The Fall 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Psycho-Pass 2

Nick Creamer

Rating: 3.5

Psycho-Pass returns! Just like last season, we're once again thrust into Psycho-Pass's Blade Runner-styled world, where your emotional “Hue” and a variety of tests indicate not only what jobs you're qualified for, but whether you're fit to participate in society at all. This first episode reintroduced us to Inspector Akane Tsunemori, along with her new team, as they hunted down a serial bomber. After chasing him halfway across the city, Akane held off on killing him in order to try and get his Hue below 300 - the point where Inspectors shoot to kill.

Though it wasn't as exciting or dynamically shot a debut as Psycho-Pass's first season, this episode did a fair enough job of acquainting us with everything Psycho-Pass. It was nice seeing Akane as a totally confident Inspector, though the show's dramatic slow-mos and music cues were honestly a bit much. And it was also kind of funny seeing this episode's last big scene basically monologue the entire philosophy of Akane, and, by extension, Gen Urobuchi. Though Urobuchi is no longer writing this series, his ethos permeates its setting and central characters. Society is a terrible machine, but society is made up of individuals. It's only by dehumanizing others that we make monstrous machines of ourselves. “By living a virtuous life, you guide society towards the path of virtue.” Though most of his protagonists wouldn't be able to articulate it so clearly, this is the light that guides all of Urobuchi's heroes - an unerring faith in people, and a constant denial of society's ability to wholly determine your actions. “Even if society pressures you, as long as you have the spirit to resist, you are a human being.”

Frankly, it was kind of weird seeing the show so directly lay out the first season's moral priorities. Perhaps that means this season will directly interrogate Urobuchi's own philosophy? I did like the various small hints of real-world parallels scattered throughout this episode - a drug used to normalize emotional outbursts would be no stranger to our self-medicating society, and the disconnect between police and those they serve couldn't be more relevant today. I also liked Akane's justification of her actions - “we need him alive to learn how he kept his Hue clear.” The general system of enforcement in Psycho-Pass isn't particularly conducive to understanding criminals, and lines like that indicate how this might actually be by design. The system somewhat breaks down if you begin to understand those with clouded Hues, a question the first season constantly grappled with.

On the negative side, this episode also featured a few worrying warning signs. In spite of the episode's idea-density, the actual plot wasn't that exciting, and the villain here mainly a vehicle through which Akane could monologue the priorities of the first season. Akane's new rookie partner didn't really indicate she'd add anything beyond contrarianism, and the threat of an “Evil Inspector” at the end made me somewhat anxious this season might fall into generic thriller territory. But those are largely future concerns - overall, there was more than enough food for thought in this episode to keep me happy. Here's to hoping Psycho-Pass keeps itself together without Urobuchi's steady hand.

Psycho-Pass 2 is available streaming at Funimation.

Bamboo Dong

Rating: 3

Things have certainly changed since the first season of Psycho-Pass, and I don't just mean the production team. Building from the events of last season, as well as Akane's growth as a character, she's miles away from the meek, timid person she used to be. Now she's strong and confident, comfortable following her instincts during missions, and also giving orders to her team. In short, she's exactly where one expects her to be after a whirlwind season of trauma and self-reflection.

Given the crazy revelations that took place in the last few episodes of season one, though, it's a little disappointing that this first episode isn't… well, more different. In fact, it appears to be business as usual, with minimal allusion to the way things ended. Sure, the composition of the team has changed, and so has the dynamic. But in many ways, it's just another day on the job. And not that Psycho-Pass was ever truly subtle with its messages about broken societies, nanny states, and corruption, but this first episode is especially heavy-handed, making sure viewers know that the Sybil system is Bad and No Good At All, and that telling people to monitor their hues via pharmaceuticals is Weird and Not Natural. But these are things that never needed to be stated. Such things are implied simply because presumably, the viewer watching the show is not a psychopath, and generally has a vague idea of how a healthy society should function. That the first season allowed viewers to fill the blanks in for themselves was an example of how sometimes, it's just better to show rather than to tell. (To the episode's credit, the "299" bit was pretty cool and effective.)

But regardless, it will be interesting to see how this season will play out. It seems as though a new villain (or set of villains?) is on the loose, which will likely occupy the protagonists for a few episodes. Some of the elements that are introduced could turn out to be pretty interesting, as well, like the pharmaceuticals that can lower one's coefficient. While it could just play out as a loophole for criminals to get away with crime, it may end up serving as social criticism for real life parallels. Given all the cheery intercoms reminding citizens to regulate their stress levels, it would be neat to see it veer more towards the latter.

I don't know that a second season was really necessary, other than to satisfy fans and make some money, but Psycho-Pass 2 seems serviceable so far. It certainly didn't make me think as much as the first season of the last episode, but maybe it needs more time to adjust.

Psycho-Pass 2 is available streaming at Funimation.

Hope Chapman

Rating: 3

Man. I hate being right. I take too much stock in first impressions sometimes, and I can be a real Doubting Thomas when it comes to the whole "it'll get better!" mantra that echoes in TV show fandoms. Because of this wariness, my response is often more cloud than silver lining when information like "Gen Urobuchi (Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero) will be replaced by Tow Ubukata (Heroic Age, Mardock Scramble) for the continuation of Psycho-Pass" hits my ears. I loved the original Psycho-Pass, especially on a rewatch. I don't want to be right about how disappointing this new writing substitution sounds. So I put on a smile, and I line my gray cloud with "maybe I won't even be able to tell!"

