There’s no denying it – with Psycho-Pass, Urobuchi Gen is once again teasing us with the potential for true greatness. This show is just getting better and better as it segues from a “crime of the week” format into a truly engaging larger story, and as the characters take on additional resonance as we get to know them better. All the pieces are in place, but the question remains – can The Butcher finish the job this time? For my money all of Gen’s works have been fascinating and intermittently brilliant, but none have tied it all together with a coherent and resonant ending – and he’s never managed to connect with me emotionally the way he does intellectually. But as much as I might want to tamp down my own expectations, I can’t deny that P-P has a shot to be a great series – and as few as actually achieve that, it isn’t that many more that even had the raw materials.
One of the raw materials is a great antagonist – I won’t say villain and demean the notion of what a great antagonist can do with Kawahara-like imagery – and Psycho-Pass has one for sure in Makashima. But it may even have two, as the mysterious hunter is revealed to be Senguji Toyohisa (Chou Katsumi), the insanely rich owner of a cybernetics company who is himself a cyborg – he’s converted his physical body to a robotic one, with only his brain remaining his own. In an utterly brilliant way to introduce the concept we see Senguji giving a television interview, with his not-quite human facial expressions and movements. Think Haley Joel Osment’s brilliant performance in “A.I.” – something that looks human but constantly communicates otherness – and add a mega-dose of creepy and you have an idea of Senguji.
The meat of the interview is interesting, too, one of those philosophical debates that no one writes quite like Gen-san (there are three of those classic Gen conversations this week). Senguji tells the overmatched interviewer that in fact, she’s already a cyborg – with her hard-wired information port and A.I. personal assistant and wardrobe holo. It’s only a matter of degree, he says – “If man was made in God’s image, isn’t it time we started to be more like God?” – and the social commentary from Gen is pretty thinly veiled here. Senguji seems to be the one providing Makashima with the resources he needs to perform his sabotage of society – in exchange for the pleasure of hunting down Makashima’s playthings once they’ve outlived their usefulness.
Senguji is a sick bastard – as he and Makashima have another conversation to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Ludwig van is all the rage in anime this season) Senguji smokes a pipe made of Rikako Oryou’s bones – but the ultimate question is which one of them is the hunter, and which one holding the leash. It’s a fascinating parallel to the situation with the MWPSB, where we have to ask ourselves the same question. It’s certainly my sense that Makashima is the more dangerous of the two – and while Senguji thinks he’s using Makashima – and there’s no doubt they’ve formed a disturbingly symbiotic partnership – the converse is actually closer to the truth.
Things are no less compelling with the good guys this week. We get more candid looks at Akane at home with
Clara Candy, who gets closer to the truth than Akane would like by calling her meeting with Kougami a “date”. Akane is a fascinating mix of schoolgirl anxiety and an iron will, a steel-trap mind with a startling naiveté. That she’s falling in love with Kougami seems clear, and I suspect he knows it – but for now, he’s content to take on her education as a detective. The crash course is a visit to Professor Saiga Jouji, a genius profiler who now lives as a virtual hermit in a gorgeous mountain retreat. The reason he’s no longer working with the MWPSB is that when detectives attended one of his lectures, their crime coefficient sometimes shot up – because by helping them profile the criminal, Saiga was forcing them to think like one. This is of course thematically very consistent with what we’ve seen already – “Stare into the void, and the void stares into you.” Kougami phrases it a little differently for Akane – “Imagine staring into a dark swamp where you can’t see the bottom, and the only way you can investigate it is to jump in.” Of course, not everyone can come back – Kougami is living proof of that, according to Sybil. In effect the Enforcers have been created as sacrificial lambs because so many Investigators never made it out of the swamp.
What really strikes me about Kougami is his almost total lack of bitterness about his lot in life (or at least, so it seems). He has anger, for sure, but anger and bitterness aren’t the same thing. He seems to blame no one for his current situation except the criminal he’s been chasing – not Gino, not Sybil – and he seems to accept that what’s happened is simply the natural order of things. The more I see of Kougami the more heroic he seems, and that’s going to come into play if indeed my hunch about the series turning on what happens when Akane jumps into that dark swamp is true. Kougami’s repeated comments about how Akane’s hue never changes are yet another flag, and she’s clearly someone who won’t accept the status quo. She’s already pursuing the path of being a true detective, which it’s now obvious is a term that applies much more to the enforcers than the investigators. Ultimately, perhaps, it may come down to Kougami sacrificing himself for the sake of Akane – both out of personal affection, and because of the potential she has to shake up the system from within.
And then there’s the question of Gino and Masaoka, who continues to have a huge presence despite limited screen time. Akane confronts Gino about his paternalistic attitude towards her in a brutally authentic scene – I especially loved the part where she reminded him that they shared the same rank. It was a watershed moment for her character, undoubtedly, but the aftermath was of equal interest. Masaoka stops her as she’s on her way to complain to Internal Affairs and tells her the story of how Gino got the way he did – about how his father was a latent criminal, and how the family suffered for it, and how he felt betrayed both by his father and Kougami. It seems more likely than ever than Masaoka is in fact Gino’s father, especially after calling him by his first name “Nobuchika” – in Japan, some men may go through their entire lives without being called their given name by anyone except their parents and their grade-school classmates. Gino has been pretty much mired in the loser role so far, but he did gain a few points for apologizing to Kougami – and if indeed Masaoka is his father, that certainly makes his reluctance to stare into the void himself all the more understandable.
All in all we have a really fascinating situation here, both on the character front and in terms of the larger story that Gen seems to be telling. But as great as the writing is, the series direction is also superb. We’re getting terrific character animation, with some of the most expressive faces of the year, and realistic body language such as the way Akane hugs her knees as she rides with Kougami. And the details of this future world are presented with loving exactitude and real wit. We’re also seeing some very interesting cinematography, with quick cuts and close-ups, that only enhances the all-embracing future noir vibe of the series. It was a little slow out of the gate and it’s still an open question whether Gen can succeed in taking this very familiar premise in a truly original direction, but Psycho-Pass is proving itself to be one of the smartest and most elegantly-produced anime of 2012.