Escaping from reality – A look at Paranoia Agent

When life gets hard and the world seems to be crumbling around you, sometimes you want to give in a little. Maybe it’ll be easier not to fight back and run away instead. No. You must step over the crags and move past the debris through the adversity and pain, and you will find the path. It is difficult, but it is there and you must take it, because you can hold the world together in your stride.

Hello again and welcome, this time I’ll be taking a look at one of my favorite anime, Paranoia Agent. The director Satoshi Kon brings us a world terrifyingly familiar to us with a style that leaves deep scars on our psyche. Despite the realistic approach of how he depicts the world, there are times when the psychedelic and fantastic weave their way in, entrancing us all the while.

Paranoia Agent is a psychological thriller with deep messages about society as individuals and as a whole. The story starts off with a character designer, Tsukiko Sagi, being pressured to come up with the next big hit after having created a famous and widely popular  character called Maromi, a pink “kawaii” looking dog. On her way home from work she is attacked in the night by a boy on roller skates wielding a bat. The aftermath of this attack relieves her from the expectations that were being forced onto her. She is suspected of having fabricated her story of the boy by one of the investigators, but soon more incidents begin to occur.

We can feel this way in our own lives–the pressure to succeed or the pressures of society pushing against us, and then we too almost wish for something, anything to happen to put an end to our fears we place on ourselves. Whether it’s work, family, or religion, it doesn’t matter what causes these sensations within us, but there are times when our obligations become burdens that weigh us down. The stress of living to the expectations of others, or the fear of not knowing where your life is heading, or even the monotony of everyday life–it becomes our demon to face, but we must face it, challenge it, and conquer it in order to live free.

Continuing with Paranoia Agent, the story goes on with reports of a person that people are calling “Lil’ Slugger,” or “Shonen Bat(Bat Boy),” who is attacking people. At first these attacks seem to be random violence, but the victims all share something in common, and that is that each them had problems in their lives that they wanted to escape from. The line between reality and fantasy starts to blur as the situation escalates. What we eventually realize is that Shonen Bat has been transposed into the world through the people wanting to escape. They need Shonen Bat, because they can’t face there problems.

At the time I watched Paranoia Agent, I was reading a book I lent out from the library, Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture which talked about Takashi Murakami’s and other’s theories on post-war Japanese culture. The book analyzes anime, manga, and kawaii culture and tries to explain the reasons why such a culture has come to be. The book claims that it is a culture that has grown out of an atomically devastated Japan; through its dependence on the United States; and escaping reality through consumer culture. The book’s title, Little Boy, refers to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, one of the most traumatic and events in history. Within the book we have the idea that the modern Japanese culture has been born out of this post-war trauma.

Paranoia Agent_000

It seemed to be perfect at the time for me to be reading this and then happen upon Paranoia Agent, where I was immediately in the opening greeted by the image of the atomic bomb’s mushroom cloud. Eventually, when the truth of Shonen Bat is revealed, we see that he was just another expression born out of the same mold as Maromi. The ideas which breeds this kind of escapism allows people to shy away from reality by watching their favorite shows such as the Maromi anime and forget their troubles.

Paranoia Agent_001

People stop facing their problems and instead use these fantasy worlds to feel better about themselves. They fervently buy the merchandise and sink into the fantasy further while forgetting that it is a fantasy world that they are investing in. Maromi has become the representation of a false solution–a way to escape a from reality that is harsh or hard. It sounds all too familiar.

What we mustn’t forget is that the real world is waiting for us whether we like it or not.

 

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