It doesn’t matter if you’re into anime or not. Psycho-Pass should be something you watch. Although I can’t say it’ll ever reach Cowboy Bebop or Dragon Ball Z proportions in terms of westernization, Psycho-Pass doesn’t need that. This is an anime worth watching for its themes, its content, and its quality. You go in with what you perceive is your moral compass but you come out looking at the world in a completely different light. Am I exaggerating? Maybe. But this is an anime that definitely makes you think.
So, what is Psycho-Pass?
Let’s start with the genre. I’d classify it as a psychological action science-fiction police drama. A mouthful, I know, and a big smattering of genres. Action sci-fi’s in the anime world are pretty hard to sell, especially when you have philosophical overtones and the ever-present moral question of how to distinguish the good and bad.
Beyond the genre, however, is Psycho-Pass’ intriguing setting. Taking place in the near future, the characters live in a dystopia where everyone is monitored and regulated by an unknown entity known as the Sibyl System. A person’s state of mind and personality can now be quantified, so everyone’s contribution to society is already pre-determined and chosen by the aforementioned system. The standard/biomarker used to measure each individual is the “Psycho-Pass”—this is measured daily in order to discover citizens that deviate from normal levels and have a higher chance of committing crimes.
We focus on the efforts of the region’s Public Safety Bureau, an investigation unit that deals with criminals running amok in the city and the area. Our main character, Akane Tsunemori, has just been newly appointed to a unit as an Investigator (a detective) and she has to work alongside with Enforcers (“latent criminals” that have been selected to work as detectives because of their skillsets and ability to seek out other criminals like themselves) in order to capture and execute individuals that have been singled out by their abnormally high Psycho-Pass.
Ordinarily, this would set a foundation for a rather dry crime drama, with an episodic structure similar to our standard shows like Criminal Minds or Law and Order. But the genius of Psycho-Pass is that all the crime arcs are motivated by a singular criminal mastermind, weaving one solid thread throughout all twenty-two episodes beneath the smaller, contained cases.
But the appeal to Psycho-Pass isn’t just about the gruesome crimes and the incredibly grim and dark implications of the Sibyl System—the characters themselves are multi-faceted and incredibly complex. Akane Tsunemori, our rookie Investigator, initially appears to us as naïve and clueless, supported easily by her relatively young age and innocent character design. She has the aptitude to be an Investigator, but her lack of experience fails her. Holding a gun terrifies her. Killing someone is beyond her. And though her Psycho-Pass is always in the clear and she tries to maintain a level-headed demeanor throughout her investigations, she’s always stumbling. This phase, however, doesn’t last for too long, and I’m glad for it. Weak heroines leave a sour aftertaste in an otherwise solid show, so the fact that Akane matures and becomes resilient and adaptive to the demands of being an Investigator is commendable. Her duties become more difficult and the lines become more blurred, but she shows us how she’s able to handle it and take on the danger.
The other main character of the series, Shinya Kogami, is a typical broody type. Like so many other male leads, he made a mistake in his past that he feels a need to atone for. But Kogami is far more than just an archetype of a beaten-horse trope; he reminds me a lot of Sherlock Holmes in the sense that he has his own beliefs and his own way of conducting investigations. Just like Holmes, he has a way of observation, of getting the personality and motive just right when nobody else can. Kogami is definitely one of my favorite main characters in the anime series I’ve watched, right up next to Hei from Darker than Black. He’s smart but it’s not overdone, and he often takes up an instructive/guiding role for Akane even though he’s supposed to be her subordinate. Their relationship dynamic isn’t even romantic in the slightest—though there are subtle moments of attraction, it feels more like a mutual admiration for two people who’ve learned how to deal with the crumbling world around them.
Besides the main characters, Psycho-Pass crafts a well-rounded and refreshingly varied cast of supporting characters, who, like Akane and Kogami, become increasingly more complex as the series develops. You can never be sure of who’s who, and first impressions are often the wrong one. Some of these characters are ones who are in Akane’s investigative unit, while others are Akane’s friends or Kogami’s acquaintances. They all serve a purpose, one way or another.
Asides from the story and the characters, however, Psycho-Pass as an animated medium is gorgeous. The animation is well done (what else could one expect from a company that produced the Ghost in the Shell series?), the coloring appropriate and suitable, the music fitting and suspenseful. Even the voice actors are top-notch, delivering performances that are both empathetic and aching at the same time.
Sure, Psycho-Pass has a tendency of namedropping philosophers, and sure, the crimes can get ridiculous, even for a dystopia, but the series incorporates these incredulous factors in such a way that they’re not even noticeable things to complain about! They’re melded and fitted into the pattern with a painstaking amount of care and precision, making sense in a way that only the series can present. It’s a lot of material packed in a twenty-two episode series, but it does a superb job of laying out the sequences. As you watch the show, there are twists and surprises that one could never foresee, and that sort of thrill and shock is hard to come by in contemporary anime these days.
In the end, I wholeheartedly recommend Psycho-Pass to anyone who is even remotely interested in crime solving à la Sherlock or Elementary, cyberpunk dystopias à la Ghost in the Shell, and philosophical conundrums that encircle our daily lives, questions like what is wrong, what is right, what is good, what is evil? Even though these questions rarely ever have an answer, and even though Psycho-Pass can’t answer them either, they’re too important to ignore.
Psycho-Pass will be airing its final episode next Thursday, March 23rd! So if you’re the type of person who only watches anime or TV shows in their entirety, you’re in luck.