Review: Psycho-Pass

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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.

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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?]

lain

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17 thoughts on “Review: Psycho-Pass

  1. I’m not sure what the sequel of Psycho-Pass is going to try to achieve, but I’ll watch it, why not? I expect it’ll about the “next generation” and chasing down Kogami or something. Anyway, it’ll be interesting, to say the least.

    And that’s really sad news about Nakamura Ryutaro… R.I.P. He was a man with real talent.

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    • As far as I know, nothing at all about the sequel has been confirmed yet – not even whether it will be another full series or just an OVA. I enjoyed this enough that I’ll be watching the sequel regardless of what it turns out to be, although I tend to view sequels in general with a healthy degree of skepticism – mostly because I don’t like having my hopes dashed with crappy remakes and lackluster continuations.

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  2. Psycho Pass was one of my favourite anime in 2012. Objectively speaking, it was the only one of two anime from 2012 that I re-watched (the other being Nisemonogatari). I especially appreciated the nuance in character for Makishima, who embodied John Barth’s quote: “Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.” No cartoon villains while the heroes are relegated to compromising social freedom and mobility for the sake of security.

    In light of the revelations over global surveillance by the NSA under the exact same criteria sans an objective computerised means of computing potential for serious crime – this story isn’t just a poster child for the serious side of anime, but a reflection of where society is heading, and the choice it must make. Even the first episode is a reflection of those treated as guilty will themselves become criminals, an allegory probably unintentional for Guantanamo Bay where benign civilians treated like potential criminals are now more likely to commit crimes, and possibly intentional for the prison system in general which is punitive rather than rehabilitative.

    tl;dr Yay second season!

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    • I also wasn’t overly impressed with many of the new anime titles to come out of 2012, and if Pyscho-Pass wasn’t my number one favourite to come out that year, it was one of my favourites.

      That’s a very interesting point you make about looking at Psycho-Pass in light of the recent events regarding global surveillance and also comparisons to Guantanamo Bay. While Psycho-Pass is obviously a work of fiction, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any truths to tell. Perhaps for that reason, I found episode 12 particularly creepy.

      Unfortunately, we don’t know yet that the sequel will be a second season – it certainly could be, but it could just as easily be something like an OVA. I think I remember reading that what form the sequel will take is going to be confirmed next month.

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  3. “certain other vaguely effeminate white-haired anime villains”
    May I know who you were thinking of here?
    Also: what do you consider “compelling” anime? I’ve been out of the scene for a while, and I’d like something gripping that I know I’ll want to follow through to the end. I’ll look at Psycho-Pass. I enjoyed Ghost In The Shell:Stand Alone Complex too. 🙂

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    • I don’t know that I was thinking of anyone specifically there, but the number of white-haired bishounen villains in anime is huge – Suitengu (Speed Grapher), Aion (Chrno Crusade), Muraki (Yami no Matsuei), Griffith (Berserk), Ash (Kuroshitsuji), Cain (Trinity Blood), Rosiel (Angel Sanctuary), Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children)… the list could go on.

      If you haven’t yet seen Eden of the East, you might like to give that one a try – I wasn’t expecting it to be so good. And most of these are a little older now so you may well have watched them already, but when I think ‘compelling anime’ I also immediately think of Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, and Le Chevalier D’Eon.

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  4. I liked the first season, and will definitely be watching the second when it comes out. I wouldn’t put it up with my favourites, but it was dark and thrilling , the kind of stuff I like. Really interesting world as well. And yeah it’s Gen Urobuchi so that’s another selling point for me. Also, because of the way it ended, they really left their options open for the next series, so hopefully they can think of something good 🙂

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    • Here’s just hoping the sequel will be another full season as opposed to an OVA or something. As of this writing, what form the sequel will take hasn’t yet been officially announced.
      Yeah, like you, I wouldn’t list Psycho-Pass in my top 20 or anything, but it was certainly one of the best titles to come out of 2012 I think. I’m missing dark and gritty shows this new summer season in particular – not that I have anything against comedies, but it’d be nice to have a few more anime on the serious side.

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  5. RIP Nakamura Ryutaro – he will definitely be missed. I only have gotten around to watching Kino’s Journey myself, but it was good enough to instantly become one of my favorite anime of all time within the first few episodes. Absolutely loved every second of it. And I’ve only heard praise of the rest of his stuff, so I’ll have to get around to watching them eventually.

    I’ll be looking forward to sequel myself – I thought the story was bashed on way too hard when it really was quite good. But maybe that’s because I binged it, which tends to make me focus more on the cohesive thematic elements and less on the small flaws, which get picked out over the course of the week.

    And if you liked “abnormalize”, you should definitely check out Ling Tosite Sigure’s other stuff if you haven’t already – it’s really great and quite unique. The lead singer, TK, also released his own album just a short while back which I’ve also really enjoyed. A lot of complex sounds.

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    • Kino’s Journey is definitely my favourite Nakamura Ryutaro anime, although I really enjoyed Serial Experiments Lain as well. If you like cyberpunk, I think it’s one of the best anime titles out there.

      I also think a lot of people were way too harsh with their weekly reviews of Psycho-Pass. It’s not as though it has no flaws, and of course some episodes are stronger or weaker than others. When I review an anime though, I’m reviewing the overall product, which in this case I believe was quite good. While I wouldn’t put it on my top 20 anime list, I do think that it was one of the best titles to come out of 2012.

      Thanks for the tip, I’ll definitely be checking out Ling Tosite Sigure’s other material at some point. 🙂

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  6. I love a good anime where I can root for the villain. I haven’t got around to seeing Psycho Pass yet, but I’ll have to check it out now.

    (I was a huge Lain fan too, though the idea that Westerners wouldn’t “get” it got under my skin.)

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    • While I wouldn’t put either Lain or Psycho-Pass on my top 20 anime list, both titles are definitely among the best cyberpunk anime I’ve seen to date. Lain especially is a very highly respected anime I think – more people probably ‘get it’ that you might think at first glance. 🙂

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      • Yeah, I really enjoyed Lain. About not “getting it,” I was referring to Lain’s producer, Yasuyuki Ueda’s, theory that Japanese and Western audience would form conflicting views about the anime, to put it nicely. He was rather disappointed that everyone pretty much had the same reaction: he didn’t realize that otaku culture transcends borders, I suppose.

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  7. Hi again. First I’d like to say how much I appreciate your blog. I’ve been living in a vacuum with regards to anime and manga for years because no one in my immediate environment is a fan. Finding your blog and especially so many titles that I’ve really enjoyed being talked about is awesome! I loved Psycho-Pass and will definitely watch the sequel. I also think that the series ending as it stands is pretty apt considering the topics it dealt with. The ending was also typical of Gen Urobuchi who seldom deals out happy endings (with the exception of Suisei no Garugantia). One thing I heartily agree with is how well the opening and ending music blended perfectly with the atmosphere of the show. You mentioned you enjoyed the EDs as well, are you a fan of Egoist? I’m also interested in your thoughts on Suisei no Garugantia as it was quite a departure from Gen’s usual style. Thanks! 🙂

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    • You’re very welcome – I’ve always liked writing in general, and so it gives me a lot of joy to write about one of my biggest passions. All the better if other people enjoy what I write too.
      I don’t think Suisei no Garugantia is Gen Urobuchi’s best work, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless. Despite some of the problems I think the series had, it was probably my favourite title of that particular season.
      I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Egoist per se, but I do appreciate several of their songs. Perhaps I’ll get the time to explore the band further sometime soon. 🙂

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