I knew that damn dog was up to no good.
The 11th and 12th episodes of Paranoia Agent, “No Entry” and “Radar Man”, form a stunning pair of opposites, and a pair which we are rather specifically invited to compare as such; for while the first ten episodes each function more or less as a stand-alone story that fits into a greater continuum, here at the end, the narrative starts to bleed across. For unlike the others, these two episodes are related by a driving cliffhanger (and in fact, “Radar Man” also ends on a cliffhanger, making this a trilogy, not a dyad).
Where “No Entry” was stately and precise, “Radar Man” is crazed and visionary and insane – so full of incident and details crowding every scene that it’s impossible to take it all in one on viewing (and I am certain that I’ve missed a great many important incidental grace notes even with two viewings). Where “No Entry” explains and lays things out, “Radar Man” answers questions in such a scattered rush that it asks as much as it tells. It is thrilling, a genius way to send us into the final episode of a wonderful series, which has slowly progressed from psychological crime thriller to paranormal fantasy, so invisibly that it’s only now, when the paranormal elements have swallowed up the rest of the material, that I even really stopped to notice it.
The episode is largely concerned with Maniwa Mitsuhiro, briefly glimpsed in the last episode wearing what I then described as “a crazy homeless man’s cape and goggles”. So close to true, and yet so wildly far off the mark! To understand what the hell has been going on in the ex-cop’s mind, we must backtrack even further, to “The Holy Warrior” and “MHz”, for Maniwa’s present activities draw heavily upon what we saw in those two episodes: he is apparently still monitoring all the media of the city for any trace of Lil’ Slugger, whom he now fights in the unlikely guise of Radar Man, a superhero armed with a magic sword – paying off the odd sensation that he was much more into the video game fantasy of “The Holy Warrior” than the stoic Ikari was, for now we see that he fancies himself a sort of video game hero.
But let me not judge Maniwa too harshly: for it would seem that reality itself has broken down enough in the intervening episodes that the delusion that one is a great warrior is the only way to deal with a creature whose very existence, we now know, is dependent on belief, or as Maniwa himself describes Lil’ Slugger in the opening monologue, imagination nurtures him. In this particular moment, imagination has specifically given Lil’ Slugger the ability to morph into a demon, in a good old-fashioned shot of nightmare fuel, unexpected and terrifying even by the standards of a show as good at making your flesh crawl as Paranoia Agent.
It’s not the last moment in “Radar Man” that can get your hackles up, though I confess that not everyone perhaps shares my pathological hatred of Maromi, and thus not everyone necessarily finds the image of the little dog toy making a cross face and wielding scissors absolutely bone-chilling. Some people might even find it cute.
Uncanny – or, might I be less diplomatic and say, “fucking creepy as hell” – imagery is littered throughout “Radar Man”, which is in essence a drama of the mind’s concept of reality breaking down; coupled with “No Entry”, these two penultimate episodes of Paranoia Agent describe in rather complete terms the idea that reality is ultimately only a matter of how we perceive things (a statement borne out, to a degree, by modern neuroscience – I am reminded of all damn things of Richard Dawkin’s essay on perception in the 1998 book Unweaving the Rainbow, where he points out, among other doozies, that all matter is largely made up of empty space; we only see it as solid because we’ve evolved in an environment where perceiving matter as “solid” is a fairly important survival strategy). In “No Entry”, Misae came to the understanding that Lil’ Slugger is given power only because people believe that he must have power; here in “Radar Man”, Maniwa is able to achieve the things he does – including his discovery of Lil’ Slugger’s origin, and the rather unexpected truth of Misae’s metaphorical statement that the phantom attacker and the ditsy Maromi are one and the same – only in the “unreal” world created as a result of his delusions – though I question if that’s the right word. If, in fact, “delusion” has meaning in a drama as psychological symbolic as “Radar Man”, where reality is perception, which means that “delusion” is nothing but another way of saying “alternate reality”.
Kon Satoshi would return to many of these ideas in the last completed film of his life, 2006’s Paprika; I wonder if he needed to, for Paranoia Agent in this single 24-minute blast expresses all that could need to be said about the mind’s relationship to the outside world (though, by all means, this is far from the only thing explored in Paprika, a gorgeous and thought-provoking film that plays very much like the version of Inception that the latter film’s critics wanted it to be. But I digress). I would refrain from going on too much further; there’s an episode yet to come, and it seems fair to assume that whatever Paranoia Agent has so far said about the tortured relationship between the mind and the world, it’s not done yet. “Radar Man” is so explosive, it seems ultimately to be more about what it does to the viewer than what it tries to say; I might go so far as to argue that its purpose, leading us into the final episode, is to subject us to the same overwhelming chaos of information that has led so many of the series’ characters into their self-serving despair; a tie made explicitly, though subtly, by a TV montage in the middle of the episode that rather directly reminds one of the babble of overlapping conversations which opened the series. This has been, arguably, the central conflict of the whole show thus far: between individual, fragile people, and a crazy world that has too much stimulus for us to make sense of it all. “Radar Man” is special for not merely telling us that this is the theme, but to bury us in it.