Desire for Escapism in Paranoia Agent Candidate No: Word Count: 3964 Abstract Satoshi Kon is an important figure in Japanese cinema. In many of his works, he analyzes the concept of society’s desire for escapism due to stress and anxiety which addresses the question of this essay—what is Kon’s perspective upon the nature of escapism and its impact upon society? This essay will examine a television series he directed called Paranoia Agent in order to explore Kon’s theme of escapism and its impact on society. Mainly episodes 1-5 and 9-13 will be covered in the essay.
Sources ranging from interviews with Kon, reviews and news articles were researched to better understand Kon’s style of animation, thus understand Kon’s messages in Paranoia Agent. Through consulting these sources, we fully appreciate Kon’s techniques of framed narrative structuring, detailed and realistic art styles, diverse animation styles, sound effects and so forth which emphasize Kon’s critical portrayal of society’s escapism. Through examining characters and their interactions with one another, we understand the fearsome influence of escapism on society.
Characters succumb to the temporary relief of escapism, represented by the character Shonen Bat. As we examine character motivations and actions, the absurdity of escapism is established. Kon depicts society as vulnerable, desperate to avoid reality, thus suffers the consequences which include lost of identity, hallucinations or even death. Through escapism, the fragility of human nature is revealed. However, through development of certain characters, society redeems itself in the show. In the end, we realize that we can relate to these characters and the desire for escapism is inevitable as Kon admits.
We conclude that escapism is necessary in order to preserve our sanity in this stress-driven society; however we must ensure that we still hold the courage to face reality to avoid slipping too deeply into the world of escapism and consequently, lose our sanity. Word Count: 299 Table of Contents Title Page1 Abstract2 Introduction4 An Overview of Kon’s Art Style4-5 Plot Summary of Paranoia Agent5-6 The Beginning of Escapism—Stress from Society6-7 The Growing Influence of Escapism7-10 The Indirect Influence of Escapism10 A Symbolic Representation on the Theme of Escapism 11
Truth of Escapism Revealed11-12 Escapism at Its Utmost Absurdity12-13 Solution to Escapism13 Conclusion13-14 Biblography15 Introduction Satoshi Kon is a director of Japanese animated films and TV series. In many of his works, he provides commentary on society, seen in television series Paranoia Agent. Paranoia Agent is a story of a hit-and-run assailant whose attacks strangely seem to bring relief to his victims rather than suffering. He places emphasis upon the portrayal of the human psyche as a fragile target of an assortment of societal flaws.
Humans develop a natural instinct to avoid confronting reality to conjure a proper resolution to their problems whether it is pressure from work, bullying or family; instead they refuge in their own internal world. The act of retreating to an illusionary world comes in the form of escapism, becoming unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy due to their intensive anxiety and stress. This idea is developed through the characters of Paranoia Agent whom which the audience is able to empathize with.
The internal world of characters appears to materialize into the real world as a result of their delusions. Kon expands upon the fearsomeness of the internal world by proposing that these illusions can “possess” others or provide a catalyst to the delusions of others. Through Paranoia Agent, we ask: “What is the nature of escapism and its impact upon society? Therefore, through this theme of escapism from society’s demons, Kon explores humanity’s weak nature with great realism and fictional elements as powerful metaphors.
An Overview of Kon’s Art Style Kon uses a realistic animation style to engage his audience. He rejects the conventional doe-eyed, abnormally haired character designs of anime. Many characters appear unattractive: “Unlike with most anime titles, the artists aren’t shy about using unattractive and unappealing designs even for protagonist roles” (Theron) and “drawn with such attention to detail … it’s a rejection of anime’s traditional subject matter and a celebration of everything that people watch anime to escape… humdrum reality. (Hendrix) This serves to both reflect society’s own cast of characters (being not all beautiful) and reflect the ugliness of human nature. He also includes realistic background scenery depicting common everyday occurrences which he emphasizes in his interviews: “Even in different worlds, solid everyday lives must exist. ”(Hendrix). Kon describes how he makes careful observations of everyday scenes and condenses them so that they are precise in conveying certain elements in his animation: “Observing what is around us in real life and animating them as you say makes me observe them in even more depth.
Recreating them as drawings/anime is totally different from cutting out the scene as a photograph…You reduce the amount of unnecessary information and gather what is necessary on one screen. ”(Hendrix) Kon’s portrayal of society is articulate so that it effectively represents reality yet is concise enough that viewers do not become distracted by other unrelated factors occurring in the scene. This animation style allows the audience to become engulfed in the plotline, creating the effect of magic realism—supernatural events occurring in reality.
