OP2: 「Out of Control」by Nothing’s Carved In Stone
「甘い毒」 (Amai Doku)
After two somewhat middling episodes, PSYCHO-PASS returns with several bashes to the head to kick-start its second half. Extreme suffering and a penchant for violence is a staple in any Uro
butcherbuchi Gen show, but their presence in PSYCHO-PASS strikes a different chord than their use in Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica or Fate/Zero. In the latter two, those elements were merely devices, vehicles in which character development and emotional development saw light of day. The intense mental suffering of the girls in Madoka and the brutality in Fate/Zero were certainly heavy-handed and prominent, but neither felt like it was intrinsic to human nature. Despite the dark atmosphere of both shows, there was light at the end of the tunnel, and the messages at the end of the day were both poignant and somewhat uplifting – the sentiments of not being alone and even the most broken of men being able to find salvation are what tied the series together in a gratifying and hopeful way, even if the situations of the characters and the consequences of the plot were not entirely optimistic.
In PSYCHO-PASS however, everything is ascribed to being a part of human nature, especially the bad and the ugly. Urobuchi Gen is painting a highly disturbing picture of humanity that feels reminiscent of American author Flannery O’Connor. Her short stories tend to dredge up the ugliest parts of people that are uncomfortable to digest, but portrays a side of human beings that are startlingly accurate. Depicted as painfully flawed and riddled with hypocrisies, O’Connor’s version of humanity is pessimistic and offers no redemption to the characters involved.
Urobuchi’s portrayal of humanity seems just as pessimistic and irredeemable through the Sibyl system, the criminals, and even society as a whole. Humans have been reduced to either two categories: infantile beings that cannot be trusted to govern themselves, or brutal murderers who snap at the slightest loosening of their noose. The implication seems to be that the potential for evil present in every person is too great to overcome, a grave that humans dug for themselves with Sibyl’s suffocating capabilities. Society has lost all sense of morals as the murder of Fujii Hiroko so aptly demonstrates – actually, perhaps “lost” isn’t an accurate description. One cannot lose something they never had.
The murder of Fujii Hiroko is not only a reflection of the criminal himself, but the on-lookers. That’s where Urobuchi’s focus is: the lack of reaction, and the definition of “crime”. The word has an entry in the dictionary, but what does it truly mean? If there are no people who can clearly define a criminal act and ascribe connotation to it, what kind of impact does it have? Why is it necessary to apprehend criminals if no one can explain what crime was committed? Humanity has always lacked empathy in crucial moments, and on-lookers doing nothing to help victims when they are being raped/killed is nothing new. It’s nearly impossible to rationalize such behavior and some people would argue that’s a crime in itself. But it’s a part of human nature that has always been present and as difficult as it is to fathom, Urobuchi has captured human apathy at its best.
Applying this to the context of PSYCHO-PASS’s dystopia however, the lack of reaction brings into question whether or not having a “clear” psycho-pass is really a good thing. Makishima and even Akane are prime examples of this – both of them present compelling evidence of the confounding nature of psycho-passes and the nonsense in building an entire society based on it. Makishima should be a self-explanatory case of why the system doesn’t work. He could be an anomaly, but at the same time, he can’t be. By Sibyl’s definition, Makishima Shougo is the perfect human being – able to keep his composure no matter what the situation is, possessing such a strong mentality that he can maintain a crystal clear psycho-pass and a startlingly low crime coefficient even as he commits atrocities. What he has is complete apathy, which is ironically the trait Sibyl demands in order to run its society. Akane’s case is a little harder to understand as she’s so far depicted as the most compassionate and emotional character on the show. But she feels far from human, largely because her rebounding psycho-pass seems so abnormal. It’s construed as a positive thing but that is only in eyes of Sibyl’s idea of perfection, an idea that’s been firmly established as flawed and “wrong”. It implies that while Akane goes through the typical motions of human emotion, she does not truly “feel” them. At the core, she’s cut from the same cloth as Makishima, which is the only way one can be viewed as “ideal” in PSYCHO-PASS’s society.
Considering how warped the show’s world is, it’s no surprise the medium with which Makishima tries to force it out of its catatonic state is violence. It’s an effective tool for several reasons – not only does it challenge the foundation of the current society’s rules, it is also a “freedom” of sorts. Violence liberates humans from the shackles of conscience and the inhibition of societal values. Crimes are one of the things society has always strove to maintain a strict value of, enforcing a code of morals that became more and more restricting over the course of history. But before these set of laws existed unprecedented freedom which included allowing a person to act on whatever impulse their emotions dictated. Hence it can be assumed committing a crime effectively frees a person from worldly restrictions, returning them to a state of ultimate liberty. Of course there’s very little to separate humans from beasts at this point, but in Makishima’s eyes humans have already given up the characteristics that distinguish them from mere animals by choosing to forfeit their right to reason and logic for themselves. They have become mere sheep and aren’t sheep beasts as well?
Another notable thing about the violence in PSYCHO-PASS is the fact it is almost always committed against women, especially the more graphic acts. Perhaps it is intentional, or perhaps it is an unconscious indication of a maternal relationship gone wrong; whatever the case it’s not a comfortable scene to watch and creates an atmosphere not commonly seen in anime. In fact the tone and mood of PSYCHO-PASS closely resembles western crime procedural shows, in particular Criminal Minds. Not only are the subject matters somewhat similar, the depiction of graphic brutality mirror one another – scenes are uncomfortable to watch, but because they’re so unadulterated and raw, the gravity of the situation cannot be missed.
Some of the elements in PSYCHO-PASS still feels rough and unpolished, and the bridging of the gaps between anime and western styles can definitely use some work. But this isn’t a bad direction to be taking anime in, and with some care perhaps one day Urobuchi will be able to create the same sort of thematically challenging work with the stylistic flair of western prime time shows.
- Let’s play Spot That Symbolism, shall we? I counted seven.
- Guess Production I.G put their decent animation team to work again – Akane actually looks decent in some of the close-ups.
We’re still in the process of deciding who’ll pick up PSYCHO-PASS. I filled in for this – err, last week since I was capping it already. So this post isn’t indicative of the writer you guys will be getting for the remainder of the series.
ED2: 「All Alone With You」by EGOIST