I had some vague philosophical questions after the introduction of a dynamic virtual-reality system, concerning matters of identity and what constituted reality rather than illusion, but leave it to Psycho-Pass to blow the doors right open in its latest arc. Before I begin, I must say that this show one I’ve followed, in which I actually felt like I am being lead around. It piques my interest about a fairly eclectic range of ethical, legal, scientific, and philosophical issues, and manages to address them subtly in an incredibly satisfying manner. What appears to be a fairly formulaic method of developing a show – that is, by introducing a vast, sweeping system, and then explaining how that system interacts with the world through various iterations under different circumstances (seen in Code Geass, Guilty Crown, etc) – is used in a manner that would make Tolkien proud. Psycho-Pass is not world-building, and that is well evident in notable weaknesses in the joints; however, every event is a clash of ideas, a tapestry of philosophies that shift with the mindset of the viewer. I would love to revisit this series on a regular basis should my conceptual framework of the world change.
When the curtains of this act opened, I found myself checking whether I was still watching the same show. Of course, Tsunemori Akane (I’ll try to be more consistent and honorific!) was still conflicted about whether or not Kogami actually is the man his words suggested he is. The only difference? She was a disproportionate jellyfish-like character in a Madoka-meets-Sword-Art-Online kind of world. Joining her were online personalities such as Talisman, a sensational oracle renowned for his ability to offer excellent advice based upon the stories of his guests, and Spooky Boogie, an idolized anarchist with a taste for the occult. The introduction of this bizarre cast opened up another dimension of the Psycho-Pass world that was given a nod in the third episode: the element of human interaction and entertainment. I will later revisit this topic, because the portrayal of the Internet seemed a bit too close to home, and therefore out of place. Nevertheless, the widening chasm between illusion and reality would prove to be the next trial for Tsunemori, Ginoza, and their team of hunting dogs.
Despite the practical advice that Masaoka gave Tsunemori on her first day on her job (to just aim with the Dominator and follow its lead), it seems that the job itself is far more complicated and requires a good bit of deductive reasoning. Ginoza is presented with a strange case report of a man who has not been spotted by drones for weeks, despite reports of his toilet being broken. Kogami is quick to tout his intuition as an Enforcer, quickly identifying the murder and the horrifying method through which it was carried out. Despite the death of Hayama, the online avatar Talisman continues to operate and garner even more popularity, leaving Tsunemori and the gang with neither clue nor motive. Akane attempts to lure out Talisman’s real identity with the assistance of Spooky Boogie, a former classmate, but the trap intended for Talisman at an off-line party was turned on its head, resulting in a disastrous police raid and the subsequent murder of Spooky Boogie.
Behind the chain of seemingly motive-less murders, Tsunemori’s internal turmoil over the morality of Kogami continues to brew and bubble over. Despite repeated warnings both from Ginoza and from Masaoka to simply do her job instead of trying to understand her subordinates, Tsunemori continues to ponder deeply about what changes Kogami from the understanding, kind man into a bloodthirsty animal. One particular manifestation of the differences between Tsunemori, who is both young and fairly active socially, and the Enforcers, especially Masaoka, who is grizzled and quarantined from society, is the idea of trust, especially of strangers.
The medium of this dichotomy is the Internet, which anonymously facilitates social interactions. The essential functionality of the Commu-Sphere is not much different from many social networking sites today, and even games with large social communities – people create their own avatars, host their own rooms or domains, accrue popularity, and can receive stipends and payments for their success. While the net has become an integral part of society, Masaoka mistrust in anonymous interactions is not completely groundless. After all, technology reigns supreme in Psycho-Pass, and the idea of privacy is much different in a society in which merely going outside is enough to give out all your personal data, including your psychological state. With information being so tightly controlled, and the very nature of personal reality alterable with the press of a button, that the Internet seems to be a last bastion of anonymity is rather strange. I want to make the claim that this high fantasy represents the pinnacle of escapism from an overbearing and heavy-handed society, but I just don’t see that as being the case. As we saw in prior episodes, even full-body avatars can be applied publicly and used as disguise.
Even if it fails to serve this lofty function, the Internet is still a realm where one’s avatar certainly needs not align with the actual personality behind it. In the case of Talisman, the murder took place after a decline in popularity, after which the avatar was hijacked and the popularity restored. In a sense, the ability to not be oneself and therefore evade the Sibyl system is but a prelude to the criminal’s physical ability to avoid being detected while still sneaking up on his targets to commit gruesome murders. Indeed, it is not only the Sibyl system that has glaring weaknesses. During the raid on the Exoset, we are presented with both the dangers of mechanically relying on the numerical assessments of Sibyl, and the erroneous decisionmaking of the Enforcers (that is, to cast out a net on everyone at the club by indiscriminately shooting). If any of the partygoers had experienced a severe spike in stress levels due to the hacking of the holograms, the results might have been much more severe.
The Madness of Perfection : Platonic Ideals and Forms
What? They never told me that I needed to know Excel!
Ginoza, whose by-the-books method of dealing with law enforcement has been consistently shown as less effective, once again clashes with Kogami over the optimal method of locating the culprit. Ginoza attempts to track the access points of Talisman, only to lead his team into a bomb-rigged apartment. On the flip side, Kogami once again displays his keen attentiveness to detail, identifying a difference in speech patterns between the new hardline-anarchist Spooky Boogie and the friendly one who had conversed with Tsunemori just the day before. Akane, struck by the realization that her actions were linked to the death of a classmate, is also burdened with feelings of guilt and responsibility. The surfacing of a third murder victim from half a year ago reveals the identity of the Mido, the murderer, and the hunt begins.
