Japanese Pop Culture Assignment | Online Assignment

View KON Satoshi, Paranoia Agent, Episodes 1, 9, 10, 11, 13: https://www.youtube.com/user/DetectiveManiwa/videos Discuss on Forum: Gerald Figal writes: “In Paranoia Agent, the medium is the monster, where the medium comprises the electronic media technologies that have become part and parcel of mass—I would say mass-delusional—consumption” (140). What does he mean by “monster”? (Hint: it’s not just the monstrous youth, but it also is.) Now, select a scene in episodes 11 or 13 of Paranoia Agent to illustrate or argue against his pointMonstrous Media and Delusional Consumption in Kon Satoshi’s Paranoia Agent THE OTAKU MANQUE Kon Satoshi’s 2004 thirteen-episode TV anime series Moso dairinin1 (trans- lated as Paranoia Agent, although moso is more akin to “delusion”) presents a twist on the usual Tokyo-destroying monster. The monster that lays waste to the city springs not from an atomic mutation or alien planet or from a su- pernatural realm or robots run amok but apparently from the stressed-out psyches of the people themselves: when feeling cornered and under pressure, a mysterious inline-skating, bat-wielding boy (dubbed “Shonen Batto,” liter- ally “Bat Boy” but translated in the English version as “L’il Slugger”) appears and whacks them, sometimes fatally, thus releasing them from their anxiet- ies. As the series progresses, Shonen Batto transforms into an increasingly monstrous shape, first through rumors and media hype and then in “reality” by feeding on people’s anxieties and desires for escape. By the climax of the story, he is an amorphous black ooze flooding violently through the urban landscape, absorbing everyone. While the origin of Shonen Batto is revealed to have been a young girl’s inability to take responsibility for her actions out of embarrassment and fear of punishment, the social conditions under 030This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 May 2017 13:44:33 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
which her present actions trigger Shonen Batto’s assaults and metamorpho- sis point to the monster as something beyond a mere mass-psychological projection of stress made manifest. Media itself attains monstrous propor- tions, feeding and fed by a hollow hyperconsumerism, a consumerism for the sake of consuming. Td like to read Paranoia Agent as working through the unexpected and monstrous transformations that mass-mediated consumer capitalism effects on social relations and individual agency, turning consumers into what we might call otaku manque – obsessive “fans” of media products without the attendant specialized knowledge of them or active engagement in them. In this context, the “fans” are all those who passively participate in and sustain this consumption, not the archetypal otaku, although the figure of the otaku occupies a key position in the critique I think Kon is offering as overseer of the series (the thirteen episodes have several different directors). Here the classic otaku figure becomes the active, overt, and concentrated instance of the passive “soft fandom” that progressively congeals, hardens, and mate- rializes among the Tokyoites depicted in the series. In their hypermediated daily lives and in their mania over a media consumable, they become unwit- ting and incomplete otaku without even knowing it. Not that being a com- plete otaku fares much better. This vision of a kind of otakuization of society through media and consumption differs from the usual emphasis on the ob- sessive otaku inhabiting semiautonomous “islands in space” carved out by self-consciously attained media-based knowledge of specialized subjects.2 Rather, these consumer-fans, by dint of their unreflective and generalized but no less obsessive – in a word, delusional – relationship to media and me- dia consumables, drown in an undifferentiated mass (culture). For this analysis, Marshall McLuhans famous but often misunderstood dictum “the medium is the message” provides a useful springboard. For McLuhan, a “medium” is “any extension of ourselves” (a tool, a technology, a system of signs). A “message” comprises the often-unnoticed structural changes (of “scale” or “pace” or “pattern”) that a new innovation brings into society.3 In Paranoia Agent , the medium is the monster, where the medium comprises the electronic media technologies that have become part and par- cel of mass – I would say mass-delusional – consumption. The monster – the structural transformation or, in this instance, structural deformation – lies in the figure of comfort-providing character goods: the soft plush toy, the childish accessory, the cute “superdeformed” anime figure. The overtly mon- strous figure of Shonen Batto is wedded to the covertly monstrous figure of Maromi, the “sleepy-eyed dog” character at the psychic heart of the series. 