As a huge fan of Urobuchi Gen’s writing, I can’t deny I’ve come into Psycho-Pass with rather high expectations to say the least. If something was apparent in this first episode, it’s that this is quite the ambitious series, featuring an amazing premise that promises to touch on interesting moral issues brought to light by the setting of a near future in which technology has developed to a point where most crimes are prevented before they happen through the monitoring of the citizens’ Psycho-Pass.
“A world where humans’ state of mind and the tendency of their personalities can be quantified. While all sorts of inclinations are recorded and policed, these measured numbers used to judge people’s souls are called Psycho-Pass.”
In a world in which everyone is carefully monitored through a widespread scan system, we meet Tsunemori Akane, a rookie detective, straight out of the academy. As she walks into her first case and introduces herself, we can detect a mix of seriousness, confusion, idealism and naivety. We’re then introduced to a cast of characters: a CID inspector, who bluntly tells Akane she won’t be getting any special guidance despite it being her first case since they’re unfortunately understaffed; and a group of Enforcers, people whose Psycho-Pass readings are high and were deemed as latent criminals, yet are helping out (aka. being used) in catching similarly labeled people.
She’s then given a stylish looking gun – the Dominator – and told to help capture a guy who had shown high readings in a street scan but refused to take “therapy” and run, kidnapping a hostage in the process. Focusing on the gun, I find it to be a quite cleverly built device. It has a built-in Psycho-Pass reader which determines the dangerousness of the target, only releases safety when such readings are in the criminal range and even switches between paralyzing and killing mode. Of course a while it is impressive in itself, it’s definitely a concept one has to question, and I found Akane’s surprise when they so naturally told her to “just shoot” if the gun said so.
Only up to here, we’re already presented with a fundamental question humans’ relationship with technology. It’s no doubt that we’ve progressively come to rely more and more on it, using the computing capability to solve logical questions and becoming dependent of the more practically-inclined machines. Ultimately, they are indeed built with our knowledge, and make decisions according to the algorithms and parameters we programmed them with. But can human nature be completely perceived through simply logical means? Aren’t we a bit too complex for that? A state of mind can have an origin, be simply a fleeting reaction to something, so would a judgment made based on a single moment be completely reliable? Is trusting those numbers without any kind of critical attitude whatsoever a wise choice? Even people who had, for sure, they’re lives changed due to those readings without having done anything accepting those as natural proceeding sure was interesting.
Another issue came to mind when we see the madness their target seems to have delved in and the short telling of his past. Apparently he was a rather normal guy who tried to live according to society’s rules and moral patterns. Such a normal guy ended up undergoing such a drastic change. And the question is why. The answer as to what triggered that is obvious – the street scan and how it meant he should be captured and attend therapy. But would he have eventually done the same if he was just left alone? I’m someone who thinks human nature is ultimately selfish (it’s not something I accept as a fact, argue if you want), and as so, I find it that he was living as he could conform, choosing the most beneficial course for his life, as most of us actually do. He might have actually naturally had some inclination towards, but the environment conditioning plays a huge part in human behavior, so there was no guarantee he’d ever actually commit a crime. What having been detected by the scan as a latent criminal did was actually change that conditioning environment into exactly the opposite – as someone who’d lost pretty much any chance of a normal life, he simply decided to fulfill the expectations laid upon him. In which case the intention of preventing a crime had the exact opposite effect – one apparent flaw in this social system as introduced so far.
Something that actually picked my curiosity was how the guy seemed scared of the so called “therapy”. I’m not inclined to think it’s actually something harmful in itself, but I think there might be something unpleasant attached to this rehabilitation.
Moving on, the next issue worth discussing is actually tied to the victim – the hostage. It is said that high Psycho-Pass readings are contagious. That’s not a surprising statement, as we know from our own real-world society that many criminals are themselves past victims of similar crimes, shaped by their traumatic experiences. Now the interesting bit is that we don’t know exactly what kind of impact such an experience will have on a particular individual. And to bring back my point from before, humans’ state of mind is highly volatile. When we’re desperate and in panic, it’s natural to act out of instinct, not to follow sheer logic and to be afraid of everything around us. And let’s just brief through what that girl went through – she was beaten up, raped, convinced in her fragile mental state that she would be hunted just like her perpetrator and then saw said guy literally explode in from of her eyes. After that, the people who did that point a gun at her. Pretty scary and fear-inducing, don’t you think? My point is I don’t think her Psycho-Pass reading at that very moment could be perceived as reliable. It was specially not reliable when it switched into lethal mode as she had been pushed further into desperation by being cornered by Kougami, yet the Dominator doesn’t take that into consideration, only processing the numbers it was programmed to analyze. That’s why I think Akane’s way of thinking wasn’t unreasonable at all.
