Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Psycho-Pass - Review

Year: 2012 -2013
Studio: Production I.G
Genre: Sci-fI, psychological, action

Synopsis [ANN: Psycho-Pass]
"The series takes place in the near future, when it is possible to instantaneously measure and quantify a person's state of mind and personality. This information is recorded and processed, and the term "Psycho-Pass" in the anime's title refers to a standard used to measure an individual's being. The story centers around the "enforcement officer" Shinya KĊgami, who is tasked with managing crime in such a world."

Ahh Urobuchi-san, you really fascinate us to no end. To be honest, I always find myself in an awkward spot when I try to talk about Urobuchi's writing. I can't deny that he's a brilliant storyteller with a great mind for innovative plot twists, but at the same time I've never really quite clicked with any of his characters who fulfill their purpose in the plot with success but rarely stand as self-motivated, believable individuals. With that in mind, I think Psycho-Pass is Urobuchi's least original but most balanced work that demonstrates equal amount of thoughtfulness in both narrative and characterization. The cast consists of some of the most sympathetic characters he has crafted to date and that's a marked improvement in an area of writing he has consistently shown weakness in. Of course, as products of Urobuchi's mind, they don't entirely escape the limitation of being incarnation of ideologies, but I dare say the character dynamic is handled much better this time around. Also, compare to his previous works, I think there is simply a better fit between the narrative of Psycho-Pass and Urobuchi's general sociopolitical vision. The dystopian premise of the story provided a suitable environment for him to express his ideas; given the show is very much driven by social commentaries, there is almost an inherent need for characters to choose side if it were to generate enough conflict to keep the plot moving.

To boil it down, there are three sides to the battle of ideologies, Sybil, Akane (and to some degree Kogami), and Makishima. What makes this fascinating is that all three sides share the same aspiration – to establish what they think is an ideal society, but they differ in the path they choose to take to get there. It's no question that Sybil is a flawed system, the idea of quantifying psyche is dubious even on an intuitively level. But the bottom line is, the numbers don't speak for themselves, individuals who built the system had to ascribe meaning to them and that process of interpretation is anything but transparent to the mass subjugated to its judgment. Interestingly enough, for a system that runs on autopilot, it creates an illusion of freedom by using human agents to operate the dominators. Perhaps even Sybil doesn't feel entirely comfortable letting machines handling the task even if it could be easily accomplished. What we find behind the closed door is something utterly horrifying – a collection of desensitized brains that are better described as biological machines than humans. However, despite the disturbing revelation, you can't deny that Sybil is driven by idealism as much as Makishima is, they just happen to occupy opposite ends of the spectrum.

I have to say though, Makishima is a more sympathetic villain than Sybil ever was or ever will be and his version of the world is actually not all that hard to identify with. Indeed, the "will" is what distinguishes us from machines and it's the very thing that's discarded from the system. You can draw parallel from Gulliver's Travel, a book Makishima references. Gulliver travels to a country that's governed by intellectuals who worship rationality and condemn those who they deem "irrational". After living in the country for a period of time, Gulliver returns home but finds himself unable to emotionally connect with others. Jonathan Swift is a satirist with a profound contempt for the human race, but even he has to admit at the end of his book that humans are no longer humans once they forsaken their emotions, even the part that's dark and ugly. I suppose Makishima arrives at a similar conclusion, though his method of bringing about change involves too much sacrifice for comfort. I think it's important to recognize Makishima not as a psychopath with a sadistic tendency to destroy but a radical idealist who craves human connection. And if there is anything I learned about Urobuchi after having seen all three of his works, is that he doesn't treat his radical characters with much kindness. The interaction between Kogami and Makishima is also quite fascinating. It's very clear that Kogami and Makishima are very different people. Kogami with his sense of justice value each and every human life, while Makishima has detached himself enough to see people as electric sheep rather than living breathing individuals. But they were able to find a purpose in life through each other, through a game of hide and seek that's not dictated by the system. The last conversation between the two told us as much – Makishima never expected anyone other than Kogami to take his life. In all honesty, it was sad to see him go.