Realism draws in his audience and subtly weaves the fantasy world with the “reality” of the characters and in turn the viewer. Richard Pena, the Film Society program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Centre, commented that Kon’s films “develop a contextual fluidity that allows people…to inhabit several different planes of meaning at the same time. The visual style is deceptively simple; it’s only over the course of a film that its depths, layers and traps are revealed. ” (Pena).
Kon’s animation style creates seamless transitions from reality to fantasy, thus allowing the audience to interpret his scenes as a multifaceted representation of society. A plot overview: The main plot of Paranoia Agent involves characters seeking escapism from the accumulated stress from society. The story begins with mascot designer, Tsukiko Sagi, who is responsible for creating the popular dog character ‘Maromi’ in Japan. Consequently, her fans eagerly expect her to create another equally likeable character despite her struggles to do so.
However, conveniently, just as the deadline of her new creation approaches; she is attacked by a mysterious boy with a bent bat. This assault results in a chain of mysteries detectives Maniwa and Ikari are called to investigate. The mysterious assailant, known as ‘Shonen Bat’ according to the media, begins a string of seemingly random attacks. Nevertheless, as the story unravels, there is an evident connection between the victims of his attacks. They all share a common trait—the desire to escape from reality due to hardships in life.
As the story progresses, there is a growing absurdity in characters’ motivations to find escapism in Shonen Bat. The growing desire to escape from reality fuels Shonen Bats’ power so greatly that he transforms into a colossal black entity which consumes all of Tokyo. Fortunately, as characters learn to accept reality, Shonen Bat disappears and order returns to society. The Beginning of Escapism—Stress from Society The theme of escapism begins with a person experiencing the hardships of society, bringing anxiety and stress.
This is the source of permeability between the internal and external world of a person thus showing our weak human nature. Paranoia Agent begins with streets of Tokyo where only complaints and excuses are filtered through crowds pessimistically portraying a stress driven society. We hear complaining: “I feel really tired and all, so…I’ll have to pass this time. Sorry. ”, a truck driver relaxing in a near-empty street telling his employer “…it’s a terrible gridlelock… I’m sorry but I think I’ll be a bit late today. ”, a businessman claiming “It wasn’t my fault…management told me to do that”.
These excuses soon overlap one another and this sound effect creates an overwhelming sense of anxiety: “I have a really bad stomache, so I won’t be able to come in today”, “There wasn’t really anything I could do”, “It wasn’t my fault! It was his fault! ”(Minakami) and so forth. Episode 1 focuses on Tsukiko, designer of the dog character “Maromi”. Her psyche weakens from expectations from her fans and superiors. It is established in the beginning that Tsukiko seeks refuge in escapism through her personification of Maromi.
Her hallucinations of Maromi can be interpreted as schizophrenic episodes. When she becomes dejected by slanders on her website, her doll of Maromi comes to life and stops her from reading anymore of the cruel comments. Sound effects are used to emphasize her delusions as Maromi is even given a voice, coaxing Tsukiko “Everyone is just jealous…[You are] not the bad one. ” (Minakami) However, Maromi’s eyes are animated pitch-black creating a sense of emptiness, reminding us of its true lifelessness.
Furthermore, her withdrawal from society is shown through her preference to converse with lifeless objects rather than real people. Tsukiko decides to inflict injury upon herself in a desperate attempt to delay the deadline for her new creation. Her resulting internal conflict of guilt accrues to the creation of the illusionary character “Shonen Bat”. In her intense anxiety, she becomes so absorbed in her lie that she truly believes a boy with a bat had attacked her. Shonen Bat becomes the primary figure and catalyst in the theme of escapism from society’s oppression.
His existence depicts of the weak side of humanity through his role as an anthropomorphic representation of stress. His interactions with other characters invoke the fragile part of human nature. Shonen Bat becomes a destructive force that affects others despite being born from the internal world of Tsukiko, thus emphasizing Kon’s depiction of stress from society as a force to be feared. Growing influence of Ecapism: Episode 2, 3 & 5 Although Shonen Bat was formed from Tsukiko’s own wish to escape from reality, Shonen Bat can affect the lives of others.
A review at Anime News Network mentioned “[Paranoia Agent] manages to focus on someone new each time, but weaves such an intricate net of character relationships and psychological bridges that it never feels episodic. ” (Theron). Kon uses a disjointed narrative for the story. Rather than confusing the audience, this narrative style is used to illustrate the overall sheer power of anxiety and the fragility of society. He includes many episodes featuring side characters that are indirectly related to Tsukiko—they find themselves cornered by the pressure of society and find escapism in an illusionary character.
