DVD REVIEW: PSYCHO-PASS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: NAOYOSHI SHIOTANI / SCREENPLAY: GEN UROBUCHI / STARRING: ROBERT MCCOLLUM, KATE OXLEY, ALEX ORGAN, JOSH GRIELLE, JASON DOUGLAS, SCOTT FREEMAN, LINDSAY SEIDEL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The Japan of the future has become a self-sustaining isolationist nation where order is maintained by the Sibyl System, a centralised AI network of instant personality assessment and behaviour analysis that constantly monitors the psychological stability of the country’s citizens. Anyone whose mental state even briefly fluctuates outside rigidly defined parameters (the titular psycho-pass) is immediately branded a latent criminal (someone deemed in possession of the mindset to one day commit a crime) and pre-emptively incarcerated in order to preserve stability.
After a series of horrific murders begins, Kogami, one of the police department’s Enforcers (latent criminals indentured to the police to avoid imprisonment), becomes convinced that they are the work of a past unidentified serial killer. Along with newly appointed Inspector Akane, he searches for the killer’s identity.
A spiritual cousin to the groundbreaking Ghost in the Shell, instead of searching for the human soul amidst electronic circuitry, Psycho-Pass explores what it means to be human when we willingly place ourselves at the mercy and judgement of machines. The setting evokes the futuristic technological nightmares of authors like George Orwell, William Gibson and Philip K. Dick – all three are specifically referenced, and the script namechecks both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the “old movie” that was based on it (Blade Runner), which is also a clear influence on the series’ visual style.
The great irony of the setting is that everyone is living in an authoritarian dystopia without actually realising it. Aptitude tests decide what career a person is most suited for and thus the path through life they must take, like it or not, while anything intellectual or individually creative runs the risk of its creator being branded a latent criminal (the paradoxical concept of state-approved punk music gives you an idea of just how all-encompassing the system is on human culture). Emotionally pacified to a state of voluntary somnambulism, people go about their lives without complaint, utterly lost without the system they have submitted to, while any elevated stress caused by the constant possibility of failing a psycho-pass scan often becomes the self-fulfilling reason for the failure. So insidious is the dominance of Sybil, it takes the actions of a sociopathic murderer to expose the flaws in this supposedly perfect system of social justice. Appropriately, Sibyl is named after the prophetic oracles of Ancient Greece, whose vague predictions were often validated – Nostradamus-like – after they had occurred.
The progression of the series is structured in such a way that it continually increases in scope as it progresses. The first few episodes are throwaway cases to give both Akane and the viewers an introduction to the world of this volatile social utopia; next it progresses to the investigation of the actions of a serial killer; and then events escalate into a potential revolution before the hideous truth at the heart of this brave new world is revealed in all its grotesque and morally reprehensible glory.
Through its philosophical musings, the series asks a number of questions about morality, identity, law, justice and what concessions we should be willing to allow in the name of maintaining order. However, it does not presume to dictate answers, instead leaving people to make up their own minds about whose actions and beliefs, if any, are justified.