ANIME & MANGA - Review
13:00 - 18th October 2014, by David West

Psycho-Pass

In the future, mankind has tried to create a perfect society by putting its faith in the Sybil System, a computer network that oversees all public life. The mental health of every citizen is gauged by their Psycho-Pass and their capacity for aberrant behaviour is measured by their Crime Coefficient. If someone’s Psycho-Pass takes a turn for the worse they are referred for therapy to straighten them out, but if their Crime Coefficient rises too high, that’s when the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division steps in.

Akane Tsunemori is the newest Inspector in the Division, working alongside Inspector Ginoza and four Enforcers. The latter are people classified as Latent Criminals due to their abnormally high Crime Coefficients, but instead of being imprisoned or executed, they are used by the Bureau to help catch lawbreakers – it takes a crook to catch a crook. Shinya Kogami is a ruthlessly effective Enforcer; his unorthodox methods are a source of constant friction with his boss Inspector Ginoza, while he intimidates and fascinates Akane in equal measure.

From Production IG, Psycho-Pass has some common ground with their celebrated work in the Ghost In The Shell franchise – both shows are set in dystopian futures where technology has come to pervade every corner of life, although while Ghost In The Shell questions what it means to be human in a technological, cybernetic world, Psycho-Pass addresses issues of personal responsibility and free will. The Inspectors and Enforcers all carry devices called Dominators which read the Crime Coefficient of any target and react accordingly, from releasing a paralysing charge to firing a lethal blast. This has the effect of taking all the responsibility out of the hands of the Inspectors and Enforcers, who simply point and click. But what if someone could beat the Sybil System? Who could bring them to justice if Sybil was unable to see their guilt?

The star of the show is Shinya Kogami and his dogged pursuit of an unsolved case involving the death of his old partner. Kogami is every inch the shonen action hero – a taciturn, tough, macho alpha male usually seen with a cigarette smouldering in the corner of his mouth. He takes care of the name-taking and butt-kicking, which doesn’t leave much for Akane to do. There are several episodes wherein her entire contribution to the plot is to follow Kogami around like a puppy. The script is careful to point out that she was the top student in her class, but onscreen she’s hopelessly ineffective and dramatically passive. When she arrives for her first day as an Inspector, she doesn’t seem to know anything about police work at all. This might be forgiven as an excuse for some clumsy exposition dumps as Masaoka, one of the Enforcers, explains how Dominators work and who the Enforcers are, but it seems completely unbelievable that a new Inspector wouldn’t already know all this and it makes Akane seem useless before she’s even started. When Kogami later declares, “Tsunemori, she’s become a hell of a detective”, it’s hard not to laugh.

The principal plotline slowly emerges from a collection of apparently unconnected cases. The third episode is devoted to the team investigating a series of murders at a factory, but there’s no attempt to engage the viewers’ brain in solving the mystery for themselves. There’s only one suspect and it’s just a matter of the team chasing them down. It gradually becomes clear there is a diabolical mastermind called Makashima coordinating everything from the shadows, intent on bringing the Sybil System to its knees. The pursuit of Makashima takes over at the halfway mark to become the focus of the rest of the series.
There is a recurring element of violence against female characters and there are repeated scenes of women being subjected to harm, assaulted, and killed. To make this matter worse, most of them are treated as little more than plot points – their gruesome deaths are just there to keep the story moving. The passivity of Akane, which reaches its discouraging zenith in episode 11, only reinforces the overall sense of misogyny at work.

The plot often relies on contrivance to create drama – the all-knowing, all-seeing Sybil System never works when it might actually be helpful. The more the script reveals about Sybil, the more it becomes preposterous, while Kogami has the details for Makashima’s final grand scheme (after they foil his first grand scheme) handed to him on a platter in an example of lazy plotting. The dialogue is full of pedantry trying to pass itself off as insight into the human condition. Ultimately, the show opts for action series clichés – fights, guns and crashes – instead of answering any questions about freewill.

Production IG delivers good animation and slick visuals, but at this point in their output that’s to be expected of a studio with such a sterling reputation. The most subversive design choice is the decision to have the police drones appear with big, friendly, smiling faces even as they conduct their work with a complete lack of compassion or humanity. As the series works to balance science fiction and hard boiled crime elements, the show is big on moody lighting and dramatic shadows. Director Naoyoshi Shiotani is not afraid to be gory – when the Dominators go into Elimination mode, the result is invariably blood and guts splattered all over the ceilings and walls. Whoever has to clean up after the Criminal Investigation Bureau deserves every penny in their pay cheque.

The leading lady is a total drip, but Psycho-Pass does not lack for action or, in the first half, a strong sense of the macabre. The second half suffers from a lack of dramatic credibility and a surfeit of unwieldy dialogue. Ultimately, Naoyoshi Shiotani’s genre-blending marriage of film noir and science fiction doesn’t live up to its early potential.
SCORE: 3/5
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