I keep running into a problem with new shows as I go through my Netflix queue these days: namely, I can’t seem to finish them. I don’t know if I’m becoming more selective these days or if I’m just impatient, but some shows just aren’t doing it for me.
One of those shows is an anime series called Psycho-Pass.
In 2113 Japan, society has given way to law and order through the rigid monitoring of mental health. Anyone who shows a high enough “Criminal Coefficient” in their psych evaluation—the titular “Psycho-Pass”—is marked for immediate therapy and arrest by the Public Safety Bureau. With psychotic crimes on the rise, one fresh police inspector, Akane Tsunemori, finds herself in an odd situation when she’s assigned a team of “Enforcers,” deadly individuals with low mental health scores who help the police catch other criminals. Among them is Shinya Kogami, an elite sharpshooter whose dark past eventually puts the team into conflict with criminal mastermind Shogo Makishima. To get closer to Kogami, Akane has to walk a fine line between her ideals and her sense of duty.
So what did Psycho-Pass have to offer for me?
Tons of expository dialogue.
Characters spouting off technical information to each other for the benefit of the audience is nothing new in anime, let alone in English-language dubs. Heck, Ghost of the Shell gets away with it all the time. But in the very first episode, every single scene that featured our supposedly trained police officer protagonist Akane had her asking questions and being told ad nauseam what was going on and how everything in the fictional world worked.
And that was just the first episode. The exposition didn’t let up in the ensuing episodes, even when there were far more fascinating visuals to take in.
A not-too-engaging protagonist.
Akane Tsunemori is a nice girl. She is loyal, committed to the well-being of others, and idealistic about the goodness in others, even while taking a very grim career path. Unfortunately, her character design, dialogue, and actions don’t so much suggest “strong independent woman” as “precocious girl in a business suit.” Of course not every female lead has to be a sexy and mature woman like Major Motoko Kusanagi or Sir Integra Hellsing, but Akane really didn’t fit the show’s cast. She was more of an audience stand-in than a flesh-and-blood character; someone who asked questions on our behalf and got morally outraged at the system everyone else in the show took for granted.
A more engaging deuteragonist.
Why couldn’t this have been Kogami’s story from the beginning? I’m so very much in favor of having more female protagonists, but there’s at least something about Kogami that’s worth following. He has natural skill, a dark backstory, a sympathetic side that Akane brings out, and an enemy who becomes the focus of the main story over time. He could’ve been the Spike Spiegel of this story, an intriguing antihero coming to terms with his past and his white-haired nemesis. Just having him onscreen made me sit up and pay attention.
Detailed social commentary.
The whole setup of the Psycho-Pass universe is basically one big analysis on criminal behavior and mental illness. Much like how Death Note explored psychology and criminology while telling a story about one Japanese student’s rise to godhood, Psycho-Pass explores those themes while telling a story about a young Japanese police inspector trying to understand the world of her vicious Enforcers and the equally vicious criminals they prosecute—and how there isn’t much dividing them.
A mostly interesting fictional setting.
As much as the plot or characters didn’t hold me, the background of Psycho-Pass was engaging enough. Yes, I could bear with Akane’s dullness while checking out her cool holographic apartment and floating virtual buddy. And yes, the Dominators are a pretty awesome breed of weaponry, both in design and in concept. I liked the novelty of the higher-ups actively monitoring and deciding for cops when and where they’re allowed to use lethal force, even if it’s a system that noble inspectors like Akane start to question. I came away with an interest in the world of Psycho-Pass in the same way I was drawn to the detailed world of Ghost in the Shell.
Having said all that, do I like Psycho-Pass? Not really. I wanted to like it, but the show squandered its overall delivery of an intriguing premise. Its maker, Production I.G., was the same studio that gave us Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex, which shows in the anime’s impressive visual style. Still, if you like delving into criminal psychology, brooding male antiheroes, and crazy awesome weapons, you could do worse than give this series a chance.
The English dub of Psycho-Pass is available through Funimation Entertainment. At the time of this writing, the show is available for viewing on Netflix.
Bibliography: Psycho-Pass (anime). Directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro and Naoyoshi Shiotani. Produced by Koji Yamamoto, George Wada, Kenji Tobori, and Wakana Okamura. Written by Gen Urobuchi. Production I.G. (studio). Funimation Entertainment (US). Original run: October 12, 2012 – March 22, 2013.