For a change, a NoitaminA show is the most anticipated series of the season, Did it deliver?
There’s an awful lot that stands out in the pedigree for Psycho-Pass. It’s NotiaminA. It’s Gen Urobuchi, and it’s Production I;.G.(though that doesn’t mean what it once did). So there’s really nothing surprising in the fact that it topped the poll here at LiA and at RandomC as well. And while there’s a lot to like in the opening episode, there are some elements that didn’t really work for me, and that makes the opening ep perhaps a mild disappointment. It’s true I’m holding Psycho-Pass up to a higher standard than most shows, but it’s one of the few this season that I felt had a legit chance to be great. And of course, it still might.
One undeniable fact is that the core of this story – a dystopian future where latent criminal tendency can be predicted with supposedly great accuracy – has been done before. Phillip K. Dick’s “Minority Report” (later a Spielberg film) is only the most famous of many examples. Here, instead of psychics the technology called “Dominator” is used to rank everyone by their criminal tendency score, and that same technology is used to power weapons that can disable “Latents” for convenient brainwashing and slavery – or, if necessary, kill them. Some of these latents are used as “hunting dogs” by the police, to help in the apprehension of rogue potential criminals.
Well, the flaws in this system are obvious – so obvious in the first episode, in fact, that I hope their eventual reveal isn’t going to be treated as some kind of shocking event. We’ve seen this exploration of determinism and free will through this conceit many times, but with Urobuchi doing the writing there’s at least the hope that Psycho-Pass will somehow find a fresh way to do so (though it won’t be easy). It’s plain that there’s a strong element of the self-fulfilling prophecy to all this, and it’s also plain that that the Dominator isn’t able to differentiate real latent criminality from stress-induced “noise” – such as when it targets the hostage of a runaway deviant for elimination, despite the fact that her criminality level is off the charts mainly because she’s just been tortured and raped.
There are a couple of other things that stuck in my craw as well. First of all, main heroine Tsunemori Akane (Kana Hanazawa) is – so far at least – a walking cliché. We’ve seen the more new girl cop (or solider) vamping her adorably inept way through the new assignment while the grizzled men around her gently but firmly keep her in line a million times in anime alone, and I find it a pretty sexist portrayal. I also really wonder how it is that a cop who supposedly graduated from the academy with one of the highest scores ever should need to have every detail of the actual job explained to her. Of course, that enables another of my pet peeves – long explanations which grind the narrative to a halt as a way to roll out as much exposition as possible. Most of this exposition comes at the hands of the oldest of the hunting dogs, Masaoka Tomomi (Arimoto Kinryuu), whose rank cynicism provides the most interesting perspective in the premiere. Other hunting dog latents are portrayed by Seki Tomokazu and Ishida Akira, while Tsunemori’s partner Nobuchika Ginoza is played Nojima Kenji.
What did I like? Well, I’m always up for a good Noir anime, and this one has the vibe down pretty well. Urobuchi’s dialogue has its signature snappy rhythm to it (especially Kinryuu-san as Masaoka) and unsurprisingly the premières speaks to a show with no intent on pulling its punches when it needs to use violence to makes its point. And I don’t think there’s any reason to believe the show can’t get better with some of its clumsy exposition out of the way, though I’m still worried about what it’s going to set out to prove with the system at the heart of the new order already so obviously hollow. It could end up being a simple good vs. evil action series, but that’s not Gen’s style – I’m sure he’s going to try to frame this as a moral debate somehow. It seems like a tall order, but if I’m to give anyone a chance to try, it might as well be Urobuchi Gen. It’s always nice when a highly anticipated show blows you away right out of the gate, but with two cours to come it’s far too early to add panic to mild ambivalence.