With the introduction of the Sibyl System Japan finds itself at peace as those who would put the system at risk or might be a danger to others are identified by examining their mental state and passing judgement. Akane has newly been appointed as an inspector and now has the job of supervising enforcers as they hunt down latent criminals, however she soon learns that things are not as perfect as they might seem.
I have to give Psycho Pass credit for taking an idea that has been used in so many dystopian stories before and yet it managed to make it feel nearly fresh. From the first episode this country controlled by the Sibyl System feels like a plausible future even as it reaches to shock its audience and to make us start to question notions of justice. That doesn’t mean that the show is flawless by any means as there are definitely some moments where I might have wished for the narrative to have had a bit more polish, but the overall experience of watching Psycho Pass is one that is greatly entertaining.
For me the introduction Akane gets to the job, while thrilling, seems very unlikely in such a world. To plunge someone into the field (short staffed or not) without sufficient training or supervision seems like a reckless way to destroy someone’s psycho pass if something had gone more wrong than it did. Also, Akane’s knowledge of how things worked seemed too lacking at times for her to have received any training even if it was convenient for the audience to have things explained from the beginning.
However, Akane is an excellent character and despite her use as a stand in for the audience early on in the series, she gains her footing and by the end of the series you will be very much right behind her. And she isn’t alone as Kougami is also a fantastic character in his role and Makishima makes for a truly excellent villain. The only problem is deciding which of these decidedly fascinating characters is actually the most riveting to watch when those two are both on screen.
Some of the cases the characters end up on are not quite as thrilling as others, though ultimately all of them feed into the main narrative. The issue then is that the final reveal, while it works well enough, borders a little bit on the too fantastical to really feel as satisfying as I might have wanted. Certainly, it does work and it doesn’t contradict any of the internal logic of the story, but there’s definitely a moment of incredulity when you finally get there before you can take it in.
Kagari is the support character I ended up growing most attached to throughout the show’s run time and his role is quite interesting. Flagged by the system at a very young age he’s been detained most of his life, choosing the dangerous role of an enforcer to gain some semblance of freedom. While most of the time he doesn’t let his bitterness at this fate come through, there are one or two moments where Akane’s naivety breaks through his carefully constructed cheery persona and the resentment of one caged by an inherently flawed system comes through loud and clear. Actually, Irina wrote a fantastic piece in honour of Kagari over on her blog so if you’ve seen Psycho Pass or are not worried about plot spoilers, definitely go check it out because he’s an awesome character.
Akane’s senior as an inspector, Ginoza presents another view of the system again. As someone with a parent that was flagged as a latent criminal, he lives with the pressure of not succumbing to the same fate while inner fears continue to eat away at him. And that fear wasn’t helped by his former partner also being flagged as a latent criminal. This makes his external personality quite cold at times even his responses to Akane’s youthful view is fairly understandable. However Ginoza presents an interesting perspective on the system as someone who fights to maintain a system even while fearing the results of being on the other side of it. While he doesn’t take the path that many citizens have of medicating to a near comatose state in order to maintain his psycho pass, he acts as a bridge for the audience of someone walking a very fine line between ‘healthy’ and ‘criminal’ in this society.
This is a line that Kougami crossed. After the death of someone who was his responsibility he recklessly pursued revenge even though it damaged his psycho pass and ultimately he ended up an enforcer. However, unlike other characters, Kougami has gained a degree of freedom in being allowed to think of his revenge and to pursue it because he’s already a criminal in the eyes of the system. He also doesn’t bother with social graces and simply acts. That said, he isn’t a simple character. Well educated and with a sharp mind, he pursues his goals with purpose and no longer has any real desire to answer to the system for his actions. While ultimately this will put him at odds with the Sibyl System, for Kougami revenge is more important as a goal and yet the enemy remains out of his reach.
Which actually leads us to the best part of Psycho Pass, and that is that it brings us a villain who is worth caring about. As the Sibyl System cannot judge him he feels excluded from society and as a result he acts out. But for the most part he does this via proxy. He sets up others who are discontent and gives them the means to act before sitting back and watching the show. Cold, manipulative, highly intelligent, and yet completely unbound by any kind of societal morals as the system has left him outside of it, he is a fascinating villain to watch in action.
Now, I should probably put a violence warning on this one. Given the first episode has a rape before they kind of blow up the perpetrator, it kind of sets the tone for the remainder of the series. I’m going to suggest that a story about law enforcement with the ability to use lethal force to neutralise targets in pursuit of a serial killer was probably never going to be overly peaceful, but there are some quite graphic moments that have a fair amount of emotional impact because of the believability of the society constructed.
However, if you are in the mood for a dystopian story with some action and gore and reasonably solid themes, Psycho Pass is definitely one to check out. It is one of those binge worthy series that just gets better with more watches.
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