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Gleaming Truth From Madness

Animefringe delves into the world of Satoshi Kon's Paranoia Agent with the help of Producer/English Voice Director, Jonathan Klein!

by Adam Arnold

Everything in this world is connected. Events do not just happen--they are put into motion by the very events that came before it. Some are large and some are small. One thing leads to another--an endless cycle of cause and effect. If the average viewer were to strip director Satoshi Kon's Paranoia Agent down to its very essence, they would find a world built upon the very principals of cause and effect.

It starts simply enough with an attack that would soon become a media sensation. The victim of the violent assault is a high-profile character designer, Tsukiko Sagi. The soft-spoken young woman comes out of the attack with a hurt leg and some cuts and bruises, but is otherwise all right. It is her description of her assailant, though, that sends ripples through the very fabric of society. Her assailant was an elementary school student wearing golden inline skates, short pants, a cap and carrying a bent baseball bat.

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The news media quickly gives the kid the ominous name of "Lil' Slugger" (literally "Shonen Bat") with the general populous forming their own opinions of this little twerp. But how could a child in the fifth or sixth grade even think of committing such a horrendous act and to such an important person? Stories such as this seem to have a way of unraveling and before the attack, Tsukiko was battling massive pressure to come up with a new character that could compete with her past success, Maromi--a pink dog whose merchandising rights seem to have eclipse even that of Hello Kitty. Unfortunately for Tsukiko, the majority of her co-workers, news media and even her own fans accuse her of making it up. That is...until another attack occurs.

This time, the victim is Akio Kawazu, a sleazy journalist for Weekly Rumor Magazine that had been hounding Tsukiko. Unlike Tsukiko though, Akio Kawazu ends up seriously injured from being slugged in the head by the media's Lil' Slugger.

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Several other attacks soon follow with detectives Keiichi Ikari and Mitsuhiro Maniwa struggling to gleam some sense from the various eyewitnesses and conscious victims. It is their investigation and the events portrayed all of the victim's lives before the attacks that make Paranoia Agent so addictively enthralling.

What will shock viewers and clinch this series as a true classic for many will be the feeling you get from making it through to the final episode. Trust us when we say that you will want to rewatch this series to catch all the various nuances that make up the series.

Without spoiling too much, it is worth noting that Paranoia Agent is designed to focus on a specific set of new characters each episode with the various sub-plots being covered by the detectives or other characters soon to get their moment in the spotlight. Halfway through the series, the entire series dynamic changes letting it loose on a totally different landscape that fully makes use of director Satoshi Kon's unique cinematic style.

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Where did the idea for this series come from? That very answer can be found with the extras included with Geneon's first DVD. Quite literally with three movies in the bag, Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers, director Satoshi Kon was stuck with "a mountain of leftover ideas" that he couldn't use "because of time limitations and such." What was born was Paranoia Agent, a thirteen-episode series animated by Madhouse and aired in Japan in 2004.

Making a welcome return is composer Susumu Hirasawa who worked with Satoshi Kon previously on Millennium Actress. Hirasawa's music can only be described one way and that is innovative. His work is very distinctive and sports a techno-esque sound mixed with traditional Japanese stylings that are nothing short of addictive. The theme created for the show, "Dream Island Obsessional Park," serves as not just another incredible opening theme song--it sets the perfect mood for the series and makes the opening credits all the more addictive to watch each and every time.

Paranoia Agent being such a high profile series for Geneon, they enlisted the trusted help of New Generation Pictures (Texhnolyze, R.O.D. The TV) to give the show as faithful and as professional an adaptation as possible. This being Animefringe's fifth anniversary, we thought it was time we interviewed the very first person in the industry to ever believe in us. That man is Jonathan Klein and without his encouragement back in 2000, Animefringe might not be here today.

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AF: Jonathan, you've been working to bring Japanese anime to North American audiences for quite a few years now. Tell us, where does Paranoia Agent fit in with your other directing work and what made you decide to branch out and make this particular job a part of your repertoire?

JK: PA is my third directorial work as an English voice director. My 2 previous were Haibane Renmei and Texhnolyze. Why I decided to branch out was that I always wanted to direct, it's just that, as a producer, there either wasn't enough projects or time for me to do it.

AF: For those readers that might not know how the dubbing process works, what exactly does your job entail?

JK: It would take a long time to describe the entire process, suffice to say a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into it, and not just my own; the translator, the English script adaptation writer, recording engineers, producers and, of course, all of the voice actors, all are working together with me to produce what we hope will be an enjoyable experience for the viewer. But the process is simply: producer(s) are assigned the title, it then goes to our translator who translates the Japanese script into English. Then the script goes to our ADR scriptwriter who adapts the script from the translated Japanese to make it sound less awkward and, more importantly, make sure it matches the animated lip movements. The script reviewed by the producers to make sure the English script is accurate. Then it is handed off to the director who might review the script to make any last minute polishes to the dialogue. Finally it's recorded with the actors and the audio is mixed by the engineers.

