Psycho-Pass is a dystopian crime thriller set in the year 2112. While the rest of the world has fallen into disarray, Japan has maintained a state of safety and happiness thanks to the Sybil System, a near omnipotent AI entity.
The Sybil System conducts “cymatic scans” of the population to analyse individual citizens’ psychological profile, taking into consideration stress levels, mental health, and emotional state. This information is condensed to generate a colour-coded hue which is the individual’s Psycho-Pass. It also calculates their Crime Coefficient, a numerical representation of the likelihood of that person committing a crime. It’s the job of the Public Safety Bureau (PSB) to act upon Sybil’s judgements, by arresting or eliminating people with high Crime Coefficients who are deemed to pose a threat to the peace of society.
The main protagonist of the franchise is Akane Tsunemori, an idealistic Police Inspector with Division One of the PSB. She has a strong conscience and is driven by an intrinsic sense justice. She believes in treating everybody with fairness and respect, including latent criminals and the Enforcers who work underneath her. Despite being confronted with numerous horrors in the line of duty, Akane is able to look past to the bigger picture and maintain a positive outlook for the future. As one character describes her “she forgives society, acknowledges it, and accepts it”. It’s a refreshing profile for a lead character in a genre which is typically plagued with a dime-a-dozen broody and jaded morally grey anti-heroes.
Season One introduces us to the world under the reign of Sybil as we follow Akane on her first day on the job with the PSB. Division One deals with investigating a series violent crimes and homicides, something which should be theoretically impossible with Sybil monitoring everyone. It is revealed that there are individuals who are criminally asymptomatic and their Psycho-Pass remains clear even when committing the most heinous crimes. It’s up to the PSB to find and apprehend the culprits. Season One is an incredible symphony of interwoven plot lines, leading you from one mystery onto the next.
Season Two takes place just over a year later with Akane stepping up to the role of lead Inspector of a newly reformed Division One. A new threat has emerged to confront the Sybil System, but this time the perpetrator cannot be scanned or detected at all. Cryptic messages are being left at crime scenes and latent criminals begin telling stories of a leader who has the power to reduce their crime coefficients. Season Two is shorter, and as a result weaker, than Season One as it doesn’t have the time to build up similar complex multiple plot intricacies. Despite the story being more linear and to-the-point, there are enough twists and surprises to keep the audience engaged.
Psycho-Pass: The Movie shifts the focus away from Japan as the Sybil System seeks to expand its jurisdiction internationally, imposing its perspective of peace and justice over a waring nation. When SEAUN terrorists attempt an attack inside Japan, Akane is sent overseas to investigate the root of the problem. While over there she runs into a familiar face on the other side of the conflict, rebelling against the system. The movie provides closure to a couple of characters and plot lines; however it lacks the weight to feel like a definitive concluding chapter to the franchise. Hopefully this won’t be our last outing in the Psycho-Pass universe.
The colour scheme and soundtrack work cohesively to build an immersive world. The primary palette of desaturated cool colours is evocative of the emotionally detached society. Strong light and shadow and warm colours are used to highlight and contrast certain elements, raising the sense of intrigue and danger. Eerie instrumental music builds on this in keeping with the thriller genre. The use and placement of technology isn’t showy or heavy handed and it feels like a natural progression of today’s society. It’s a distinctive and stylised world which helps ground the series and makes it feel like it could absolutely (and terrifyingly) exist in the future.
Psycho-Pass can easily be enjoyed simply as an action packed sci-fi thriller, but at deeper glance there’s more to it than your average gun-slinger. There are also numerous easter eggs for those viewers with deeper literary and philosophical interests. Characters will occasionally make references to works of well-known authors such as Phillip K. Dick, George Orwell, and Johnathon Swift in order to help illustrate their motives. This contributes to the overarching themes that can be drawn from the series such as the theoretical pros and cons of a panoptic society, do we put too much blind reliance in technology in exchange for its convenience, who determines our morality as individuals and as a society, the contrast of freedom of thought vs freedom from thought. There’s a significant amount of meaty material for some quality analytical discourse for anyone doing English or Media Studies papers.
The Madman release Psycho-Pass Complete Collection box set includes:
– Psycho-Pass Season One (4 discs), a two part featurette with the crew at Sakura Con, four episode commentaries with the voice actors and crew, and textless versions of the opening and closing songs.
– Psycho-Pass Season Two (2 discs), with three episode commentaries with voice actors and crew, and textless versions of the opening and closing songs.
– Psycho-Pass: The Movie,
– Psycho-Pass Season Two Art booklet, with character references and profiles, set illustrations, and an interview with screenplay writer Tow Ubukata
The R16 rating is justified. The depictions of violence and gore are more graphic than most main-stream animated media, but it keeps in fitting with the genre and doesn’t feel overly gratuitous or voyeuristic.
Psycho-Pass probably won’t appeal to everybody, but I can see it easily attaining cult classic status within its niche market. It will likely appeal to fans of Minority Report, Blade Runner, and Ghost in the Shell. This box set in particular would probably make for an ideal gift for someone already interested in the franchise.