Reviewby Jacob Chapman,
Psycho-Pass: The Movie
After four years on the lam, the fugitive Enforcer Shinya Kogami has been found! For some reason, he seems to be aiding a guerrilla rebellion in the heart of what was once Cambodia, now just a small part of the massive South Eastern Asian Union (SEAUn). Fortunately for Akane, the region is facing unrest because of the first international integration of the Sibyl System, giving her the perfect excuse to hop a plane and resume her search for Kogami in the name of diplomacy.
But no sooner than she lands, Akane is placed under the thumb of Nicholas Wong, a military official as distrustful as he is well-manicured who oversees Shamballa Float, the experimental "island" that lives under Sibyl's rule and created such a great gulf between peace and war in the area. Wong believes that anyone would kill to live in his utopia, but there are plenty of terrorists killing to try and destroy it instead, leading Akane to investigate not only Kogami's whereabouts, but the truth behind how Sibyl has integrated into this troubled region.
If you were hoping to see the Sibyl system shaken by the events of this theatrical Psycho-Pass adventure, you may want to curb your enthusiasm. Production I.G. clearly knows when they have a good thing going, and Psycho-Pass has long since joined the ranks of their most popular properties. So even though Sibyl's death sentence was signed in the audience's hearts before the end of the first season, this franchise is bound to spend many more TV seasons, films, and video games stacking the odds higher against our heroes' chances of dismantling the system. Without Sibyl, there is no Psycho-Pass, so the story has gradually become less about "the day mankind walks into Sibyl's heart and turns out the lights," and more about when and how humanity will ever be ready for that day. (The movie deliberately ends with the line "Soon the true value of the system will be put to the test", as if to say "don't worry, we're making more!") Long story short, this first Psycho Pass movie is a "Jump movie": a big cinematic outing that only changes the story in a miniscule way, as the Sibyl system takes its first experimental journey to nations outside Japan.
However, for a "Jump movie," it sure doesn't pull any punches. After sitting out on the second season to write this simultaneously produced film, Gen Urobuchi has unleashed all his most potent excesses back into the world of Psycho-Pass, for better and worse. On that note, because they were written at the same time, the second season has no impact on this movie's events apart from a few brief scenes with a new inspector introduced in that season, Mika Shimotsuki. Mika has been set up as the new irredeemable antagonist force to Akane, now that our heroine is at least superficially at peace with Sibyl. However, all Mika does in this movie is reinforce her two character traits in a few lines of dialogue: "hates Akane passionately" and "loves Sibyl more than life." That's more than any of the other second season cast additions get though, so you can easily follow and enjoy the movie even if you never saw the second season.
In any case, this movie wastes no time jumping to both the heady and gory extremes that have always made the series stand out. Its opening moments are underscored by Kogami reading passages from the work of Frantz Fanon, while the ten minutes to follow are an exercise in exploding-guts excess. Psycho-Pass's strength has never been in subtlety, (there's no going back after the insane reveal of Sibyl's true nature), but it's also never held back in addressing all types of corruption in societal structures. Since Fanon and Sartre are the philosophers of choice for this movie, and Sibyl is headed overseas in an experimental expansion, that means we're in for a message about how colonialism is bad. No, really. Psycho-Pass wants you to know that colonialism is really, really bad, and even though the word itself sounds like a faraway barbaric concept relegated to the 1700s, it's still happening all the time today, often under the guise of friendly diplomacy.
Sure, the movie goes out of its way to never mention specifics. Shamballa Float itself exists in the Gulf of Thailand, but the SEAUn is an expansive empire that stretches across the mainland of east Asia, and you'll never hear any direct reference to someone's race, nationality, religion, or class. At the same time, it's impossible not to notice that all the people in power are a mix of American, Vietnamese, and Chinese (with names like Nicholas Wong and a tendency toward English over any indigenous languages), while throngs of Khmer people struggle to enter the utopia. Once you start seeing that Shamballa's Psycho-Pass hues seem mostly equivalent to the hue of everyone's skin, it's clear that something sinister is going on even before the specific reason behind Shamballa's corruption is exposed. Religion and class are likewise completely invisible in dialogue, but become impossible to ignore around the edges of every conflict, as rebels gather in the abandoned ruins of Angkor Wat to pray while latent criminals are quietly executed beneath an extravagant French-themed restaurant in Shamballa. With the sound turned off, it's a politically loaded movie set in a region with a tumultuous history, but the script chooses as always to veer more universal and philosophical, creating the fearless and eccentric balance that has always characterized Psycho Pass.
