I see two basic questions at the heart of the matter in discerning what we have with this series. Is it something deep and profound and full of social commentary, or is it a slickly produced pulp novel brought to the screen simply to entertain? And is it a larger story being told in small pieces, or a TV detective story with a mystery-of-the-week format? For now it seems that the answer to both questions is “a little of both”, but with Urobuchi Gen pulling the creative strings it’s tempting to believe the focus will gradually shift towards a canon storyline and a deeper exploration of just how fucked-up humanity is in real-life.
What I can’t argue for now is that P-P is pretty entertaining, and an absolute blast to look at. When you combine Production I.G.’s typically high standard with some of the most creative set and character design and cinematography anime has seen for a good while you have arguably the most visually impressive show since Hyouka. Indeed, while Gen is the biggest name involved the star of the series for me thus far is Animation Director and Character Designer Asano Kyoji, who’s worked in similar roles on Guilty Crown and GitS: SAC, among other series. The character designs and film noir sets are spectacular enough, but Asano-san really impressed this week with the most interesting virtual world I’ve seen since Summer Wars, full of spectacular avatars and surreal locations, which he brought to life in a RL meet-up in Roppongi that was just as impressively envisioned. Artistically this is great stuff.
Even if it’s being overshadowed by the visuals the literary side of things isn’t uninteresting either, even if it has been a bit uneven. Masaoka is emerging as one of my favorite characters for quite a while, thanks in part to the character design and Arimoto Kinryuu’s performance but also because I sense Gen sees Masaoka as something of an avatar for himself in the story, and he’s the one who most profoundly connects the worlds of the hunters and the dogs. Masaoka is endlessly interesting – playing the role of the grizzled war horse full of sage advice and a deep soul (he’s a painter, and a good one) but one senses that he’s more profoundly shaped by the darkness he’s seen inside and outside himself than he’s letting on. He’s full of wisdom for Akane generally and specifically as regards Kougami – who he sees that she’s obviously falling in love with – but he’s also experienced enough to see that the only way she’s going to learn in life is to make her own mistakes (if she survives them in the dangerous path she’s chosen).
Ginoza continues to be the weak leak in the cast so far. He’s trapped in an uninteresting role as a plot support at the moment – the grey and stern face of authority whose total lack of imagination makes him an incompetent at his job, a job Masaoka and Kougami seem especially deft at executing. The theme of the detective needing to have a latent criminal inside him continues to grow in importance, and Masaoka even makes reference to it directly when he tells Akane that in order to understand Kougami her psycho-pass reading is going to have to be the same as his. He offers her the advice to “stick to her own side” and offers the words of Nietzsche as emphasis – “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you.” True enough, but I think Gen’s point is that a detective can never be a good one without staring into the abyss, something that Ginoza seems either unwilling or incapable of doing. It seems that the Sybil system was designed to prevent the “good” in society from having to stare into the abyss, but it’s just as clear that it’s failed at its job.
In terms of this week’s mystery (and next week’s) it’s a look at yet another way the citizens of this false utopia work around the chains Sybil places on them to try and avoid going insane, an elaborate online escape that’s built on the foundation of the real-world one but takes it to a different level of sophistication. What’s especially interesting is that Akane partakes in this world herself – yet another example that she has a strong outsider streak in her – oft visiting the domain of Talisman (the unmistakable Koyasu Takehito) for advise and comfort. Talisman’s rival for prominence is the anarchist Spooky Boogie (Taketatsu Ayana) who appears to have been a classmate of Akane’s. When evidence surfaces that the RL Talisman has been murdered and replaced online, Spooky ends up offering her assistance to Akane, staging a cosplay meet up in Roppongi as a trap for the fake Talisman. But he turns the tables, and it appears that the whole operation is some sort of campaign to protect the purity of the online fantasy world being perpetrated by Mido Masatake (Mizushima Takahiro) – reading “1984” is hardly a subtle point, is it? – who’s made Spooky Boogie the next target for punishment for violating the sacred trust of the online escapist.
We’ve certainly been down this road before with Gen. There don’t appear to be any clean hands in the story – the flaws in the dystopian establishment are clear enough, but he has little sympathy for the deviants it targets and the thrust of this arc is that those who seek escape through the virtual world are sheep being led astray by frauds and charlatans who prey on their desperate longing for the sake of their own egos. The fundamental bleakness of Gen’s worldview seems to come through in everything he does, and no one seems to suffer more than the pure of heart, who are punished dearly for their decency. What’s interesting is that the theoretical lamb in this den of wolves, Akane, doesn’t seem like such an innocent herself – she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a bit of a rebel and someone who’s desperately longing for a way to give voice to the part of her that sees the system that created her as morally bankrupt. If there’s a bigger story that emerges from the little pieces, I expect that to be the spine of it.