140 GERALD FIGALThis content downloaded from on Tue, 16 May 2017 13:44:33 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Both absorb virtually all the public s attention to become potential objects of otaku knowledge and desire that remain unfulfilled. This relationship be- tween the threatening Shonen Batto and the kawaii Maromi comes across in one promotional still for the series where the former appears as a shadow on the latter. The real threat is thus not the personal anxiety that conjures up Shonen Batto but rather what might be called the social narcolepsy and narcissism that media-driven mass consumerism produces in contemporary Japan, according to the critique Kon seems to be staging (ironically) in this anime. In this respect, Kons commentary bears relation to Murakami Ta- kashi’s Superflat project, which he styles as a “Monster Manifesto” (kaibutsu sengen) for the “deformed monsters” that are postwar Japanese and their popular art. Murakami, however, embraces this “art, the work of monsters,” and its iconic figure, the otaku, while Kon displays their self-destructive logic.4 If otaku are viewed (positively or negatively) as social monsters living on islands of self-absorption apart from society, consumers as otaku manque are social monsters living on islands of self-absorption within society, which comes across in Paranoia Agent as a much more dangerous threat. TAKE fl REST For the heart of Kon s critique, we must dive first into episode 10, “Maromi Madoromi” (officially translated as “Mellow Maromi” where “madoromi” sug- gests “dozing off”). The most self-reflexive of the series, this episode concerns the production of an anime series, called Maromi Madoromi and based on the hit character Maromi, created by character designer Sagi Tsukiko. We later learn that as a twelve-year-old Sagi accidentally let her puppy, also named Maromi, get hit by a car when she doubled over – apparently from her first menstrual cramps – and lost hold of the puppys leash.5 She is the first victim of Shonen Batto, whom we also later learn she fabricated at the time of the puppy incident to cast herself as victim, thus excusing herself from the real explanation for the accident. (Following the series’ motif of naming charac- ters in relation to various animals, her name “Sagi” is a homonym for a type of heron but also for the word for “fraud” or “deception.”) By the end of the “Mellow Maromi” episode the entire production crew, under stress to make a deadline exacerbated by a bungling production manager, one-by-one falls fatal victim to Shonen Batto. The commentary on the notoriously difficult work conditions of TV anime is clear, but my attention is drawn to the iden- tification of Maromi as monster, which begins explicitly from this episode MONSTROUS MEDIA AND DELUSIONAL CONSUMPTION 141This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 May 2017 13:44:33 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
and subsequently leads to a string of connections and revelations that propel the story through its climax and denouement during the final three episodes. That this occurs in an anime in production within an anime throws into relief the issue of the anime medium itself and its complicity in the production and dissemination of the soporific effect of character goods like Maromi and the delusional ( moso ) consumerism for which it is a representative, an agent (i dairinin ). Episode 10 opens with what immediately strikes the viewer as a low- budget TV anime done in a simple, flat, cute style coded as “kids’ cartoon” that is very different from the more sophisticated look of the rest of the se- ries. The camera pans down from a blue-yellow sky through the horizon of a suburban neighborhood, cutting to a pair of small feet in baseball cleats and socks stepping along with a noonday shadow conspicuously cast as a fluctuat- ing black ellipsis below. We then look down, as if from the roof of a three- or four-story building, at a little leaguer in his ball uniform, walking spiritlessly through town with a bat on his shoulder. A cut a few seconds later of the boys upper torso is timed with his heavy sigh, at which point the camera shifts on cue to eye level for a medium shot of the boy passing a toy store that has a bin full of stuffed animals for sale on the sidewalk. In one window, a robot and Godzilla-like monster hover over his head (Figure 1). Just as he exits the frame, a Maromi doll comes alive from the bin of stuffed animals to follow the boy to a riverbank, where, in frustration, the boy has flashbacks