What’s it about? A compound known as “Phantometal” reacts with singers’ emotions and DNAs, creating holograms as they sing. This has become a popular tool to create spectacular audiovisual tools, especially in the rap scene. The group BAE receives an invitation to participate in Paradox Live, an underground competition hosted by a virtual bat. There, they will compete against the mysterious twins of cozmez, the jazzy The Cat’s Whiskers, and yakuza family Akanyatsu.
Me: Mom, I want Hypnosis Mic!
Mom: We have Hypnosis Mic at home!
Hypnosis Mic at home:
Okay, that was the obvious joke, but the Hypnosis Mic comparisons are unavoidable. What are the chances of two completely unrelated illusion-based rap battle mixed-media projects being released without one copping from the other? It seems pretty low, right? Now, I loved Hypnosis Mic for being unabashedly weird and kind of stupid, for all that there’s undeniable misogyny to the premise of a dystopian matriarchy that took over the world and banned all weapons. Paradox Live is significantly more grounded, taking place in a near future where there’s just a few more kinds of holograms available.
However, it is still a male-led joseimuke franchise, and you know what that means: absolutely zero female characters of note! As I already discussed in my Overtake! review, fans of these franchises often see female characters as getting in the way or just plain aren’t interested in them, so at best, they tend to be low-personality, low-agency POV characters and at worst, active antagonists. In Paradox Live thus far, every woman on-screen is a nameless screaming teenybopper with nothing to do except drool over the wealthy, handsome Hajun.
However, that is not to say there are only male characters. One of the members of the primary group, BAE, is Anne Faulkner, who shares a voice actor with Eiko from Ya Boy Kongming! in the always-delightful 96neko. Back in the olden days, Anne would have been treated more or less like Fushigi Yugi’s Nuriko: a man with the “soul of a woman,” the butt of endless jokes about their gender and sexuality. A man in women’s clothing could never be anything but a man in women’s clothing. Now, Anne is regarded as nonbinary, and their femme presentation is never held up in contrast to their assigned gender. It’s really lovely to see, even if it can be considered a way to include 96neko’s lovely, feminine voice without having to incorporate any female characters. Notably, she also uses a huskier tone when speaking as Anne than she did as Eiko.
In fact, Anne’s gender identity is such a non-issue that it doesn’t come up in the episode and could really only be sussed out if you were paying obsessive attention to the size of her chest. Y’all, I have a confession: I cheated. I got curious after seeing some tweets about it and looked up the series. The rap was of… varying quality, but I loved the character designs and pretty much instantly fell in love with Hokusai, a member of Akanyatsu who only briefly shows up in the episode but is an orphan who raps about kittens. No, not a euphemism; literal kittens. How can you not want to watch a show with that?
Without that buy-in ahead of time, though, I’m genuinely unsure if I’d want to keep watching. I tend to go a bit soft on music anime, as long as the aesthetic is sufficiently wild. Idol anime tends to lose me quickly, but give me something weird like the illusory rap battles of Hypnosis Mic or the vampire visual kei bands of Visual Prison and I’m along for the ride. Paradox Live is just on the borderline for me – the basic premise is mundane but the character designs are lovely and there are some hints at the end of the episode that things might go a bit more off the rails later.
But the music aspect was… meh. Three-dimensional CG idol rigs have come a long way, but I’m always going to be disappointed when it’s not hand-drawn, even as I understand the reasons why a studio would go the rig route. The only group that performs in the episode is BAE, and they’re… not a rap group. Not really. There were rap breaks, but it sounded more like K-Pop to me, which I know is a big draw to a lot of people, but not at all my scene. It was cool how Hajun code-switched between Japanese, Korean, and English, and like I said earlier, 96neko has a beautiful voice, but the lyrics overall were insipid mush and probably not helped by the stilted translation that mars the entire episode. The holograms were unimpressive as well, not really far behind what modern real-life holographic technology is capable of, if at all; a far cry from the huge, trippy setpieces of Hypnosis Mic.
Paradox Live has some promise, but it’s taking its time getting there. I don’t know how many people have room in their hearts for two holographic rap battle anime in one season. If you can only choose one and love Hypnosis Mic for its weirdness that is completely disconnected from any real-world logic, stick with that. If you’re looking for something a little more grounded, then maybe Paradox Live is worth your time.