First up was Gokusen, a bit of an odd series. It's about Yamaguchi Kumiko, who starts her working life as a math teacher. The school is basically run by the students: teacher always move in packs of three or more in fear of being attacked! Kumiko is also made to wear a track suit -- wearing a skirt is right out, and one can run away faster in a track suit...
So the students try her out, see what they can do to terrorise her -- but she is strangely composed and unafraid. Not that the students notice -- they're all (except one) as dumb as a doorknob. When Kumiko returns home, we see why she wasn't afraid of the juvenile delinquents at school: she's the heiress of a powerful Yakuza clan! When she relates the events of her first day to her henchmen, they all get mad and whip out various weapons and threaten to march to the school to straighten out these guys!
The second day at school, one of Kumiko's pupils is beaten up, and she beats up the would-be beaters herself (but quietly, without anyone else noticing -- she wants to be a 'normal' teacher, so she wants to keep her 'other' life secret). It's funny, though not as slapstick as Cromartie. The ending sequence s beautifully drawn too.
Next was Paranoia Agent. Well, 'paranoia' is certainly a neurosis you'll get from watching this series! The first episode introduces us to Sagi Tsukiko, a young designer of stuffed animals. She is under a lot of pressure to design the next cute mascot after her previous, tremendously succesful design. One day, when she returns home, she is attacked by 'Shonen Bat', a young boy on inline skates with a dented, golden baseball bat.
Policemen and an investigative journalist are on the case, and they give Tsukiko various sorts of hassle. That all seems pretty 'normal' (or at least, within the realm of possibility), but there are all sorts of coincidences and little scenes are are downright creepy. For instance, at the beginning of the episode, we see a crazy old man is chalking a mathematical formula on the concrete of the parking lot of the hospital. About mid-episode, the policemen visit Tsukiko, who lies in room 150. When they leave, you see that their car was parked over the last part of the formula -- and the equation leads to the solution '150'. It's just a little scene, but as a viewer, you don't know whether it has any meaning to the plot or not.
Character designs have been made by the guy who did that job for Spirited Away, so there are some definate similarities in style. Some characters have a slightly 'other-worldly' feel to them, which worked so well in Spirited Away. Here, it works to create an estranging effect on the viewer.
Definately an interesting series, a bit in the vein of Boogiepop Phantom (note the pedestrian trafficlight-melody playing!).