Very good, especially in building up atmosphere at how the futuristic setting is supposed to make its denizens feel. The character designs in particular are drawn by the maker of Hitman Reborn, so expect a lot of cool factor and black suits. Aesthetically though it has hiccups, such as the soundtrack being rather passable, the heroine having WAY too big eyes, everybody talking like they need to explain something on every step of the way, and above all, everything having double standards that contradict and support both ends of the spectrum all the time.
The presentation of the setting has interesting sci-fi ideas that are affiliated with the morality of the show. Most appearances in this futuristic society are based on holograms. People can dress with “fake” exterior looks, such as appearing to have any clothes try like, or look as internet avatars, and even mask themselves as other people. Even crude machinery and old furniture can be masked to look like cute mascots or luxury hotels. All that are done so the citizens can feel tranquillity all the time. It is an interesting story generator, as it messes around with how external looks can be very different from what you really are inside.
What is rather distasteful is how the show makes dozens of tributes to other dystopian works of fiction. Every 5 minutes you get a reference to some book or movie or writer that is supposed to make everything mature, when in reality it makes it derivative and pretentious. It’s as if it steals quotes from famous people and doesn’t even try to hide it, instead of trying to be itself.
Basically, this show is an attempt to create a second Ghost in the Shell, where every dialogue is supposed to address some really heavy existentialism issues, but the result is definitely weaker and sillier. The GitS cast was all mature and cynical, while the Psycho-pass one is a bunch of psychopaths and girl scouts, too emotional or acting in a way that is highly unfit to their age or line of work.
There is no room for the characters to be anything more than caricatures for the same reason. The criminal cases are stand-alones, so they leave no room to develop a character or theme before they are thrown to the side. You are not supposed to get a clear answer to the moral questions, or even a rightful catharsis to the characters. You are supposed to feel shocked with all that and start thinking yourself where will all that lead. Meaning, it’s the usual Uroboshi style of mentioning something but never elaborating, as means to get an emotional and mental reaction. It’s just cheap and leaves no room for characterization. And it is not even presented so well, since eventually there are several plot holes in the core rules of the show.
The setting is the future, when technology can now measure a person’s stress levels as means to estimate if it’s unstable and violent. Basically you get this numeric scale, if you pass the safety limit you need medical treatment, and if you refuse it or get to danger zones, they send people after you to capture or kill you. The police are using such people with high numbers in their missions, as means to fight fire with fire. And said people are armed with specially designed guns that measure the target and decide the proper course of action. It sure has some very interesting themes regarding morality in it. Here are some I have pinpointed.
- Is it ok to treat someone as a criminal without having committed a crime, just because his “soul” reads negative?
- Is it ok to shoot at people just because you are ordered to?
- Won’t a criminal be pushed into doing far more violent actions if he is told he can’t be treated as a citizen anymore?
- Is it ok to treat other people in an inhumane way, as long as you manage to keep your head cool?
- Does life have any significance if it’s devoid of pain and suffering?
And that is pretty much all there is to it. It addresses all its themes in a superficial and pretentious way. Although it does manage to make you wonder a lot about them, it is otherwise not doing anything besides scratching the surface and trying to scare you with gore and mystery.
The setting is dystopian, so nothing is really rosy in it. The society depicted in the show is messed up and the security system is all full of loop holes and things that make no sense. Basically, you see lots of neat stuff regarding “how they work” but very little regarding “why they are as such”. And that is why I never liked Uroboshi’s plot-driven/shock factor overflow stories. Everything may sound nice on paper and shinny on screen but when you try to analyze them, they are all confusing and contradictory. They are never elaborated past the obvious, since as soon as one case is over, so are its themes. I especially don’t like how he never gives free will to his characters and strives mostly to manipulate the emotions of the superficial viewers instead of elaborating upon his concepts. The result is a show full of annoyance and derp moments for not having characters with an actual opinion of the world they are living in. What follows is an analysis of all the interesting stuff you can find in this show and how they fare when analyzed.
1) Concept: The police are using criminals to capture other criminals. They don’t want the police officers to experience too much stress that will raise them to dangerous levels. But it’s ok to use those that have already crossed the limit, since there is no salvation for them. Technically, the police is fighting fire with fire by letting someone else to lit the fuse, not risking to think or act like those that it tries to lock away.
Analysis: That is a bit silly of course, since the criminals are unstable to be considered trustworthy, forced like slaves to capture others like them. Plus it is stressful to have police officers LOOKING at these atrocious crimes, even if they don’t need to personally press the trigger against the criminals. In fact some of them end up becoming criminals because of that. One could say that the present police force is not any better, as many police officers are corrupt or become too violent because of their jobs, and there are many cases where they use criminals in order to uncover and arrest other criminals. The investigators of the show are not a better variant, just a different one.
2) Concept: New police officers are completely oblivious to what they are supposed to do. They don’t even know how to hold a gun.
