The story goes that after Satoshi Kon's movie triumvirate - Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers - there were a surplus of ideas and the desire to break from being locked into a two and half year development cycle for movies. So with the aid of Madhouse studios, Paranoia Agent was born. Demonstrating a familiar mix of reality bending, mind melting storytelling and a flair for the symbolic and layered, the series is a stunning achievement shifting from detective thriller to black comedy to erudite social commentary with jaw dropping ease. Challenging and subversive, this is everything a Satoshi Kon fan could want: a playground where he runs free; as bleakly funny just as it is darkly incisive there are some minor hiccups along the way but it is a powerhouse of a series that rightly deserves but never demands attention.
at its best when entirely irreverent and poking fun at everything from suicide to animation production, house wives to prostitution
When the designer of the horrendously popular Maromi character is attacked in a parking lot, the two police detectives assigned to her case are rightly sceptical. Several points don't add up, the least of which being the identity of the supposed attacker: a youth wielding a crooked baseball and gold in-line skates; but when a second then third attack come in quick succession, the phenomenon of Lil' Slugger begins to spread. All of the victims seem to have been at their wit's end in one way or another: a teaching assistant with dissociative identity disorder, a high achieving school pupil, a less-than-honest police officer - but when a culprit is found, the case begins to veer off on bizarre paths. Nothing is as it seems with Lil' Slugger and as his notoriety increases so does the ferocity of his attacks. The question is: can anything stop him?
Boogiepop Phantom is a series which immediately makes one wonder whether their television is functioning correctly. Shortly after the melancholy opening it adds the speakers to that list. By the end of the first episode it adds the viewer's brain. It is a reverie of madness, murder, altered states and narrative intrigue: each episode teasing an explanation but rarely delivering in full, each appearance of the titular Boogiepop - or is it the Manticore? - promising a new thread to tie in with the myriad others. Existing in a microcosm of light novels, manga and a live-action movie as well as sharing idiosyncrasies and the brutally obtuse style of its spiritual predecessor, Serial Experiments Lain, the question the series' lineage poses is whether it can stand by itself or whether it relies too much on its forebears and source material to support itself.
some of the darkest aspects of humanity are explored with obsession, madness and memories playing a key role
A month before the opening of the series, a pillar of light erupts in a nameless cityscape, dragging it into darkness. Those who witness the light began to change, much like the city itself, now with a permanent aurora in the sky and a magnetic field that makes compasses useless and corrodes metal at a frightening rate. Those who changed exhibit strange powers: the ability to see and consume insects clutching peoples' chests, the power to separate composite objects like coffee or humans even the capability to show people scenes of their pasts. All the while they are stalked by the urban legend Boogiepop, supposedly the personification of death, who appears without warning to rid the world of the deviations that have sprung up. Clandestine talk of impossibly powerful corporations and unnatural evolution ensure that understanding the circumstances behind all of the strange occurrences will not be straightforward.
Bringing back the creative forces behind the 1998 series Serial Experiments Lain came Texhnolyze in 2003: a thoroughly peculiar name and the decade's best example of mind-bending anime. Scenario creator Chikai J. Konaka was riding high after 'Lain and the well received Hellsing TV series, around the same time Texhnolyze was released he had already lent his hand to the RahXephon movie (Pluralitas Concentio) and would go on to do the Air Gear TV series as well as Masamune Shirow's Ghost Hound. Character designer Yoshitoshi ABe meanwhile had leant his hand to a number of series previously including Haibane Renmei and Nie Under 7, however this would remain his last character work for anime for the foreseeable future.
a meditative look at the effect machines have on humanity when all barriers between them are removed
The setting could not be more verdant for exploration: an underground society - the only place on earth where the component for artificial limbs can be harvested - carved up by ceaseless gang fighting. The company-sponsored Organo tussle with the anti-prosthetic Union while in the middle is a religious sect who worship prognosticators born only once in a generation. Ichise, a bare-knuckle brawler, is mutilated by his employer and only saved after being taken in by an arrogant and capricious doctor, eager to experiment. He is fitted with the latest prosthetic limbs, texhnolyzed in the series' parlance, and eventually joins the Organo in their ongoing fight. However those who control the city, the Class, begin to move and the streets of the decaying city, Lux, become a warzone.
Kuchu Buranko (Trapeze, lit. Sky Swing) is like a late night bevy of cocktails: all bright colours and mind altering effects. The first three episodes are an all out assault on aesthetics, everything is awash with luminous colours and textured with polka dots or garish swathes of clashing patterns. Sometimes barely discernible from the backdrops, the characters are animated haphazardly when they are at all, often devolving into poorly filtered live-action or blatant rotoscoping and other times jerking between poses with little warning. Like its closet meretricious sibling, Gankutsuou, the visuals are only meant to allure and the real meat of the episodes is worth risking sensory overload.
Beyond the scratchy, haphazard style it often feels like a technicolour slideshow
The mostly standalone stories are about individuals who have some sort of mental affliction which is examined by the whimsical psychiatrist Ichiro Irabu who changes form between an obnoxious green rabbit with permanent facial stubble, a precocious young boy whose lab coat is several sizes too large for him and an androgynous bespectacled boy in his late teens or early twenties. Even the patients are not immune to switching states, often depicted as animals which suit their condition; topping all of this madness off is a supposedly real life psychiatrist Fukuicchi who sporadically pops out of a scene for an aside on the current disorder being explored. The series so far is raucous, visually boggling and brilliant fun to watch.
Based upon well-known Japanese literature, no opening music and a simple perfunctory closing animation, Aoi Bungaku could barely be more art-house. It's an odd situation coming from a media that is still mostly marginalised, even in its country of origin: aiming for a further niche would seem counter-intuitive especially for something with such stunning production values.
when the only noticeable fault is a merely proficient soundtrack, one knows that the series is something particularly special
At times it is breathlessly beautiful, judicious use of soft filters and colour grading means everything has an ephemeral reality to it - helped by a keen eye for details in the most fleeting of scenes. Combined with a story of childhood, loss, sex, suicide and emotion it's dangerously easy to fall in love with the series and be utterly enthralled by it. A live action introduction by Sakai Masato, notable drama actor, explains the aim of the series is to introduce viewers to well known stories, the first of which is "No Longer Human" by Dazai Osamu. At only twelve episodes long and six works to get through, the first story is the longest occupying four complete episodes and tells the life of the troubled Yozo Oba.