OP: 「Who What Who What」 by Ling Tosite Sigure
「劇場版 サイコパス」 (Gekijōban Saikopasu)
I more-or-less enjoyed the original PSYCHO-PASS, which I considered a worthy addition to anime’s portfolio of plausible science-fiction like the iconic Ghost in the Shell. I didn’t really feel like the first season really needed a sequel, nor did I expect one. Science-fiction has traditionally been far more adept at asking question than answering them, and even if there were a few loose ends, there wasn’t really a pressing need to reopen the setting. Indeed, the TV sequel didn’t really add a lot of scope to the franchise (though it was not entirely void of interesting points). Along comes a PSYCHO-PASS movie now (well, more like a month ago on BD/DVD and even earlier in theatres, you get what I mean) and one has to wonder what it intends to offer. Surely, one can expect a bit more ambition from a feature film (even if it weighs lighter in time than a TV series), especially with original writers Urobuchi Gen and Fukami Makoto once again providing the script.
The PSYCHO-PASS movie definitely treats itself as a sequel in the series. While newcomers to the title shouldn’t be too lost in the aci-fi technobabble, with the Sybil System and Crime Coefficients fairly straightforwardly explained in dialogue, gory visuals, and blatant exposition text, they will probably find it hard to derive much backstory on any characters, or follow some of the established themes, or understand the talkative albino people Kougami hallucinates about when under stress. If you’re on board with all that, the movie has all the hallmarks of a cinema blockbuster. There’s action and intrigue, light and music, bread and circus, plenty of Akane being rad and mercifully little of Mika being obnoxious. There’s a lot here to enjoy. Most interesting, for me, is how this movie expands on the PSYCHO-PASS universe. We are, for the first time, taken out of augmented-reality-Japan, the Airstrip One of PSYCHO-PASS, and given a view of the world at large (or, at least, a South-Asian federation where the dominant language is somehow stilted English) which has, as is common in dystopian fiction, gone to hell in a handbasket outside of the one bastion of authoritarian stability. With Japan ruled by the Sybil system having already been the subject of much criticism previously, it’s about time that we saw the alternative, and to contrast the absolute order of Sybil is the absolute chaos of a war-torn world without it. In such context, the Sybil system is not actually portrayed that negatively this time (not even in its matchmaking decisions). It’s still not a nice thing, to be sure, but it’s a viable argument in that age-old tension between liberty and security, which is also embodied in our protagonists Kougami Shinya (Tomokazu Seki), who turned his back on and even fights against the system, and Tsunemori Akane (Hanazawa Kana), who continues to work within it.
It’s not exactly that clear cut, though, because while it’s relatively straightforward to discuss justice and free will when it’s just a matter of a an unaccountable surveillance state repressing individuals, when extrapolated to the amoral global theatre many new angles come into play. In the PSYCHO-PASS movie, the Sybil system is not just a national bureaucracy, but an international imperialistic force. It’s not so much different to what the CIA used to do, toppling hostile regimes and propping up allied dictators, no doubt also in the name of the greater good. But while Sybil is revealed to have been pulling all the strings all along (a rather predictable twist, I found, but let’s call it ‘well hinted’), it plays largely a neutral role. Instead, the various negatives are presented in the form of the two major antagonists. Colonial Nicholas Wong (Kamiya Hiroshi) abuses the system, using the promise of utopia and exploitation of loopholes to serve his military junta. Mercenary captain Desmond Rutagunda (Ishizuki Unshou)—I had to look up his name—rejects the system, and uses the ideas of the postcolonial literature he’s fond of to justify establishing a regional military faction himself. Both are, ultimately, seeking power bought with violence. Both, ultimately, die impotently. It may be PSYCHO-PASS making a statement about their causes (in the might makes right sort of way), but also note the authority who survives the entire affair. In the end, Sybil stands alone. Sybil, in its role as the state, must (as sociologist Max Weber first posited) hold the monopoly on violence. Naturally, its imperialist agenda can entertain no competition.
Why, then, does Sybil yield to Akane? Consider the passage from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth that the mercenary tried to quote:
At the level of individuals, violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect
To put it another way, when the individual is oppressed, the natural reaction is for them to turn to violence. The very act of control creates rebellion. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why attempts to export democracy have worked poorly. Government cannot be forced onto the individual, no matter how ideal it may seem. No matter how preferable Shambhala Float may be, it’ll be sure to stir some kind of mass resentment at some unless the people choose to take responsibility for it themselves as a democratic society. And if Sybil is the embodiment of the State, then States should be considered creations of society, something about the social contract, more philosophy, loop back to concerns about the tyranny of the majority that we’ve seen before, we’re back to PSYCHO-PASS 1 again, roll credits set to familiar music.
…Sometimes, I get the feeling the PSYCHO-PASS is as much the writers showing off their reading list as anything else. Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
And so, even with this movie, there is really no definitive conclusion to PSYCHO-PASS. Sybil isn’t entirely vindicated. Akane isn’t entirely vindicated. Kougami is on the run once more. There are still many legitimate concerns about social engineering, justice, technology outpacing society—lofty concepts that aren’t going to be resolved completely by anime, let alone within a two-hour run time. Again, science-fiction is far more adept at asking questions than answering them, so perhaps we’ll never have a ‘definitive conclusion’ to PSYCHO-PASS. A point is made in this movie about compromises, because what we have, in the end, is but a lot of conflicting ideas that we must find some middle ground in. So I suppose I find myself in the same position as I was after the original PSYCHO-PASS. Yes, there are still loose ends. We have definitely have room for continuation, especially considering the frustratingly inconclusive stinger (Any bets? Frontrunner: Kougami returns in a sequel. Long shot: Kougami’s dead as some kind of nihilistic commentary. Dark horse: Kougami was never alive and is seeing dead people). But do we really need a sequel? Well, I suppose sales is the more relevant consideration. If I had the choice, though, of more of something like PSYCHO-PASS 2 or more of something like this movie, I’ll take this movie every time. Sure, there wasn’t as much time to develop the characters, or to build up the intrigue. But as an expansion of the world of PSYCHO-PASS, I think it was definitely the right direction. It’s what science fiction should do: build visions of the future.
This post would not have happened without Zephyr, who both pushed for it and did all the screencaps. All I did was spew out some words. All other credit goes to him.
ED: 「名前のない怪物」 (Namae no nai Kaibutsu) by EGOIST