Analysis: A rookie that doesn’t even know the fundamentals is bound to cause more trouble than help in a job that required a lot of cunningness and readiness. But that is the thing with the society of the series; it doesn’t really prepare you for violence since it keeps its citizens in complete bliss, as means to protect their sanity. Most of them don’t even recognize a crime even when they see it happening. Police officers are just observers; it is the criminal executioners who are supposed to do all the work, like profiling each case or shooting. The police officers are of course still exposed to violence and death but supposed they are kept safe if they do close to nothing. In fact, even when they need to shoot, they first need to get authorization from the computer that controls their society. This way they don’t even need to feel stress for if the criminal deserves to be shot or even killed. They obey without having to worry about making the wrong decision. Even so, there are cases where the computer made mistakes in its evaluation; thus even the whole concept of a computer helping you becomes pointless. It is not better to our system, just different.
3) Concept: The educational system of such a society is useless outside of academics and theoretical knowledge. It is hard to be so advanced in the first place, if its citizens are incapable of doing anything after they graduate.
Analysis: Machines are supposed to do all the actual labour and dangerous parts in any profession, leaving the human factor as an observer who just presses buttons. This is why everybody acts in a very simple way, like they are mentally challenged. It is not better to our system, just different. This is even used in a smart way for narrative purposes, as the heroine is so oblivious; the others need to explain the tiniest detail to her. Indirectly this expands to the audience and thus we get a sort of excused infodump about everything that is going on.
4) Concept: The heroine decided to be a police officer even when she could have become anything else she liked. Her mental stability, combined with her will to help her society and learn more about how it works fundamentally made her the ideal candidate.
Analysis: Well, that is sort of weak, since she literally acts like a scared girl scout amongst ruthless murderers and rapists. We never get any more reasoning than “Well I want to help my society so I might as well expose myself to violence and death.” In our society, nobody would agree to that if he wasn’t in for the money or the action. The nihilistic way of life in the series just leaves this to be sort of like deciding to become a criminal hunter instead of a florist just because your brain can take the heat. Where is the motivation in that? Nowhere.
Now if you ask me, is there really something wrong in this sort of a concept, when to the most part it is so well presented and excused to the most part? Well, the most basic problem it has is the same most dystopian stories have. Instead of being presented as a society that is different to our own but still viable, it is presented as a fake paradise that ends up being worse than our own. They are presented as if their systems of government are pure evil or amoral to the point they become hated from the average person of today. The ones that manage to get over this snag are those that manage to excuse themselves as being grey (not good or evil) or at least trying to maintain their control even after their usage is over (clinging to the past out of fear of change). Anime like Ghost in the Shell and Shinsekai Yori manage to succeed at that, Psycho-pass doesn’t; it feels so evil and non-viable it becomes loathed very fast. Especially after they reveal what the Sybil system really is and how it works; it is making you think the leaders of this society are all devilish paedophiles who drink the blood of the dead and kick puppies when bored. And then they expect you to believe it is a system that works purely on rationality and that it was established with little to no problem. This also becomes evident when you realize how each case the characters face is a crime based on the weaknesses of the system. It is constantly showing us how it DOESN’T work, instead of how it helps its people to live a happy life when it works. It is a sort of a farce, unreal and impossible to appreciate as an alternative lifestyle. They are telling you to hate it on every step of the way and thus make you lose interest in thinking about its possible beneficial aspects.
- Episode 1: If someone is branded as an incurable latent criminal, then he is almost forced into committing actual crimes, since that is the only thing his society will expect from him to do, instead of trying to make use of his talents. Many would rather die than accept to spend a life in isolation, constantly drugged, or working as hounds of other criminals.
- Episodes 3 & 14: The system’s refusal to teach its citizens the concept of crime leads to them not recognizing it or even knowing how to react to it. Some will be literally torturing a weaker person than themselves as means of entertainment or stress relief, and won’t even know that what they are doing is wrong. Others will be looking at a person being beaten to death in the middle of the street and will be unable to understand if they are supposed to call the police or try to stop the crime. And in effect, they are helpless if they are ever the victims of a crime, since nobody will know how to help them.
- Episodes 1, 3, & 15: The victims of any crime are usually not treated with care but as criminals themselves. The terror, or pain, or hopelessness, will usually increase their crime rates to dangerous levels, turning them to latent criminals or even actual criminals for things that they never intended. The system treats you nicely only as long as your mental health is ok; if you snap you will be branded as a scum of society for the rest of your life, even if you didn’t cause the initial snapping.
- Episodes 3, 4, & 11: The only way for you to be branded as a criminal is to have a high crime potential score. That indirectly means that you can say or do any horrible things you like, as long as it doesn’t show on specs. If you don’t know that what you are doing is a crime or believe that what you are doing is right, then you are not a criminal. For example if a group of people torture an innocent co-worker just for the sake of steaming out their stress from work, this is not a crime. But if said co-worker fights back in desperation, then he will be arrested and treated as a criminal for crossing the line. Something which of course wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t mistreated in the first place. There are no means to punish those who indirectly push others to the danger zone, or even to excuse the victims of misuse and don’t place them on the same level as other criminals.
