- Genre: Crime drama, Procedural, Dystopian
- Episodes: 22
- Studio: Production I.G
This is going to be a challenging one, I might need your help on this cause we got a lot of ground to cover… In a not too distant future alternative Japan, Akane Tsunemori is getting ready to start her new job as an Inspector of Unit 1. A prestigious position that was only available to her because of her exceptional academic gifts and her unflappable demeanor. Akane lives in a world of serene order and peace where the government takes loving care of its citizenry and makes sure everyone is granted every opportunity that their proficiencies will allow. This is why Akane’s natural prowess is such a huge advantage and she is more than happy to lend her skills to protect this blissful world but nothing is ever free and at some point Akane is going to have to decide just how much peace is really worth… Well now, that wasn’t too bad. It doesn’t really tell you anything about the show you say? Maybe not but look how many synonyms I found for the word “skill”!
I decided to watch Psycho Pass on a whim. I had never heard of it at all and had no clue what the story was about. I only knew the title sounded kind of like dumb “Engrish” to me and was expecting a super cliché – possibly weird for weird’s sake – animé. Do you feel a little sorry for past me? I really had no clue what I was getting myself into and the mental gymnastics I had to do to adjust were impressive.
I’ve started to settle into a bit of a routine with these
ramblings “reviews”, and I usually start out with what I like to call production values or technical elements. The pictures and the music…. The pictures in this case are pwudy. We all know they are. The art is intricate and detailed, the animation is fluid and impressive throughout. The colour palette is appropriately grim and dark, to the point that the few scenes of Akane meeting her friends on bright sunny terraces were downright jarring by contrast. Every character is uniquely crafted although I admittedly occasionally mistook Ginoza and Kogami for each other. I don’t remember much about the soundtrack but I do remember enjoying Makishima’s voice actor. The technical aspects are all rather masterful really, and come together to create an end product that is consistently tense and suspenseful even when not much at all actually happening on the screen. I was reminded of the expertly crafted tension permeating the original Silence of the Lambs movie.
The actual story though is a little more difficult to analyze and that is entirely to its credit. In the most fundamental sense, it is a story of rebellion in a dystopian future. Think 1984 , Brave New World, or for those that aren’t dinosaurs, maybe Hunger Games. Heck with a bit of stretching, you could throw Star Wars in that category. Basically, we are looking at individuals rebelling against what they believe is an unfair and oppressive system except we aren’t seeing the narrative from the rebels’ side so we call them terrorists.
For any rebellion story to succeed, we need to understand what there is to rebel against. If the show doesn’t give us a full and rich context within which to foment said rebellion, how can we be expected to engage, sympathize or even understand. Without this crucial element, the story devolves into a simple tale of good guys chasing clearly crazy bad guys without any particular rhyme or reason. Thankfully, Psycho Pass is hardly stingy when it comes to intricate social economical settings. It weaves a detailed picture of a frighteningly possible society, the roots of which are recognizable all around us. It relies on some futuristic technology to explain certain practical aspects of its universe that is never really explained (which is why I would not qualify this show of Sci-Fi) but instead it concentrates of sociological and political aspects, giving us clues and leads on all the layers of choices and compromises a society had to make as a whole to arrive to where they are now. Completely captivating would be one way to put it. Overwrought and unlikely would be another. There is an Akane quote that is often used “The law doesn’t protect people, people protect the law”. If you think this is nonsense, then you are most likely in the latter camp.
Because the actually society and rules governing it are so important to the storyline, it bears some analysis. In general, I think the Psycho Pass universe was impressively well constructed. Most scenes people tend to point to as unrealistic (i.e. the hammer), seem very reasonable to me within the framework of the story and consistent with real world psychological data. One big thing did keep nagging at me though. It’s not a glaring plot hole or even some general inconsistency and could be entirely a failure to pick up on something on my end, but there was a basic question that I wasn’t able to answer. How is it that 99% of people aren’t labeled as latent criminals? I’m sure there’s an answer but from what we know the threshold for your Psycho Pass to go into unacceptable levels isn’t that high. In an essentially utopian society, most people are completely unequipped to deal with even a relatively minor misfortune so is like 50% of the population locked up as teenagers when they get dumped for the first time. Don’t pretend it wasn’t the END OF THE WORLD! Because of how the legal system is set up, the likelihood of rehabilitation is next to none really. So aside from people who are in fact emotionally and/or intellectually divergent or recluses that avoid the scans, wouldn’t most people be labeled as latent criminals at some point in their lives. We know that simply having an artistic temperament is almost a life sentence.
Of course this is only the surface, what makes Psycho Pass really interesting is that it flips and shows us the underside. The cost and compromises any society has to make in order to function. And the more efficiently said society strives to function the greater the price, or at least that is what Psycho Pass posits. As Akane lays it out, people must put in the sacrifices required to allow laws, and by extension communities, to exist. We must all willingly give up some things, most notably freedom. Every single political system is essentially a series of agreed upon compromises. Psycho Pass asks exactly what would you agree to. I feel that in general, western media tends to prime individual worth over communal. The idea of becoming part of a whole is frightening, we immediately think of assimilation and death of identity. Similarly, westerners tend to glorify notions of freedom over order. Highly regulated societies are often depicted as oppressive and dictatorial. It was therefore refreshing for me to see that ultimately, every single character in Psycho Pass chose to protect peace, order and society even at the costs of individual freedoms or perceived morality.
I want to make clear that everything I just said is for season 1. I found the second season rather lackluster and considerably less impressive. Personally, I would much prefer to see a completely different story set in the Psycho Pass universe with a brand new cast and setting. I am really curious to find out how they picture their idyllic society from within rather than observed from the fringe. What the everyday life of an office worker is under those conditions. I would also love to know a little more about the prevalent hologram technology being used everywhere. Like is everyone naked or just wearing onesies all the time? Cause we know the holograms are purely visual, they have no physical presence so like that touchy feely coworker that gives everyone hugs for no reason is now the most popular person in the office? Avoided at all costs? See what I mean, there are still a lot of important questions left to answer!
I won’t lie, this show can get both heady and heavy to the point of becoming occasionally strained but it remains deeply insightful. If you haven’t seen it, because you woke up from your comma half an hour ago, you should watch it.
Radom thought: Nobuchika is a beautiful name, why isn’t it used more often? Wait – are all the Nobus in fact Nobuchikas? I am not smart…
What this anime taught me: Perspective is a powerful thing
The drunk tongue speaks for the sober heart
Suggested drink: Absolute Stress
- Every time Kogami gets injured – drink to his health
- Every time Ginoza gets stressed out – drink to his mental health
- Every time someone says Sybil – take a drink
- Every time Makishima quotes someone – read a book
- Every time Kagari flirts – flirt back
- Every time Yayoi and Shion get together – cheers
- Every time we see a crime coefficient – take a drink
- Every time Yayoi smiles – take a drink
- Every time someone lights a cigarette – take a deep breath
- Every time we see the Chief – take a drink, you’ll need it!