of strik- ing out in a game and berates himself, exclaiming T m a nothing” ( dose boku nan ka . . .). Just as he is about to heave his bat into the river, Maromi pokes him from behind, startling the boy, who drops the bat that then rolls into the river. This action sends the scene for a few seconds into the sketches on which the completed scene was based. This sudden shift to an even more primitive state of the animation works well to convey the boys surprise – it is as if the color is knocked out of him as the background is pulled away, isolating the emotion on the isolated characters. But it also works to underscore the self- reflexive nature of this episode. This play between the completed animation and the sketches continues during Maromis attempts to cheer up the boy by assuring him that he isn’t worthless; instead, he is only “tired” and should simply “take a rest.” As Ma- romi repeats several times the hypnotic mantra “yasuminayo” (“take a rest”), the details of the sketches degrade further and then the camera zooms out to reveal that we have been watching the production of the cartoon on a moni- tor in an anime studio (Figure 2). Besides this self-referential framing, the first thing of note about this 142 GERALD FIGALThis content downloaded from on Tue, 16 May 2017 13:44:33 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
figure i. Anime within anime: scene from episode 1 of the TV series Moromi Madoromi in episode 10- “Maromi Madoromi” (“Mellow Maromi”)- of the TV series Poronoia Agent sequence is the soundtrack. The music is the end theme of the series itself, “White Hill: Maromis Theme,” which normally plays through the credits of each episode while the camera pans around images of the main characters in a death-like sleep in a circle around a huge plush toy – Maromi – that ap- pears as the camera zooms out. Played during the opening of episode 10, it invokes the drowsiness that Maromi induces and presides over. Indeed, the scene ends with Maromi easing the boys frustrations and disappointment not by suggesting he practice harder but rather by coaxing him to take a rest, to escape waking reality through sleep. Maromis function here, as it is throughout the series, is that of a narcotic that relieves stress by encouraging the avoidance of the hard work of adult reality and by providing excuses to evade responsibility. In this episode, the blundering staff production man- ager Saruta (“Monkey”) – nothing but a bundle of excuses – is frequently framed by images of Maromi in the form of promotional posters and vari- ous character goods. At one point, echoing the opening sequences shift to sketches, he begins to dissolve into an anime sketch of himself as he verbally denies responsibility for foul-ups that have plagued the production of Mellow Maromi. In other words, his escape from responsibility is paralleled by a fall from his “real” anime world into a second-degree, cartoon-sketch world. In both instances, the anime within the anime is associated with escape from MONSTROUS MEDIA AND DELUSIONAL CONSUMPTION 143This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 May 2017 13:44:33 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
figure 2. Framing the site of production of the anime within the anime. From Poronoio
Agent , episode 10, “Maromi Madoromi.”
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the burdens of reality facilitated by the “sleepy-eyed” Maromi, itself a nar- cotic in all its manifestations: plush toy, hallucination, anime. The analogy to our (real human) relationship to the consumption of “first-order” anime is apparent. The second thing of note in the opening sequence is the suggestion that Maromi and Shonen Batto are connected. It is no coincidence that the little leaguer, a kind of superdeformed anime version of Shonen Batto himself, calls Maromi a bakemono (monster). The same language is applied to Shonen Batto in the following episodes, wherein the identification of Maromi with Shonen Batto is made explicit. One might also read the “M” on the boys ball cap as signifying Maromi, covering – and controlling – the head of the boy. The rest of this episode is about the making of this inaugural episode of Mellow Maromi , interspersed with several nondiagetic insets hosted by a mini-Maromi who teaches us about the vari- ous staff roles as staff members are succes- • 1 1 knocked i J off -ff u Shonen CL – Batto. Unlike tth THE ANIME WITHIN THE ANIME sively • 1 1 knocked i J off -ff u by Shonen CL – Batto. tth Unlike earlier / ^ the crewmembers u IS ASSOCIATE? WITH ESCAPE earlier attacks, ^ however, the crewmembers u u . n u • 1,11 FROM THE BURPENS OF are never shown u actually . n u being • assaulted 1,11 by