My sole criteria for watching a show has been met.
In one of the most explosive openings of the season, PSYCHO-PASS holds nothing back, slamming viewers with harrowing depictions of the murkiest depths of human psychology, and the dystopian society that arises out of an attempt to curb it. Already tackled are questions of moral ambiguity that other shows take entire seasons to explore. As such, I have full faith that this show will go beyond disparate perceptions of justice (and how to enforce it), further illuminate pressing issues that plague modern law enforcement (and to an extent, human rights agencies) today. After all, with Gen Urobochi (Madoka, Fate/Zero) at the helm, this premier is likely to be the tip of the iceberg for dark, gritty themes that deserve consideration for a long time to come.
Determination of guilt and innocence has plagued the development of legal systems since the beginning of human society. While the earliest codified laws sought to restrict the motive to commit crime by threats of compensatory retribution (Hammurabi’s Code), assessing the guilt of the accused certainly was not a straightforward task. The United States legal system, built upon expansions of Enlightenment ideals that favor individual liberty and the extension of basic human rights even to criminals, operates under the mantra “innocent until proven otherwise.” In application, lawyers frequently will argue that it is better for a hundred guilty men to walk free than it is for a single innocent man to be unjustly found guilty and punished. While this preservation of justice seems to be the rational and fair thing to do given the resources available to us, this view is far from intuitive. For people who have been victimized, sought aid from the legal system, and did not receive the compensation they desired, letting a criminal (or worse, murderer) walk free is a counterintuitive result. The world of PSYCHO-PASS abandons this Enlightenment ideal (or perhaps, hones is too precisely), instead embracing the Sibyl system, and Oracle, a complex network of machines that can detect a person’s psychological state, and labels potential criminals with a “crime coefficient,” a measure of how abnormal one’s thoughts are – and consequently, their likelihood of committing a crime.
The grave system of justice here is more problematic and more alien than similar forms of dystopian justice portrayed in other media, such as the acclaimed Minority Report. Minority Report’s crime detection system was precognition, an actual ability to see in to the future, and asked whether or not a crime that has yet to be committed is punishable by law. PSYCHO-PASS takes this peril one step further, and challenges us to consider whether or not the mere capacity to commit crime warrants corrective action (or in the worst case scenarios, execution). Despite the more apparent moral dangers of such a system, PSYCHO-PASS leaves itself an escape from the age-old discussion of free will versus determinism, and this should be a refreshing break from a trite, directionless conversation should it be executed in such a manner.
Alas, if only Gen Urobochi was content to paint a vivid picture of a dystopian justice system. But he doesn’t stop at this; it’s far more than simple world-building. Potential criminals, such as the team that has been assigned to the new cop on the block Tsunemori Akane, do have some kind of free will in the roughest sense, but they are treated in a manner that reflects a deeply entrenched non-egalitarianism. These latent criminals, known as Enforcers, are assigned an extremely precarious role based upon their predisposition for aggression and violence, serving as the “hunting dogs” of the police force in mercilessly carrying out law enforcement. Despite their work, they are seen as disposables, people who put their lives at risk and accept death if their crime coefficients ever exceed the limit of the Sibyl Judgment. Inspector Ginoza’s exposition to Akane is particularly illuminating: he explicitly details that while the Enforcers may appear to be similar to the more “rational” beings such as himself and Akane, they are in fact “bankrupt of character.” They lack morality, and thus it is appropriate for them to kill. They lack rationality, so they are less human. As such, they are quite literally enslaved to Ginoza (and now Akane), which is quite a large leap to be justified merely under a coefficient. The idea of rationality being a beacon for humanity – and the humane treatment afforded to those fortunate enough to be under that beacon – is an old European idea that has caused much trouble in the last century.
I fully expect the idea of dehumanization to be the crux of the coming storm between Akane, Kougami Shinya (who appears to be the male lead of this series), and the rest of the crew. As in the philosophical portion of my blog, I pointed out that drawing sharp demarcations between ingroup and outgroup is an almost universal characteristic shared across acts of genocide, mass group discrimination, and human rights violations. While humans are inherently capable of acting out of compassion, even kind, “good” men can kill and murder when they are made to believe that there are those who are less human and more dangerous to society. PSYCHO-PASS makes no attempt to veil how Sibyl clearly cuts society into normal citizens, and fated criminals.
One thing that really impressed me about this show was how the Sibyl system was not only explained in detail, but also torn down in the span of the first episode. We know that Sibyl is far from perfect, and I will even say that such a system is part of the problem. While the crime coefficient is a measure of a psychological state, those marked as latent criminals are treated as such. This invokes a state of helplessness and resentment, as seen in this episode’s hapless villain. Additionally, there seems to be no ability to distinguish between the actual likeliness to commit a crime, and trauma-related stress. In theory, those peoples whose crime coefficient exceeds a certain threshold cross into a realm of no return, a point at which society simply gives up on trying to re-educate them and authorizes their execution. But even in this first episode, this theory has been shown to be demonstrably false. Akane’s ability to sympathize with the woman who been raped and tortured, is actually a behavior that is often missing in today’s society. You can in fact lower somebody’s crime coefficient from a lethal value to a non-critical value, simply by stabilizing her psychological state. Thus, it seems that Sibyl’s crime coefficient values are not a precise science – and I can bet you money that there will be untimely deaths as a result of this.
Despite the very strong start of PSYCHO-PASS, the show reveals some potential weaknesses that will have to be addressed in order to actually convey a strong social statement. The power relationship between Akane and her veteran group has been criticized – namely, that Akane is too green, to archetypical, a woman who has nothing more than a moral compass –but there is no suspense of disbelief required to accept that Akane is moving from the books to the field, a transition that sometimes really is as shocking as presented here. I do believe that Akane is merely shocked by the dark reality of the world that she now must work in, and indeed will have the ability to make her own moral judgments. If not, we can expect that her indecisiveness will result in several deaths, if not her own. After all, the opening sequence shows a conflict between Makishima Shougo and Kougami Shinya, with Akane nowhere to be seen.
Indeed, gender relationships can never completely be ignored in anime, a medium that is fraught with idealized and frequently sexist portrayals of females. That PSYCHO-PASS opens up with a rape scene is enough to set off many warning flags; furthermore, there is nothing idealized about this rape. That it comes with sexual sadism and mutilation, acts of violence that often go hand in hand, seems to suggest that the staff of this show had nothing so ideal in mind. They want to strike at a cruel and devastating reality that is often shrugged off and played off in flowery ways. We are left with this bitter scene upon our minds, and the almost infuriating indecisiveness and hesitation of Akane. It stands to be seen whether these women play a more substantive role in shaping the moral landscape around them, or whether this show will turn into yet another boys’ game.
While that would be unfortunate, it wouldn’t kill the show. It would just make me a worse person for trying to examine social and aesthetic value within it. From another perspective, this first episode may have done exposition, revealed too much about the way the world works. If this is the extent of how bad the justice system is, and the rest of the episodes merely address iterations of these ills instead of delving deeper into the complexities of human rights and legal enforcement, I would be extremely disappointed.
Nevertheless, PSYCHO-PASS appears to be the show to watch for this season. It immediately broadsides us with atrocious crimes involving sexual sadism, something that is so ubiquitous that most would rather turn a blind eye to it, as well as builds a judicial system that honestly is not significantly different from our own moral intuitions. With such a star-studded cast, impressive visuals with just the right tones to convey the depths of the dystopia, and a memorable soundtrack thus far, I think it’s fair to expect gripping suspense, excellent dialogue, and thrills for months to come.