Originally I was going to wait a couple more weeks before posting up another anime review, but given the recent announcement of a sequel, I felt now would be an appropriate time. All the more so because I was surprised to see so many people giving Pyscho-Pass the cold shoulder when it came out – ironically often by the very same people who profess that there aren’t enough serious, dark and gritty anime titles being released these days. While I have no problem admitting that Psycho-Pass is not the masterpiece that, say, 2011’s Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica was, when Production I.G and Urobuchi Gen team up, you bet I’m going to shut my mouth and start watching.
On the surface, it’s very easy to draw parallels between Psycho-Pass and live-action films like Minority Report. The main difference here (apart from being free of Tom Cruise) is that instead of society being ruled by a system which can see into the future and stop murders before they take place, Psycho-Pass’s Sibyl System can pinpoint latent criminals based on their ‘Crime Coefficient’, which seems to be primarily based on a gradual build-up of stress levels. When any citizen’s Crime Coefficient index becomes too high, they are pursued and apprehended by Enforcers – a specialised team of latent criminals who are supervised by Inspectors. This is where our story comes in, focusing particularly on rookie Inspector Tsunemori Akane, and Kogami Shinya, an Enforcer within her unit. In essence, Psycho-Pass is a dystopian cyberpunk thriller that casually drops plenty of small surprises over the course of its story and clearly isn’t afraid to mete out some fairly gory violence along with it.
On that note, one of the things I really appreciate about this series is that while it’s just as violent and bloody as you’d expect such a title to be, none of comes across as gratuitous. Often the violence is heard rather than seen, or is made up of brief glimpses that allow the viewer’s imagination to do the rest. More importantly, it has a reason to be there instead of existing simply in an effort to make the show ‘cooler’ or just because it can (cough Gantz cough). Psycho-Pass doesn’t use violence to tell a story; it uses violence as an effective aid to one. And a good story it is – in many ways, its execution reminds me of Production I.G’s Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Both titles start off at a leisurely pace, show-casing the characters first and foremost while using the story more as a backdrop. Both anime also use episodes as stand-alone stories which steadily build up to create a bigger picture. However, while much of GitS: SAC is made up of these bite-size episodes, Psycho-Pass only begins this way before getting into the full swing of things around episode 6. From there, the series starts to move more briskly as its primary focus is narrowed to a single major antagonist.
Makishima, whose character is every bit as interesting (maybe even more so) than Akane’s or Kogami’s, makes for an excellent villain in that his actions are reprehensible while his goals are entirely sympathetic. An extremely intelligent and charismatic man who whole-heartedly embraces all the very worst that humanity has to offer, Makishima cuts a dramatic and thought-provoking figure in terms of his objectives. Who does one cheer for – the earnestly good-natured Akane and her team of Enforcers who assist in upholding the clearly dystopian Sybil System, or the cruelly savage Makishima whose end-game is all about bringing it down? Sure, he’s a murdering, torturing, manipulating sociopath, but like certain other vaguely effeminate white-haired anime villains, he’s also responsible for attempting to orchestrate the downfall of a system gone horribly wrong.
Thankfully, the artwork and animation match the tone of the story. With some very smooth panning sequences and solid character designs that don’t detract from the mature feel of the anime, Psycho-Pass doesn’t disappoint from a technical perspective. I’m also grateful that the music chosen for its two opening and ending themes help set the atmosphere. No bubblegum pop or cutesy tunes to be had here – instead we’re treated to indie and progressive rock, which not only fits the vibe of the show but also draws attention to certain aspects of it right from the get-go. I was particularly drawn to the first OP (‘Abnormalize’ by Ling Tosite Sigure), whose music I think helps emphasize some of the psychological themes explored within the series.
Psycho-Pass isn’t a perfect show. It’s not a ground-breaking anime since it obviously and quite heavily draws on a variety of other cyberpunk titles as inspiration, and there are several characters who I wish had been fleshed out more – Kagari and Karanomori especially have the potential to be extremely interesting members of the team, yet their backstories remain curiously unexplored. (I hope for more on this in the sequel, but am still judging Psycho-Pass as a stand-alone title just as I would any other series.) Perhaps more significantly, while I can’t put my finger on why exactly, Psycho-Pass seems to lack that same wow factor of other recent Production I.G titles like Eden of the East. Nonetheless, this does not stop the narrative from being compelling, edgy, and entirely enjoyable. If you’re searching for something reasonably action-packed yet sophisticated, this is definitely where you should look next.
Question of the post: If you wanted Psycho-Pass, did you like it, and will you be watching the sequel when it comes out? If you didn’t watch it, is there a specific reason for that or is it just something you never really got around to?
[On a sad note, I read yesterday evening that anime director and storyboard artist Nakamura Ryutaro recently passed away at just 58 years of age, after a long stretch of being hospitalized due to pancreatic cancer. As a prominent figure in the anime industry who has been at the helm of titles such as Kino’s Journey, Sakura Wars, Serial Experiments Lain, and Ghost Hound, he will be greatly missed. Bonus question of the post: What is your favourite Nakamura Ryutaro anime and why?]