You know what I haven’t done in a while? Throw out a random Psycho Pass post just because! I think it’s high time I remedy that.
Let me give you just a bit of context. I just started watching Ergo Proxy (we’re mid-May as I write this) and it sort of reminded me of Psycho Pass but much more of Blade Runner and a bit of Human Lost. I started comparing all these in my head and just ended up thinking about dystopian universes in general and all the hallmarks of the genre. And that’s when I realized that the Psycho Pass universe is kind of unique in a lot of ways and I do think it’s those peculiarities that have made my interest in the series so long-lasting.
To be clear here, I’m talking about season 1 of Psycho Pass and that’s all I will be discussing in this post. I did not watch season 2 and season 3 undoes some of the elements I will be discussing to what I believe is the show’s detriment. In other words, this post is taking place in a parallel reality where only season 1 of Psycho Pass exists.
Although dystopias come in many flavours, I think the most obvious and defining trait of these fictions is a serious overreach of government control and an erosion of individual freedoms. In this way, Psycho Pass pretty much fits the description to a T. The government is so invasive that they police your general stress levels. That’s as overbearing as it gets.
However, in most of the universes, I know this is a net negative. Often dystopian fiction will show a false utopia that hides massive class disparities and is at the expense of often horrifically oppressed groups. There is an element of confinement, people cannot leave either because the entire world is like that or life outside the system is unbearable due to natural or man-made disasters.
It is generally understood that the ills of a dystopian society widely outweigh the gains and often, the people in charge perpetuate the system for their own personal gain. Even those that do not directly suffer from the social state, either will suffer eventually or couldn’t bear it if they knew the truth. Soylent green is people!
But in the first season, that’s not what we know of Japan in the Psycho Pass universe. Yes, the government monitors pretty much everything but somehow it feels more like big companies tracking your cookies to see your internet browsing habits. Like it’s not the best but it’s also a minor inconvenience for most people. In fact, that Psycho Pass is for the most part, not a false utopia. The system pretty much works as advertised, it’s only the mechanics that are hidden.
The story and audience follow the high stress and high danger lives of law enforcement officials during a deadly spree of terrorism. It is the worst possible time for these people who already have a high-stress job. High stress being the most dangerous qualifier for a job in Psycho Pass. The great majority of the population will never experience such circumstances, and we do get to meet a few of them. Akane’s friends, past teachers, innocent bystanders. For the most part, they are all happy, fulfilled and productive members of society.
Because the big trump card in Psycho Pass, the actual huge twist, at least in my view, is not what exactly Sybil is but the fact that Sybil and the greater system it is a part of, has the singular goal of creating the best possible society. And the criteria for the best possible society is one in which everyone can live a safe and productive life, is given a chance to use their skills to the fullest and is afforded every opportunity including free healthcare and education while maintaining some degree of autonomy. Citizens can choose a different career than the one suggested by their placement tests, it’s just that most people don’t want to. Those tests are pretty accurate!
Also, there is a world outside of Japan, one that is not under the control of the system. Now I’m not sure how immigration/emigration works. It might be very difficult. There was some muddled storyline about it in season 3 but as we have agreed that it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t count. Still, in theory, at least, people can leave the system and live elsewhere if they want. But the alternative isn’t that attractive.
Finally, in Psycho Pass, there is a tacit agreement that the cons of the system, people getting falsely flagged as latent, the decline of artistic contributions and the ultimate lack of individual privacy are worth it for the benefits. People in Psycho Pass are guaranteed a safe (as long as there are no extremely rare terrorist attacks) life in which they will have access to all the healthcare, education, entertainment they want and where they can count on a guaranteed career in a field in which they will be skilled and most likely will have an interest in. That’s pretty amazing. I might be ok with the government watching me shower if exchange and I live a pretty good life.
And it’s not just the deluded sheeple here. The show specifically makes the moral choice through Akane (in season 1). Throughout the series, she serves as an unwavering moral compass and the show goes out of its way to specifically tell us that she is an uncompromised and unsullied agent. She is motivated by the greater good over self-interest in all things, she is caring, kind and does not discriminate.
This is why it’s important that it’s Akane that takes the final decision. Even after learning exactly what Sybil is and how much damage the system has caused. Even after realizing all the pain that she and her friends have endured because of the imperfections therein. Moral and kind Akane believes that the society created by this system is worth preserving as it is.
And that’s what makes the Psycho Pass dystopia so unique for me. At the end of the day, it works. It’s a society most people really would want to live in. That was the message of the show. The sacrifices of the past may have been unacceptable but destroying all that was built on them is not the solution.
I have rarely seen a dystopia where the hero ultimately ends up fighting to preserve it. And is not compromised in any way. There’s an irony to it that I just really like. It makes it more bitting and I love it!