Now if Makishima and Sybil are two ends of a stick, then Akane represents a position that's somewhere in the middle. Like everyone else in her generation, she was indoctrinated into the system and had been conditioned to depend on it to make the right decisions. Her belief was rattled to its core during the intense confrontation with Makishima. It was a rather symbolic moment as she held the dominator in one hand and the hunting rifle in the other, all the while with Yuki's life hanging in the balance. But the moment she dropped the rifle after unable to fire a clear shot and once again betting everything on the dominator to finally work, I knew Makishima already won that round. Watching her psyche being shattered to pieces was a lot to take in, especially when you consider how easily she could have reversed the situation only if she trusted her own judgment more. For sure, it was a ruthless way to make a point, but it was needed from the plot perspective to force Akane into questioning the system, which she firmly believed was infallible. Through working with the enforcers and particularly Kogami, I think it probably added to her rising suspicion that something is amiss and Sybil is more than meets the eye. Sure Kogami and Akane approaches justice differently, but they are more like two sides of the same coin than polar opposites. I personally think Akane is a little naive in thinking that Makishima can be trialled through a fair process, though I suppose I shouldn't pound on her too much since at that point in the story she has yet to discover the truth behind Sybil. Drastic time calls for drastic measures, we need someone like Kogami who's not tied down by moral obligations to do the dirty work in order to pave way for the future. I know a lot of people expected something more conclusive for the finale, but I like the realistic stance the story took – it's simply not possible to produce drastic changes in a well established social structure without sacrifices and tremendous upheaval. It may be a small step, but starting with Akane, someone who understands both side of the argument, change is possible.

As I mentioned before, I think Urobuchi has really improved with character craftsmanship and it's best reflected in the dynamic relationship between Ginoza and Masaoka. I won't elaborate on the details but it was very sentimental how things ended. The final decision Masaoka made in his life was not for the sake of the state but for his family. I see it as a huge slap in the face for Sybil, how is that for free will.

Production I.G burned a lot cash on this show, the animation is top-notch with a seamless blend of 2D drawing and tasteful CG. Not that it's anything surprising of course. I.G is just a studio who doesn't slack on animation, much like how Bones is, but I think they are second to none when it comes to CG rendering. It's something they have displayed prowess in even back in the days of Ghost in the Shell. The animation sequences in the opening is about the most creative thing I've seen in years, probably since Eden of the East, which is by the same studio. I'm a animation whore so yes presentation wins extra points with me. Oh, let's not forget the half-naked Kogami fanservice that had all the female viewers squealing.

I realize I never really pointed out things I didn't like. The relationship between Kogami and Akane could've used more closure, but aside from that, I don't think there was much to really nit pick about. It's uncanny how the top three series of the season all concluded on a very similar note – the end is the new beginning and while the world we live in is not perfect, it doesn't stop us from reaching for a better future. Well, hat's off to Urobuchi-san, you delivered a sophisticated piece of work that parallels fine literature.

Overall: 9/10 


  1. Great review, you had me chuckling at the end there. xD

    My sister actually likes Sibyl's methods. She also believed that the Tree of Genesis was a good thing in Zetsuen. She scares me a bit sometimes, haha. Her idea of the social contract is far more skewed toward the provisional portion.

  2. LOL you sis is so cool xD, nothing wrong with communist totalitarian regime if the authority knows what they are doing, but unfortunately they don't....or they stop knowing at one point. A perfectly ordered system is impossible because humans are not perfect. I think the Tree of Genesis is a bit different though...since it's like a god...But then again if the world becomes completely innocuous, I think people's perception of danger would be so distorted that they may just go distinct one day.
    But gotta love your sis's eccentric view for someone grew up in the western world.

    And...yesh...Naked Kogami looks yummy, ahhaa. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite because I loath fanservice geared towards guys, well..excessive fanservice.

    1. She's a funny kid, haha. She's a pretty strange one in general though. xD I dunno that P-P or ZnT really depicted communist regimes though; they felt more like plain fascist ones. Though, I suppose the line is hard to draw at some point. I think they're pretty similar, despite one side being human and the other god-like.

      I'm kind of weirdly asexual so fanservice regardless of gender doesn't really work for me. I don't mind it on either side as long as it's not ridiculous. xD Equal representation is all I'm bothered about; if they're gonna sexualize girls to hell, might as well get the guys too. If they're not going to sexualize one, they should do the same with the other.