via his golden bat. All of the victims have something to hide — but then again, so do the police...and so does the frail old man who draws chalk equations in the hospital parking lot... and so does everybody who spreads rumors about Lil' Slugger. Who is this mysterious boy, who seems to attack people only when they are about to have an existential breakdown and has never been seen by anyone but his victims? Is he a gang member, a creature of the paranormal, or something else entirely?Paranoia Agent is a thirteen-episode anime series directed by Satoshi Kon, who specialized in mind-bending anime with some social commentary thrown into the mix. At times, the series resembles an anthology, with each episode throwing its star character through a Twist Ending — but everything later becomes connected in a way that rivals Serial Experiments Lain's levels of conspiracy and surrealism. Besides being perfectly creepy, this show is noteworthy for the (Studio Madhouse) animation alone: the characters all have distinct designs, and apart from some minor filler, Stock Footage and other cost-cutting tricks were kept to a minimum.
Tropes (spoiler warning!):
The Ace: Ichi starts out as one. In the beginning of the episode, he was bragging about himself and towards the end, he was having Imagine Spots.
Animal Motifs: A number of characters are designed to in some way resemble an animal either visually or through behavior (or both). Some of the more overt include Kawazu being a frog, Yuichi being a fish, Shogo being a cow, and Harumi being a butterfly.
Anime Theme Song: A very, very weird one, but very typical of Susumu Hirasawa, the song's author.
The Atoner: Played subtly. Hirukawa has a sick, disturbing fascination with his daughter (and young girls in general) and is also a Dirty Cop taking bribes from Yakuza, then committing petty robberies and break-ins when the Yakuza demand some money back. Eventually growing disgusted with himself (after being implied to rape a young girl), he accidentally catches what seems to be Lil' Slugger. After that makes him a hero, he seems to be trying to make a wholesome, honest connection with his daughter.
Bittersweet Ending:Nearly a downer. Tsukiko comes to terms with her past and saves Tokyo from the black ooze stuff. However we have no indication that anyone else got over their problems, Ikari, whose wife is dead, is still a security guard, and the final scenes are a clear mirror of the opening scene of the show as if to say it will happen all over again, except everyone this time being optimistic and taking responsibility for their own actions, instead of placing the blame on others. Maniwa, now white haired, replaces the old man from the beginning.
Blame Game: The entire anime boils down to Sagi blaming an imaginary villain for an accident that she was responsible for. However, as if reflecting back on the core issue, Sagi's co-workers also place the blame on her repeatedly for whatever goes wrong, continuously talking about her behind her back. Ironically, although this comes from their own dissatisfaction, jealousy and ineptitude, because Sagi is constantly trying to avoid feeling guilty about the one thing that she can be blamed for (the death of her pet dog), she is unable to confront any kind of blame whatsoever, using Maromi as a shield.
Contemplate Our Navels : Interesting case with Mrs.Ikari. Her telling Lil' Slugger her life story could be symbolic of meditation and mindfulness, which are a huge part of Buddhism. The fact that she's the only character to reveal a great deal of her back story is a contrast to how virtually no one else ever discusses their past and how they became as messed up as they are, and it's implied this happens because Japan is losing the ability to make peace with the suffering that comes with being alive.
Could Have Avoided This Plot: Sagi Tsukiko created Shounen Bat only to avoid her strict father's scolding for losing Maromi. However, Maniwa revealed that her father always knew the truth. He only went to search for Shounen Bat to avoid the fact that he was so strict that his own daughter feared him, so he lied to the police and took a bat and pretended to search for Shounen Bat to show Tsukiko he cared for her.
Daddy's Girl: Hirukawa's daughter, until she finds the pictures he took of her using the spycam in her bedroom.
Dead All Along: Zebra, Fuyubachi and Kamome in "Happy Family Planning". In a variation, it's made to look like they were actually alive at the beginning of the episode, but then committed suicide, and the resulting ghosts failed to realize they were dead, so they kept trying to kill themselves, and it's left intentionally ambiguous when exactly they finally managed to do it. Played for Laughs.
Extremely clever viewers can figure this out for themselves, but if you want the answer: Their lack of shadows is the evidence that they're ghosts. With that in mind, you can go back and find the last time they cast a shadow — when the construction equipment surprises them by tearing down the abandoned house they were in. It's the episode's last, subtlest joke; they never managed to kill themselves at all. They died by accident.
Although the above is correct, it's more of a hint when the guy who jumped in front of the train seemingly survives, all in blood and with broken limbs. Zeebra looks extremely confused as he looks from the train to the ghost of the jumper. Since they're all dead, the trio can see other ghosts—not just themselves. You can tell it's the jumper's ghost when no one else in the background notices the jumper limps away.
