The only thing criminal about Kogami is how criminally gorgeous he is.
Even just three episodes in, Psycho-Pass is particularly adroit at taking familiar themes and tools and utilizing them in novel and thought-provoking ways. Two weeks ago, I wrote that while the door for determinism versus free will had been left wide open, I anticipated that this issue would remain at the background for more robust and practical issues regarding human rights and moral justifiability. In a sense, my predictions were off the mark, but in quite a refreshing way. Determinism continues to play a crucial role in the episodes so far, but does so by weaving itself into questions of identity, development, and interpersonal relationships, to name a few examples.
Potential, civil service, and finding your way
The mental gulf between Inspector Akane and the jobs she is expected to perform was a major theme of the opening episode, and the second episode picks up where we left off. Many people (including myself) were appropriately concerned that Akane’s character was a bit too archetypical: yet another noodle-willed woman with a stubborn and misguided sense of justice, so the timing and execution of the Akane-centric second episode could not have been better.
How does Akane end up working in a field that doesn’t seem to suit her at all, and more broadly, how does the technology available influence what people are capable of doing with their lives? On these related notes, we learn that the Sibyl system does much more than just measuring crime coefficients and psychological states. It can also analyze one’s potential, which appears to be operationally used as a combination of intellectual ability and the further criteria of being able to apply it, and match those measurements to the specifications of certain jobs. Under this theory, people are assigned not only to jobs that they will most likely succeed at, but also be happy with (not be subject to excessive stress through cognitive dissonance).
The recommendations of Sibyl can be more or less deterministic, depending on one’s psychological state. For Akane, who is said to be both supremely intelligent and resilient (although not yet portrayed as such), she had the ability to choose between a variety of jobs but, much to the dismay of those around her, chose something that did not seem to be a good match. True to the developing Psycho-Pass style, this system does not appear to guarantee what it claims to, and choice is seen as extremely enviable. On the flip side, we are confronted with the reality that people who are less intelligent and do not perform as well on their examinations are much more confined in the options that are available to them. The most extreme example of this is with the Enforcers: many are flagged by a hue check early on in life, and are treated as inferior people and relegated to the most dangerous jobs (or be locked up/killed). In the eyes of the enforcers, Akane’s disruptive hesitation is akin to being a beautiful and talented woman with too many suitors to choose from, claiming that she just doesn’t know what she’s looking for in a man. Sometimes, watching someone who has so many opportunities available to them squander their potential is the most painful experience. The more relevant question is, how can a child reliably be flagged for potential crime before they have the ability to control their actions based upon their considerations of moral weight? The society of Psycho-Pass does not ask this question, but places it upon the viewer. Who can be reasonably held accountable for their psychological state, or does the state avoid any semblances of humanism and just pull the trigger whenever the system tells it to do so? I have all the reason to believe the latter is the status quo that Akane will be attempting to change.
A reasonable claim can be made that Akane’s indecisiveness is due to the cognitive dissonance between her own perception of identity and the situations she finds herself cast in. I would like to take this opportunity to zoom out and briefly discuss the idea of identity in the broader world. Akane is woken up by a distinctly cuter form of Big Brother, a virtual jellyfish that performs psychological checks, holographic interior design, cooking, and even wardrobe changes. While this concept is quite Orwellian, I am less concerned about the blatant intrusion of privacy than I am with the nature of reality. Western viewers will mostly find a lot of common ground with age-old caveats against information regulation in this show, but keep in mind that this is not a Western show (nor does it necessarily encapsulate Western ideas of personal liberty). Let us treat the Jellyfish as a companion that is in place to ease loneliness, and model one’s personal spaces in a way most conducive to their mental health. I want one of those.
In a sense, this supposedly totalitarian technocracy seems to give more nods to personal liberty. Despite the heavy amount of determinism in assigning people to jobs, the overall goal of the Sibyl System seeks to provide a social harmony of its own sort by allowing people to thrive in the environments that they are best suited to. One area that interests me is the overlap between one’s private realm and their public responsibilities as a member of the workforce and of society. Akane chooses casual clothes to hang out with her friends, but with the touch of a button, she dons the professional garb of the Inspectors and descends into quite a different world. On the other hand, the ruthlessly efficient Kogami gives off predatorial vibes while he is carrying out his job, but sympathizes with Akane’s ideals (and even motivating her a bit).
Ultimately, Kogami’s forgiveness of Akane and his acceptance of her ideals represents a both a blossoming of Akane’s newfound identity – she finds a place for her brand of philosophy even when law enforcement has been stripped down of human compassion, even justifying her actions to Inspector Ginoza – and a starting point for new conflicts. Unlike many shows in the past that have found cruder ways to acknowledge more feminine approaches to human rights (according to thinkers like Rorty, this is represented by a heavier consideration in sympathy and sentimentality, to understand peoples’ ills as byproducts of social conditions rather than inherent character defects), we are not given enough information to discern whether Akane and Kogami are working for the light side of the law, or the dark side (or even if they’re on the same side at all).
