“Enter Lil’ Slugger” Paranoia Agent S1E1

Paranoia Agent, Season 1 Episode 1
Enter Lil’ Slugger
Grade: B-

Straight from the opening credits, with its montage of nuclear war superimposed by images of its main characters in hysterical laughter while a giddy theme song plays, Paranoia Agent lets you know that you’re in for something different.

The first episode itself masquerades as a fairly conventional police procedural. Tsukiko Sagi, a quiet character artist, under immense pressure to create a second breakout hit to follow in the footsteps of her her wildly successful creation, the pink stuffed animal Maromi, calls out for a miracle and is immediately (and conveniently) set upon by an elementary school kid wielding a golden bat, Lil’ Slugger.

From there the episode endeavors to convince us that the whole sequence was a stress-induced delusion, with the detectives Ikari and Maniwa placing a bet on its veracity and the depraved paparazzi, Akio, under immense pressure himself, making it his personal mission to unravel Tsukiko’s story. Following the mid-episode interstice, Tsukiko seems to begin to doubt the story herself, and is soothed only by the insistence of her Maromi doll, given horrifying life in what the viewer can only assume is proof of Tsukiko’s broken psyche.

Pressure begins to mount as the episode races to make the subtext text- Tsukiko expedites her return to work, despite the miracle she so craved offering her the perfect opportunity to push off the meeting where she’s supposed to reveal her follow up to designing Maromi, as if trying to convince herself that the attack happened is more important than facing down her superiors alone. Akio, determined to disprove her story, ambushes Tsukiko with one of her drawings he seemingly secured from ransacking a homeless woman’s belonging.

Akio’s voice changing during the interrogation is an early sign of better things to come for the show, bringing in some needed humor while simultaneously better establishing the dynamics of Tsukiko’s office. Akio himself is a grotesque, increasingly resembling a leering monster the closer he sees himself to unraveling Tsukiko’s attack.

And then Lil’ Slugger shows up.

Madness is a recurring theme of Paranoia Agent, something best illustrated by the show’s habit of convincing you that things are going to turn out a certain way, and then going in an entirely different direction. ‘Enter Lil’ Slugger’ is both warning and proof of concept.

[A quick note about subs vs. dubs- The English language version of the show is quite good, and well worth a listen]