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AF: Did any part of Paranoia Agent pose any particular challenge for you? I sure the Prophetic Visions at the end of each episode must have been difficult to adapt and keep the lip flaps matching.

JK: The Prophetic Visions were probably easier than you think, simply because we had the incredible talent of William Frederick doing the role of the old man. I could throw the most cryptic lines at him and he'd make it sound like it's completely rational to everybody. So the most challenging part of directing the first volume was probably episode #3 simply because the main character of that episode, Harumi Chono, has a very (not to give any spoilers away) "complex" role. It was important to maintain certain qualities of her character consistently throughout the episode. Of course I was fortunate to have Erica Shaffer play the role of Harumi. She knew exactly what I was looking for and she was able to pull off an amazing performance. I don't know if I could have gotten the same result with another actress.

AF: Did Geneon or the Japanese studios have a hand in choosing the voice actors and actresses or were you given complete freedom to choose whom you thought worked best for the part?

JK: Geneon always has the final say in casting. But the casting choices I provide to them are from the actors I feel would be best for all of the roles. In the end it's a collaboration.

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AF: Maromi's voice is just too cute! Maromi's introduction actually seemed a lot like the hallucinations from Akira, but tell us where did that voice come from?

JK: Well when I first saw Maromi, I had Carrie Savage in mind for the part. When I told her about the role, I asked her if she could be the voice of a bizarre looking plushie-toy that might or might not be this woman's psychotic delusion. She seemed really excited because it was the kind of part she had never played before. When we got into the booth I had her push her voice into the highest registers. I told her I wanted Maromi to be both cute and creepy and I really think she nailed it.

AF: Are there any particular scenes that you feel particularly thrilled with how it came out?

JK: I like the show as a whole because it was just such a great ensemble cast. I really felt watching any scene in the show made me happy. But if I could pick some of the scenes I enjoyed watching after it was all done, I loved episode #4's cross cutting scenes between Officer Hirukawa and the Comic Book hero character. Watching Hirukawa's downward spiral while juxtaposing it with the comic-book hero he idolizes was just a great way of really showing the depths of this man's psyche. Episode #2 had a great scene between the two main characters, Ichi and Ushiyama, where Ichi confronts Uchiyama in the back of the school with dire consequences. I needed to pull out the right amount of anger and fear from both actors and they just were able to do it perfectly. It's hard when you record the actors in anime, because you're recording one actor at a time. So essentially you won't know how well they'll play off each other in a conversation until after you recorded both actors in the scene. I was just very fortunate that the scene worked as well as it did. I also enjoyed the conversations between Harumi and Maria in episode #3, if you watch the show, you'll know what I'm talking about.

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AF: I have to ask this, was it hard to keep a straight face while dubbing the opening scene of episode 3?

JK: If you mean the Otaku scene? Well it was funny to see this man talking to his dolls, but Jonathan Osborne did an incredible job as the otaku. I felt bad for Jonathan because when I was directing him I told him that "OK, you're this otaku having sex with this beautiful woman, but it's not a woman, it's an anime character within an anime that's supposed to be reality. So take yourself outside of the reality of the anime of Paranoia Agent and put yourself into this otaku's favorite anime and imagine him having sex with his favorite female character." He was asking me, are there people really like this in Japan? And I said yes. We just laughed for a few minutes and tried to think of what anime this otaku really liked. I don't know what we decided on, but Jonathan somehow found this otaku's anime sex-partner and then he just pulled out a superb performance. I couldn't ask for anything better.

AF: I've noticed that Paranoia Agent has some similarities to Boogiepop Phantom in that it's very much a character piece, only with all the style of director Satoshi Kon's other works. Is there anything you have noticed about Paranoia Agent that you think viewers might want to keep in mind when watching the series?

JK: I think everybody should check out the interview with director Satoshi Kon that's one of the extras on the first DVD. He gives some real insights into the show without giving away anything. However, what struck me as interesting was that Paranoia Agent reminded me a lot of one of my favorite TV shows, Twin Peaks. It just has that same bizarre flavor to it. Both are mysteries with a group of highly eccentric, but very real characters. I would really love to ask Satoshi Kon if he ever watched Twin Peaks and if it was one of the inspirations for this series. I see a lot of Twin Peaks in Paranoia Agent, but it may just be me.

