Reclamation proclamation. If the second episode of Durarara!! was one which gave me a portrait of suicide I was initially unsure of, Paranoia Agent’s gave me the opposite. To put it very simply… I loved it. However, my first viewing of it occurred when I was either fourteen or fifteen years old. I guffawed, and then jammed my fist into my mouth to smother the laughter, horrified with myself – this was suicide! This was a serious topic! How could I laugh at such a thing? But I loved it anyway.
After writing the Durarara!! analysis the other day, I thought back to Paranoia Agent’s ‘Happy Family Planning’, an episode about three people who spend the entire episode trying to kill themselves. I had enjoyed the episode when I saw it, but it made me uncomfortable to think back on it from such a vastly different perspective. Suicide burns everyone; was it really something to make so light of? Had I been wrong to laugh?
I went back and re-watched it. And I cried a bunch and laughed a lot and decided, ultimately that… I still like it.
Happy Family Planning on its surface takes a nearly diametrically opposed approach to suicide from Durarara!!’s second episode. Yet they ultimately are both hopeful. In both of these instances, the people or person involved is happy at the close of the episode, or, at the very least, much more optimistic. And, actually, PA is more hopeful and optimistic than Durarara!! is.
Asserting that PA provides us with a rosier ending is, admittedly, a strange thing to do. After all, at the end of HFP, all three of our protagonists for the episode are dead. In fact, as it turns out, they’ve been dead for over half the episode. How on earth is that at all positive?
Durarara!! is positive because Rio gets over being suicidal; she learns to accept the world and people around her for what it is and who they are. She continues to live. PA is positive because suicide becomes secondary to the characters by the episode’s close. And this isn’t because they are dead – only one of them understands that, after all, and chooses to not share that information with his fellow travelers. So, they’re still outwardly pursuing suicide… but by that point the act itself isn’t what matters – it is the pursuit of said act which has become important. And, even more so, it is the fact that they are pursuing it as a group. They have become a family, in a sense; the title of the episode isn’t merely a throwaway.
This is, admittedly, kind of weird, and a bit hard to wrap one’s head around. Let me be clear – PA isn’t trying to say that suicide is a good thing, or that it is inherently positive. It isn’t endorsing it. Its more like its reclaiming something awful, salvaging something from it. This is why it is key that most of the characters don’t realize they’ve died; they’re having too good of a time with each other to have noticed it. The implication seems to be that, had they lived, they would’ve come to form the same bond with each other. But even though they are dead, they have found happiness, even if they don’t know that they’re dead. Or, perhaps more aptly put – their state of happiness doesn’t come from them being dead, it comes from them knowing each other.
Granted, all of this ignores the other side of the equation, specifically, the family or friends of these individuals. I’m sure they weren’t feeling too thrilled about things. Yet this doesn’t really matter – what matters here are the suicidal people themselves. Hence the lack of miserable others who are left behind. One could suggest that the three don’t have people who would care about them dying, but I would argue that the intention here is more to make us solely consider the suicide victims themselves. After someone commits suicide, they’re gone, and everyone around them is miserable… this is an inalterable fact. But one doesn’t have to assume that the victim themself is likewise miserable. Maybe they have found something better on the other side; its really the only way to try to affect the situation in the wake of a suicide, if that makes any sense. If they’ve found something better, then things aren’t wholly hopeless, even if one still feels horrible about what has happened. “…[T]he world isn’t as horrible as you think.”, to steal a line from Durarara!!
I am sure this is difficult to get. PA does a very good job of hiding this under all the black humor of the episode, so its easy to miss the underlying sentiment. But HFP gives us a chance to reclaim at least some tiny corner of something that is truly awful. It doesn’t mean that suddenly someone feels perfectly alright; one never really will about something of such a nature. But they can see a flicker of light in the fog, something that is very important in such a situation.