PSYCHO-PASS – 15
「硫黄降る街」 (Iou Furu Machi)
“The Town Where Sulphur Falls”
Do androids dream of electric sheep?
A seemingly innocent discussion of authors reveal a much more philosophical debate at hand, peeling back the layers that have firmly kept Makishima and Choi Goo Sung shrouded in enigma. From simple things such as a preference for paper books over cyber copies to more complex matters regarding iconic writers that represent different ideals, Urobuchi turns the tables on the duo in such a way that they go from “antagonists” to “anti-heroes”.
The association of Makishima and Choi Goo Sung to anything “heroic” or “just” seems impossible at first glance, but what is important to keep in mind is that words are relative, meaningless without context. A “hero” is only a hero because those around him elevate his deeds based on predetermined notions of what can be considered worthy of praise. However, these notions are different for every person, and if the exchanges between the two characters are anything to go by, it is that in their respective stories they are very much heroes. This is more true for Makishima than it is for Choi Goo Sung, who seems like an anarchist with purely self-motivated values – it is solely his curiosity that drives him, to test the limits of and break apart a system that seems to challenge the logic of everything he knows. A strict modernist, he’s firmly detached from the events transpiring in the series, partnering with Makishima purely out of a necessity to satiate his own needs rather than an alignment of ideals. In that sense Choi Goo Sung is perhaps more dangerous than Makishima himself, who reveals quite a weakness in his conversation with his accomplice.
Unlike Choi Goo Sung, Makishima is a traditionalist. He reads paper books in an age where they should have probably become a rarity, and aside from the reasons he gives, his adherence to such an outdated concept symbolizes a strong dislike of the world he lives in now, and the changes that came with it – most notably the loss of independent action. His preference is also marks him as quite the romanticist. Common connotations of romanticism (e.g. idealistic hero) may prevent an immediate connection of Makishima to the concept, but his actions and motives belie a man firmly convicted of his own heroism, a man who not only believes, but is convinced his rebellion will right the wrongs committed in the city he was “born and raised in”.
And there it is – an unconscious yet nonetheless startling revelation of Makishima’s weakness:
“To me, it’s the town where I was born and raised in. It’s a pressing issue.”
What a surprisingly personal thing to say. Or perhaps it’s not surprising at all. For a human being to cause so much chaos and remain utterly composed, for a perfectly sane person to continue walking forward despite the blood and mayhem around him, he must have a conviction so strong it overrides any moral conscience that would normally cause hesitance, a hesitance that would cloud anyone else’s psycho-pass a cloudy hue. The “town where [he] was born and raised in” could just as easily be summed up with a word that holds a lot of intimate, emotive associations: hometown. Positive or not, a person’s hometown is significant – it is where their life began, where they were first introduced to the world at large. If associations with their hometown are positive, all the more enraged someone would become to see it come to ruins at a totalitarian system that robs people of their futures and emotions. This ties strongly back to his earlier conversation with Choi Goo Sung, where Makishima states his preference for Phillip K. Dick over George Orwell and William Gibson.
All three authors are not overly familiar to me, as the only exposure I’ve had to Orwell is through 1984, which is arguably his most famous work aside from Animal Farm, but is not enough to make any solid deductions on his general philosophy. Same goes for Dick, whose works I’ve never read per se – Blade Runner and Total Recall (both the ghetto and the shit versions) are not wholly reflective of the literary works they are based off of. Even harder is Gibson, who I had never heard of period until this series. Based on Makishima and Choi Goo Sung however, it is entirely possible to draw some general observations. Orwell and Dick’s works primarily deal with the concept of free will and by extension, it can be assumed Gibson’s works deal with similar themes, although perhaps to a lesser degree considering Choi Goo Sung’s nature.
In analyzing why Makishima prefers Dick over Orwell and why that is significant, it is necessary to look at the trajectories of the “heroes” in each author’s stories. Orwell’s works are thoroughly dystopian and pessimistic, with characters finding themselves ending in the same place they began, or in worse situations. There is no progression – if anything these characters go through regression; their development is not enough to defeat the circumstances and they’ve arguably taken two steps back after being given a small taste of the forbidden fruit. Those that succeed are not the characters that the audience experiences the story with or are victimized unfairly by a corrupt system, but the “antagonists” whose power is simply too much for the protagonists to handle. On the other hand, Dick’s characters experience some form of forward motion – even though their successes are not as plain as a fairytale prince defeating a dragon and winning the princess’ hand, at the end of their journey they’ve achieved a small measure of victory that implies the system is not strong enough to completely dominate individual will. To put it in very simple, black and white terms, Dick is optimistic while Orwell is pessimistic.
One other factor to consider before delving into Makishima’s preference is his inclination towards the traditional and the romantic. His description of the idea of reading a paper book is highly romanticized, and the idea of e-books being “insipid (味気ない)” compared to them suggests he places a specific value on the notion of physically flipping through the pages. It certainly isn’t a sentiment that’s unheard of – there’s something infinitely more engaging about seeing the words in ink and feeling the weight of the book. For some people those particular things make the reading experience more immersive, and it becomes much easier to imagine themselves as a part of the story. The personification of books and the contemplative manner with which he approaches the act of reading all make Makishima a surprisingly sentimental individual, andit’s not a stretch to assume he likes to place himself in the story’s universe, particularly in the role of the “hero”. He prefers Dick’s stories since of the three that write about the type of world he lives in, Dick offers a version that aligns most closely with his philosophy and the things he wants to see.
The issues dealt with in the author’s short stories are the same things Makishima finds himself grappling in reality, and it’s highly possible he considers himself living out a story – a story where it falls on him, the only person seemingly aware of the ridiculousness of the Sibyl System, to fight against the force that threatens to destroy free will.
Makishima’s perspective is intriguing since it adds another layer to PSYCHO-PASS that wasn’t apparent before. If its society is a “parody” of the world in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, what role does each character have? Who is the protagonist, and who is the antagonist? Urobuchi Gen is particularly good at twisting perspectives, convincing viewers that something is correct from one angle but turning that immediately around by giving them another angle to look at things from. Before, the Enforcers were in the “right”, chasing a villain who seemingly caused chaos everywhere with no discernible reason. Now, Makishima seems more like an anti-hero, and one has to wonder if his goals are truly “wrong”. Isn’t free will a right and not a privilege?
Note: I’m not sure why subs are using “Choe” instead of “Choi”, since that’s the most common romanization of the Korean last name. But I’ll be using “Choi” since it’s the more common/modern version. That and “Choe” just looks bastardized.
ED2: 「All Alone With You」by EGOIST