Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Jan 1st 2013
Episodes 1-11 Streaming
In the near future, it is possible to determine someone's criminal status by reading their “psycho-pass,” a sort of aura that shows how likely they are to commit a violent crime. Police are now armed with “dominators,” special guns that allow a person's psycho-pass to be read, with the result that all violent criminals are now immediately killed. Of course, there are a few who are jailed – the latent criminals, who have the potential to commit a crime but have not yet done so. A few are even allowed to work with the police as “enforcers,” expendable men and women used under the supervision of trained detectives. Young Akane Tsunemori has just joined the police force and is beginning to learn about how this system really works in practice. There are some definite surprises in store for her...
Dystopian pictures of our Internet-reliant future have become thick on the ground. Psycho-Pass, from Fate/Zero and Puella Magi Madoka Magica writer Gen Urobuchi, is one of the most recent entries into the genre, and while it does share some of the more stale aspects of it, by and large it manages to do something different and fascinating with what could be becoming a stale genre. The story takes for its point of view character Akane Tsunemori, a recent college graduate who, despite many enticing job offers, decides to go to work as police inspector because she feels that she can make a difference there. On her first day of work she gets the call to go to a domestic violence case that has escalated out of control, ending with the victim presenting a high crime co-efficient and being deemed a deadly threat. The dominator (a gun that can stun or kill) set to eliminate, Akane rebels and saves the woman. This sets her up as the clear-eyed, albeit naïve, outsider of the story, willing to look at things differently. Will this promote change in the system or will it destroy her? As of episode eleven, the half-way point in a projected twenty-two episode series, we do not know.
After that promising start, things become a little less engaging until a major reveal in episode five. This is not to say that the show is ever dull; Psycho-Pass consistently maintains a high level of interest, but until episode five it is done in a fairly typical manner for a dystopian show. Internet avatars are used for evil purposes, lunatics stage attacks, and confusion between the real and virtual worlds are all important and fascinating, but they have also all been done before. Episode five, which also introduces a story arc based on the artistic school of lustmord (the sexualization of women's dead bodies, to put it simply), shakes things up while confirming our suspicions about the use of the Sybil System and the dominators that are its primary tools. It also gives a clearer picture of just what it at stake for Akane and what might become of her if she continues down her present path.
Apart from Akane, the other primary characters is an enforcer, Shinya Kogami. Known as Ko, his story makes him a sort of foil figure to Akane, as well as a potential romantic interest. Seeming to have a protective feeling for the new cop, Ko is the enforcer who most often works with Akane, followed by the fatherly Tomomi Masaoka. Masaoka really does watch over Akane, defending her and counseling her as she gets deeper and deeper into the grim case that has tormented the team, which also consists of two more enforcers and Nobuchika Ginoza, a bitter cop. Ginoza's troubled past with both the criminal they seek and Ko, not to mention his own family history, sets him up as an antagonist to Akane, although it seems possible that she could shake up that position by episode eleven.
Small references to an older world pepper Psycho-Pass, perhaps indicative of a nostalgia felt by its denizens and almost certainly intended as markers for its audience that this a future version of our own world. Episodes seven, eight, and ten play “Rule Britannia” as background music and parts of the lustmord arc appear to be based on Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Visual references to Picasso's art appear in episode five, a disc is labeled “Johnny Nemonic” in the third, and the grand old tradition of the British fox hunt becomes a theme as the first half of the series draws to a close. At times these references can get to be a bit much – especially when Plato gets added to the mix – but by and large they simply work as nostalgic world building for a time before psycho-passes.
Animation-wise, this series is very, very dark. Apparently it is almost always night in Psycho-Pass' world, and most crimes appear to be committed in dark, dank alleyways. While this does work for the overall mood of the show, it also makes it a beast to watch at times, as much of the action can be obscured by the slightest glare on the screen. The urgency of the series comes across better when the action takes place during daylight hours, not only because we can actually see what's going on, but also because the juxtaposition of the horror and the light makes things have more impact.
On the whole, Psycho-Pass is a grim, interesting show that poses some philosophical questions about what makes a criminal. We are all capable of doing bad things at times – should we be punished because we thought of hurting someone before we act on it? Or because we were victims? It really all comes back to that first episode and Akane's reaction to the victim who presented as a violent criminal. It may seem like a throw-away episode, but viewers would do well to keep it in mind, as it becomes evident that more is going on with the Sybil System than anyone understands or wants to acknowledge. Psycho-Pass may not reinvent the dystopian genre, but it does give it an edge, and with the major cliffhanger that the first half ends on, it looks like things are just getting started.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Makes good use of the dystopian future genre, good foils and parallels throughout. Some neat visuals in web-based episodes and a very good plot twist in episode five keep things interesting.
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