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Episode 10 of Paranoia Agent was tough. It is the story of how a lazy, incompetent Production Coordinator for an anime show fails again and again at his job, making mistake after mistake, which of course all fall to his colleagues to fix. He never seeks to be better, and never apologises. Instead he makes excuses, blames others and takes out his frustration on boxes in a supply closet. He knows he's done wrong but will never admit it, and as the failures mount up and he becomes hated and insulted for them, his resistance to the very notion that he did wrong swells until his reason snaps. For me, this was the toughest watch of the season because the Coordinator is a remarkable facsimile of my self-image, when most disgusted with myself. We share the same fear of failure and we share the same impulse to avoid taking responsibility for failures. He does that which most horrifies me - the inconveniencing and hurting of people - and does so for reasons I can understand. He reminds of the times I've done that myself, triggering memories like cramps, bringing tension I cannot end, only weather until it recedes. It didn't help that I was watching the episode to procrastinate, which is my most common means of postponing failure. By rights I should have finished watching, closed down Chrome, and started work. I of course didn't. Simply being aware of what I'm doing does not remove the desire to do it.

That desire to avoid torment and wish it away is a constant in Paranoia Agent, a show without many such constants. Though there is a central cast of characters they do not turn up in every episode, and though the plotline is consistent enough that the whole thing wraps up about as satisfactorily as I've ever seen in an anime, each episode still has its own individual character. This is a series where one episode is a critique-through-juxtaposition of how anime/manga tends to portray masculinity, while another is a comedy about three people who want to commit suicide. There's even evil black goo and an opening song that might be the best anime opening I've ever watched. I mean, I'd be a sucker for any song that started with musical yelling, but this opening seals the deal with visuals designed to achieve dissonance both of place (an old homeless woman standing on a table) and tone (laughing people standing against images of warzones; a cheery song about rising mushroom clouds). This is not a show where you should ever be sure of the ground under your feet, and the opening is a statement of this.

Paranoia Agent is fantastic. Indeed, it's so fantastic that I was able to maintain my desire to watch it, while every episode thematically screamed at me to stop and do some work. Though honestly, that could speak more to my nature than that of this, incredible anime.

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January 2016

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