Shonen cu- n Batto. «. c Each u • • i shown u with -1 REAUTY Shonen cu- n Batto. «. c Each u is • simply • i shown u with his or her head in pool of blood. What we do €CSLgePVL• „u the u- of Maromi . ( ,„rr, The ITSEUF A NARCOTIC see is • the „u ubiquitous u- image of Maromi . ( ,„rr, The tt Healer i r, Dog » the ^ i «. ITS MANIFESTATIONtt Healer i r, Dog » as the ^ promotional i posters «. ‘ i . .. the office Z and a Saruta q . TOY, HAU-UCINATION, say) ‘ dominating i . .. the office space and a Saruta q . burying his head into his Maromi dakimak- ‘J~ ura (huggable pillow) in a posture similar to his colleagues who have been whacked at their desks. In other words, Maromi – not the phantom Shonen Batto – is what killed them. Episode 10 ends on an explicit staging of the issue of representation through media such as anime. After most of the staff is dead, the enraged and panicked Saruta kills the series production manager in the manner of Shonen Batto and then gets whacked himself, apparently by Shonen Batto, who, in time-shifted scenes that have been interleaved throughout the main narra- tive, has been pursuing Saruta s car as Saruta desperately tries – and fails – to deliver the Mellow Maromi tape to the studio on time. The all-important tape, however, survives. In an overhead shot in the night rain, we see Saruta splayed out on his back, (consuming) eyes and (consuming) mouth wide open and blood pooling around his head, hand still grasping the videotaped episode l of Mellow Maromi. A worried male voice out of the frame asks: “Is it OK?” – “Yes, it’s okay!” replies a frantic female voice as the camera zooms in on the tape MONSTROUS MEDIA AND DELUSIONAL CONSUMPTION 145This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 May 2017 13:44:33 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
that the woman takes from Sarutas dead hand. The tape is labeled in Japa- nese Maromi Madoromi #1, but it also has a number “10” on it, self-referencing episode 10 of Paranoia Agent that we are watching. As we watch the tape taken from Sarutas hand, the dialogue between the boy and Maromi from the open- ing of the episode continues before we cut to the two of them in the completed cartoon scene that was in the sketches of the opening: Boy: “I have no talents” ( Boku ni wa saind ga nai n da) Maromi: “That’s not true! I think you’re just tired. Yeah, that’s it! You should take a rest. OK?” ( Sonna koto naiyo. Kitto kimiga tsukarete irun dayo. Kitto so da yo. Yasunda ho ga ii yo. Ne?) Maromi then begins the same soporific chant, “Take a rest, take a rest, take a rest . . while climbing around the body and over the head of the boy. After the fourth iteration the camera zooms out as in the opening sequence, but this time to reveal the scene running on a laptop next to a Maromi da- kimakura in a darkened workroom without workers – two desks have vases with a cut flower, apparently commemorating the deaths of their previous occupants. There’s a quick cut to a box overflowing with extra Maromi pil- lows and then a close-up of a half-filled Maromi coffee cup between a pencil and part of an instruction sheet of scene retakes for Maromi Madoromi #1 dated 19 April 2004, the original airdate for this episode of Paranoia Agent. All the while Maromi is chanting “yasuminayo, yasuminayo , yasuminayo …” The camera then moves to a ceiling position over the workroom before the scene suddenly switches off like a traditional CRT screen, nesting yet another visual frame of reference in a fashion that has become a trademark in Kon Satoshi’s work (Figure 3). This switch-off of the screen at the end of this episode – a simulation of our own switching off of the television or perhaps of a surveillance camera mounted on a wall near the ceiling of the workroom – makes all the differ- ence in this repetition of the opening sequence. Whereas the zoom out in the opening places us in the site of production (the studio), the switch-off calls attention to the viewer-consumer/fan and the site of consumption (wherever we are watching this) and could be interpreted as a call to take a rest from anime (and consumption) itself – just turn it off because Mellow Maromi and its narcotic effect are dangerous. This paradoxical critique of anime within an anime is reinforced by the usual end theme and image immediately following. The multiple screens and framing in this episode emphasize that we live (and die) through layers of media and mediation that are complicit with networks 146 GERALD FIGALThis content downloaded from on Tue, 16 May 2017 13:44:33 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
figure 3. Framing the site of consumption and the fan’s gaze. From episode 10,
“Maromi Madoromi.”