I think being introduced to this world through her eyes was quite the right decision in terms of storytelling. Out of all the cast, she’s the one who yields a moral code most similar to us, in that she thinks of people as not being guilty before actually committing a crime and even questions herself about the Enforcers being latent criminals (especially since, besides Kougami, they all seemed pretty normal people). Yes, I thought she was rather reckless and naïve when she stooped Masaoka from firing the paralyzer, but as only the person who wields it can hear the Dominator, we can guess she thought he was going to kill her, not to mention she must have also been shocked after seeing the guy explode, as it was her first time in the field.
In fact, I believe I’m delving so much into this due to all the Akane hate I’ve been seeing around the Internet while all attitude and values are both justifiable by her circumstances and agreeable to most individuals (or at least should be – the amount of people who I’ve seen claiming that the victim should just have been shot dead actually scare me). Anyway, back on the point, she was simply doing the natural thing and trying to calm the victim down, which she actually managed to after having shot Kougami, managing to drop the Psycho-Pass reading enough so the Dominator’s paralyzer mode would be active instead. Also, I actually have the suspicion that Kougami’s intention from the very start was to be shot. He didn’t shoot the victim right away, rather waiting for Akane to catch up, he stepped on the petrol, perhaps to make her less likely to commit suicide (for she’d be potentially taking someone else with her), and he said something to Akane. Something we don’t know of yet, but could very much be to shoot him, which would raise Akane’s credibility in face of the victim and possibly allow her to calm her down. If that was the case, not only are Akane’s actions more understandable, but we also receive some kind of insight onto Kougami’s character. Whether this is what happened or not, we’ll probably find out next episode, but for now that’s my reasoning about it.
Speaking of Akane, yet another issue brought up is the contrast between training and a real job. Well, in this case it was mentioned as the contrast between the safe academy in which Akane scored the highest and the grim, unforgiving world which throws away any ideologies and works in a completely different and unreasonable way. However, that can be extended to pretty much every kind of job. Simply being good in theory doesn’t equal to being good in the real thing, especially in something that requires certain personality traits and abilities not directly related to raw knowledge. Due to this and to her idealistic attitude throughout most of the episode, I’m expecting some good character development on Akane’s end.
So, now that I’ve spoken my mind about the thought-provoking concepts and events this series showcased so well, it’s time I take a small peak into the remaining characters. None of them are explored much throughout the episode, which didn’t need such to succeed anyway. But characters are always a rather important element any story, I hope they are more than stagnant individuals. For now, at least, they’ve got my interest, especially the Enforcers. As I’ve already mentioned before, they all seem like normal people. You’ve got Masaoka, a rather gentleman-ish old guy with a prosthetic metal hand (or arm?), Kagari, the flirting type and Kunizuka, with a seemingly business-oriented attitude. Only Kougami seems a little more dangerous with his cold personality. Of course there must be more to all of them, since they Psycho-Pass readings weren’t just borderline, but actually rather high, even though they were in completely stable states. As to what that really has to do with their personalities and what exactly is the quirk with each of them, it’s early to find out but I can only hope it’ll be explored later in the series.
Other interesting things that we can all but loosely speculate about at this point but we’ll surely be give explanations sooner or later are the opening scene, with Kougami and a white haired man confronting each other after Kougami just fought with someone in a strange suite, which purpose I’m still wondering about; and the mention of Sybil, which seems to be the supreme authority over the city and is probably, judging by the theme of this series, a system, rather than a person. I’m looking forward to know more about both of aforementioned subjects, but I’m sure such information will come in due time, and overanalyzing something without enough elements to do so is largely useless, which is why I won’t get too deep into it.
In the technical department, Psycho-Pass didn’t disappoint either. But well, while Production I.G. hasn’t been in its best shape when it comes to story presentation, they’ve kept themselves on the top when it comes to visuals. Psycho-Pass is no exception to that, featuring high production values with breathtaking results. Let’s just say that technologic grim world looks wonderful. I also loved the OP song, which is undoubtedly very fitting of this series style. The few bits of action we did get were well animated too and the CG used blended in quite well.
In sum, I could say this was nothing short of a brilliant start. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this series premise is an ambitious one. However, at least in this first episode, they were capable of doing it justice. Though-provoking and flawlessly executed, the concept shone as much as it could, so let’s just hope this quality can be maintained throughout the series. I’m expecting great things of it.