Psycho-Pass

Psycho-Pass is my favourite anime since Madoka and Fate-Zero, and they all happen to be written by Urobuchi Gen. I’ve written about Psycho-Pass before – it’s a near future (set 100 years from now in 2112, but most of the technology is plausible in a decade or two) sci-fi (pretty hard but in the background) police/action series.

The conceit is similar to Minority Report – the ability to scan brainwaves and stress, combined with grid computing and powerful algorithms have made it possible to detect criminals before they have done anything. This psychological profiling has permeated society, stratifying it, fixing people’s professions, and shifting the use of force to drone-like robots. Of course society is much safer now. We follow a rookie cop who wields a biometrically-coded directionally-micced networked gun that scales its lethality depending on the threat of the target, and oversees “latent criminals” using their tendencies for good, as she investigates a number of cases in this strange setting.

While the series starts slow and is a bit bogged by technical and emotional exposition, the concepts are striking and realistic enough to hold my attention. Furthermore, aside from a lull right before the final arc, the narrative moves at a brisk pace.

The Roomba-like armory/caddie drone, personal holographics, virtual decor and fashion, subscriber-chasing online celebrities (“affiliate service providers”) exchanging favours with bureaucrats, as well as the police drones, pervasive street scanners, happiness management and legacy technology demonstrate not just an attention to detail, but an ongoing effort to flesh out the universe. There’s so much in there – the assumptions inside “Can’t we just check everyone’s Crime Coefficients?”, and “anti-social communities”, the horror of a non-networked location, and an anonymous offline holo-cosplay meeting (a modern masquerade) evoke a rich background. (There’s a hilarious brawl between a suspect and the protagonist in a cutesy holo-suit.) The IP-spoofing with proxies, stylometric analysis, game-theory, and people looking up conversational references mid-conversation are all pretty legit – there are even realistic data visualisations in the backgrounds. It’s full to the brim philosophically as well, with issues of technological overcoddling, the forced trade of freedom and art for safety, bureaucratic power in a technocracy, the transition from internal to external regulation of emotions, and the push to fatalistic levels of predictability and the friction with the idea of human choice.

The series was mentioned to me as being Western-skewed but I found that not to be the case at all. Certainly it’s a Production IG work reminiscent of other sci-fi hits-in-the-West (namely Ghost in the Shell) but there are a multitude of elements that situate the work as Japanese primarily for a Japanese audience – as examples: the calm female protagonist, the prevalence of media control, the cutesy elements permeating the culture (eg the police mascot holograms), the subtle elements of isolationism, the way the problems of a centrally-planned technocratic society aren’t shoved in the audience’s faces.

While the first episode’s prologue seems exciting, I think its tone is a bit at odds with much of the show, and it reveals the villain needlessly. The schemes of the villain and the reason why they want to capture him are unusual and thought-provoking, and there’s a delicious dilemma halfway through the season. The ending could have gone several ways, but I think the way the series closed was good. Sawashirou Miyuki is as versatile as ever, and I’m glad to hear Itou Shizuka again – I wish she did more!

All up, I totally recommend this anime.

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