Through the media, the word of Shonen Bat’s existence spread, illustrating society’s tendency to spread chaos. Episode 2 involves a popular boy named Taira. His popularity becomes short-lived with the new student Ushiyama. His situation becomes worse as rumors spread claiming that he is in fact Shonen Bat. He becomes critical of everyone around him, especially Ushiyama despite his genuine desire to be friends. In order to reflect characters’ lost of identity and place in society due to their refusal to face reality, Kon sometimes animates the story with a minimalistic art style.
One reviewer commented on this change of art style: “The overriding artistic style of the series, a sort of minimalist realism…frequently gives way to more distorted visuals presenting the world from [characters’] emotional viewpoint”. (Slavek) This distortion of visuals is seen in episode 2 where the frustrated Taira Yuichi descends into insanity as he blames others for his problems, he along with other characters is drawn in an amorphous state, constantly warping into deformed shapes. Voices are altered to unnatural low-pitch tones to illustrate his deteriorating mind due to escapism.
This builds the idea of humans becoming so weak at the thought of facing reality; they succumb to delusions and struggle to break free from these hallucinatory worlds. In episode 3, Chouno suffers from a mental illness which is denoted through her name. ‘Chouno’, meaning butterfly (Campbell), signifies transformation—parallel to her dissociative identity disorder. As she loses significant control over her identity as well as the pressure of hiding this secret from her fiance, she calls out for Shonen Bat to “relieve” her of her problems (she desired to be attacked to delay the marriage) to which he complies.
Society’s fervent embracement of Shonen Bat’s existence highlights the fragility of human nature. This collective desire to accept escapism earns disapproval from the audience. The use of music enhances the dangers of escapism which depicts the weakness of humans to face reality. As a review mentioned: “Musical scoring and sound effects are very well-done, with the director knowing exactly when to let a scene pass without accompaniment or spruce it up with appropriate – or in some cases diametrically inappropriate – ditties. (Theron) When Chouno discovers that her alter-ego returns to sabotage her life, haunting calls from crows flood the audio to emphasize the sense of horror and desperation. Kon uses music to sometimes emphasize the horrifying fate that awaits those who seek escapism, but also uses “diametrically inappropriate ditties” of music in order to emphasize the underlying meaning of the scene. In the ending song where they show the characters sleeping, in the background there is a nursery-like tune consisting of minor chords. These conflicting elements suggest the sinister effects of escapism despite its pretty facade.
We appreciate the ominous mood created through the music as commented by a reviewer: “it’ll be the stream of dark instrumental…that will sink into your subconscious. ” (ANN) Lighting is another cinematic technique used to show characters being blinded by their weakness, consequently desiring escapism. Kon uses darkness as a method of blinding the perception of characters. When Chouno Harumi is attacked by Shonen Bat upon her request, he is represented as a dark shadow. Therefore, darkness blinds her from perceiving escapism’s obscure nature—self-destruction
Escapism’s absurd distortion of reality is emphasized in episode 5 where detectives interrogate the fake Shonen Bat, Makoto. It is revealed that his attacks were part of his delusional role-play-gaming world. He juxtaposes his persona as the hero of his games in real life, thus attacking others in the name of ‘defeating the monsters’. The animation style changes to reflect that of a role-play-gaming world. This change in visuals creates confusion between reality and illusions to emphasize the distorted emotional perspective of the boy.
Game-like music is used in the background, called “Dream Island Daytime. ” (ANN) Evidently, Makoto finds escapism in his games. The idea of living in a hallucinatory world of false heroism is absurd. Makoto meets unsought ends due to his escapism—he is punished with confinement and he is later murdered by Shonen Bat. His demise illustrates potential fatality of escapism. As one review had described: “Kon wouldn’t be his genre’s supreme self-reflexivist if he didn’t insist on revealing frames within the frame” (Nelson). Kon’s noteworthy technique is imposing a narrative within a narrative.