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AF: No, I think you might be onto something there. I found episode eight, the one with the misadventures of the three net friends, to be one of the most enjoyably unique episodes of any series I've seen in quite some time. And the ending...oh, was that perfect.

JK: I'm just about to start on episode #8, it has that Sixth Sense quality to it.

AF: I'll be looking forward to it. Let's see, New Generation Pictures entered the dub scene with Nazca and has since done some of Pioneer/Geneon's best English dubs. Can you tell us some of the major milestones that New Generation Pictures has hit since it started working with anime?

JK: I thank you for the compliment. But I don't think of any of our work as "major milestones". All of our directors just come into their respective projects with a sincere appreciation of the material they're working on and just try to bring out the best performances they can from their talent. I think we just have to look at each project with the audience in mind. What would they like to hear in the dub? How can the viewer get the best experience from the English version and not feel that we've completely changed it from the Japanese language version? Staying faithful to the original material has been our mantra. But we also want the actors to make the performances their own and not just imitations of the Japanese voice actors. I want the audience to have a different, but enjoyable, experience by watching either the dub or sub. I'm a proponent of having the DVD viewer listen to both tracks. But don't listen to both English and Japanese by hitting the audio button on the remote and surfing between both tracks. I say listen to it in one language, then go away. Wait a couple of days, maybe a week, then listen to the other audio channel. Hopefully you will get a different, but enjoyable experience from the other language track.

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AF: To you, what is the biggest challenge in to making a Japanese anime work for the North American market?

JK: From a dub producer's standpoint, it would be the challenge of bridging the cultural differences between the American and Japanese cultures in the anime I produce. In some shows there are some things that are so uniquely Japanese that they don't have an American equivalent. If I change it to something that's purely American, I might end up upsetting the fans because I am misinterpreting a concept that was in the original Japanese. On the other hand I don't have much time in the show to explain cultural aspects to those who aren't familiar with Japanese culture.

AF: If you had the chance to re-dub any series or movie out there, what would it be and why?

JK: Sorry, but I wouldn't want to step on anybody else's toes by answering that question. Of course, there were shows I always wanted to work on simply because I admired the original Japanese material, not because I disliked the dub. I was a big fan of the classic Leiji Matsumoto works and I'm and die-hard Lupin III and Gundam fan, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with the dubs that were produced for those shows. Maybe, if I could, I'd re-dub some of our own earliest titles, simply because I think we've grown as a company and I think we could take on a show like Nazca with a lot more confidence, understanding and creativity than we did when we first worked on it 6 years ago. I don't think we did a bad job on Nazca, but that show was a learning process for us. And now we know a lot more now about producing dubs than we did back then.

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AF: Where do you see New Generation Pictures or even the North American anime industry in five or even ten years?

JK: I don't know let me shake my Magic 8-Ball..."Cannot Predict Now...Ask Again Later". All kidding aside, it's hard to tell. We started as a film and video production company more than 12 years ago and somehow wound up producing anime dubs and subtitles. We're still in the business of producing film and video, but anime has become a big part of this company and it has been a terrific experience for us. I'm sure our company will continue to produce anime dubs and subtitles as long as the licensors and fans will let us.

As for the industry itself, it will grow, simply because the industry in Japan is growing. And the Japanese anime industry is now relying on the foreign markets to support it and help it continue to grow. The question for me has always been when will the Hollywood film and television become involved in anime? Oh yes, it's happening now, but it's still considered a "fringe market". I'm waiting for the day when Hollywood will see the mainstream potential in embracing anime. Hopefully when they do, they will have the good sense to make sure that they consult with people who have already been working in the anime industry, so that they get it right, and not just anger the core audience who built up anime's popularity around the world.

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AF: Anything else you'd like to add?

JK: I’d like to thank everybody who has supported the English language versions of anime, whether it's work from New Generation Pictures or another studio. I hope the fans will not hesitate to tell us when they like something we've done or don't like it. Please let the licensors know which studios you would like to hear dubs from as well. That's one of the problems in this industry with regards to dubs; the fans are shy to talk about them. Statistically, bi-lingual versions of anime DVDs outsell "subtitle only" releases by about 4 to 1. But the majority of those who are most vocal at conventions or on the internet bulletin boards seem to be in the "subtitle only" group. And while I don't mean to put down anybody's right to watch a show in Japanese only (because I even produce the subtitles, so I appreciate people watching our subtitle work), but the English language version fans should let their opinions known too. If anybody tells you that you're not an anime fan simply because you like to listen to your anime in English, they're dead wrong. Watching and listening to anime is an experience designed to entertain, amuse and even move you emotionally. Whatever language you choose to have that experience is up to you as long as you enjoy it.

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