Though by that logic, they were likely killed by the gas and didn't notice it at all: The jumper went to the afterlife mangled and wounded and definitely aware he was hit; the ghosts on the other hand, weren't aware of their deaths implying that they passed on without suffering (which they wished for).
Mrs. Ikari is set up to be a Yamato Nadeshiko. she acts like a submissive House Wife because she is deeply depressed. Then, as her episode goes by she seems becomes a Reconstruction of the trope; it's revealed that's she's happy being submissive to her husband due to the deep, deep respect she has for him, AND when Lil' Slugger appears to her, she is able to acknowledge her past, take responsibility for her actions, and give him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to boot. In a way, she could be considered a variant of Silk Hiding Steel in that she is the only character to "defeat" Lil'Slugger while being calm and thoughtful, and without raising a finger.
The producer from the "Mellow Maromi" in-show cartoon is a deconstruction of the Plucky Comic Relief character, showing just how obnoxious such a person would be when put in charge of anything.
Despair Event Horizon: This is how Lil' Slugger chooses his victims. His purpose is to fix the situations that have driven them there by making their problems irrelevant in the face of an entirely new problem — recovering from being beaten half to death.
Dirty Cop: Masami Hirukawa looks like an honest cop, but in fact he takes bribes from the Yakuza to cover up a prostitution ring, and is revealed to be quite the pervert; see Daddy's Girl, Lolicon, and Pervert Dad on this page.
Disproportionate Retribution: The entire city of Tokyo is swallowed up by a giant black blob because Tsukiko lied about how her dog died when she was in sixth grade.
Doing in the Scientist: Despite Ikari insisting otherwise, Lil' Slugger is not a human deliquent. He's a supernatural phantom unwittingly created by Tsukiko to escape responsibility for the death of her dog.
Early-Bird Cameo: The opening contains almost every character, even though many don't show up until later in the series.
Earworm: The OP is tremendously catchy, despite being very weird.
The Ending Changes Everything: Revealing Lil' Slugger's true nature, origin, and purpose puts virtually everything that happens in the show in a new context, given that the majority of episodes are about how people encounter and react to him.
Lampshaded. The final episode has an On The Next Episode sequence that invites you to watch the series again, because knowing how it ends will alter the experience for you.
Failure Gambit: Arguable. Though it's never fully explained why, the only way that Lil' Slugger/Shonen Bat is finally thwarted and life restored to some semblance of normalcy is for the giant wave of paranoia that Slugger has become to devour EVERYTHING, resulting in the utter annihilation of the city and a strange inner-world revelation by Tsukiko that results in Slugger's ultimate erasal. The ending is so incredibly vague that it's impossible to determine if Slugger had planned this outcome, but given that he and Maromi are functionally the same entity in Tsukiko's mind, it could be argued that they both wanted only for Tsukiko to find inner peace.
The topless shot of Maria after she has sex with the fat otaku, especially when he starts talking to his action figures about the deed.
The pictures of Hirukawa's daughter undressing, partly because she's in her early teens and mostly because the pics came from the spy cam her father had in her bedroom. Unless of course one is into that sort of thing.
Fanservice: Despite the disturbing atmosphere, the show manages to get some fanservice in here and there, especially in episode 5.
Freak Out: Most episodes have a climax involving the central character experiencing this. This is literally what summons Lil' Slugger to his targets. The entire point of his actions is to make your problems insignificant by turning you into a victim of a violent crime. And that's only a 'net gain' for somebody who's been driven to the point of complete despair.
Freudian Excuse: Though she herself is not evil, Sagi's destructive turmoil comes from her father being too strict, making her an introverted child, leading to the creation of Maromi and Shonen Bat. This is "Radar Man's" interpretation, so he may be oversimplifying. Tsukiko has such a fragile mind, that the one relatively innocent lie she told as a child distorts into a psychosis that dominates her whole life because she doesn't even have the capacity to accept that it happened.
Gainax Ending: [adult swim] said in a blurb "we've got some new shows that are pretty f'ed up. And we know f'ed up - we saw the end of Paranoia Agent"
Gayngst: Zebra. It's never revealed what exactly brought it about, although his lover is later seen in bed with the Yakuza that bribed Hirukawa.
Goggles Do Something Unusual: "Radar Man"'s goggles are connected to the police database, amongst other things, but considering how bat-shit insane the guy in the costume is at that point, it's hard to tell.
Good Cop/Bad Cop: Maniwa and Ikari both intentionally and unintentionally fall into these roles during interrogation.