Of course, that fearless eccentricity can also be a double-edged sword, and the movie often becomes so determined to hammer home its message than it can border on absurdity. Nowhere is this more clear than in the movie's badass gang of post-colonial radical mercenaries (yes you read that correctly), whose leader quotes philosophy while pouring liquor over the muzzle of a phallic-ly positioned gun onto his victim's face. Okay, believing that it's better to live as an animal than a slave is also bad, I think we got the point. Interactions between the main cast are likewise enriching at heart, but sometimes embarrassingly direct in execution. When Akane gently confronts Kogami with his dangerous similarities to Shogo Makishima now that he's free of the system, it's a powerful conversation. When Kogami starts facing off with Makishima's ghost inside his own head for the millionth time, it starts feeling a little silly.
This balance of thematic ambition and self-indulgent execution defines the movie so thoroughly that it affects basically every scene. Akane meditates on the happiness Sibyl brings at a great cost while slowly putting on cute jammies. Wong waxes rhapsodical about the sacrifices needed to bring about social change while his war-machine's bullets gratuitously tear apart rebel bodies. Akane delivers a powerful speech about democracy to Sibyl while walking through a hologram of Shamballa that literally crumbles around her. It's all way too much, but at least you won't be walking away from this movie with a shrug. Gen Urobuchi is if nothing else a provocative writer, and even if you walk away from this movie feeling preached at, you definitely won't be bored.
Okay, you might get bored sometimes. Between all the terrific action setpieces and shocking climaxes, the Psycho-Pass movie has about fifty minutes of story, no more or less elaborate than the many two-part episodes that defined the first season, lavish and theatrical setting aside. Its mission statement is powerful, but it's also incredibly simple, so the movie spends its extra hour and change of runtime reiterating basic ideas and status quos from the TV series in its first act, marinating in violence and melodrama in its second, and invoking the ghost of Makishima once again in its third. The movie only gets better as it goes along (Urobuchi is fast becoming known for weak beginnings that belie his strong finales), but its moments of padding are still pretty evenly distributed throughout the film. As a two-part episode of the series, this would be among the best Psycho-Pass stories. As a two-hour movie, it would be much stronger with a little shaving.
Funimation's english dub is consistent with their effort for the TV series, which is to say that it's okay, but a little too wooden and cold for its own good. There are a few perfectly cast standouts like Linda Leonard's Sibyl and Josh Grelle's Ginoza, and the dub distinctly improves when dealing with violent emotions like pain and fear, but most of the dialogue still sounds flatter than it should even in casual conversation, to say nothing of the cast's tendency to monologue about dead philosophers. At its worst, the dub robs the movie of some of its intended power, but considering how outrageous it can be in delivering its message, maybe Psycho-Pass doesn't need the help. Extras on-disc are minimal, with a smattering of Japanese and English trailers for the movie and an English staff commentary. The first 90 minutes of this commentary are standard voice actor chitchat, but the last half-hour switches over to the sound engineers to discuss the nitty-gritty details of producing the dub's final mix with a much larger Dolby-ready soundstage than usual, since the movie was getting a theatrical run stateside.
The Psycho-Pass movie is a wholly immodest celebration of its own ideas, and it will probably be even more divisive than the TV series that preceded it. On the positive side, it's so brazen in its breakdown of the immorality of colonizing underdeveloped countries, harping on the hypocrisy inherent to "bringing democracy" to anyone against their will, that it's hard to suppress a righteous fist pump in the movie's strongest moments. On the negative side, it's also harder to take that powerful message seriously when it's bordered by so much fanservice, hyperviolence, and sci fi reference overkill. It's easy to admire the movie's ambition, but it's also easy to become frustrated with its desire to meander in pointless places just because its budget allows I.G. to cut loose a little too much. Ultimately, the movie's events don't change the world of Psycho-Pass a great deal, but the changes that do take place are well worth the price of admission, making this a must-see for all Psycho-Pass fans. Just be prepared to roll your eyes sometimes a few seconds after those righteous fist pumps.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Chilling and occasionally thoughtful exploration of the Sibyl system's application to foreign policy, gratifying interactions between the lead characters, terrific fight scenes and production design, an engrossing and memorable adventure for the franchise
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