Psycho-Pass – 09

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That was a truly impressive display of film-making on all fronts.

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.

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  1. K

    I was wondering if Kougami was perhaps seeing Akane as a "limiter" of sorts for him. Obviously the Sybil system monitors and judges everyone, but in the first episode, Akane uses her own judgement and morals to stop Kou from killing the victim even though Sybil marked her for death. When Kougami wakes up, he tells Akane that he's thinking differently than before, that he can work under someone like her. That said, he's maintained a one track mind towards catching the mastermind behind many of the recent crimes. The only "change" I can think of that he might have undergone is that he trusts that Akane will hold him back if he goes too far.

    That said, I have to wonder if he trusts in Akane and how her hue doesn't seem to change–or if he just doesn't care if she becomes a latent criminal too.

  2. B

    Always disappointing to me when transhumanist characters are the villains, but I still like this show. It's definitely a builder, after the first episode I didn't think much of it at all but now it's one of the shows I look forward to most every week.

  3. e

    Professor Saiga's mansion is basically Fallingwater house! Frank Lloyd Wright ref ftw *bit of a fangirl for the man's work I admit* .
    I agree with the episode being very good in dialogue and fleshing out the characters both through words and body language ( one detail that really worked for me: I don't think mr. cyborg millionaire hunter has blinked even once in any scene we've seen him so far. The only part of his cyberbody that doesn't move. Cold dead eyes. Artificially bright. And if the eyes are the windows of the soul… well, you don't even need to hear him or see him smoking human bones to get creeped out. Another one that managed to elude or cheat the Sybil system? ) It almost made me forget a number of scenes were the characters's faces looked a bit more off than usual.
    Gen sure is teasing us with the whole Masaoka-Gino family bond . The Nobuchika bit could be a giant red herring as much as the most robust hint.
    Gotta love Akane. This girl's got potential. And is standing up for herself. Good, good.
    About Ko being aware of her interest/budding attraction… well, I'd wager he does. Even Gino has caught on her focus and behaviour around Shinya, although maybe only on the professional&career side of that… :p.
    Is it my impression of Makishima's line about the name of the next toy in this episode got cut? I have a sneaking little suspicion that while Shogo is targetting Kougami he might be directing his partner in crime towards Akane instead. If this end up being the planned hunt – Akane's with her closeness with Ko in this case placing her as the Sasayama of the situation among other things*** – this would twistedly work on multiple levels wouldn't it? And the old man looked pretty pleased with handling young pretty and intelligent girl's bones… give him a toy to chase while Makishima keeps the final confrontation with the real treat all for himself – or so he thinks -.

    ***I expect our girl to survive btw. She's a fascinating mix as you aptly put it, Enzo. I think a few people both in-universe and out will end up surprised ;p.

    Twisted enough?

  4. Interesting notion that it might be Akane he was about to name, rather than Kougami – but Makashima does say "Enforcer" specifically.

    Yup, Falling Water – I missed that. It's in Wisconsin, too, not far from where I grew up.

  5. H

    Falling Water? Wikipedia says it's in Pennsylvanian, I visited it once and I've never been anywhere near Wisconsin.

  6. H

    I think you're thinking of Hillside Home School

  7. e

    @Helen: oh lucky you 😀
    @GE: ahah, you're right aout the dialogue. This week I had to watch it via streaming the first time around, after rewatching he does indeed refers clearly to a certain Enforcer.
    On the other hand Masaoka's revelations about Ginoza's past now seem to me much more like of a caring 'uncle'/friend of the family/Gino's father past colleague even (' in those early days before the Enforcers role was established a lot of the Inspectors were labelled as latent criminals' + 'Gino's father was labelled as a latent criminal when Gino was still a kid'. Was Gino's father an Inspector back then? I can't recall if the Bureau higher-up lady seen some episodes ago alluded to that in her criminal tendencies<—genetics? bit of speech to Gino. And we don't know if Masaoka used to be a former Inspector or otherwise either, correct? ) rather than the words of his possible father. Of course he could simply be speaking of those past days from ' a lifetime ago/another life' perspective and still be the father. And Ginoza might have taken up his mother's maiden surname.

  8. C

    This anime might not improve my faith in humanity but it sure as hell raises my hope in anime…and that's pretty much the same thing right 😛

  9. C

    Reminds me of GiTS.
    Reminds me of that story about a rich lord owning an island who one day rescues a young man from shipwrecked, only to drug him and attempt to hunt him down.

  10. A

    facial expressions in this episode for the most part were actually better animated than usual; usually facial animations in this series are not impressive due to the complexity of the art style but this episode attempted to bring a little bit more life in the characters expressions (take makishima's intrigued/happy smile in the end). Makes sense considering how we are formally introduced to Makishima's partner, who lacks the range of facial expressions other characters do and that contrast was pretty clear this episode.

  11. e

    @Anon: I'm fine with expression, mind you. I'm not disagreeing. They did a good job. And these specific set of character designs do tend to get off model the more you emphasize their facial movements. But given how I'm still bothered a bit by them even when they're on model – (personal taste) especially Akane and her misplaced nose of doom – I can't help but notice.

  12. A

    Hahaha very true…her whole facial design takes some getting use to. Luckily Ive gotten accustomed to it.

  13. A

    A pipe made out of Oryou Rikako's bones..definitely sick..

  14. L

    Urobuchi's focus is on the exploration of the psychological rather than the emotional. I think it a bit unfair to hold every writer to the same emotional yardstick.

  15. E

    I love this show. We finally get an adult anime who's not a stupid pandering to horny teenagers / moe otaku / neets / fujoshi /etc.

  16. m

    now i'm really curious what senguji will use to bait kougami.
    putting aside his eyes, i thought his teeth were really creepy too

  17. e

    More like his unnatural stretched grin for me. But now that you mention the teeth I'm thinking his teeth might be actually made out of his victims'. Orz. Once you start with a pipe it's a slippery slope… and historically there are so many ways skin bones and teeth of animals – and humans – that have been kept as trophies of hunts and wars and/or turned into art objects and relics. In our regional eastern art Museum in Turin we have an ancient manufact made out of human bones.
    Not to mention the whole saints' relics Christian trade flourishing since medieval ages. We had a few of those at my workplace, the oldest dating back to Merovingian times.

  18. m

    damn, now you said it. i wonder if it's possible to actually implant an entire set of false teeth into another and have it match. though, if you have metal and bones, that probably is insignificant.

  19. J

    This was P-P's most entertaining episode by far! It's delightful indeed to have episodes like this one, where you don't need action to make it such a fun ride.

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