Psycho Pass is an original neo noir anime series created by Gen Urobuchi and animation studio Production I.G. The show was directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani and live action movie director Katsuyuki Motohiro. Each scene was very well directed and was engaging to watch thanks to its mixture of dark and edgy stylish visuals and the captivating storytelling brought by Katsuyuki Motohiro. The atmosphere is very dark and brooding which is typical of Urobuchi’s work. The use of shadow and light complemented the neo noir nature.
Psycho Pass is set in a futuristic Japan where Sibyl, a dominant computer AI system known as the Sybil constantly measures and evaluates citizens role in society. Using a cymatic scan, Sybil assesses the citizens mentality and determines if they have criminal tendencies. Sybil issues a Psycho Pass if the citizen passes the scan test or alerts law enforcement if the person fails. Crime coefficients are the probability of how likely a person is able to commit a crime. If it reaches a certain number it creates a cause of concern and law enforcement is notified, if the crime coefficients reach above 100, law enforcement is called into action to put a stop to the person either lethally or non-lethally depending on the situation. People in Japan now live in comfort thanks to the Sybil system. Some people are criminally asymptomatic meaning that they are assessed as having low probability of being a criminal even they are not law abiding.
The series focuses on members from the Criminal Investigation Department of the Public Safety Bureau within the Ministry of Public Welfare. Inspectors are detectives under assignment from the Sybil system to solve cases and to keep the peace morally and legally and are in charge of handling enforcers. Inspectors could be demoted to enforcers in the case their crime coefficient rises above unacceptable levels. Enforcers are latent criminals who’s only purpose is to carry out orders from the inspectors. Enforcers are kept on constant surveillance and must be supervised by an inspector at all times and any that goes rogue gets killed on sight. Both inspectors and enforcers are armed with weapons called Dominators. The dominator will only discharge when approved by the Sybil system and inspectors can fire on enforcers if the need arises.
Akane Tsunemori is an inspector in Division 1. She starts her career and apprehends a suspect and stops the enforcer Kogami from terminating the suspect. A recent string of events occur that cause chaos in Japan and Tsunemori discovers that an asymptomatic master criminal named Shogo Makishima is behind the spate or riots and murders. Ordered by Sybil, Tsunemori and her team pursues Makishima. Kogami has a special interest in finding Makishima as he had killed one of Kogami’s friends. In the ensuing battle after Tsunemori confronts Makishima, Kogami the enforcer kills Makishima and escapes.
The series focuses on themes as espionage, surveillance, artificial intelligence, and the nature of criminality. For all of Sybil’s AI power, the system is not flawless and people can be misdiagnosed with deathly consequences. Some people can be assessed as criminals because of their mental state is under extreme stress.
Pyscho Pass cast is very multilayered and morally complicated. Each member of the criminal investigation team has their own objectives and beliefs about the Sybil system. It could be easy to consider Shogo Makishima as the hero of season 1 and Shinya Kogami as the villain. Their relationship draws comparisons from Blade Runner.
Shogo Makishima is an independent free thinker in a world where emotional repression and fitting into certain ideologies is desirable. Emotional repression as shown is only to prevent being either executed and be forced into confinement such as artists who are stripped of their rights because they become so heavily involved in their work that the style of art reflects their emotional state. One of the most notable things about Makishima’s character is his obsession with the very worst of humanity. He believes that the current state of society is too dependent on the meritocratic Sybil system and the lack of free will and individuality has been stripped away as a result. His methods for reaching his goals are very subtle but the execution causes chaos which is anathema to the social order.
Shinya Kogami is one the standout characters. He’s cool, calm, and quietly efficient. He’s highly intelligent and he could easily figure things out on his own and quickly detect when something is wrong. He's a supreme skilled fighter and can easily adapt to any situation and he’s nothing but loyal and kind to his friends.
The writing is a mixture of stylish dark and edginess and also an exploration of a variety philosophical topics. The show takes its time setting up the events that will build to an explosive climax. One episode focuses on a teenaged serial killer who moonlights as an artist and her victims are tributes to her father and its heavily inspired from Titus Androconus. Shinya Kogami’s hunt for Shogo Makishima draws heavily from Heart Of Darkness where bit by bit as the hunt gets more dangerous, the more Shinya Kogami goes rogue.