This framed structuring of plot produces confusion to reflect the character’s plummet into escapism. This technique is seen where Makoto is retells the episode in his perspective; the whole episode takes place in an RPG setting—the detectives and Makoto are transported to a fantasy world. This narrative blurs the borderline between reality and fantasy. Kon states: “My aim was to have the audience ‘experience’ the protagonist’s internal confusion instead of the thrill or suspense on the exterior. We who were involved in the creation of this film called this feeling a sense of intoxication’…” (Hendrix) in regards to his movie Perfect Blue. We can see Kon replicating this style in Paranoia Agent, too. The audience also experiences “intoxication” through escapism of characters. Their blurred vision of reality is Kon’s method of fully depicting the struggles of humanity as they battle their anxieties, thus illustrating the fragile and dark aspect of society. The Indirect Influence of Escapism—episode 9 Kon uses his narrative style to introduce other side-stories which in turn contribute to the general idea of society’s desperate struggle against pressure.
Continuing with the idea of other characters developing Shonen Bat, the cartoon shows that while he can affect others directly (assaulting victims), Shonen Bat still influences others indirectly. Kon demonstrates it ironically in episode 9 where Shonen Bat affects others indirectly through causing hysteria in the public. Irony is created through the setting of gossiping housewives. We first obtain the illusion that they are spectators of the phenomenon. However, the episode reveals that they too are consumed by the existence of Shonen Bat through their desire to spread news of his existence to others.
The ending of the episode provides a disturbing explanation of their role when the neglected housewife returns home to find her dying husband, attacked by Shonen Bat. She becomes so ensnarled by her desire to become a part of the Shonen Bat phenomenon, she loses her sanity seen by how her husband desperately cries “Call an ambulance! ” admist her strangled demands of “Tell me how you were attacked! Tell me! ” (Minakami) Instead of compelling her to face her inner psychic struggle, the attack fuels her delusional mind as she becomes ecstatic at the thought of being involved in the phenomenon.
The episode ends with her demented gleeful expression and sounds of her strained voice to create a haunting atmosphere, especially as the screen fades to black. The wide of influence of these illusionary characters on others directly and indirectly further illustrate Kon’s emphasis on the power of anxiety caused by society invokes its pitiful weak nature. A Symbolic Representation on the Theme of Escapism—episode 10 The character Maromi develops the idea of humanity’s vulnerability to escapism. In episode 10, Kon features a symbolic representation of escapism.
Maromi is referred to as an icon of peace. Nevertheless, she is another false bringer of relief like Shonen Bat. Due to the popularity of Maromi, a TV show was created featuring her adventures with a young baseball player. We are subjected to another framed narrative as the story is told in the narrative of Maromi’s show through the conversation between Maromi and the boy. His baseball bat, unlike Shonen Bat’s, is not warped, signifying reality. The baseball player explains his frustration with the sport. Maromi coaxes him to put down the bat and “take a break”(Yoshino).
Letting go of the bat would represent letting go of reality and “taking a break” simply means avoiding one’s problem. This idea is emphasized with the setting of the ending theme. Everyone is sprawled on the peaceful field of grass and sleeping with Maromi sitting in the centre. The characters appear to be peaceful without worry which illustrates ignorance of their problems. They are laid on the ground to form a question mark. This poses the inquiry if seeking fantasy by the means of “sleeping” is truly the best solution. The Truth of Escapism Revealed—episode 11
In episode 11, the truth of Shonen Bat’s existence is voiced by the character Misae, Ikari’s wife—he is an ad-hoc relief. Contrastingly, Shonen Bat cannot hurt Misae although she is faced with a hopeless future—she suffers from a terminal disease and her husband struggles to pay for her operations—because of her strength to face reality. Consequently, she understands that Shonen Bat’s existence is an illusion given that he can only feel euphoria over simple things like hitting people and how this offers only false salvation. She declares: “No matter how harsh reality is, [humans] can confront it. (Minakami)Misae demonstrates the true strong and noble mind a human potentially holds. She becomes the embodiment of courage to face reality. This episode foreshadows the character development in others, particularly Ikari and Tsukiko. As Misae had predicted, Shonen Bat being an ad-hoc relief, invokes a temporary solution to one’s problems. Revisiting episode 1, before Tsukiko is attacked, there is a soft sound of chimes as though signaling danger. This is to suggest that despite characters’ belief that Shonen Bat is a form of relief; he is a dangerous solution to one’s problems.
This music reappears as a leimotif whenever other character desires to escape reality. Past problems of characters resurface after Shonen Bat’s attack in episode 12. Through Shonen Bat’s attack, Tsukiko managed to be excused from designing her new character. However, as the commotion of the assault had settled, the demands of her new creation returned. She finds herself in the same position beforehand and even more stressed as her assistant is frustrated with her lack of results and even inflicts harm upon her: “How long are you going to be on your high horse?… what do you think you are?