- Episodes 3, 6, 10 & 15: There are supposed to be scanners and droids in every street of the city, measuring the population for possible high crime rates. Yet there is actually very little monitoring done, to the point it is extremely easy to do a crime and move around unnoticed. For a system that is based on making everything measurable and controllable, it is doing a very crappy job. In effect, it doesn’t really matter what kind of a system of justice this show has; it all comes down to failing for not having complete surveillance of the city. Just imagine how much better it would be if every person had a GPS implant in his body or there were scanners in every house. And yes, it would happen without anyone complaining about personal life; since they are all midless sheep who believe everything they are told. They agreed to create a society where they are treated as morons, they will agree to have no personal space too. The funny part is that the same studio had created Loups=Garous back in 2010, which had the EXACT surveillance system I describe and also shared many similarities regarding a highly monitored world ruled by assholes.
- Episode 6 has a murderer that is killing someone every few days. Nothing is leaked to the population, since this way it keeps everyone happy in his bliss, while people continue to get murdered. So once again, the system is trying to work by not working.
- Episodes 6 & 10: They pretty much tell us how too much safety and bliss turns life meaningless and the only way to feel alive is to start killing others for the excitement. So much for a peaceful way of living.
- Episode 11: There is a man whose crime levels are low no matter what he does. He is supposed to judge the system and even to seek its destruction but in effect he is one big asspull, since he can do anything he likes by magically not being subjected to the universal laws of the show. He is supposed to be the cruel but true voice of reason in the show but it is kind of pointless to hear “drugs are bad” from someone who is immune to a mountain of dope. It’s like that asshole Touma in Toaru Majitsu no Index, who has the liberty to throw around morality speeches and hoard all the chicks, just because he is the only one who can cancel out any superpower. No shit smarty pants, I can too challenge the universe if I can defy gravity or friction. Also, despite the attempt to make all cases to have a connection thanks to this ringleader, they still are pointless in the longrun. You see, he wants to destroy the status quo by handing over helmets to average civilians that trick crime score scouters. If that was his plan, then he didn’t need those one-episode villains to begin with. Or skip that; he just needed to go to the food refinery and blow it up. Any reason he didn’t do that since episode 1? Of course and there is; you wouldn’t be bombarded with shallow morality and pretentious quoting ala Uroboshi style if the characters in this show weren’t plot devises and had common sense.
- Episode 17: The Sybil system is run by amoral assholes with a God complex. Because what better candidates can there be for monitoring humanity than those who don’t consider themselves human anymore? It makes no sense as you can easily realize. How can you understand the needs of everyday people if you consider yourself a superior being who has no qualms to kill a few thousand for management issues? It’s like telling a nuclear physicist to become a manager of a football team.
Another grip I have with the show is how they are using those fancy guns. It is pretty clear from the numeric value what they have to do instead of waiting several seconds for the computer in the guns to explain the obvious and unlock the safety trigger. If the criminal is running away or is attacking them, this proves highly impractical and problematic. Of course, the truth is the criminals mysteriously stand still for several minutes while the gun is talking, so there is still plenty of time to shoot them. This lazy cop-out solution to the above problem kind of ruins the whole point of the gun talking in the first place and in turn trashes the plausibility of the whole series.
And why must the gun blow up its targets like that? A simple bullet would be more than enough to stop those criminals. Ok, some of them are beyond salvation and need to be disposed of with the most direct way possible. Some others may be wearing armours or be cyborgs that need extra firepower to be sure they die in one shot. But don’t tell me it is a lot healthier for the spectators’ mentality to see people turning to ground beef just like that. Looks like it is gore for the sake of gore, thrown there purely as shock factor. And that in a setting that is LITERALLY against shocking its population.
As the show goes on, you keep realizing more things that are wrong with it, such as the investigators doing some spying-around for suspicious-looking people in each case, instead of just scanning them all for high crime levels, thus saving precious time and lives. Or the population acting completely different in some episodes, like they don’t recognize violence when they see it in the middle of the street but otherwise are used to bullying, or being in touch with online anti-government teams, or watch a lot of violent videos on the net. There are many scenes where someone gets shot or a fire breaks out and everybody is very aware of the danger and runs away panicked. That shouldn’t be happening if they were truly ignorant to danger as they want us to believe. There is even a scene where thousands of people went to get helmets with the purpose to kill others and that didn’t show in any street scanner. The show is full of plot holes and inconsistencies such as these.
In all, it is a nice time-spender that may even make you think of a few things but it plays out in a very superficial way compared to older works like SE Lain or Ergo Proxy. Not bad but far from great. Uroboshi is good at creating interesting concepts and manipulating your emotions but he is otherwise a hax. Good concept, shitty presentation, the idiots will love it, the smart ones will forget it in a week.