Joji Saiga, another philosophical driven character lives a life outside of the Sybil system. He is a former psychology professor at a university in Japan whose teachings are what would be considered as “unorthodox” because he encourages his students to think critically and logical and to focus on the facts and keep asking questions. His lifestyle is considered as “going rogue” as he lives in a non-holo house and is more focused on doing research and quoting famous literary authors. He comes from a time when free thinkers like him and artists are placed under strict regulation.
Many people have really no idea what trauma is due to the Sybil system. They never think anything that bad could happen to them since you know that anyone is unlikely to hurt you, after all, the person was vetted by Sybil. One of the biggest ironies from the Sybil system is because of how convenient and easy life is in Japan, the average lifespan is decreasing due to the lack of survival instincts.
Psycho Pass concentrates on the friendship between characters like Ginoza and Kogami rather than romantic entanglements. The characters exhibit real chemistry with one another. Shinya and Akane’s relationship grow from mutual respect to close friends and Shinya has a lot of respect for Akane because to him, he could actually do detective work instead of just being a killer for the CID.
Being a detective is also something that both enforcers and investigators have to be mindful of as getting yourself too mentally and emotionally caught up in a case could result in your psycho pass being revoked by Sybil. This could result in demotion or termination.
Character development is slow paced and it takes time for motives to be revealed. The dialogue between characters was intelligent and engaging and never dull. The action is ultra-violent and stylish with frequent deaths and lots of gore. One scene in particular was a reflection of the bystander effect and how people would just simply record a horrific event and post it on the internet rather than assist when a woman was being beaten to the death. This scene was supposedly based on the real life murder of Shingo Minamino, a music producer. Episode 11 was by far one of the best episode in the series as it really showed how Shogo Makishima really believes in his ideals and what he’ll do to reach his goals when he kills Akane’s friend right in front of her.
The animation is very solid especially when you look at the action scenes. The use of CGI and digital hand drawn cels blended seamlessly. The artstyle, especially when you look at the background design, was perfect. The character designs by Akira Amano of Hitman Reborn looked really nice. Another nice touch was the names of Makishima and Kogami which means sunset and midday which really went well with the moral symbolism of the characters. There are not many light hearted moments in the series.
Akane Tsunemori is not a memorable character and mostly stays in the background. She’s very naïve, clumsy and often gets herself in the crossfire. She had some interesting moments and comes into her own as the series climax. She is against the Sybil system but given the current society in Japan, she has no choice but to make certain compromises. She believes that one day, people will change their minds and consign the Sybil system to the garbage heap of obsolescence.
The musical score was excellent and the opening and closing animation have to be two of the best I've seen. Voice acting was both really good in dub and sub and there was no issue in lip synching. The audio quality was very solid and the sound effects were quite good. The ending for season 1 was perfect and it was so well done that it almost doesn’t even needed a sequel.
A few loose ends like the real purpose of the Sybil system and why was it put into place was never fully established. If you look at episode 12, it never really stated what exactly happened to those protestors after the riots. The reveal of the Sybil system being a collection of brains comprised from asymptomatic criminals felt really tacked on and very far fetched. Shinya Kogami going rogue on its own was something that really should have been given more focus. That error was rectified on the movie. Shogo’s ability to hide his true self from the Sybil system is currently unknown. Shion Karanmori was a very engaging character and she could have had a more central role in the series. Yayaoi’s past with Rina isn’t resolved either as she never made further appearance in any future season as of this writing. Sometimes there was an occasional dialogue hiccup in the English script. In the final scene of episode 22, Mika a new inspector, addresses Akane as “Sir” instead of ma'am.
The blu-ray comes with a non-canon light hearted visual novel. In addition, the blu-ray version includes a remade improved version of episode 17 and 18 because the production quality of these two episodes were substandard. Other features include the choice of either dub or sub, textless op and ed, commentary and a special feature of the cast and crew at Sakura-Con.
If one word could really describe the first season of Psycho Pass it would be “perfect”.
It gets 5 out of 5 stars.
If you are interested in tv shows like 24, X Files, Person Of Interest and neo noir anime like Cowboy Bebop, you will really find a lot of enjoyment from this show.
Get the blu-ray version of the series as not only does it have the extra content but also fully experience the high quality the show has to offer.
As I've watched the first season on my blu-ray player, I am planning on watching the polarizing second season and the movie next before I move on to the third season.