If there's one thing that's nice about being too sick to play video games, it's that it's allowed me to invest some time in a very worthy cartoon series from Japan.
Right from Paranoia Agent's opening credits, I was hooked. For some reason the music, combined with a series of people gaily laughing as they stand at the scene of some tragedy - a tsunami, a war-torn city, a nuclear detonation - held so much promise, for me.
It's a TV series from very-artsy director Satoshi Kon - best known for critically acclaimed feature anime films Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Paprika. I loved Perfect Blue and Paprika - they're intensely intelligent, but not so much that they make me feel like an idiot. (Which is likely why I can't really put my stamp of approval on Millennium Actress - I've seen it. I've watched it, and have no idea what that movie is about.)
Paranoia Agent is about personal responsibility, and the tendency of people to adhere to the reality which they find most comfortable, no matter how crazy it may be, no matter who it may hurt. I may find it particularly resonant, as one who once engaged in such behavior to the end of the world as I knew it.
The cast is immense - apparently Kon wanted to find a place to bring a bunch of his unused story ideas to life, so the show bounces back and forth between a good twenty main and one-off characters - but each story is connected to the whole, firmly by theme if tenuously by narrative.
If you'd asked me, after five or six episodes, what Paranoia Agent is about, I would have said
Paranoia Agent is about a bunch of people with problems, but their problems get solved when they're bonked on the head by a kid with a gold baseball bat.Which was just as short-sighted a view as the characters who found a solution in the escape offered by Shōnen Bat. This is a really good series - it concerns itself not merely with being entertaining, but with starting a discussion worth having - food for thought that one would be well-served to chew over quite thoroughly.
As I understand it, it's an intensely nerdy thing to have an interest in anime - but I can't help but find it absolutely fascinating. I love that there is a culture that actively supports cartoons which explore such mature issues and themes, and so I'm willing to sit down and let these cartoons talk to me about things I would find insufferable, were it discussed in any other media. It's a total double-standard, I know.
Also, let's face it - beautiful 2D animation is still just beautiful.