PSYCHO-PASS – 01
OP: 「abnormalize」 by Ling Tosite Sigure
「犯罪係数う」 (Hanzai Keisuu)
“Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. The burden of proof lies with who declares, not who denies.” This principle – that one is considered innocent until proven guilty – is considered such a fundamental right that it is found in many of the world’s constitutions and legal codes. Yet in the futuristic world of PSYCHO-PASS, this right does not exist. This disparity alone is already enough of a premise for an intelligent show, but Urobuchi Gen’s original series isn’t merely some dialogue heavy courtroom drama – it’s the marriage of the science-fiction and detective genres, one in the vein of movies like Blade Runner and Minority Report. This premiere definitely raised thought-provoking questions in lockstep with thrills that can only be found at the end of a gun, but will it be able to smartly answer the issues it raises while sustaining a high level of action and tension like the best science-fiction detective dramas have to offer?
An introduction to PSYCHO-PASS’s dystopian legal system is no easy task. While it was a clever choice to use Tsunemori Akane’s (Hanazawa Kana) first case as a rookie Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Inspector to explain its intricacies and raise the crucial thought-provoking questions, the execution left much to be desired. It’s hard to believe how the top-ranked student in the city’s CID academy could be so clueless about way the legal system works.
Instead, Tsunemori needed fellow Inspector Ginoza Nobuchika (Nokima Kenji) to explain that the foundation to their city’s legal system is presumably a supercomputer of some sort called Sibyl, which through using either Dominator handguns or street scanners as its eyes, is able to instantly give a quantitative measure of a person’s propensity or latent capacity for committing crime. This number is called the ‘crime coefficient’ or the titular ‘Psycho-Pass’, and if it is above a certain threshold, the offending individual is captured and taken away for therapy by the CID, using force if necessary. As for the misnamed police force (after all, what are they really investigating if everyone is already guilty?), instead of protecting the peace in the name of law and justice, the caduceus emblazoned on the back of their jackets seems to suggest that they fashion themselves as more of disease control agency. The CID probably sees latent criminals as nothing more than people who have a disease, a cancer to society, which must be treated before it manifests into something even more dangerous.
Tsunemori’s first case is a simple one – apprehending a man, Okura Nobuo, who was randomly found to have latent criminal tendencies by a street scanner and refused to turn himself over for treatment when confronted by a security drone. While this case might not have been “epic” as people might have expected for a premiere, but its straightforward and uncomplicated nature effectively showcased the legal system of the PSYCHO-PASS world as well as gave an avenue for Tsunemori to voice her issues with it, many of which most viewers probably had as well.
Already we have a multitude of questions that go above and beyond the simple lack of presumption of innocence. Who designed Sibyl – was it a government agency or private corporation? How does it work? How is the threshold number delineating a latent criminal from a law-abiding individual determined? What if labeling a person as a latent criminal is actually what instigates their criminal behavior, as could have very well been the case for Okura? How do you deal with cases of ‘psycho-hazard’, where one latent criminal causes enough stress for a bystander or hostage that they become a latent criminal in Sibyl’s eyes? And what if like Ginoza said, a high crime coefficient is only the temporary and unlucky result of incompatible medication? So while PSYCHO-PASS does go far in raising many thought-provoking questions like these in its first twenty odd minutes, it will still need to answer them smartly as well, if it is to be considered as a show of substance.
The other piece of the pie to an entertaining sci-fi detective show or flick is the action and tension that helps lessen the blow of the heavy dialogue. The premiere episode fared slightly better in this regard, at least with its tension. Much of it is based on a twist that could turn out to be the most interesting aspect of the series – the fact that Tsunemori and Ginoza’s partners/subordinates, the CID enforcement officers who are tasked with helping them apprehend these latent criminals, are they themselves latent criminals. Somehow, this is another fact that seemingly caught our hapless heroine off guard – just what exactly are they teaching at the CID academy?
By their outward appearances and (mostly) professional demeanor, the Enforcer team consisting of girl-crazy Kagari Shuusei (Ishida Akira), straight-laced Kunizuka Yayoi (Itou Shizuka), jovial veteran cop Masaoka Tomomi (Arimoto Kinryuu), and the stoic enforcer Kougami Shinya (Seki Tomokazu) doesn’t resemble anything like the people of “bankrupt character” as Ginoza describes them, but according to their crime coefficient, they’re nothing more than the “beasts used to hunt other beasts.” This twist to the standard buddy cop setup is rife with various possibilities and issues that can be raised. For one, Tsunemori will likely have a more personal connection to the issues of latent criminals and the consequences of a high crime coefficient through her relationship with Kougami, but at the same time, she must continually judge his actions to see if they fall in line with her own morals, like she does at the end of this episode. Hopefully, this twist will add to PSYCHO-PASS the element of tension to that is so crucial to a compelling detective drama.
Production I.G and director Shiotanai Naoyoshi have done a commendable job of capturing the dark and gritty underbelly of a futuristic metropolis. The animation may not reach the heady heights of K, but it does look a step above most shows at the very least. So far, the art direction is spot on with the cyberpunk aesthetic as well, depicting a gloomy cityscape soaked in a never ending rainstorm and cloaked in a perpetual nighttime with only the glow from the neon signage to break up the shadows. Urobuchi Gen’s famous penchant for gratuity and torture was immediately evident in this premiere, as was his now trademark choking scene, but it remains to be scene exactly what quality his script will attain. As for the pacing, it has been spot on, neither too fast nor too slow for my tastes. My main wish for the rest of the series is for Kougami to become the main character instead of the bumbling Tsunemori, which the in media res opening with Kougami facing off against a mysterious Makishima Shougo (Sakurai Takahiro) seems to suggest.
A less than stellar premiere aside, PSYCHO-PASS still manages to raise the thought-provoking questions like the best sci-fi should and deliver action and tension on par with the best of the detective genre as well. Yet the jury is still out on whether the series can smartly answer all these serious questions while maintaining a high level of action and tension to keep it entertaining. All told, I believe PSYCHO-PASS still has what it takes to excel as a dystopian sci-fi detective series.
ED: 「名前のない怪物」 (Namae no nai Kaibutsu) by EGOIST