Friday 26 September 2014

Anime REVIEW: Psycho-Pass


Futuristic settings have always been a brilliant playground for anime titles, and the kind that tender to garner quite a bit of attention since they can count renowned classics such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell among them. In 2012 anime hot topic Gen Urobuchi (who's works reviewed on this blog include Madoka Magica and Gargantia) made his contribution to the genre with Psycho-Pass, a 22-episode series that aired on the esteemed Fuji-TV Noitamina programming block and has gone down quite a storm since. Carefully timed with the new season set to start next month, the original briefly returned as Psycho-Pass Extended Edition, which saw it reedited into 11 40-minute episodes. A perfect opportunity for me to find out what all the fuss is about.

In the year 2113, the introduction of the Sibyl System has completely changed the way humanity lives. Not only are people now tested on their aptitudes to determine which job would provide them with the best success in life, but their mental states and personalities are constantly scanned to determine the probability of them committing crimes. This is what is known as a Psycho-Pass.

Akane with her Dominator
"It's my first day!"

Akane Tsunemori is a new inspector at Unit One, part of the Public Safety Bureau's Criminal Investigation Division. Here there are two types of people, the inspectors and enforcers - "latent" criminals that have given a chance at rehabilitation by working under the inspectors. Using large handguns named Dominators that can read Crime Coefficients and then act accordingly, Unit One tackle the various crimes across Japan. However when a series of horrific murders start happening that seem all too familiar to strict veteran inspector Nobuchika Ginoza and hardened enforcer Shinya Kogami, a web begins to unravel that not only exposures the flaws in Sibyl System - but the mystery behind it all.

One of Gen Urobuchi's biggest strengths has always been the amazing settings he can create, and a 22-episode series is where the writer is really able to strut his stuff. Psycho-Pass is a superbly realised futuristic society, and one that constantly begs for further expansion of even the little things around. Naturally the Sibyl System and the way crime is now handled are the focal points of the show, but details such as how people attain the best careers, chat room avatars and the abundance of hologram clothing really flesh out this seemingly ideal world. Production IG are on top form as always with some stunning animation, their use of colours particularly worthy of praise. With so much of the action taking place in dingy lighting or the deep blues and yellows of an artificially lit twilight city, when the show hits the open fields in the orange sunrise it really is a sight to behold.

Kogami and his steely gaze
The dark side of the law

In the same way Ghost in the Shell mainly revolves around Motoko Kusanagi but opens the floor up to the rest of Section 9, Psycho-Pass similarly mainly squares on a handful of characters while actively involving the rest of Unit One. The balance isn't quite as even here, with the only protagonists coming out feeling like well-fleshed out characters at the end of it being Akane, Nobuchika and Shinya. That's out of a unit consisting of a total of six members plus other Public Safety Bureau additions. By nature of being the main character Akane obviously gets painted as the best of the bunch, but her progression from a nervous girl on her first day of work to strong-willed sleuth comes surprisingly naturally. Meanwhile there's some nice opposition between Nobuchika's stern by-the-books nature and Shinya's bending of the rules (which makes me sense as more on their relationship is revealed) but more often than not these characters come across as painfully dull rather than engaging. The other members of Unit One prove to have a lot more life in them, but don't get near enough opportunity to revel in it.

Makashima overlooks the chaos
Criminally beautiful or beautifully criminal?

Meanwhile the rogues gallery is made up of criminals with their own imaginative ways of killing, each spearheading their own little arc which drops more and more hints towards the real meat of the story. Despite what being what could easily be considered forgettable characters that are simply a means to an end, these characters stand brilliantly just on the principle how twisted they are. This brings us on to our main antagonist of the show - Shogo Makashima. A consulting criminal that adds a dash of the Joker's obsessive and chaotic nature to Moriarty's cunning and suaveness, Makashima is a joy to watch and definitely stands as the show's highlight character.

The Enforcers of Unit One
The other Enforcers of Unit One

Psycho-Pass is a show that raises a lot of questions, but unfortunately it's also one that rarely divulges any clear answers or resolution. You could easily chalk this up to the fact a second season and movie is on the way, but watching the series with no knowledge of this does can come off as a little frustrating. The big reveal of just how Makashima can evade the Sibyl System has massive ramifications on how well Unit One can do their jobs and proves how flawed the idea of automatically pre-empting crime can be, but there's no definitive answer on just what makes him such an anomaly. Gen Urobuchi is up to his usual tricks when it comes to plot twists as well, with another big reveal once again sharing some familiarity with some of his other works. That being said, Psycho-Pass plays things out in a slightly different way to the others - making both it and the aftermath a bit more difficult to predict.

One of Psycho-Pass's imaginative criminals
Cyborg hunter with equally cyborg dogs...because why not?

Psycho-Pass is a heavy show that requires its audience to pay careful attention at all times, but offers up an ultimately rewarding viewing experience that is likely to leave the viewer with plenty of food for though. The ever-rising body count makes it not necessarily one for weak stomachs and the lack of focus on its wider cast of characters is a little disappointing, but this is a slick piece of futuristic cyberpunk that shows Japan can handle dystopian sci-fi just as well now as it could back in the 80s and 90s. If this is anything to go by, then season two should prove a real treat as well.

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