Noriko HidakaKinryuu ArimotoKenji NojimaPsycho-Pass
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2013
Director: Katsuyuki Motohiro, Naoyoshi Shiotani
Writer: Gen Urobuchi
Actor: Kana Hanazawa, Tomokazu Seki, Akira Ishida, Kenji Nojima, Kinryuu Arimoto, Miyuki Sawashiro, Noriko Hidaka, Shizuka Itou, Takahiro Sakurai, Yoshiko Sakakibara
Keywords: Psycho-Pass, anime, SF, dystopia, noitaminA
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 22 episodes
Website category: Anime 2013
Review date: 21 July 2015
It's a critically esteemed dystopian SF anime, like a much darker Minority Report. It's interesting on an intellectual level and it has a good build-up of intensity, but I don't think I ever really gave a damn about the characters.
Its inspirations include several Western live-action films, such as L.A. Confidential, Brazil and Blade Runner, but personally I was reminded of The Keys of Marinus. That's a compliment, by the way. Stylistically they're miles apart, but their themes are hand in totalitarian glove. Psycho-Pass could almost be a story set on Marinus before the fall of the Conscience and that's almost how I was imagining it. Japan is ruled by the Sybil System. (We're told almost nothing about the rest of mankind, but it seems that Japan has cut itself off from other countries and allows no movement of people or information.)
The Sybil System reads your mind, or more precisely your heart. If you're a bad person, it will know. If you're not a bad person but your emotions are dark enough that you're in danger of becoming one anyway, then it'll treat that as the same thing. People can be arrested for being "latent criminals". If you think this seems unfair, that'll just darken your emotions further and reinforce the judgement on your latent criminality! Thus, for instance, a rape victim will almost certainly be judged as a latent criminal for having negative emotions and might even attract a harsher punishment than her rapist.
Even the police have Sybil System guns, called Dominators. A Dominator will scan its target and select the appropriate punishment, with the user getting no say in the matter beyond the actual pulling of the trigger. Maybe it'll judge you a model citizen and refuse to fire. Maybe it'll paralyse you. Maybe, if it really doesn't like you, it'll switch to "disintegrate".
Human will isn't part of this assessment. The implication is that a human being is a static system, poisoned by dark emotions and capable of being defined completely by the Sybil System's scan. Might you feel better tomorrow? That's not really a consideration.
Obviously you could tell a lot of stories in this setting. What they've chosen here is to make the dystopia reasonably functional. It works. Society runs pretty well, with the Sybil System assigning people to suitable employment and so on. The general standard of living seems compatible with that of any modern Western democracy, with a few SF twiddles like holo-configurable clothes and interior design. It's only when you start poking in the corners that the dysfunctional bits start crawling into the light, one of which being unusual new breeds of psychopath. It should also be obvious that people think and behave differently in this brave new world. Responsibility has been taken away from you. Machines decide right and wrong, not people. Your life is chosen for you. There's no need to worry about danger, because people with negative emotions aren't even allowed to be walking the streets. (Certain professions have been deemed unnecessary and destabilising to people's mental stability, incidentally, such as journalists and professors.)
All this is a problem for policemen, because criminal investigations are inherently not light and fluffy. Chase criminals for long enough and you'll become one. This society thus has two kinds of cop: Inspectors and Enforcers. The former are emotionally healthy. The latter aren't, but have been allowed out of therapeutic prison anyway to do this sensitive job. They're second-class citizens. They're not allowed anywhere without an Inspector. They're hunting dogs, basically.
