There is nothing about Psycho-Pass I can dislike. The series is a wonderful mash-up of my favorite science fiction properties, such as Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, and Judge Dredd. Psycho-Pass proudly wears its influences on its sleeve—for instance, two characters debate the works of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick—and it successfully blends the ideas of each into a coherent and sophisticated story. It also twists the nature of dystopian fiction: its protagonists are agents who support the society’s authoritarian regime, rather than working to bring the system down.
To live in the world of Psycho-Pass is to live in a state of fear. Futuristic Japan is monitored by a computer A.I. system called Sybil that observes and controls the lives of its citizens. Each person is fitted with a device called a Psycho-Pass that allows others, from police to prospective employers, to see their mental state, rendering transparent their propensity for violence or criminal motives. Citizens are urged to remain calm and enjoy stress-free lives, and if someone’s Psycho-Pass becomes cloudy, Sybil sends out police units to apprehend them for “therapy.” Police units called Enforcers are summoned to handle serious crimes using Dominators, special guns which scan a perpetrator’s Crime Coefficient. At lower levels, the Enforcers simply stun the criminal and take them to be rehabilitated. However, if the individual’s Crime Coefficient is above the standard level, that person is literally wiped from the face of the earth as a lethal blast from the Dominator leaves its target a red, splashy mess.
The events of the first season are seen through the eyes of Akane Tsunemori, a bright young woman assigned as an Inspector for the Public Safety Bureau. Inspectors are charged with investigating criminal cases and managing the activities of the Enforcers, latent criminals to whom Sybil has assigned peace-keeping duties. Enforcers have a special relationship with Inspectors: given the amount of stress on the job, Enforcers are responsible for most of the dirty work, allowing Inspectors to maintain clear and healthy Psycho-Pass hues. Chief among the Enforcers is Kogami, a former Inspector with whom Akane develops a close professional relationship. Akane and Kogami eventually find themselves embroiled in a mystery masterminded by a man named Makishima, who seduces people to act as his murderous underlings. Makashima has a knack for finding the right people, from the descendent of a serial killer to a twisted hunter who makes pipes from the bones of his victims. Kogami has a personal stake in Makishima’s capture: Makishima was responsible for murdering Kogami’s partner, an event that corrupted his Psycho-Pass, leading Sybil to demote him to the role of Enforcer.
Psycho-Pass is endlessly intriguing. I enjoyed how it purposefully blurs the line between right and wrong in an authoritarian society. Akane isn’t a particularly bad person, but she works for a system that actively suppresses human emotion. Makishima is an unambiguously evil person who delights in the darker shades of the human condition, but technically, he’s fighting to break the country free from Sybil’s grasp. In a way, he’s a lot like the Joker, creating death and destruction to initiate change; in this instance, the destructor intends to bring down a flawed governing body and reinstate free will.
Once Makishima’s presence is revealed and his intentions are known, Japan quickly falls into chaos. The flames are fanned by a tool that allows people to bypass the Sybil system: it disguises their Crime Coefficients, allowing them to perform violent and reprehensible acts in broad daylight with no repercussions. It’s a terrifying realization for the police, who rely on Sybil to unlock their Dominators, now rendered helpless to stop the attacks. There are several moments in the show that convey just how dangerous Sybil’s emotion-suppressing system can be. After Makishima distributes helmets that block the user’s Crime Coefficient, a woman is beaten to death with a hammer while a curious crowd watches emotionlessly. When a nearby police drone detects the victim’s increased stress, it takes on the holographic form of a large, cartoony doll as it orders the poor woman to calm down while her head is smashed in.
Psycho-Pass makes heavy use of violence on a level that would seem gratuitous to the casual observer. However, I would argue that the violence is necessary and essential to the story. Through Sybil’s influence and the work of the Public Safety Bureau, violence and criminal behavior are at an all-time low. When such dark elements have been swept under the rug for so long, what would violence look like to people who have nearly forgotten what it was? The best example of this situation is Akane’s very first case, which involves the hunt for a man who has kidnapped and sexually assaulted a woman. When the Inspectors track the man down, his high Crime Coefficient allows Kogami’s Dominator to enter lethal mode, which liquefies the man into a puddle of gore. After the stress of the attack, seeing a man turned into jelly proves to be too much for the victim, and her Psycho-Pass turns her into a criminal in the cold, computerized eyes of Sybil. Violence serves a purpose here; it is not just a cheap thrill.
Psycho-Pass is, in a word, awesome. It raises thought-provoking questions about the nature of human emotions and whether our society would be better off suppressing them, though no society will ever be perfect as long as there are elements that seek to disrupt the system. Setting the story on the other side of an Orwellian society provides its own challenges, and while Psycho-Pass turns Sybil’s enforcers into likeable protagonists, there’s definitely an edge to the injustice of the status quo perpetuated by their actions.
Note: This review is based on the Premium Edition of the Psycho-Pass retail release, which includes parts one and two along with other goodies, including a soundtrack, business card case, decal, and keychain.
Psycho-Pass, Season 1: Premium Edition
directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro , Naoyoshi Shiotani
550 minutes, Number of Discs: 8, DVD/Blu-ray Combo Set
Company Age Rating: 17+
Related to: Psycho-Pass by Urobuchi Gen, Miyoshi Hikaru