The sun?… How long has it been since you said you’d draw a new design? ” (Minakami). Furthermore, Chouno’s alter-ego returns after the attack. Kon outlines the futility of escapism, only a temporary relief from stress. The absurdity of society, desperately relying on Shonen Bat in order to find a solution to their problems, voices the weak side of humanity Kon critiques. Escapism at its Utmost Absurdity—Episode 13 The climatic point is reached at episode 13 where Ikari and Tsukiko delve into escapism to its utmost absurdity. They are transported to a surreal world.
The irrationality of escapism and humanity’s weakness are emphasized through changes in animation style. In this escapist world, the animation contains a flat, two-dimensional art style, suggesting characters live in a world where they do not experience the full range of human emotions. The 2-D townspeople have simple, superficial reactions to situations. They lack in emotional complexity in comparison to Ikari and Tsukiko who are animated in a 3-D style. The animation style changes to the traditional, comic drawing style of Japan post WWII, providing a nostalgic atmosphere which reflects Ikari’s desire to escape to the past.
The choice to escape to a 2-D world emphasizes weakness of human nature in all its absurdity. Meanwhile, with the growing population of people influenced by Shonen Bat directly and indirectly, he transforms into an enormous monster. Maromi attempts to “shield” Tsukiko from reality had led to Shonen Bat transforming into an amorphous entity that consumes all of Tokyo, illustrating how accumulating, unresolved stress culminated into a self-destructive force. Solution to Escapism—episode 13 However, Misae appears briefly in the hallucinatory world of Ikari.
Being the embodiment of courage, she inspires him to face reality during her last moments alive (in reality she is undergoing surgery and at the verge of death). He recalls his vow: “No matter how difficult life becomes, let’s not turn away from it, and overcome difficulties together. ” (Minakami), thus Ikari frees himself from the 2-D world. He breaks the walls of his hallucinatory world with a straight bat which shatter into dolls of Maromi—a reference to episode 10. When Maromi pleads him to stop: “This is your world! ” he states: “I lost my place in the world a long time ago.
And that reality that I don’t have anywhere I belong…is where I truly belong! ” (Minakami) demonstrating his desire to face reality. Tsukiko also breaks free and revisits her past memory of the death of her dog where she blames Shonen Bat despite it being her fault. As her younger-self blames Shonen Bat, special effects are used to illustrate her shadow transforming into the silhouette of Shonen Bat. However, her present-self intervenes and acknowledges the truth through apologizing to her dog. This acceptance of reality destroys Shonen Bat, signified by his phrase of “Goodbye”.
Therefore, the black being disappears and Tokyo is able to recover from the attack and Tsukiko appears to obtain the peaceful life she desired for. Despite the depiction of human nature being weak in the face of adversity and pressure, Kon also provides an optimistic outlook. Society is redeemed with the characters’ acceptance of reality. Conclusion—The Nature of Escapism and its Consequences Kon critiques society for its weak nature, willing to devise various forms of escapism to protect itself from the harshness of reality. The pressure of modern life causes self-victimization which only contributes to growing problems in society.
Kon stresses the importance of realizing the need to identify the truth of one’s problems and solve it directly rather than seek false salvation such as in Paranoia Agent. However, the ending suggests a rather cynical view of this process of losing reality and regaining reality. In Paranoia Agent, Maniwa takes the role of the prophet and performs a tedious calculation only to come to a shocking answer—the desire for escapism will never cease to end and the whole event with Shonen Bat will only repeat in time. This is confirmed by Kon who states that Shonen Bat’s “Goodbye” was a sarcastic remark and he’d soon return (Kon).
Relating the Theme of Escapism with Our respective Lives The audience becomes disturbed by the desire of characters to resort to escapism. However, they realize that they are just like the characters. We seek entertainment in the media to escape our own realities. People watch shows like “CSI”, “So you think you can dance” or “Law and Order” to fantasize about being detectives or idols, thus we identify with characters in the Paranoia Agent. Kon conveys the enticement to escape to media: “On television and through the Internet people are being seduced by the sweetness of illusion and ”.
In fact, the audience even finds escapism by watching Paranoia Agent. We are lured by the temptations of deceptive relief from reality. This desire for escapism is understandable nevertheless. It becomes the solace of our tired minds from pressure from society: “It is necessary to have that relief, because without it life is too difficult”(Kehr) as Kon admits. However, Kon illustrates “the amount of fantasy that people are being fed through the media has become disproportionate” through the hysteria shown in Paranoia Agent.