Hypocritical Humor: In "ETC", the gossipers share ridiculous stories. The first to come up is the story of a student, under pressure because he's studying for an all-important exam, who vomits out typed text and dies; this is believed to be connected to Lil' Slugger by the typed word "bat" landing on his forehead. The next story involves a girl and her overbearing, abusive guardian. The women say "How tragic" and so forth. We get to the new girl telling ridiculous stories, some more and some less, and she gets singled out.
Lolicon: Played very darkly. Hirukawa (a police officer who was taking Yakuza bribes) was something of a pedophile and had a fetish for young girls calling him "Daddy." Later, when he begins robbing houses to pay off a loan, the daughter of one family walks in on a drugged-up burglar and her parents Bound and Gagged. The implied aftermath was... unpleasant. Still later, it is revealed that he set up a secret camera in his own daughter's bedroom so he could spy on her getting undressed...and she finds out.
Lyrical Dissonance: The song accompanying the opening credits. In a sense, also applies to the superficially soothing song that plays over the end credits, although the dissonance is with the images rather than with the non-existent lyrics.
Both are intentional. Word of God gives the reason for the cheery opening music and the soothing ending music as being due to the late timeslot the show received in Japan.
MacGuffin: Shonen Bat is much less important than how the cast reacts to him.
Mad Dreamer: Tsukiko. The things she creates talk to her! Most of the time she's off in her own private world read psychotic delusion. If those delusions are threatened, expect her to turn into a Nervous Wreck.
Mad Oracle: The Old Man, whose equations reveal numbers that are important to the plot. In the end, Maniwa seems to have taken his place.
The Man Behind the Man: Invoked by all the characters who are attacked by Shonen Bat. They want a villain who they can blame for their own problems—and thanks to an in-universe Memetic Mutation, they get it.
Lil' Slugger is not a person, or even a living thing. He's a physical avatar of the desire to abdicate responsibility for being in a bad situation.
Maromi is the same thing, but also represents the comfort that something familiar and harmless brings, and giving too much significance to trivial things.
An otaku's dolls come to life and assist with the investigation briefly.
Ikari ends up trapped in a world literally made of his own nostalgia, where everybody is two-dimensional and poorly animated.
One episode follows a group of ghosts who don't realize that they're dead.
There appears to exist a sort-of 'imaginary realm' that reclassifies real things and people as fantastic characters and items, such as Maniwa's golden bat becoming a sword.
Meaningful Background Event: Mellow Maromi combines this with Danger Takes a Backseat. The episode is told in flashbacks, with the present being Saruta (the production coordinator) driving frantically to deliver the taped episode for the new Maromi anime to the network to air while he frequently flashbacks to the past, which presents how the anime was made and how Saruta basically offed several members of the staff over the course of the production process. As the episode returns to the present, we begin to see Lil' Slugger trailing behind, getting ever closer to the car with each jump. Saruta finally notices him and drives frantically to escape. For a moment, he seems to have lost Lil' Slugger only to find out that the guy is now behind him in the backseat!!!
An in-universe example - In the episode "ETC", the housewives are talking about the attacks they heard about, trying to outdo each other, with each story becoming more surreal and outrageous than the last.
Shounen Bat himself. It's a particularly bizarre and violent example, but it has been brought up. That is because Shounen Bat is nothing but another side of Maromi. Maromi's idea is everywhere in Japan: toys, drawings, clothes and an animated series.
Menstrual Menace: The onset of her first period is what distracts Tsukiko long enough for the original Maromi to be run over, starting the entire plot.
Moving the Goalposts: In "A Man's Path," the Yakuza boss keeps raising the amount of money the corrupt cop owes him so he'll be forever in his debt.
Naughty by Night: Harumi Chono, a mild-mannered tutor, has a split personality named Maria, a prostitute that takes over at night.
Nice Guy: Ushiyama. Even when Yuuichi threatens him and has pictures taken of the event, he tries to defend Yuuichi by claiming that someone's trying to ruin his reputation. Although, Yuuichi doesn't seem grateful.
Nightmare Face: The hideous clown-like makeup worn by Harumi Chono as her internal conflict with her "Maria" personality reaches its boiling point. It shows up twice, once before she's whacked by Shounen Bat and once as the black sludge swallows her in the last episode.
On the Next: The episode trailers are narrated by the Old Man, and are mini-Mind Screws in and of themselves. More specifically, they're told in the form of metaphors that won't make any sense until after watching the episode they're describing.
Otaku: An unnamed but recurring character. Given the series' overall themes of people running from real life, it's not difficult to see how this archetype ties in.
Paranoia Fuel: As you might guess, this show contains a good deal of in-universe Fuel. Li’l Slugger is basically powered by it. This may inspire you, however, to fear fear itself.
Must not run away... Must not turn your back on him... He comes for people who've been driven into a corner and have nowhere to go. Must not talk about him... Must not think about him... Rumors help him grow. Imagination... paranoia nurtures him! Nowhere to go...