Man versus Machine
“A machine is only as good as the people who design it.” Akane, Ginoza, and company descend one more unto the breach, but this time with a different set of rules of engagement. First, there’s a little twist to the type of case at hand. Akane’s intelligence is sold short once again, as she tries to apply a textbook solution of measuring everyone’s psychological hues. We are given a much more nefarious case – a murder mystery that holds an air of mystery and intrigue, testing the ability of the Inspectors to actually correctly harness the Sibyl System to make correct judgments. Furthermore, not all the tools of the Enforcers are available in the drone production facility, which is completely cut off from web access to prevent hacking. While many shows of this sort build up by portraying how the laws of the world apply, Psycho-Pass takes the opposite approach by taking a utopian ideal, and deconstructing it.
The third episode provides us with a different feast of kings, featuring a clash of major philosophical ideas about the nature of justice. Some of these intuitions should run contrary to Western ideals of justice, but at the same time appeal to more personal ideas of what justice should look like. After all, Western justice can often be counterintuitive. First, we are offered an even more underdetermined system than normal – while many people are probably still stuck on the idea of whether or not it is acceptable or not to punish someone for crimes they have not yet committed, this episode peels back this analysis one more layer and forces the question: is it acceptable to take action against someone who is not even flagged by the Sibyl System? Ginoza, ever cold and resolute, loses his cool after being pushed into a corner and lashes out at Masaoka for attempting to act upon “bestial intuition,” or in other words, based upon circumstantial evidence.
That Ginoza would now jump out and support the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” by the Sibyl System was a bit unexpected, but Akane sympathizes with the Enforcers under the argument that it is better to risk it all than to let a murderer walk free. Once again, lawyers often invoke the argument that it is better for a hundred guilty men to walk free than to incarcerate a single innocent man, in order to remind courts where the burden of proof lies in criminals cases. In this case, it is the instinct of the hunting dogs that wins out over the methodical justice of Ginoza.
While the general trajectory of character development is to allow us to better understand the dynamics of individual characters, the supremely intelligent script of Psycho-Pass builds more and more complexity to a dynamic set of characters, raising more legitimate questions than they answer. Even more complicated is the web of relationships among the main characters, and the moral stances that each member is supposed to represent. Of all the characters so far, Akane is supposed to be the most open-minded and sentimental, preferring non-violent and humanistic approaches to resolving crime. At the same time, however, she is still in the process of orienting her moral beliefs in a strange world, and is quite likely to change her worldview by the time the dust settles. On the other hand, we have Kogami, a man of many mysteries. We are told very little about him, except that he bears a deep grudge. While Kogami sympathizes with Akane (and serves as a great foil to bring out her charms), Akane recognizes a growing disparity between the man Kogami strives to be, and the animalistic instincts and aggression through which he operates. The real enigma of this cast appears to be Inspector Ginoza, the staunchest advocate of the Sibyl System who apparently is haunted by ghosts of the past of his own. When do these explosive and dynamic relationships reach critical mass? I can hardly wait.
Artistically, Psycho-Pass is a feast for the senses. The nuances in the characters’ expressions are delightfully rewarding for the attentive watcher – in some scenes, they are laden with important foreshadowing and hints. At other times, they are simply delectable: the amount of detail given to Akane’s every expression was truly lovable. While I enjoy the design of an androgynous beauty, small things such as a barely-noticeable blush, a pout, or even twitching eyebrows gives a lot of depths to the show, but also makes the dark and gritty elements more digestable.
It would not be fair, however, if I only showered this show with lavish praise. We see for the first time a few signs of inconsistency. For example, the suspicious factory directory is oozing ill intent, clearly overlooking extremely destructive behavior but not suffering any demonstrable psychological changes. Later, Kogami’s Dominator changes from paralysis to vaporizer even after the criminal had already been subdued. It would be more feasible if Kogami was amplifying the criminal’s Psycho-Pass to increase the destructive potential of his weapon, but it seemed like the gun was reacting to the threat level of the robots. Psycho-Pass is truly taking a lot of laden issues on its plate, through a medium that must carefully pick and choose what it airs – and the order to air it in. In addition to the increasingly complex moral questions, it now brings in corporate and governmental corruption as confounding factors that disrupt the usefulness of the Sibyl System. While I appreciate that so much time is dedicated to the loopholes of the Sibyl System (which in a sense is what criminal activity seeks to exploit), we really have to wonder how such a flawed system was implemented on a national level in the first place. As this show unfolds, a heavier and heavier load builds up – let us hope that this show can carry it with bravado and flair.