Psycho-Pass Review: Ambiguous Morality and a Twisted Society

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Yesterday I finished watching through Psycho-Pass.  Psycho-Pass was an interesting watch that is quite different from most of the series I’ve already seen.  It’s far from perfect, but it was nonetheless very worthwhile and presented some interesting themes and ideas for the viewer to think about.

Psycho-Pass takes place in a futuristic version of Japan in which society is ruled by the Sibyl system.  The Sibyl system keeps track of every person’s Psycho-Pass, which indicates a person’s mental state and personality.  The system measures each person’s crime coefficient, which determines how likely it is that a given individual has committed or shall later commit a crime.  Anyone whose crime coefficient becomes too high is labeled as a latent criminal and is locked up due to being deemed dangerous to society.  Eligible latent criminals, however, can work with the police as Enforcers, allowing them to pursue criminals while under the supervision of Inspectors.

As you can see, there’s a lot of self-contained terminology in this series, and summarizing even the bare minimum of the idea of the story pretty much requires the mention of them all.  In any case, with that taken care of, I’ll explain the more interesting stuff.  So Akane Tsunemori, a new Inspector, joins the force and discovers that she will be working with a group of Enforcers but is warned to be careful about them.  One such Enforcer is Shinya Kougami, an intelligent, strong individual who plays a major role in the story.  Akane, Kougami, and the rest of our beloved cast investigate a number of brutal crimes, eventually discovering that an individual named Shougo Makishima is connected to them all.  Psycho-Pass proceeds to develop into a story of psychological warfare, clashing of ideals, questioning of morals, and philosophical insight.

Psycho-Pass is a very entertaining watch because of the great deal of themes it explores.  Just as I’ve mentioned before, Psycho-Pass is very psychological and encourages the viewer to think about a number of ideas.  At first it seems pretty simple: the police track down the criminals, allow Sybil to determine how dangerous they are, and let justice serve its course as the system sees fit.  However, flaws in the system and differences in beliefs begin to complicate the situation as labels like “good” and “evil” become incredibly subjective and largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.  As more secrets are revealed, it becomes more difficult to give arbitrary distinctions as various aspects of all sides are revealed to have their own strengths and flaws.  Psycho-Pass does a brilliant job with exploring moral ambiguity and making the viewer question which side to support.

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As for the story itself, the series begins in a semi-episodic nature.  The first half of the series is primarily presented in a case-by-case basis, with different criminals behind various killings.  However, as mentioned before, Makishima is connected to all of these.  It is not until the story progresses further that Makishima begins to take a more prominent role and the plot becomes more focused and connected.  As a Gen Urobuchi work, Psycho-Pass is an intense, brutal series and this is shown in a variety of ways.  Some of the greatest scenes of Psycho-Pass are the most tragic, and such events are executed well and could truly be considered amazing.  The series also offers some interesting plot twists that tie closely to the themes.  However, there are some areas that the story could have developed more.  For example, one of the episodes serves as a flashback to develop one of the characters, but the events are ultimately left in the open and are never expanded on by the end of the story.  A good share of events are briefly touched upon but not developed in detail, and in some instances this was disappointing for me.

The characters received a good deal of development, and this is particularly true of the major players.  Akane is essentially a regular person and, while a bit naive and idealistic, is very relatable.  Akane has a strong sense of justice and is a respectable character in that she stands by her beliefs even when battered by the cruel realities of the world she lives in.  All the same, however, she grows immensely throughout the series, becoming a more skilled detective as well as being a stronger and more determined individual.  Kougami serves as an interesting contrast to Akane in that he is the stronger, smarter, and more experienced individual.  Kougami often takes the lead in directing the characters to the answer and is tightly involved with many of the major events.  However, unlike Akane, his experiences have warped him into being more accepting of less lawful methods to deal the justice he believes in.  Makishima is a very unorthodox antagonist.  Though he is the mastermind of violent crimes and the facilitator of a great deal of destruction, simply describing him as “evil” is quite insufficient.  Makishima’s methods are disagreeable and the extreme degree of some of his actions truly frustrated me.  However, it eventually becomes clear that his choices are simply to act on his own ideals, and while I could not support the way he acted, I also felt that in some cases I agreed with him and held a degree of respect for him because of how he acted on his own beliefs for what he felt was right, distorted though it may have seemed.

