Tuesday 23 December 2014

Anime REVIEW: Psycho-Pass 2

Psycho-Pass 2

Psycho-Pass has been one of the bigger anime hits of recent years, and 2014 seems to have been the year that its creators took that success and used it to full advantage. Not only did the original series receive a special edition rerun, but also a sequel series and a feature-length movie due for release in early January 2015. But before that we have this season's Psycho-Pass 2, which was quite different to its predecessor in quite a few ways. Not only is it considerably shorter (running for a mere 11 episodes), but also featured an almost entire staff change (possibly due to Gen Urobuchi and Production IG being preoccupied with the movie). Tatsunoko have taken over animation duties, with Tow Ubukata (Ghost in the Shell: Arise, Murdock Scramble) heading up writing.

Kirito Kamui

Taking place some time after the first series, Psycho-Pass 2 sees Inspector Akane Tsunemori now head up a reformed Unit One, featuring three new faces and Ginoza now demoted to an enforcer. This time the team go head to head with Kamui - another criminal who is able to evade the Sibyl System and is immune to the Dominators. As Kamui amasses followers in an attempt to bring down the system, Akane faces her own demons as an attack is mounted on her to raise her crime coefficient and paint her hue black. This isn't just coming from Kamui though, as the Sibyl System still has a few more secrets hidden that need uncovering.

As the first episode of Psycho-Pass 2 starts rolling it feels like the franchise is in pretty safe hands despite such a major staff change. The animation looks just as sharp as ever, and Tow Ubukata's experience in similar cyberpunk worlds suggests he'd have a good idea of where to take a well-fleshed out world like this. The progression from the first series also seems pretty apparent too, with Akane having evolved from her somewhat nervous persona into a strong, confident and clever leader for Unit One. Her parallels with new recruit Mika - an inspector who looks down on enforcers and Akane's methods much like how Ginoza did in the original, are set up nicely (even if it does feel like retreading old ground) and we're introduced to a new villain. The more things change, they more they stay the same.

The body count

However with each passing episode that comfortable ground begins to crumble, as Ubukata introduces his own ideas and themes which clash with those that were carefully laid out before. Without going into too much detail for the sake of spoilers, the cause of Kamui's immunity to the Sibyl System is utterly ridiculous - almost completely rejecting the fundamental ideas behind the system yet shoehorned in in such a way that the show can somehow make it work. The two factions of villains working against Akane are the product of incredibly cliche writing - with one having walked out of some sort of horror movie concept and the other quite literally needing to have a scene of him murdering puppies to show just how evil they are. Sure Makashima from the original series had some pretty poor reasoning behind him too (he was criminally asymptomatic "just because"), but he was a pleasure to watch on screen - an unpredictable force of chaos against the city that had redefined law and order. Kamui is just a guy with a grudge whose plan seems to mainly require making as bigger body count as possible. The original Psycho-Pass had its fair share of unsettling violence, but it was a cerebral experience first and foremost. Psycho-Pass 2 on the other hand goes straight for the gore with its moments of pondering seeming like the afterthought. Anywhere else it would make for quite a good show (even if its desperate to be "edgy"), but none of it really feels welcome here.

Kamui's partner Shisui

Akane's newfound strength also wanes pretty quickly, which her going on to fluctuate between being unemotional beyond belief and uncertain to the point where she has bizarre imaginary conversations with former partner Shinya Kogami. Her new authoritative position still serves her well as she's still a wonderful character to follow, but if her actions and reactions were a little more believable it would go a long long way. Meanwhile Mika serves her purpose well as a completely insufferable slave to the Sibyl System, filing reports against Akane every time she does something she considers slightly inappropriate. Unfortunately being an unlikable character means that your sob story will probably fall on deaf ears, and as such her descent into madness as she learns more and more about the system she's dedicated her life is less emotional and more comically over the top. As for everyone else - well, making full use of its ensemble cast has never really been one of Psycho-Pass strengths to begin with. The original series chose to focus on a select few characters and was perhaps stronger for it, but the sequel seems even less bothered about letting its side characters fall into obscurity. Ginoza is a shadow of his former self, while the rest of Unit One most sit around until they're required to fulfil a certain purpose (one of the new characters' sole characteristic is "hologram expert" - awfully convenient since that's EXACTLY what they need for this case).

Mika Shimotsuki

It isn't all a complete loss though - other than the show's themes being quite interesting on face value, Psycho-Pass 2 does expand on the origins of the Sibyl System rather effectively, setting things up for a finale which shows first hand out it will continue to evolve in the face of its flaws. The animation is still pretty sharp despite the studio change, and even with its problems Psycho-Pass still offers one of the most endearing futuristic settings in anime at the moment. And if you still find season 2 beyond redemption, take solace in the fact that there doesn't seem to be a whole lot that will bleed into future iterations of the franchise -  Psycho-Pass 2 is very much "things happen, things get resolved and then most of the characters continue on as normal".

In a parallel universe where Psycho-Pass 2's content was a completely different show it would make for a fairly entertaining piece of futuristic sci-fi horror schlock, but in the real world where it served a long awaited sequel to a critically acclaimed series it fails pretty spectacularly. If it isn't going completely going against Urobuchi's well-crafted world, its letting itself down with B-movie quality villains, rushed pacing and poorly developed side characters. It definitely has some sort of "guilty pleasure" charm to it, but Psycho-Pass fanatics are just going to have to wait and see how the movie turns out if they're looking for a worthy sequel.

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