Fundamentally, I think Psycho-Pass comes down to this: if you think a sci-fi film noir written by Gen and animated by Production I.G. is likely to be interesting, you’re going to like this series. I mean, come on – how could that not be interesting? And indeed, it’s become very interesting indeed – though my experience with Gen has always been that his shows engage me intellectually but rarely connect with me emotionally. I think the jury is still out on the latter with Psycho-Pass., but after an awkward first episode the show has continued to improve to the point where it’s now fully locked-in as regards the former.
The air around this episode was supreme confidence – a series that had found its narrative stride and knew exactly what it was trying to do. More and more P-P seems very sure of its characters and as is usually the case with Gen, their roles as mouthpieces for him to have philosophical, ethical and moral debates with himself are are (mostly) becoming clear. The connection with UN-GO for me is that we have a NoitaminA detective story by a Champagne studio, set in the future which playfully uses technology to play with our perception of reality, and you have one of anime’s most inquisitive minds (Gen here, Shou Aikawa with UN-GO) toying with the ideas of an avant-garde Japanese writer. With UN-GO it was Ango Sakaguchi and here it’s Terayama Shuji, a poet/filmmaker who was important in the counterculture movement in Japan in the 60’s and whose “Seishōnen no Tame no Eiga Nyūmon” (A Young Person’s Guide to the Cinema) is specifically referred to here.
As with UN-GO and any detective-themed anime, the individual mysteries are likely to vary in quality, but when on its game UN-GO offered some of the best in recent memory and this arc from Psycho-Pass has that same potential. While the villain of the piece this time was Masatake Mido (Mizushima Takahiro) it’s clear that he was acting as the tool of Makishima Shougo (Sakurai Takahiro), a man about whose motives we know almost nothing, but who appears destined to be a critical figure in the series. Of Masatake we know much more, about his actual crimes almost everything – he murdered three people (with Makishima’s help) in order to steal their online identities. We already knew the first two – the third was a 14 year-old boy using the avatar of Melancholia (Tamura Mutsumi). Masatake’s M.O. seems clear enough – he was clearly a nut job with an innate ability to copy the behavior of the avatars he stole, and a seeming lack of a personal identity in RL that drove him to do so. Makishima’s motivation in this instance seems to have been pure selfish amusement.
As with everything Gen writes, there’s a lot of social commentary lurking under the surface and in this case, it’s not too far. Masatake represents the ultimate fanboy in a sense, a classic yandere (maybe Gen has personal experience with such types, who knows). He obsesses over online celebrities to fill a gap in his existence and becomes so fixated that when he feels they aren’t performing up to his expectations, he kills them because he can do a better job being them – except in his case this isn’t murder, because the avatars are the real people, not the humans behind them. It’s Kougami who solves the riddle, and he makes reference to Spooky Boogie and the others as idols (the word choice isn’t accidental) and icons, and reasons that it only makes sense that an obsessed fan could do a better job performing the part to the public’s expectations because after all, it’s the image that people want to see – not the real person behind it.
That isn’t the most subtle thing Gen’s written, of course, but it cuts like a jagged blade just the same. Kougami’s role as the prime catalyst in the story is growing ever more clear with the reveal that he used to be Ginoka’s partner, but was demoted to Enforcer after getting so involved in a case that his crime coefficient skyrocketed. That helps explain both his skills and his attitude towards Gino, which has never seemed more patronizing than it did this week. Akane is certainly falling in love with him, and Gino’s personal “rule of thumb” about drawing a line in the sand between detective and enforcer takes on an increasingly personal air. Gino still hasn’t flashed any evidence that he has what it takes to be a decent detective – he’s aware, at least, of why Kougami is so much better at the job than he is – but doesn’t seem to understand why this poses such a fundamental problem.
Masaoka continues to be my favorite, the grizzled and hard-boiled detective who paints flowers, takes wisdom from Rousseau and spits strong alcohol through fire to foil holographic illusions (ah, the sweet symbolism). I love the way Gen uses Masaoka as a self-insertion character, a way to get himself on-screen spitballing about the ideas that fascinate him – like the discussion about the ‘net that Masaoka has with Akane. She (affectionately) calls him “an endangered species” for his analog view of the world, and describes the ‘net as just another tool, like knives or paper. When Masaoka refers her to Rousseau’s “Discourse on Inequality” she says “Just a sec, I’ll look it up” and he replies “No need – it’s permanently recorded in my brain.” That may be my favorite exchange of the series for the way it perfectly captures both characters and the viewpoints they’re acting as icons of, and the notion of whether the internet is just another tool is an absolutely fascinating one. I personally believe that something that allows us to manipulate perception and escape our personal identity the way the ‘net does is by no means a mere tool in the way a stone knife or a screwdriver is – rather than a tool, it’s an aspect of reality itself, and must be viewed as such. We haven’t seen the last of this discussion in Psycho-Pass, that’s for certain – and in fact, its central role in the story may just be the element that allows Gen to find originality in a setting that’s thematically very well-traveled.