As for the rest of the cast, there wasn’t quite as much development.  There were some who got their fair share of screen time and growth, but there were many instances where characters’ stories were mentioned for but a brief period of time and I felt that the series should have elaborated more on these for further development.  For example, I felt that while Makishima proved to be a deep and unusual character, too little of his background was explained to truly have a complete grasp of how he had changed over time, and while it is mentioned why this is the case it is very little in comparison to the many dimensions his character displays in other areas.

Psycho-Pass was a great watch and it proved to be incredibly thought provoking.  Psycho-Pass brings up questions that only a few other series I have encountered explore and for this alone it is a series worth seeing.  For me, Psycho-Pass was a high 8/10.  It was very close to a 9/10, but some areas weren’t developed as much as I had hoped they would be.  Nonetheless, it was still a very good story with interesting developments and I would love to see more material for the series.  I felt that 22 episodes was not quite enough and only time will tell if the series will continue, but I would certainly welcome more content if it is ever created.

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    • Supermac…
    • August 17th, 2013

    ” A good share of events are briefly touched upon but not developed in detail” Gah! I agree on this! That’s why I hadn’t finished with it lol Like two weeks ago I was about to get watch episode 10, but I almost got busted by my father lol At any rate, if you say it explores moral ambiguity well…then I’ll take your word U_U
    P.S. I thought I’d post in your blog to create some traffic on it…hopefully.
    Another note: Xd I don’t like Akane too much at the time being. She might not be too naive in other contexts, but for my detective standards she’s quite gullible xd A crime-mystery-detective things fan here lol I really hope she grows up on that area…or I’ll be very disappointed xd

    • Well I can definitely say that things pick up around the halfway point so I’d recommend watching through the rest of it. Not everything is explored as much as I would’ve liked but it’s still quite the interesting watch. The whole morality issue and stance on the dystopian society present is pretty neat and there’s a lot more of that in the second half. Not to mention Makishima becomes much more important.

      And I get what you mean, Akane doesn’t always make the best decisions but she really does grow a lot as the story goes on. I’d say she gets the most development of the cast, though Kougami is pretty close behind. In any case, the latter half of the series is a lot less detective-ish in comparison to the early arcs, at least as far as particular homicide incidents go. The story really begins to shift (and in my opinion for the better) around the middle.

  1. Psycho-Pass, for me, is a very iconic series for today’s era of anime. I may be misquoting, but the director (along with Urobuchi Gen) for Psycho-Pass absolutely forbade “moe” in any and all discussions of the show’s productions. The theme itself has been done before (slightly similar to Ergo Proxy from way back), but I can’t help but appreciate their stand on making something dark and serious (and not at all what we usually see from noitaminA shows).

    We’re in luck, apparently. A second season(?) or at least a sequel production and a movie have been green lit😀

    • Ah yes, I remember reading about that on MyAnimeList. Psycho-Pass is definitely quite the series, and it’s good to see something deviating from the norm. I’ve heard about Ergo Proxy but I still have yet to watch it, that’s something I need to give a try. I also heard that Psycho-Pass was similar to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex so I might have to watch that as well.

      I heard about those as well, glad to see that there’s more to look forward to from this series. I can’t wait to see how the new installments will develop the story and I imagine that the moral dilemma will be more important in the second season than the first so I’m sure it’ll be something to look forward to.

  2. I finished watching this last night. It’s one of my favorite 2014 releases and I cannot wait for season two. The only negative I have was the rather disturbing violence against women.

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