Anime ● Review: Psycho-Pass
English Title: Psycho-Pass
Korean Title: サイコパス
Director(s): Shiotani Naoyoshi
Screenwriter(s): Urobuchi Gen & Fukami Makoto
Studio: Production I.G. Released: 2012–2013
Runtime: 22 episodes, 25 min (season 1)
Starring: Hanazawa Kana, Seki Tomokazu, Nojima Kenji, Sakurai Takahiro
My Verdict: As an amalgamation of other cyberpunk and detective-noir, there is nothing particularly new in terms of the premise and setting. Nonetheless, the story is intriguing enough with strong characters, good performances and it mostly looks good.
● Set in early 22nd-century dystopia Japan, the country is run by the Sibyl System. The series focuses on the aspects related to crime and law enforcement where Sibyl measures an individual’s criminal intent or potential by using the “cymatic scan” and quantifying it as a number, referred to as the “crime co-efficient”.
● The story follows rookie detective Tsunemori Akane (Hanazawa), a somewhat idealistic but not necessarily naïve young lady. She is assigned to Division 1 of the public safety bureau as an inspector. Along with veteran Ginoza Nobuchika (Nojima), the two solve crimes with the help of “enforcers”. Enforcers are “latent criminals”, individuals who permanently have high crime co-efficients without necessarily being criminals. Usually, these people are locked up but Sibyl deems them useful for the role. Ginoza refers to them as “hunting dogs”.
● The eyes of Sibyl are surveillance cameras installed throughout the city and the “Dominator”, which is basically a big pistol used by inspectors and enforcers. The Dominator can instantaneously measure an individual’s crime co-efficient. The trigger safety is released for the paralyzer mode for readings greater than 100 and the lethal mode for readings greater than 300.
● Whilst it is clumsy to describe in words, the show’s worldbuilding is done quite well. Enough information is conveyed by the action and visuals for the audience to deduce or infer without much trouble.
● Right at the start, the audience is introduced to the main antagonist Makishima Shogo (Sakurai) who facilitates crimes by using others in an attempt to subvert Sibyl. By having such a mastermind facilitator, however seemingly unoriginal, the series achieves a good balance. It avoids the mere “criminal of the week” approach which lacks focus, but it also avoids the boredom of just dealing with one perpetrator for the entire series.
● The premise and some of the art design are an obvious rip-off of Blade Runner and other Dickian stories like The Minority Report. It examines what is in effect a reductionist approach to crime detection by simplifying a person’s intent down to a number. The crime co-efficient as an instantaneous reading is understandable but how it also reveals the potential in a latent criminal is not explained. So, that lack of differentiation between the two is one of the weaknesses. There is, however, the “hue” which is another measure that implies something like the mood as well as the direction in which the individual is heading. So there is a little complexity there but I think the series could better use the hue in its storytelling.
● Although not explored in-depth, there is also the pharmaceutical aspect. People who are dangerously close to or momentarily have excessively high crime co-efficient are supposed to receive treatment. Obviously, this is taking a page out of Huxley’s Brave New World and no doubt some will see its relevance to today’s pressure to conform to certain health-related requirements and increasing surveillance.
● On a related note, as part of the detective work, there is a bit of psychology and profiling involved which is amusing.
● Whilst the premise and setting are not particularly original, it does not pretend to be. The plot is even arguably predictable but it is intriguing enough to make one want to keep watching. One of the strengths of the series is the strong characters. Perhaps they do follow certain templates but they are nonetheless likable or are interesting people. The character of Tsunemori takes a somewhat fresh approach. Whilst she is presented as a pleasant person, there is no overt reliance on her looks, and her strength, as a person and inspector, is mental rather than physical.
● There is some conflict within Division 1, particularly between Inspector Ginoza and Enforcer Kogami Shinya (Seki) who is the male lead. Thankfully, it’s not overdone and the relationship between Tsunemori and Kogami as she develops professionally is well executed. There is no forced romance, just a rookie trying to deal with a veteran enforcer who may be a little odd but tries to do his job and be respectful to his superior officer. Ginoza treats enforcers as mere “hunting dogs” whereas Tsunemori takes a more balanced approach.
● Kogami, in a way, leads the charge in the hunt for Makishima who at times is genuinely scary. All the voice acting is well done. Sakurai Takahiro as Makishima is the standout performance as he perfectly plays the character with calm and charisma.
● The other weakness of the series is probably some of the violence. Firstly, the Dominator splattering people when in lethal mode is gratuitous, not to mention impractical and unsafe for non-targets. The weapon, which the show admits, is also impractical because even the trigger lock for paralyzer mode is linked to the crime co-efficient. Secondly, regarding the grotesque nature of some of the crimes, it is more arguable. The show presents a dystopian world where most of the population is so dumbed down that they don’t respond to anything. That is possible but the opposite could also be argued; that is, it wouldn’t take much to shock such a sanitized world. Perhaps that is necessary for the audience since we don’t live in that world.
● As with most detective-noir, there are instances when it relies on chunky dialogue for expositions. Perhaps some of it is avoidable but there is nothing that ruins the flow of the series.
● Overall, the series is well-produced in almost every respect. There are a few moments where the animation (motion) is too artificial. The sound design and the score composed by Kanno Yugo are mostly fitting. It is no surprise that it has been followed up with two sequel series and three films (series).
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