Masaoka, equipped with a Dominator in one hand and a bottle of hard liquor in the other, leads the charge into a hotel in Roppongi where Mido is hiding. Mido once again hacks into the hologram generation system, utterly disorienting his pursuers. Masaoka demonstrates that fighting sober just isn’t the way to go, breathing gouts of flame to set off the sprinklers. Kogami shoots Mido in the arm, and leaves Mido to Ginoza’s team. In the debriefing, Ginoza reveals tragic information to Tsunemori about Kogami’s past – and present struggles.
One thing that rubs me the wrong way about this show, or perhaps the overreliance on a system that is demonstrably faulty, is the tendency to treat crime (and the tendency to commit crimes) as something monolithic. The reasons people have to commit crimes can be quite diverse, ranging from temporary increases in aggression and resentment due to trauma, environmental or social influences, biological conditions, or even a destructive desire to dismantle a social status quo due to the ennui of the cunning. These different motives and triggers can all be dealt with in special ways that really don’t require people to be blown up. The larger question I’m interested in, however, is how does the system stack up against people who, well, are psychopaths?
Even now, people who are in the act of committing crimes exhibit exceedingly large crime coefficients, even if they have ways of hiding their coefficients normally. I had a sneaking suspicion that the murderer in these last two episodes would pose a particularly problematic case because he seemed to murder with a very twisted motive, if one could even call it that. Would Sibyl be able to deal with people who can commit atrocious acts in the name of righteousness, fully believing that their evils are actually good? Do these people exist, and is Makashima Shougo one of them? Certainly, this was not the case with Mido, who despite his insensitivity to murder and mutilation merely possessed a dangerously idealized worldview.
While many questions about Sibly are still unanswered, we are given some insight as to why people still carry out crimes despite the advanced anti-crime technology, and the role of Makashima as the primary antagonist of the series. Kogami left a salient remark for us to digest while explaning to Ginoza why the hijacked avatars could become more popular than the real ones (once again returning to the issue of appearance versus reality, and making me want to rewatch Nisemonogatari again), stating that idols are not self-made, and thus transcend the identity of any particular individual. Idols are icons, collective elements that well up from the masses’ desire to see a particular character realized. The actual character is but a vehicle for the reflective process of the fan that sees his perspective of the world reaffirmed (perhaps a form of confirmation bias, searching out and hearing the things that you already hold as true).
Indeed, idols even in our society are defined at least equally, if not mostly, by a collection of attributes or properties that they hold, compared to their actual identity as people. For this reason, idols are ephemeral because they do not have a timeless quality – they will not always retain the properties that confer that iconic status to them, and therefore people lose interest over time. A similar argument can be made for the notion that idols serve as “mirrors” for collective interest. Women are frequently treated as icons in popular culture, seldom for their individual identity, but rather because they have a set of characteristics that society finds ideal and appealing. That these iconic women are presented in overly sexualized and stylistic manners creates self-reinforcing social norms, and people frequently see themselves as striving to obtain an ideal, but never being able to reach it. For Mido, the ideal form subsumes the identity of the actor behind the form, but it is inevitable that the actor will never be completely representative of the form. In the same way that even the most beautiful woman will wither with age (or changes in representation), the ideal forms that he cherishes (Talisman’s charisma and helpfulness, Spooky Boogie’s sensational anarchy) are subject to the fluctuating whims of their respective actors. The idea of a perfect form that exists a priori and independently from the natural world, is what Mido refers to as Platonic “ideals,” which can be used interchangeably with “Forms.” Plato wrote, largely under Socrates’ name, that for every instantiation of an object or trait, there existed a perfect representation of that object or trait in an epistemologically inaccessible plane. Thus, it is possible to know virtue a priori the same way it is possible to know numbers – even though physical instantiations may not exist, there still exists a conceptual framework that pegs those ideas to reality.
After all has been said and done, Mido’s motives did not seem to be so insubstantial and unambitious. By freeing his conception of perfect forms from the shackles of flesh, he sought to use their influence to reshape the thought of society according to his vision for a perfect world. Unfortunately, in what may be Mr. Urobochi’s subtle stab at philosophers living philosophically, Mido was too subservient to the ideals, to an unattainable perfection, to tangibly grasp his own desires. Because of his commitment to the abstract, he lacked a personality, an identity of his own. Ultimately, this arc began with Tsunemori questioning her own identity in relationship to Kogami, and neatly ends on a very similar note. However, the game is completely different at this point.
Ginoza, who despite his general ineffectiveness, has consistently proven to be strict and coldhearted, opens up to Tsunemori for the first time. Even though he once again warns her to keep her emotional distance from the Enforcers, he offers the advice as “fool” who had to learn the hard way rather than as a superior barking out orders. We have been repeatedly told that Enforcers are well-suited for their job because they share psychological tendencies with criminals, and therefore are better at understanding their motives and their behaviors. Additionally, we’ve received tidbits from Nietzsche, suggesting that delving too deep into the underbelly of evil is also a corrupting process. Finally, we are given the name and face of the man who sacrificed his humanity in order to carry out his justice and morality – Shinya Kogami. With Makashima stirring up trouble on the horizon, it seems reasonable to revisit the introduction of the series: the case that drove Kogami into the darkness was his confrontation with Makashima, who remains the unsolved 102nd.