When Satoshi Kon died last year, the outpouring of grief from the animation community was the strongest I had seen since the death of legendary Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones in 2002. Kon was frankly taken before his time, a genius who took the best mind-bending aspects of American thrillers and suffused them with life, humor and true horror. Many have compared him to David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock, though I'd argue he's a far more disciplined director than Lynch, and his recurring theme of identity brings him more in line with the master Hitchcock.
His sole series work, Paranoia Agent, is a terrific show all on its own, a 13-episode exploration of, well, paranoia, and how it can be both beneficial and harmful to us. And yet, like Cowboy Bebop or Wolf's Rain, the stellar dub elevates it to an even higher level in my esteem. New Generation Pictures, a company who I can sometimes find to be hit-or-miss in their dubbing (though not nearly as inconsistent as, say, Canada's Ocean Group), outdid themselves here, and many of the actors here give the performances of their careers.
DETECTIVE KEIICHI IKARI (Michael McConnohie)-Michael is an actor I have a great amount of respect for, always turning in rock-solid performances with that great, gravelly voice. Here, he gets a character truly worthy of his skill, an aging detective who proves to be just as insecure and wracked with self-doubt over his place in the world as the rest of the cast. And yet, Ikari also proves to be ultimately heroic by the end of the series, one of the few characters who confronts and conquers his problems. Michael nails all of this, as well as the more comedic moments early on when Ikari is frustrated beyond belief by the "Little Slugger" case.
DETECTIVE MITSUHIRO MANIWA (Liam O'Brien)-Here's another actor I have a lot of love for, always turning in great work, even in dreck like Naruto. Liam has a different challenge as Maniwa: he starts off as kind of an "audience surrogate", openly questioning the routine investigation tactics Ikari favors and trying to get inside the heads of the Slugger's victims in order to catch him. Liam has a charming, youthful voice, so he gets us to like Maniwa right away. And yet, this detective also succumbs to paranoia and fear as the series progresses, eventually donning a superhero costume as he tries to pinpoint the origin of Little Slugger. What Liam does here is interesting; instead of going for a stereotypical "crazy" tone, he takes Maniwa's seemingly reasonable, questioning nature and amplifies it to a fever pitch. We get caught up in his mad rush of discovery even as we question his sanity.
TSUKIKO SAGI (Michelle Ruff)-Our third "key character" of sorts, Tsukiko is the first victim of Little Slugger, and she turns out to be an extremely troubled young woman. Michelle tends to play these quiet types fairly often, yet she brings a new, haunted quality to Tsukiko that I don't think I've heard from her before. It's a performance that makes you keep your eye on this strange girl; she's hiding something, but what? Michelle's terrific performance is key to this ambiguity at the heart of the series.
MAROMI (Carrie Savage)-Now here's a delightful little performance. Carrie tends to play sugary sweet characters, and Maromi doesn't seem all that different at first: she's a cute little anthropomorphic dog created for an animated show by Tsukiko. Yet we learn rather quickly that Maromi is not what she appears to be, turning out to possibly be even creepier and more malevolent than Little Slugger himself. As a result, Carrie's high-pitched, babyish tones take on a strange, eerie quality, instantly ratcheting up the tension of any scene where she speaks. It's a great example of playing against our expectations, and Carrie commits completely to Maromi's ultimate creep factor. She also makes the educational lessons we learn about how an anime is produced in episode 10 (yes, this really happens) rather amusing.
THE OLD MAN (William Frederick Knight)-William seems to have been playing older men since the beginning of his dub career, but this might be his best. The old man seems to be off his rocker, but actually turns out to be quite key to the mystery of Little Slugger, and William manages to pull off that mix of age, hidden wisdom, and nuttiness wonderfully.
LITTLE SLUGGER/MAKOTO KOZUKA (Sam Regal)-Sam has one of those young voices that can suit a variety of characters, and he's quite creepy as Slugger early on, but he gets to shift that performance as our perception of Slugger changes. In episode 5, for example, we find out that a young boy named Makoto Kozuka, who we think we've been seeing as Slugger the whole time, is actually a copycat (he later confesses that he only attacked two people), and has his own delusion about the world. He sees the world as an RPG and himself as the hero, and Sam makes this demented worldview very funny as Kozuka persists in his delusions and takes the two detectives along with him. Sam also does a great job with the growls and snarls of the taller, more demonic Little Slugger we see in the latter part of the series.
MISAE IKARI (Melodee Spevack)-Ikari's terminally ill wife, Misae doesn't appear until Episode 11, and she gets the episode almost entirely to herself as she confronts Little Slugger and tells him about her past and why she no longer "needs" Slugger. Melodee has a lot of dialogue in a single episode as a result, and she does a terrific job with all of it, getting across the idea that Misae is awfully frail without overdoing it, yet also conveying her hidden strength. Melodee also pitches her voice higher when we see a vision of a younger Misae in Ikari's fantasy world in the series finale.
MASAMI HIRUKAWA (Deem Bristow)-The late Mr. Bristow is probably best known for his performances as Dr. Eggman in the first two Sonic Adventure games, but he definitely has better material to work with here. Hirukawa turns out to be one of the most despicable characters in the series, a corrupt cop who doesn't see anything wrong with helping run a prostitution ring or installing a video camera in his daughter's room so he can watch her undress (all together now: eeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwww!). Bristow's aged voice provides a terrific contrast to his behavior, sounding "noble" even in the depths of depravity.
AKIO KAWAZU (Doug Stone)-Stone gives this slimy, frog-like reporter an appropriately throaty voice, and as a result this paparazzi ends up as another creep we can root against.
HARUMI CHONO/"MARIA" (Erica Shaffer)-Erica does a great job with both Harumi's normal, kindly teacher personality and the harsh prostitute "Maria" personality. Not much else to say, really.
YUICHI TARA (Johnny Yong Bosch)-Another shrewd bit of "playing against expectations", I'm not sure Bosch has ever played a character this young before. Sure, he's got a great, youthful voice, but he tends to play teenagers or young adults, not elementary school students. Still, much like with Carrie and Maromi, this provides a delicious bit of playing around with Bosch's usual range. Yuichi at first seems like a heck of a guy, a typical Bosch character, but he turns out to be tormented by jealousy and an inferiority complex that ultimately leads Little Slugger right to him, and Bosch does a great job with this shift in perception.
TAEKO HIRUKAWA (Kari Wahlgren)-As always, Kari is great, portraying Taeko's all-abiding love for her father expertly, and then doing a wonderful job with Taeko's feelings of betrayal and disgust when she finds the computer folder full of pictures of her undressing, and then the camera that took them in her room.
Most of the other characters are extras or small roles, but they're all performed well, with folks like Kirk Thornton, Dave Mallow, Megan Hollingshead, Wendee Lee, and Steve Blum popping up to expertly do small roles here and there. The scripting is equally excellent, and I rather like the translation of "Shonen Bat" to "Little Slugger", to be honest. All in all, it's quickly become one of my favorite dubs.
Up next: My long-in-the-works review of Baccano!, Haibane Renmei, and then probably Black Butler.