Hoo boy, can I tell. I can tell so hard it hurts. So yeah, I hate being right. I want to be wrong more often, that'd be great. This episode drops us right back into the action and conspiracy from the first season, and it's clear the show is not going to be doing any explaining for new viewers, functioning exclusively for prior fans (as it should, given the intense and irreversible events of season one.) Akane has hardened, Gino has softened, Yayoi is Yayoi, and everyone else is new to the team, including victim-turned-agent of the Sibyl System Mika...who is immediately mischaracterized. I don't know how they managed to write a simple archetype who barely had a character to begin with out of character here, but they did it, and they did it in a clumsy way.

After Akane explains her reasoning for protecting the life of this episode's deadly bomber culprit, even against Sibyl's judgment, Mika remarks (not to Akane, but the camera) "Senpai, you are wrong!" and that's how the episode ends. This is the same Mika who was introduced to the idea of a flawed Sybil by nearly becoming its newest victim. This is the same Mika who was rescued from a fate of deadly self-blame by the warm compassion of an Enforcer just like her. This is the same Mika who was kind and patient with the worldviews of others which is the reason her best friend died and she survived. It seems as though she's been turned into a coldhearted "follow the system!" stooge who sees Enforcers as human shields and immediately disrespects authority she doesn't agree with because the show needed a foil to Akane with a big ole character arc, and not because it makes any sense for Mika's character. At least Akane and Gino (what little we see of him) remain themselves here.

There's not much to say about the other new MWPSB agents, because Mika is the only one who gets any character exploration, but it's clear that the Enforcer with the chiseled face is some kind of traitor, the new series villain is a holographic trickster planning to play with the subjectivity of reality, and there's a new drug on the market that can lower people's crime coefficients. Wait, what? I thought those were tied to someone's personality itself! Can it really be that easy? The dramatic overload makes this episode weirdly heavy-handed in a way that it really didn't need to be. Rather than being intrigued by all the new twists, I felt dodgy about how they could be implemented without making Sibyl seem woefully incompetent rather than a monolith so powerful that even Akane could not justify trying to take it down. It's just a questionable first episode, not good, not bad, mostly just plain dubious.

To be fair, Psycho-Pass season one also made an iffy first impression, with naive-to-the-brink-of-incompetent Akane Tsunemori being thrust into a dangerous situation with suspiciously minimal training, and expositional dialogue that, while not bad by anime standards, did not instill faith in the show's decades-old dystopia premise. It improved quickly, thanks to some smart and thrilling cases alongside the presence of showstopper villain Shogo Makishima, but it's a good reminder that excellent stories can spring out of shaky beginnings. I'll be holding out hope for Psycho-Pass 2, but it could stand to settle down a little out of the gate. I can already tell I need to lower my expectations for natural character-revealing dialogue. It looks like there will be a lot more "That's just the kind of person _____ is" lines under Tow Ubukata's hand.

P.S. That strobing repetition of two seconds of animation they use three separate times in the opening theme is a horrible obnoxious eyesore and I have no idea who could have possibly thought anyone would want to see that every week.

Psycho-Pass 2 is available streaming at Funimation.

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

When Psycho-Pass' second season opens, it is at first hard to tell if anything has changed since we last saw Inspector Akane Tsunemori. Yes, her team is half different and one of her Enforcers is her former partner, Ginoza, who took a fall during the shifting of roles at the end of season one. But is the world Akane lives in really any different for all of the revelations of the past? It is, but those changes are subtly indicated throughout this episode, which, interestingly enough, is labeled 23 rather than 1. The first thing we notice is that Akane treats her Enforcers much better than her fellow inspectors do. To her they are people, whereas to the others (some of whom are not shy about voicing their opinions) they are human shields, distractions who may or may not survive while the criminal is being apprehended. Akane's easy rapport with her team is shown particularly well in the body language between she and Ginoza – the two appear far more comfortable and trusting with each other than she does with any of the other inspectors, including her new partner. While this isn't unexpected for us, it clearly is off-putting to the other characters, and the fact that they harbor a distrust of Akane's tactics is fairly obvious.

There is a slow build to the end of the episode's reveal of Akane's tactics: she does not believe, as she once did, that the Sybil System is infallible. To that end, she tries her best to subvert it to suit her own beliefs, saving lives rather than taking them. This is where we really see her growth as a character: Akane is tougher and harder now, but she still has a core of hope. She wants to believe that people can change, and maybe she can use the system to make sure that happens.  The new episode retains the stylish darkness mixed with creepy cuteness that marked the art of the first season (be sure to watch without any glare on your screen or you'll miss a lot), and the animation has some moments that are really something to see, particularly in the opening theme. While this new theme music isn't quite as striking as the last season's, it still does a very good job of capturing the mood.

To be honest, after I finished the first season of Psycho-Pass, I didn't feel that it needed a sequel. I was satisfied, if not a bit disturbed, by the ending. Now having begun the second season, I wonder at my own complacency. There is clearly more story to be told now that our heroine is aware of the truth behind the Sybil System, and far from being content to work within it, she seems to be slowly staging a coup from the inside. I'm looking forward to where this will go.

Psycho-Pass 2 is available streaming at Funimation.

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