The idea's great and so are the discussions arising from it. Gen Urobuchi, the writer, quotes Philip K. Dick, Jonathan Swift and many more. The finale includes a philosophical discussion of the purpose of law and mankind's relationship with it. I loved the deconstruction of what society deemed to be acceptable feminine traits at Ohso Academy. It's a really intelligent exploration of this society and what living in it would do to you. One of the strongest scenes in the show involves a woman being murdered in a public street while the passers-by just stand and watch, unable to process what's happening in front of them. Some viewers have rejected the scene as unrealistic, but in fact it's a real thing (called Bystander Syndrome) and Urobuchi might well have been personally acquainted with a music producer called Shingo Minamino who'd been stabbed repeatedly and killed the year before, in broad daylight on a busy street in Tokyo. No one interfered. Some filmed it on their mobile phones.
As a drama, though, this show won't be for everyone. It's like a dull, monotone Judge Dredd with no eccentricity or colour. The cast all start out boring, although they'll gradually unfold to some extent over time. (None of them ever develops, gasp, a sense of humour, but at least in some cases we come to see the reason why they've got a stick up their arse.) The one who's meant to be an audience identification figure is the idealistic female lead, Akane. She's a good person, at least. Kogami is an intense, broody lone wolf, but at least that means he's got a bit of bite to him.
That's almost all the non-villainous characters worth a damn, though. Masaoka is more fun than the others, I suppose, being an old-school cop in a world of Dominator-trusting cop-oids. Ginoza, though, is a stupidity-generating plot device for the first half of the show and it's only after a lot of screen time that he eventually graduates up to "not just a cock".
For quite a while, the show's flat-out boring. It gradually improves, but not very fast. There's an interesting character development halfway through, but the status quo is quickly re-established.
No, it's the villains who bring the show alive, when they eventually turn up. Makishima is a strong, dynamic character with attitude, clear goals and no faffing around in his route towards them. Of course he's also a gloating sociopath with a cut-throat razor, but hey. Nobody's perfect. The show then gets even stronger when we meet the real villains, i.e. the authorities running the Sybil System. By the end, the show's built up a good momentum and has come alive as drama. The second half is good. The last quarter is very good. Despite my problems with the early episodes, overall I'd still recommend this show.
Those problems really are glaring, though. One particularly frustrating thing about the early episodes is that these cops are so terrible at their jobs. They're unbelievable. They don't understand investigative procedure. Ginoza can freeze out the one man on his team who's an expert on the latest current case and then no one shouts at him for it afterwards. They kill criminals without trying to take them for questioning. Masaoka is an exception, but Masaoka isn't involved on all cases. Of course we eventually learn that this is deliberate from the show's writers, since judgement is almost discouraged under the Sybil System and so law enforcement has degenerated into doing what your Dominator tells you. There's a reason, in other words. It's important for the show's theme. That doesn't mean they're not still a shower of incompetents, though.
Another factor in this, incidentally, is that protecting one's emotional state is seen as a citizen's responsibility, arguably more important than, say, doing one's job and catching criminals. Ginoza in particular would have come across as a swooning Victorian flower petal if he hadn't also been a sour-faced streak of piss. It's frustrating as a viewer, but it's also the logical human reaction to living under the Sybil System.
There's a second season (2014) and a feature film (2015). I'll watch them, but I'm more interested in tracking down Puella Magi Madoka Magica. That's a magical girl show that got Urobuchi the gig to write Psycho-Pass, which wikipedia describes as "dark fantasy", "horror" and "magical girl". Intriguing.
It's a show I admire, but in a distant way. I don't think it's entertaining, although I also don't think it was meant to be. It's thought-provoking. The villains are basically right, both sets of them, albeit also loathsome. It's dark and brooding. The director was also deliberately going against anime trends, for what it's worth. There's no moe or romance. The director avoided having Akane take her clothes off, instead giving those scenes to Kogami. (Despite its violent and off-putting content, the show got more female viewers than anticipated.) It's ingenious. It's literate. It discusses literature, philosophy and Plato. It's cooking with gas once the main villains have shown their hands. I'm glad I've seen this show, but it's a bit one-note and the first half of the season can get boring.
"The judiciary was abolished years ago. It'll be hard to get a conviction based on evidence."