Passably Psychotic: A Review of Psycho-Pass

I have never committed a crime (well, I’m not counting that one time when my six-year-old self treated Bulk Barn as though it was a buffet). If I did, I have no doubt I’d be caught. I say this not out of any particular confidence in the police, but because I am an awful liar. My guilt would doubtless be written all over my “who, me?” expression.

How long would I last, then, in a world where people are condemned simply for their ability to commit a crime? It would not matter whether a law had actually been broken; I would be arrested for the passing thought, that idle admiring of a Corvette and the accompanying Thelma and Louise flash of criminal intent.

Such is the basis for the anime Psycho-Pass.

Writer Tow Ubukata, of Ghost in the Shell: Arise and Alternative Architecture, obviously draws from popular American science fiction in the creation of Psycho-Pass. In the first few minutes of episode one, the visual style strongly echoes that of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The world design is eerily similar, with flashy visuals and gorgeous backgrounds. Kudos must be given to the artists for their dedication to making the aesthetics of every set piece match the incredibly dark tone of the story. In a market with anime like Tokyo Ghoul, Steins;Gate, or Sword Art Online, it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve a distinct visual style. Blade Runner similarities notwithstanding, Psycho-Pass succeeds in spades.

With his 2009 anime series Phantom: Requiem for a Phantom, writer Gen Urobuchi was introduced to popular culture. He has been writing ground-breaking anime ever since. With shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, and Aldnoah.Zero under his belt, Urobuchi began writing for Psycho-Pass. He, like Ubukata, also openly draws from science fiction, namely Philip K. Dick’s novel Minority Report.

In Psycho-Pass, the main characters are all part of a task-force designated to find and detain those with “cloudy” psycho-passes. These people either have criminal thoughts, or their psyche has been warped to the point that their mental stability is compromised. Sybil, an omniscient AI, reads the stability of people’s minds and assigns a number rating. The higher the rating, the more the mind is compromised. Depending on the rating, a person is either taken to be “rehabilitated”, or, in more extreme cases, is subjected to the Dominator, a gun tied directly into the Sybil system. If Sybil determines a person “irretrievable”, the Dominator activates and quite violently destroys them.

Conflict arises in the form of the show’s antagonist, Shogo Makishima, a man responsible for committing numerous horrible crimes and yet somehow able to remain undetected by Sybil. His character, unabashedly evil and yet scarily relatable, is one of the best villains in my recent memory. Despite limited screen time, he manages to grow as an opposing force while acting as a conduit for the show’s deeper themes. These themes, it must be said, have been explored before—but never quite in this context. Psycho-Pass brings novelty to a genre that has recently been weighed down with watered-down copies of older, better stories. The storytelling and visual style remain with the viewer long after the series has ended, as we keep finding snippets of references and understated metaphors that result in many a “Ha, look at this!” Tumblr post.

Psycho-Pass, though slightly imitative, embraces its origins. Fans of older science fiction will see flashes of beloved tropes, but with a modern and stylistic twist. It mainly serves as a vehicle to give new life to the science fiction and cyberpunk genres, while reminding us of why antiheroes are awesome.

-Contributed by Rej Ford

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