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of consumption. The commentary that Kon develops crystallizes in the me- dia figure of Maromi as monster, associated and on par with Shonen Batto. ALL-CONSUMING MEDIA This identification of Maromi as a monster in league with Shonen Batto is furthered in the next episode, “No Entry” (” Shirinyu kinshi “), which begins with a TV program promoting the Mellow Maromi anime series, followed by rumors that Shonen Batto has transformed, in the words of one character, into a true hakemono. In response to this anxiety, the entire population – save for a couple clear-headed observers – turns to the escapist comfort Maromi brings. As a result, by the following episode, Maromi has quickly saturated the media, markets, and minds of Tokyo, creating a fanaticism that is dis- played in a series of quick cuts of TV reports, with us in the position of view- ers of the various TV screens. One such scene is outside a record store where fans of the Mellow Maromi TV show, adorned with Maromi character-goods, are queued up to buy the CD of the series’ hit song “Oyasumi” (“Goodnight”). In another, a mother, holding her son who is sporting a Maromi t-shirt and holding a Maromi plush toy, explains to the interviewer that “Its his favor- ite, our house has become full of Maromi . . . .” The composition, movement, and lines of sight in this four-second scene are revealing (Figure 4). The dark, disembodied microphone in the interviewer’s hand anchors the center of the shot while the mother s opening and closing mouth moves into the frame as the camera pans up slowly at a slight angle from lower left to upper right. Besides the slow pan, her mouth is the only movement in the scene and is visually as well as functionally linked to the microphone. The scene cuts to the next news clip just before the pan reaches her eyes, reducing her to a moving mouth that seems eager to consume the microphone, the metonymy for the media in this scene. The eyes that we do see are those of her son, staring past the microphone and, we presume, up at the interviewer. At the same time, mouthless Maromis oversized eyes are fixed squarely – and un- nervingly – on the viewer, who is in a position not quite aligned with that of the interviewer. Their size and shape tie in visually with the microphone, un- derscoring the relationship already established between the media, Maromi as metaphor for consumption gone mad, the consumer-fans of Maromi, and we viewers as consumer-fans of this anime. It is a relationship of mutually reinforcing complicity that defines a world of media-driven consumer capital- ism that, short of total catastrophic breakdown, appears difficult to extricate 148 GERALD FIGALThis content downloaded from on Tue, 16 May 2017 13:44:33 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
figure 4. The birth of a fan among mother, media, and character goods. From Paranoia Agent, episode 11, “Shinnyo Kinshi” (“No Entry”). oneself from once ensnared. The boy in this scene, literally wedged between the nurturing and overindulgent mother and his other object of comfort and desire, Maromi, is depicted as bewildered at the formative moment of enter- ing this world as a full-fledged “citizen,” born, if you will, between the mother and Maromi. Lost is the innocence of the favorite bedtime cuddle friend once that same figure transforms into a media monster and is experienced as such, worn as a t-shirt over the heart of the child whose mother is unwittingly and yet willingly giving him over to this world. This rapid series of news clips occurs just as the identification of Maromi with Shonen Batto is made explicit when the wife of Chief Detective Ikari – who was investigating the series of assaults, until forced to quit – tells her husbands partner, Detective Maniwa, about her confrontation with Shonen Batto. In that conversation, Ikaris sickly wife explains that she was able to stand down the monstrous Shonen Batto by telling him that: “he was the same as that sleepy-eyed dog.” We learn through Maniwas sleuthing that ten years ago, at the moment of entering pubescence, Tsukiko made up a story of a bat-wielding assailant to mask that her momentary inattention led to her puppy Maromi being killed. She has essentially recreated that childhood incident in an adult context when under job-related stress. When Detective Maniwa, in the persona of “Radar Man,” calls Tsukiko and confronts her MONSTROUS MEDIA AND DELUSIONAL CONSUMPTION 149This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 May 2017 13:44:33 UTC
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