Inspired by the work of American sci-fi author Phillip K. Dick and Western philosophy, Psycho-Pass envisions a future Japan where justice is enforced by an advanced technology known as the Sibyl System. Each person is scanned for his/her potential to do crime in an assessment known as a Psycho-Pass which measures one’s Crime Coefficient. If your Crime Coefficient is too high, lethal force is authorized by the Sibyl System which results in immediate judgment.
Akane Tsunemori (Kana Hanazawa) is a brilliant young woman who scores high on her work placement test but decides to join the CID, the governing body that enforces the Sibyl System. As an Inspector, she is assigned Enforcers, latent criminals who are kept imprisoned until they are let loose on cases to hunt down potential criminals. One Enforcer is Shinya Kogami (Tomokazu Seki), a former Inspector whose crime coefficient rose beyond acceptable levels when his partner was killed, a partner he vows to avenge.
Akane sees potential for redemption in Shinya, but when the two discover that the many cases they have been working are leading them into Shinya’s past, his thirst for vengeance returns. As the cases begin to tie into the past, the shadowy figure of Shogo Makishima (Takahiro Sakurai) begins to take shape, a brilliant anarchist who seeks to overthrow the Sibyl System as he sees it as a violation of humanity’s basic right to free will.
While Psycho-Pass boasts a strong ensemble cast, it’s these three characters and their conflicting ideologies that keep the show going and explore the big questions posed by the world these characters inhabit and what it says about human nature. Themes of identity and control emerge quickly and are strong echoes of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner influences.
Psycho-Pass liberally quotes Western philosophy as it grapples with ideas of determinism, free will, and the ethical quandary of trying to reconcile an inhuman justice system with an innate, albeit corruptible, human thirst for justice. Each major character comes to his or her own ultimate answer by the end and the show is willing to let each one have its day in the sun.
The portrayal of Shogo is what makes Psycho-Pass work so well. He’s essentially a psychopath, but his ideology is rooted in a lot of valid critiques of a society that seeks to protect by taking away many of the freedoms afforded to developed societies. In an age where government employs technology to fight crime, the idea of Psycho-Pass is not too far-fetched. Already AI is being used to predict crimes in a number of countries and it may not be too long before one country decides to go the way of Minority Report and prejudge people before acts can be committed.
It’s a great work of sci-fi that can take contemporary issues and extrapolate and explore them in a space that feels plausible but also allows the audience and the characters to ask the big questions. Psycho-Pass is not completely original, many of its ideas are cribbed from arguably better works, but by the end it stands as its own compelling journey with a unique set of characters and a distinct enough world to make this interpretation worthwhile.
© James Blake Ewing 2019