I’m not sure that Urubochi-san and I.G. could have made a second episode that was more different in every way from the first, for better and for worse. Only time will tell whether that was a good strategy for the first two eps of the series.
Make no mistake, I found the second episode of Psycho-Pass to be clearly superior to the premiere in most respects, and if my confidence that this could be one of the best series of the Fall was a little shaken, it’s been somewhat restored. So far I see a series with many very distinct strengths and a couple of troubling weak spots, which is certainly better than one that’s mediocre in most respects. I confess, though, that I found the choice to start the series by leaping onto a runaway train and then following with a reflective, nearly sedate reversal an odd one. I’m not saying it’s unheard of or that the two episodes should have been switched – that clearly wouldn’t have worked – but there are things in the second episode that in hindsight would have made the premiere more impactful, and perhaps lessened the need for so much rushed and stilted exposition.
Any anime series that has pretensions to be great (or at the very least meaningful) must sooner or later stand or fall on its characters, and that’s certainly no less true in the detective/noir genre. The first ep was pretty much a disaster on that front, tossing introduction and realistic development aside for shock value, but this one was much, much better. What I feel now that I didn’t before is that I have some grounding in what this Sibyl-dominated world is, and some reason why I should be interested in what happens to the people there. Any world that has Clara from Kuragehime as a personal software agent can’t be all bad, and I think more of Akane knowing her taste in such things – though I still find her to be the most routine element of the series thus far. That said, taking the time to show her go through her daily routine and to give us the much-needed back story on how she got where she did turned her from a caricature into a character, and that’s a lot of progress for one week.
I’m still finding myself most drawn to Masaoka-san as a character, perhaps because he’s been living the contradictory hunting dog life longer than anyone else. But I find the dogs generally more interesting than the masters, and I suspect that’s as intended. They’re the ones straddling both sides of this sharply-divided dystopian paradise, one foot in the world of the privileged and one in that of the damned. As Kougami lies recovering from the wound Akane inflicted on him, she has what’s surely the most interesting conversation of the episode, with Kagari as she ignores her ramen and he his sandwich (but plays with his coffee). What’s interesting here is the matter of choice – something she has, by virtue of her peerless test scores, and he lacks, because of his psycho-pass scores. Labeled as a latent criminal since five years old, the life of an enforcer is the only alternative to what effectively amounts to torture and imprisonment – and he’s incensed to hear her mooning about what she should be doing with her life. In this world, even those who aren’t latents generally have no free will to speak of – Sibyl tests them and tells them what job they’ll be happy in, and they do it.
Without any question, there’s a commentary here on the curse that intelligence can be – those who think too much aren’t generally as happy as those who think too little. Akane’s intelligence has given her the rarest of all things in this future, a choice (Grade A in 13 different fields of endeavor) – but that only makes her miserable, and that it does makes Kagari furious. But the funny thing is, Akane’s friends are doing the jobs they were told to do, but they don’t seem happy either – complaining about the physical strain of blue-collar work in one case, and the neck strain from sitting in a desk chair all day in the other. Perhaps it’s in our nature always to complain, but it seems that those who have their choices made for them crave more free will, while the one who makes her own choices stresses about it constantly. Happiness can’t be enforced, and certainly not by a half-assed behavioral monitoring Big Brother.
Without a question Psycho-Pass has its own sense of style, and it really shines through better here than in the already stylish premiere. It’s become old hat to show off what you think tech might look like a few years or decades down the line, but this depiction of the day-to-day conveniences available (starting with that Clara lookalike) is one of the more interesting I’ve seen. I also love the futuristic noir look that the production design is achieving splendidly. What’s curious about Psycho-Pass, though, is that unlike most anime which are too derivative of other anime, apart from a bit of GitS this isn’t especially anime-like – but so far, it’s still quite derivative. The echoes of Blade Runner and Minority Report (among others) are all over it, and as sharp as it is even the future-noir look has been nailed by Dark City. Psycho-Pass doesn’t owe it to us to say anything new or to do so in a new way, only to be entertaining – but given the pedigree involved the standards it will be held to are high. It’s going to be a challenge to find something really original to say while sailing these very well-trafficked waters, and if it’s to be the meaningful series one hopes any Urobuchi Gen and NoitaminA show will be and not just a pretty bauble, that’s the challenge it must overcome.