Urobuchi December: Psycho Pass S1

The starting of the production history of Psycho Pass is interesting. At least in terms of the project Production I.G. tried to do with it. The production studio wanted something like Patlabor or Ghost in the Shell. A new franchise that could carry Production I.G. for a while. What they got was not what they expected. At least after the first season. I do not know all the numbers for Japan besides the sequel, but Psycho Pass 2 was not as much of a bit hit as this first season and it feels like there is a big “whatever” attitude in terms of popularity out of Japan at least. But for now, let us talk about Psycho Pass Season 1 where this franchise started because this is still the best part of the franchise penned under Gen Urobuchi.

Is there such a thing as a perfect society? That is something which Psycho Pass seeks to answer or at least explore. In the far future year of whenever, Japan is not like the one that exists right now. For one thing, it is once again isolated from the rest of the world. (I wrote this before Omicron.) But the result is that Japan itself is run by a system that watches and monitors most of its citizens and places them in locations based on technical aptitude scores. A person’s psyche is also measured from a black box system that no one knows where it comes from. If a person is stressed enough to do some crime, they can be stopped and placed in a recovery facility. The worst criminals can just be killed on site. It seems like a good system on the outside. But is that the truth.

This is where the real story and structure of Psycho Pass comes from. Psycho Pass is a police procedural sort of story where the future police officers or Ministry of Wealth Fare’s Public Safety Bureau (MWFPSB) are on the case to explore the cases where the Psycho Pass does not work. This is all viewed from the very wide-eyed protagonist (best girl forever) Akane Tsunemori. An inspector just assigned to Unit 1 to work with inspector Ginoza and the criminal enforcers who are supposed to be the blood hounds in solving crimes. One of them is Shinya Kogami, a former inspector. There is a lot to consider in this story from the different crimes and situations this Unit has to deal with because there are some brutal crimes.

Psycho Pass is a really good-looking series in so many ways. I mean, I can obviously just say Production I.G. for the most part because every show they have ever worked on is polished to the point that so many series wish they could do. There is a reason they do not produce multiple shows a season, they focus on the one. The character designs of Psycho Pass are pretty classic cyberpunk character types with the obvious Akane having a more moe design then the rest to represent her innocence in the beginning. The others are already hardened and grizzled from what they had to experience. The combination of very live action shots with precisely down animation is what makes Psycho Pass stands out from everything else. Not a lot of anime series can do the same things as Psycho Pass here.

There are quite a lot of elements in regard to how this story goes about its journey. Like, the shadow organization under the infamous Makishima who becomes much more prominent as the story goes along. Same with the characterization of Akane Tsunemori who hardens herself as the system she neglects eventually catches up to her own personal life. The show does the job of putting her through a ringer by her enforcer cohorts who know a lot more about crime then her, them scolding her about how lucky she is because she can choose anything while other characters are forced into the situation, they are in. Latent criminals have no rights. Akane finally accepting that and still wishing for a change in the system is great.

In Japan where the Sibyl system reigns, the ultimate and larger form of capitalism shows up. It is a very rigid society in which the societies capital is not money, but how healthy a human psyche is. To me, this show feels absolutely true to life in how even a system with a simple concept can exploit so many more. Then again, I was a bit shocked recently when I read how court cases uses an algorithmic system for risk assessments. Seeing that system play out like this is kind of frightening. Especially when that risk system is placed in a factory where a person has to keep working or they get locked away. A system which results in people dying. There is something about that exploration and it is done in ways that really make the viewer think about it.

I also feel like Psycho Pass is an all-encompassing anime that explores all sorts of problems in today’s society. That is the minor weak point for me because the series does not feel as focus with its ideas of the Sibyl System and why it may be as good or as bad as it could be. I mean, the iPhone and smart phones came out in the late 2000’s and Psycho Pass made a statement with online culture with the older people questioning that online existence. There is a bit of the full body cyborg portion of Ghost in the Shell there too. The ending itself is based on the completion of gentrification in Japan where everyone lives in a city. I do think it works together because it fills in the world of Psycho Pass, but it takes away from exploring a character’s story or premise.

And I just want to say right here that the subject matter, even the small bits that I just mentioned, are all brilliant stuff and the characters carry the feeling and weight behind each of these with them, but the story could be much more focused than it is. I want to know more about Makishima other than mentioned last minute about how he was lonely. Or more about Shusei Kagari besides his story of being locked away for his life. I love Yayoi and her story (and romance with Shion), but there Kagari is just as interesting, and I want to know him a lot more then Psycho Pass allowed would have provided more weight to the story. Kogami and Akane carry that emotional weight with Ginoza coming second. The show obviously plays some favorites. That is overall a very minor thing, because it is hard for me to critique it otherwise.

To me, the anime’s thesis statement with all the major plots and technology and other things is that no matter how advanced human society becomes, it still a dog-eat-dog world. There are still the police officers and robbers. While it is easy for society to judge people and with MWPSB carrying a device that automatically creates a decision for the self-decided society to do that, it is always down to the individual to make the decision for what happens to that crime. The right of the individual, the freedom of choice. It is all great things and a great message that Psycho Pass leaves on. That competition versus the system trying to become the ultimate human decision maker is a suitable place to leave off. Too bad, besides the first movie which is like a Shonen jump film, no sequel did anything with the set up. So yes, Psycho Pass S1 is a solid anime. I could not recommend it enough.

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