Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Psycho-Pass 2nd Season Review

Year: 2014 
Studio: Tsunoko Production
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Dystopia 

I put the second season on hold at the 4th episode because I wanted to marathon the whole thing in a few sittings after it finishes airing. I really enjoyed the first season and was quite excited to follow through with the second despite my caution of the new writing staff. The initial buzz waned as the season went on without a sight of Kogami and any indication that he might be a pivotal force in the ensuing conflict within Sybil. Complaints mounted and I grew somewhat hesitant to keep up the schedule. Before I realize, I've put it off for more than six months. Here is the thing, I don't mind a major character being left off if the new additions can stand their own – which unfortunately is hardly the case here in my opinion.

The First season of Psycjo-Pass, even with Urobuchi's penchant for ideology and social commentaries, never felt this unsympathetic and detached. The new characters are slaves to the plot but wholly unmemorable as individuals. To boot, I find them unlikeable to the point of irritating. Shimotsuki's blind trust in the Sybil system renders her a painfully frustrating character to watch. She questions Akane's unconventional way of dealing with criminal targets because it contradicts and challenges the established order, and it is the same conviction that leads her straight into the trap Sibyl set up. When overwhemled with extreme cognitive dissonance that threatens to distablize her core beliefs, Shimotsuki gives in to the most primitive defense mechanism – denial and diffusion of responsibility. It's a dangerous thing to worship an authority so the extent of disregarding and rationalizing any counter evidence. Referring back to what Kogami remarked in the first episode of first season, Akane is someone who puts justice before order. She may be an idealist but her moral compass, independent of the values of the Sybil system, is what guides her. On the other hand, Shimotsuki's moral compass IS Sybil, a deeply problematic system that treats personality and happiness as predetermined and quantifiable constructs. Now she is not by nature apathetic, evident in her reaction to the death and mutilation of Akane's grandmother, but it just happens that apathy is the most convenient shield that protects her psyche from crumbling under the weight of her own conscience. It's not clear whether only inspectors have access to the personal information of other personnels, but if that's the case, it's only a matter of time before a process of elimination points to Shimotsuki as the most probable informant and accomplice. It would be frankly strange for Akane to let the matter slide. We will have to wait for further instalment to see where her character goes from here. Though given her willingness to take out Sakuya Togane and dirty her hand in the process to bury the secret, Akane should probably watch her back. When someone gets caught in their own psychological prison, they sometimes will go great length to preserve the stability, even if it means forsaking part of their humanity. Shimotsuki has been an annoyance beginning to end, I think a little redeeming quality would have saved her from being universally despised.

The other new addition is pretty insufferable in his own right. Sakuya Togane is a strange existence. I don't really understand his function apart from throwing Akane off her balance and reminding us how sorely missed Kogami is. There is very little about him that's not contrived. I don't think it's explicitly confimed whether it's a concidence that his mannerism unnervingly resembles Kogami's (of course still intentional on the writer's part) or he deliberately modeled his behaviour after researching into Akane's past connections. To which end though, I'm not sure, maybe to see how much Akane can be influenced. Sakuya Togane does make me question the motives of Sybil in its endeavor to artificially create criminally asymtomatic beings. Well, at least I would assume the research and operations were greenlit by Sybil itself given Misoka Togane's role and eventual integration into the system. Sakuya's obsession with his mother seems like the side effect of an experiment gone horribly awry. He is a sociopath devoid of empahy and incapable of it. Really, the first truth sociopath of the show. He also seems to have some kind of connection to Kamui, or at least to his friend. Did he send the ear to Kamui's accomplice to rile up Akane? 

The Kogami/Makishima dynamic is reenacted between Akane and Kamui, though I dare say not to the same degree of success. The plot is all bones and no flesh. The cases leading up to the final confrontation have been heavyhanded, lacking the subtle intelligence of the first season. Kamui himself is an inane existence. Over a hundred body parts stitched together, really? The therapist holo Kamui adopts is especially confusing, because I honestly remember the guy from the first season. Just through what method did Kamui even con his way into the MWPSB? I thought the scanner can't recognize him. It's either a security fluke or a glaring plot hole. That aside, the incidents instigated by Kamui are all characterized by eyepoping brutality rife with blood and gore. It's almost too loud and dramatic. I don't really understand Kamui's intention of replacing the big shots with illegal aliens only to butcher them afterwards. The season of hell, which is the source of all, remains nebulous and hardly explained. As an anatagonist, Kamui is inconsistent and contrived. He seeks freedom and recognition, but at the same time he does not hesitate to manipulate others through drugs. I'm not sure if it's an intended contradiction that I did not get or the writers did not think it through. He is fundamentally different from Makishima in that the latter is a radical idealist espousing a clear ideology that freedom of choice is what makes human actions meaningful. All that trouble Kamui goes to to make people's psycho-pass clear doesn't seem relevant to his goal of judging sybil. At the end of the day, the plot is way to dense to be packed 11 episodes. There really was no time to tease out all the connections and the end result is a convoluted mess with litte character development. It almost seems like the details did not matter, the only significance is what Kamui represents – an opportunity to challenge Sybil's collective nature. In other words, Kamui is a character created after some topdown analysis. Because the biggest pitfall or paradox of Sybil is its lack of means to self-judge, Kamui is a necessary catalyst for the evolution. Afterall, in a perfect system, even one that's self-proclaimed, the ability to evovle is an imperative and Sybil recognizes that. So now what? Sybil doesn't seem all that bad now that it presents itself as a malleable entity capable of self-correction. It's becoming less machine-like and more organic and perhaps even human. On the surface, it seems like a step in the right direction and it further complicates the picture. It's certainly a curious development, if not unexpected. 

As I said, Kogami is a sorely missed presence. His interaction with Akane is one of the highlight of the first season. Ginoza and Masaoka also added human dimension to a story that might otherwise be diffiult to empathize with. The quality of writing here is not up to par with the first season. It did attempt to emulate the style, but succeeding only in form but not essence. Urobuchi sensei is a nuanced thinker. Despite the critisim hurled at him, he is a very intelligent writer capable of tight plots, and in the case of Psycho-Pass, genuine human relationships. Ironically, the most revealing character development for Akane is when Kogami or some symbol of him is in the scene. I like what they did with the second-hand smoking here – it goes to show how much Akane relies on Kogami for intellectual as well as emotional support. It really lends a softer edge to Akane's justice-above-all attitude, which may come off a little robotic when reiterated too many times. It's a shame we couldn't see more Kogami, or even Ginoza in the second season – if there is a third instalment, it's an issue needing to be rectified. 

I'm not going to comment too much on the animation here. I for one did not expect the animation to parallel Production I.G, so I'm not going to be too picky here. All in all, a good attempt to continue the story and leaving it at an interesting place. There was no doubt in my mind that Sybil cannot be dismantled without collapsing the social order. The only realistic option is to work with it, challenge it and maybe one day dissolving it completely within a new governing modality. Well, even as a social study, I look forward to more Psycho-Pass and how far it can push the boundary beyond this point. 

Final Score: 7/10  

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