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Volume three contains episodes eight to ten of the brilliantly distorted anime series from Satoshi Kon, who separates the theme of paranoia into much finer threads by swaying away from the core storyline. Instead, he highlights the effect of the ‘Shonen Bat’ phenomenon by illustrating completely unrelated episodes.

Feature


The opening segment provides a disturbingly grim outlook on death; in fact it is perhaps the most upsetting episode in the entire series. Three individuals meet after discussing the death of a former internet chat room friend. The strangers consist of an elderly man, a young male and a little schoolgirl named Kamome, who decide to commit suicide together. The two gentlemen are shocked upon meeting the latter for the first time and try to lose her in the belief that she is too young to die. However the persistent Kamome is reluctant to be left behind and is determined to killer herself. Their reasons for suicide are never made explicit but they all share a common distance from reality. Upon hearing of the Shonen Bat incidents, they call his name in desperation to finish them off. However when the rollerblading assailant eventually does appear, the results are not quite to everyone’s expectations.

Paranoia Agent Vol. 3
It is interesting that Kon has deliberately airbrushed a sensitive subject with humour and sweetness, making the unpleasant themes and messages even more apparent. The narrative style is a work of genius – switching between internet conversations and the present storyline. The ending is left open for interpretation and will no doubt split the audience into concluding their own explanation.

The second episode features gossiping housewives as they discuss previous Shonen Bat incidents. The stories are blatantly fabricated but each one is gullible enough to believe these farfetched tales. One woman is new to the neighbourhood and has a hard time earning acceptance from the gossipmongers, despite imagining her own tales of the attacker. The housewives simply brush her stories off as ridiculous lies. After the gossip session is over, the new woman returns to her apartment to find a pleasant surprise.

In this anthology of random events, Kon has provided a series of further short stories in the form of gossips, each one lasting no more than a few minutes. One tale that the housewives discuss is that of a school student studying for an exam but is simultaneously suffering from a cold. He literally sneezes out his knowledge and ends up in a state of extreme hysteria, calling out for the one character who can remedy the situation. The stories all present a similar situation, namely highlighting a social conflict that has mentally trapped someone into a corner. The pressures are further increased by feeding rumours to those who thrive on judging anyone who appears out of place. Kon also has a gift of mocking qualities that are predominant in today’s youth culture; a fine example would be his treatment of Japanese melodrama.

Paranoia Agent Vol. 3
The closing episode is a murder mockumentary that takes place inside an animation studio. The key members of the team are introduced by a cute looking character, as they prepare to meet the deadline for the latest Maromi title. One by one however, the team is picked off by Shonen Bat, as the completion date is nears closer. The hold up in the production line results in widespread panic and subsequent blame that is directed towards the production manager, who suffers from an erratic sleeping disorder. As he himself is tormented, assaulted and humiliated, it is only inevitable for the notorious attacker to pay him a visit.

The fundamental message emphasised here is to leave some time for oneself, as ongoing pressure can do more harm than good. Again the narrative style is remarkably imaginative, switching between the animation storyboards to the current premise. This must have been a personal project for Satoshi Kon, as he will have obviously encountered similar situations. Hence, there is a sense of bitter-sweetness with this insight into an animation studio.

Paranoia Agent Vol. 3
This collection is interesting as it has little to do storyline introduced in the first two volumes. Instead the filmmaker has depicted how various classes of people react to different stages of paranoia. It is clear that Shonen Bat has become less of a physical character and more of an ideology – people fear and respect his image and will subsequently prepare for the encounter in their own way. Although certain stories may appear somewhat implausible, the origins of the conflicts are all too real and it is our responsibility to deal with it.

Video


Paranoia Agent is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. As these are all side episodes, the quality of animation does not look as pristine as the previous volumes (especially episode eight). However it is difficult to be certain; Kon may very well have opted for a more abstract approach. The image transfer follows the trend of the previous efforts – an NTSC to PAL conversion that is slightly soft but should not present significant visual discomfort. Trailing is to be expected during the primary body, object and camera movements but minor actions are satisfactory. Shade reproduction is highly competent, especially in a volume where a diverse pallet is utilised throughout the episodes. The contrast and black levels are equally well defined and fail to leave any obstructions.

Paranoia Agent Vol. 3

Audio


Once again, there are two Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround tracks in either Japanese or English. The dubbing is well synchronised and narrates the story accurately, without damaging the translation too much. Both options are almost identical in terms of surround sound technology; the rears are well executed and there is sufficient depth in the bass to give the soundtrack some texture. There are a few clever directional effects that are well suited to a production of this magnitude, such as traffic flow or object collisions. The subtitles are excellent (as they should be for the UK DVD), if you can tolerate the yellow font.

Extras


Supplementary materials are minimal but then again, this is only a single layer, single sided disc. We have two galleries – one for Japanese cover art and the other for character design. There is not a wide selection of pictures but it is interesting to see what type of art our Far Eastern cousins receive. Aside from the DVD credits and trailers, there is nothing else to see here.

Paranoia Agent Vol. 3

Overall


Volume 3 of Paranoia Agent is interesting because it can be easily dismissed from the collection, due to the stories having little to do with the first two DVD instalments. Conversely, it can also be collected as a standalone disc for those who have yet to experience this delightfully twisted riddle from Satoshi Kon. Considering that there are only four volumes anyway, it would be shameful to not include this as part of the collection. Squeezing three episodes onto a DVD-5 is an insult, when a two disc set can easily accommodate the entire series. But then, since when has anime been given the same level of respect as regular TV boxsets?


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