In a not-too distant future, everyone lives in peace and security in Japan; the Sybil System screens the psyches of all citizens and ensures that anyone with latent criminal tendencies is locked away. Except for a certain few that is, called Enforcers, whose detecting talents mean that they are allowed out to support the Police Inspectors; all of whom wield weapons called Dominators that screen potential criminals and either stun – or eliminate them. Messily.
Young Akane Tsunemori has just been appointed Inspector and the keen, bright-eyed rookie finds herself paired with laconic, hard-bitten Enforcer Shinya Kogami on her first case. Reporting to Inspector Ginoza, Akane becomes part of the team, soon revealing a stubborn determination to do her duty according to the letter of the law when she saves the life of a female victim of a violent crime. Intrigued by the brooding Kogami’s incisive mind, she learns that he was once an Inspector too and Ginoza’s partner – until a traumatic encounter with an elusive psychopathic anarchist, Shogo Makishima (still at large) – tipped his score over the edge and his Psycho-Pass was sullied forever. But it’s not long before Makishima starts to cause trouble of a singularly unpleasant and amoral nature, striking at the very heart of society. For the Sybil System is not foolproof and when crimes are committed in front of gawking onlookers by unknown people wearing helmets that confound the scanning devices of the Sybil System, the perpetrators seem invulnerable. This sparks off acts of civil unrest and reveals that the (largely automated) police forces is ill-equipped to cope. The utopia is on the brink of disintegration. Akane is torn; she knows that Kogami will do anything he can to destroy his nemesis Makishima but if he does so, he will be judged by the Sybil System and eliminated.
Sci-fi thriller Psycho-Pass is the latest offering of Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell; Blood-C) to reach us in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray and it was penned by none other than Gen Urobuchi (Madoka Magica; Fate/Zero). It looks really good, as you’d expect with that pedigree: distinctive character designs set against futuristic cityscapes shimmering with neon. The animation is fluent and realistic in the fight scenes and there seems to be less of a drop in standard than in many other recent series in the middle episodes; the character designs retain their individuality.
At its best, the first season of Psycho-Pass is a tense and exciting futuristic thriller. It creates sympathy for the main characters, especially Enforcers Kogami and older, worldly-wise Masaoka and their relationship with newcomer Akane. Akane comes across at first as something of a blank slate – but she displays surprising strengths and depths when placed under stress on the job. The US dub cast give a convincing reading of their roles with Robert McCollum and Jason Douglas especially good as Kogami and Masaoka respectively; Kate Oxley gives us a much harder vocal portrayal of the young Inspector than the softer-voiced Kana Hanazawa in the original, but it’s a performance that grows with the character.
However, this series glories in some undeniably disturbing scenes and, unfortunately, a high proportion of them involve violence perpetrated against women. Perhaps the creative team excused themselves in this respect by insisting that they had used a highly intelligent young woman as the main viewpoint character, thereby somehow redressing the balance. But the unpleasant taste still lingers and is not easy to excuse or explain away.
The other problem is with the science fictional set-up. It’s 2112, a hundred years into the future but it looks a lot like now (Blade Runner-style) albeit with many of the usual trappings such as holograms, cyber-human and virtual reality. There are several underlying messages, primarily the one that a ‘safe’ society cannot be created without the forcible removal (or sacrifice) of individual personal freedoms – and that once such a society exists, its citizens become complacent and over-reliant on the central controlling system. Whether you buy into the explanation behind this Brave New World depends a lot on whether the inevitable big reveal comes as a genuine surprise – or induces a sinking feeling that you’ve been there before in countless other SF scenarios.
At its core, Psycho-Pass is all about the Sherlock v. Moriarty relationship between Enforcer Kogami (the man in black) and pale-haired Makishima; everything else pales into insignificance when the two confront each other.
For a show that glories in its literary references (Proust, Swift, Pascal, Philip K. Dick, yea, even the New Testament) and quotations from Shakespeare (albeit the Bard’s early gore-fest, revenge tragedy Titus Andronicus) it’s a pity that the writers didn’t take a leaf from the master playwright’s example and remember that cleverly inserting a moment of light relief just before a horrific or tragic incident is far more effective than piling horror upon horror.
Yugo Kanno’s edgy score enhances the dark feel of the series with pounding rhythms increasing the excitement in action scenes. But there’s one big NO from this reviewer (which was probably not the composer’s fault but might have been imposed on him by the director). Enough with the use/misuse of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (Ninth Symphony) already! I don’t care if it’s being used ironically here (the character who hums it under his breath is majorly creepy) it’s been done to death in various films (Clockwork Orange) and other anime (Evangelion, we’re looking at you). Wikipedia tells us that it’s regularly played in Japan at New Year so maybe that’s why it was chosen, who knows…
The two Openings: “abnormalize” by Ling Tosite Sigure and “Out of Control” by Nothing’s Carved in Stone are matched with powerful grainy black and white imagery overlaid with colour washes that set the noir police procedural tone effectively, albeit in very different ways. Of the two Endings, both by EGOIST: “Namae no nai Kaibutsu (Monster with no name)” and “All Alone With You”, the second is more reflective and sometimes features portraits of Akane. A plus point is that some of the Openings and (more often) the Endings blend with the dramatic action, giving a much more fluid and less formulaic feel to each episode as the credits roll.
The Blu-ray review discs are easy to navigate with stylish on-screen menus and no obvious problems with subtitles. Both visuals and sound quality are excellent. (DVDs not seen).
Extras: Commentaries for Episodes 5, 11 and 18. US Trailer. Psycho-Pass at Sakura Con Parts 1 and 2 (interviews with the creative team). Textless Openings and Endings.
If you like your noir really noir and you can stomach the violence, Psycho-Pass plays out as a gripping, fast-paced, intense action thriller with a futuristic twist.