Parody: Maromi takes after the real world Tarepanda.
Less "good fortune" and more "dead people can't commit suicide" by the conclusion.
Playing Sick: Early on, a number of characters think Sagi is doing this by claiming to have been attacked by someone who never existed. They are wrong—sort of. See, Sagi DID make up Lil' Slugger to get out of taking responsibility for something, it's just that he's become real through the power of people's collective desire to avoid responsiblity.
RPG Episode: Episode 5 is this, told from the warped perspective of Makoto Kozuka who played one too many RPGs and saw the world and his victims as game characters. Only not really, as is revealed in episode 7. He was just doing it to screw with people before he died.
Sanity Slippage: Most of the cast suffers it over an episode. Three suffer it over the series. One does not ever lose it. Two recover from it. Everyone is smiling by the end. Unless they died already. Except in "Happy Family Planning," where all three died and were singing happily in the end.
As Hirukawa falls farther and farther from grace, he begins modeling his mindset on the Determinator hero of a Rated M for Manly manga in a desperate, twisted attempt to justify his actions to himself.
Makoto Kozuka's video game. The series has quite a few of these.
Shadow Archetype: Maromi and Lil' Slugger are both shown to be disturbing in how obsessed people are with them, and they're both fictional characters, in-universe, created by Tsukiko Sagi that have come to life. They're also both symptoms/causes of people hiding from the truth. The difference is that people fear Lil' Slugger, because he is overtly hostile, while Maromi only ever displays concern for people. Misae lampshades this in 'No Entry'.
Shotacon: Blink and you'll miss it, but in the final episode, the lead Yakuza who'd been extorting money from Konikawa is seen sitting in bed beside a sleeping young boy.
Superhero: "Radar Man". Although, how much of his "powers" are made up and how much is actually happening is, as always, up for debate...
Surreal Horror: Lil' Slugger starts as some punk kid with a bat, and becomes both more threatening and more bizarre as the series continues, culminating in him becoming a massive black blob that emerges from several unconnected locations at once, and overtakes virtually all of Tokyo in less than a few hours.
Sweetie Graffiti: A drawing shaped like an umbrella is seen drawn on a door in a school, in Ikari's dream world.
Theme Naming: Nearly all the major characters have animal names - Sagi (heron), Ikari (boar), Maniwa (horse, also his internet handle), Ushiyama (cow), Chouno (butterfly), Hirukawa (frog), the Otaku Kamei (turtle), the internet handles of Zebra, Fuyubachi (Winter Wasp) and Kamome (Seagull) in "Happy Family Planning", and so on. Note that some of them have character-related double meanings, as well - written with a different kanji, Tsukiko's last name, Sagi, means "fraud".
Theme Tune Cameo: In episode ten, one of Shounen Bat's victim accidentally turns on his car radio and the show's opening theme song plays.
Through the Eyes of Madness: In many episodes, you aren't sure what's supposed to be real. Tsukiko is the most notable example though, considering that it is her initial paranoid psychosis based on a lie that devolves into the current situation. Your first clue that there's something more substantially wrong with her than just being a Cloud Cuckoo Lander is when you see Maromi talk.
The Tokyo Fireball: The black sludge that Shounen Bat becomes as his power reaches a crescendo devastates Tokyo in the final episode.
Twinkle Smile: Yuichi "Ichi" Taira starts out with one (along with Audible Gleam, natch) in the second episode. He even practices it in the mirror before he leaves for school. However, he quickly loses it as things start going wrong for him.
Twitchy Eye: A number of character display this briefly. It ties into the show's theme of everyone being at least a little crazy.
Vicious Cycle: The anime is implied to be this at the very end by Maniwa, who's seemingly taken the place of the old man.
Wham Episode: Episode 7. The reasoning behind the attacks are somewhat explained and Kozuka turns out to be a copycat criminal... who is murdered in his cell by Lil' Slugger, who proceeds to murder more people from there.
Yakuza: These drive the plot of "A Man's Path" by demanding money from Konikawa, causing him to turn to crime.
Your Mind Makes It Real: We find out in later episodes that Shounen Bat/Lil Slugger is a negative apparition fueled by the paranoia of the growing and out-of-control rumors of the public (hence the title). How he came to be was due to Tsukiko lying due to stress of her successful anime character (Maromi). Of course the original lie was due to her losing a puppy after begging so hard to get it and not owning up to the consequences from telling the truth. It isn't until she eventually confronts and admits her mistake that Slugger disappears.
Crosses into What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic? territory when you realize that Maromi/LS are all about excuses. Think about the Book Ends for a sec. They give you a valid excuse...but that doesn't mean they're helping you.