Japanese horror anime series created by director Satoshi Kon. The series was produced by an animation studio called Madhouse, Inc. and aired on Japan's WOWOW network in 2004. Dubbed and subtitled DVDs were released in North America and Europe in 2004 and 2005, and the dubbed version was broadcast in the U.S. on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim in 2005 and in Canada on G4TechTV in 2007.

The Japanese voice cast included Mamiko Noto as Tsukiko Sagi, Shōzō Iizuka as Detective Keiichi Ikari, Toshihiko Seki as Detective Mitsuhiro Maniwa, Haruko Momoi as Maromi, Daisuke Sakaguchi as Shōnen Bat, and many others. The English cast included Michelle Ruff as Tsukiko, Michael McConnohie as Det. Ikari, Liam O'Brien as Det. Maniwa, Carrie Savage as Maromi, and Sam Riegel as Lil' Slugger.

The story starts out simply enough. Tsukiko is a character designer, famous around the country as the creator of a pink cartoon dog called Maromi. She's very shy and carries a plush toy of Maromi everywhere she goes. She is under a great deal of pressure to recreate her success, and one night, as she is walking home, she is attacked by a boy wearing a baseball cap and golden inline skates and wielding a golden baseball bat with a slight, ominous bend in it. Her case is assigned to Detectives Ikari and Maniwa, who suspect that she's lying about the attack until more victims begin to appear.

The attacker is soon nicknamed Lil' Slugger (or Shōnen Bat -- "Bat Boy" in Japanese). The series focuses on a small number of Lil' Slugger's victims -- Akio Kawazu, a reporter following the case; Yūichi Taira, a popular elementary school student who is shunned because his appearance is similar to Lil' Slugger's; Shōgo Ushiyama, an unpopular boy who becomes more popular as Yūichi's troubles increase;  Harumi Chōno, a mild-mannered, respectable tutor with a split personality named Maria, who works as a prostitute; Masami Hirukawa, a corrupt police chief; Makoto Kozuka, a young Lil' Slugger impersonator; and Taeko Hirukawa, Chief Hirukawa's daughter, who discovers that her father has been watching her undress.

Detectives Ikari and Maniwa try to track down Lil' Slugger, but repeatedly fail to make any progress and are eventually fired from the police force. But it becomes clear to them that Lil' Slugger's attacks are not random -- the people he attacks are all under high stress, suffering from forms of paranoia and mental illness, and his attacks usually end up making the victims' lives better. As Lil' Slugger's list of victims grows larger, as Detective Maniwa's madness leads him to try to turn himself into a superhero, as Detective Ikari becomes lost in his paper puppet past, as Tokyo's paranoia reaches a fever pitch, Tsukiko the character designer learns a forgotten secret from her own past that may destroy everyone in the city. Is Lil' Slugger just a rotten kid with a baseball bat? Or is he a monstrous supernatural force, growing more and more powerful and dangerous as the public's fears about him increase?

I love the stuffing out of this series. It's not particularly bloody, even with all the people getting smacked in the head by baseball bats -- it's almost mundane, at least initially, with a down-to-earth tale of a woman in mental crisis and her unfortunate meeting with a serial assailant. But there's a strong undercurrent of something that's just weirdly wrong. I don't even know that I'd call it creepy -- it's more unsettling. That extends into the opening credits -- featuring images of the show's characters laughing happily in the midst of catastrophic storms and chaos -- and into the closing credits -- with the same cast lying sleeping or dead around a giant Maromi doll.

And things escalate as the series continues. A kid in elementary school goes mad because he's losing his popularity. The sweet, innocent tutor gets threatening messages on her answering machine from her own split personality. The adorable pink doggie toy sometimes gets up and talks to its owner. The cops slowly lose their minds. The production staff of a cartoon show are slowly killed off while they try to complete the program. And always in the background is Lil' Slugger, sometimes skating ominously behind one of his victims, bat raised high, other times making his way through closed doors, killing a victim who's been locked safely inside a jail cell, or even growing bizarrely large or changing shape entirely.

It's a beautifully unique show, weirdly unsettling and surprising, with a mind screw around every corner. Watch it if you can find it, then enjoy spending your nights listening for the growl of inline skates and watching for the glitter of a twisted golden bat...

For SuperMegaNodeFestQuest 2012. Shazam! - Category: Review, Writeups about Japan

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