Anime Review #2: Psycho-Pass (Season 1)

Despite appearing unrelated from the latter in every category, Psycho-Pass tackles a similar set of moral dilemmas as Shinsekai Yori. This one hits much closer to home as its setting is a near-future cyberpunk tech dystopia (so close to home China banned it). The society of Psycho-Pass has perfected the use of cymatic scans to evaluate individuals’ crime coefficient based on biological readings, one of which is stress level called the “hue”. Administered and self-sustained by the supposed Sibyl (supposedly) supercomputer system, it is so holistic its score is used to place individuals into careers with utilitarian calculations.

Where I found Shinsekai Yori lacking in character development, Psycho-Pass makes up for it with the character of Akane, who is the only student of her class year to score perfect on the occupation aptitude test for becoming an inspector. That naturally arouses curiosity as to why her subjective personality and values is best suited to champion a dystopian system that constantly makes “objective” but morally gray probabilistic assessments on its citizens. This indicates the author decided early on to let character development guide the audience in probing the central issues of the society (whereas Shinsekai Yori relies more on world-building).

The most similar aspect to Shinsekai Yori and the reason why I think both stories contain the same essence is the counter-counter-argument structure (though Shinsekai Yori is way more subtle). Both plot developments exaggerate gaping flaws of the “perfect” systems, carried out by well-designed antagonists that seek an overturn of the society order. However, the damage caused by those plans somehow reinforce the necessity of the system, putting the audience in a catch-22 where they have to side with one or the other. Personally, I think a dystopian plot is successful if a roughly equal proportion of the audience take opposite sides.

In conclusion, Psycho-Pass allowed me to enjoy the ride with its realistic setting, relatable characters, and familiar dystopian elements while Shinsekai Yori left me unsettled and stranded. Where the latter chose ambiguity to be more profound, Psycho-Pass chose explicitness to be more enjoyable. I highly recommend watching both consecutively.

Spoiler Zone

Returning to the equal proportion on opposite sides criteria, whereas I believe Shinsekai Yori achieves this (based on the sentiment from audience reviews), Psycho-Pass’s author seems to ultimately side with the protagonist, whose philosophy ends up being classified as deontology (Kant). There’s an effort by the author to build consensus around that view of the purpose of law, but it doesn’t feel pushy. In Shinsekai Yori, though the antagonist also ends up dead, the focus on Squealer’s trial and being tortured along the revealing of the monster rats’ truth creates much grayer morality. The author is content stranding the viewer in the catch-22 and doesn’t even concede on leaving a trail with its ending credits focusing on Saki’s ambiguous writing.

P.S. I want to review many series I’ve watched within the past two years. Logically, I should be writing in chronological order of past watching, but at this point memories of older series are so embedded in my cerebral cortex I might as well flesh out those I watched this winter break that my hippocampus still recalls.

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