Paranoia Agent Original Soundtrack
The Paranoia Agent OST has one of the best disclaimers that I've ever seen on a CD: "Please note that some of the song titles do not directly relate to the story of Paranoia Agent, nor do they serve as hints to the story." For most anime soundtracks, it's pretty much assumed that the song titles do not correlate to the plot, but with Paranoia Agent being the mind-bending freaky anime that it is, it's understandable that people might try to read more into the songs than they would for another series. Perhaps they are onto something. After all, why would they include a disclaimer unless the songs titles really are the key to understanding it all, and the producers are just trying to hush it up?
The first song on the CD is "Dream Island Obsessional Park." With a title like that, I figured it must be some kind of code, but if it is, I'm still working on cracking it. Aside from being a potentially coded message, it's also the show's opening song. With a mix of fast techno music, bird sounds, and vocals by Susumu Hirasawa, it's one of the more unique and recognizable opening songs that I've heard in a while. It sounds very energetic and uplifting, which makes it all the weirder when you read the cheerfully apocalyptic lyrics, such as "Marvelous mushroom shaped cloud in the sky."
The booklet that came with the CD included the Japanese lyrics of "Dream Island Obsession Park" and its English translation, but I would have really liked a translation of the words in the second song, "Sub-Usual." There aren't any actual lyrics, just the sound of a crowd of people talking and moving around against a happy techno/pop rhythm. It would have added to my enjoyment of the song if I knew what was being said, but it's still fun to listen to on its own.
The third track is the most recognizable for being anime background music. "Focus" is a very tense song, meant for creating a dreadful atmosphere. It's short; only a minute and thirty-four seconds, but it builds in tension until the end. Many songs on this CD are the anxiety-inducing background music frequently featured in the show, such as track five "Object Definition," the aptly-named track seven "Tension," and track sixteen "Tenacity." The lack of human voices or 'real' instruments makes these songs even more unsettling.
As if to give the listener a break, "Happiness" is very mellow. The song uses computerized music and a real instrument (a combination seen often on this disc), as well as a sample of music from the opening song. The gentle rhythm of the strings go together perfectly with the background synthesizers.
"Confrontational Paranoia" is an odd mix. It starts as a movie score: very dramatic and even a little pompous. It has a fast rhythm and electronic horns, sounding like music set to play during a hero's journey to the bad guy's lair. Soon, the synthesizers kick in, as well as some chanting. The chanting, which already sounds otherworldly, becomes even more so when manipulated on the computer.
Track eight is a companion piece to "Confrontational Paranoia." "Hero" is a dramatic track that isnít one of my favorites on the disc. It sounds a lot like music from a fantasy RPG, especially in a dungeon level. It's a little over the top, and it seems a little too self-aware for me to like it.
Of course, it does have the stigma of coming right before my favorite song on the disc. "Condition Boy" has someone speaking, then remixed into a totally gibberish language. It starts off pretty happy, but it grows in seriousness towards the end. A group of children singing in gibberish only adds to the growing somber mood. Itís a very strange track, but it is also strangely addictive.
The next track, "Black Bench" will be recognizable to anyone who's seen or heard the ending song of Paranoia Agent. It's the first of three renditions on this CD of "Maromiís Theme," this one done in piano. This version is really beautiful and slightly sad, especially when compared to the cheery sound of the original. It's interesting to see how different the same song can be when done in completely different way. I think "Black Bench," with its beautiful piano playing, has become my favorite rendition of this song. The next time that this tune shows up is in track thirteen. "Reverie Hill" takes a softer approach to the material, this version being much slower than the original. It's almost like listening to it underwater. The tune sounds very peaceful with its slow rhythm, the harp and background singing luring you into a tranquil state. The second-to-last song on the disc is track nineteen "White Hill--Maromiís Theme," the ending song to Paranoia Agent. It's a simple tune that sounds like something from a music box or a circus. It manages to be both childish and melancholy. Its simplicity also makes it very easy to get stuck in your head.
"Cultivation" just creeps me out for some reason. The song goes on for most of its running time with a steady beat and strange noises, although eventually a guy starts chanting, while a woman's voice sings in the background. The song ends with a mysterious fade to static.
The next song, "Shadow" has an odd rhythm, constantly switching it up between fast-paced and not so fast-paced. With its fluctuating rhythm, it sounds very much like a chase song, which was probably its purpose in the anime.
The next song, "Escape" is another fast-paced song, but it is playful as well. The sound regularly jumps back and forth between speakers, keeping you on your toes. It sounds like a chase song, but the urgency isn't as high as it is in some of the other tracks.
"Obsession Layer" has less going on in it than some of the more complex songs on this soundtrack, and I found it to be a little dull because of it. It's one of the longer songs, clocking in at three minutes and twenty-six seconds, so I found that it wore out its welcome fairly quickly. It reminds me of a classical score mixed with techno.
"Dream Island- Expectation" is a shortened version (only a minute and thirty-six seconds) of the opening song, lacking the singing or bird sounds, and it is slowed down to a very leisurely pace. It would make a cool ring tone.
"Core" is a foreboding song that uses deep horns (produced electronically, like pretty much everything on this album) and a steady, marching drum beat to create a feeling of inevitability.
The last song on the disc is a bonus track called "Grandfatherly Wind." Itís not a song used in the TV show; it's an excerpt from Susumu Hirasawa's album Blue Limbo. It has the same ingredients as many of the songs on the CD, with the remixed vocals and techno music, but freed from the sinister Paranoia Agent atmosphere, it is more light-hearted than the rest of the CD. It's a good way to cap off the CD.
Susumu Hirasawa composed, wrote and performed the male vocals for all of the songs on this CD. He has worked with Satoshi Kon before on Millennium Actress, but I think his old-school techno sound works better here in Paranoia Agent. Aside from the weird song title disclaimer, there's also a disclaimer stating that "Low Quality sounds are often used deliberately in 'Condition Boy,' as per the composer's intention. Although there are occasional noises and distortions, they are not due to the quality of this CD, nor your CD player equipment." The whole CD is full of fluctuating sound quality and volume, false starts and generally strange effects. If you don't like electronic music, then avoid this CD. If you do enjoy it, however, you'll probably like this, as well as Susumu Hirasawa's other works.
In general, I would recommend this to fans of the TV show. It's not the kind of CD that you can put on and relax to, or listen to as you drift off to sleep. If you liked the tense atmosphere of Satoshi Kon's series, and you want to try and figure out if there are indeed hints to the plot in the CD, then the Paranoia Agent Original Soundtrack will offer you plenty of opportunity to do so.