By Andy Hanley.
The old adage that “It takes a thief to catch a thief” broadly powers the major revelations at the climax of the first series of Psycho-Pass. Rather than an artificial intelligence, the SIBYL system which constantly monitors the stress levels and potential criminality of every Japanese citizen is actually a very human one – a literal brain’s trust of so-called “criminally asymptomatic” individuals that could well be seen as allowing the lunatics to run the asylum.
However, it works in spite of its alarming flaws, and Ministry of Welfare’s Public Safety Bureau Inspector Akane Tsunemori has to continue to operate within the constraints of a system she inherently distrusts.
It’s a conflict that hangs even more heavily as we enter Psycho-Pass 2, not least because she’s shorn of one of her most valuable allies. Former Enforcer Shinya Kogami’s absence (as all but an imagined whisper in her ear) is a notable one, but Akane thrives in his absence, using her own unique worldview to become a formidable detective.
Her skills are tested to the limit in Psycho-Pass 2, as a series of what seem to be terrorist bombings turn out to be an attack on the very foundations of the SIBYL system itself by an individual known as Kamui, who probes every element of the MWPSB to exploit all weaknesses. But who is Kamui? Does he even exist at all? Just what does the trademark of his work, the scrawled graffiti that reads simply “WC?”, actually mean?
Following Gen Urobuchi’s first series, Psycho-Pass 2 takes a distinctly different direction under the authorship of Tow Ubukata, also the writer of Ghost in the Shell: ARISE and Mardock Scramble. For starters, this sequel plumbs even more gory and violent depths than its predecessor – if Gen Urobuchi lived up to his nickname as a “butcher” in the first season, Ubukata sets himself up as the head of a slaughterhouse.
Psycho-Pass 2 also takes more interest in its capacity as a sci-fi crime procedural than its predecessor –plenty of time is spent actually dissecting the crimes, which gives the viewer ample opportunity to see how Tsunemori has grown since we last saw her as a rookie inspector. An intriguing concept remains at the core of this franchise that has plenty of avenues left unexplored.
Tow Ubukata’s preoccupation is arguably one shared with another recent Tatsunoko Production series in Gatchaman Crowds – the importance of society as a whole rather than the individuals within. From Kamui himself through to the way the SIBYL system is exploited for nefarious ends, the question is one of how a collective can influence the thoughts and actions of individuals for good or ill, and how influence exerted upon a group should be judged. Throw in some pondering of the classic nature-versus-nurture question and you have plenty to get your teeth into.
It can’t really be denied that Psycho-Pass 2 lacks the subtlety of the first season, but upon closer inspection that appears to be exactly what it sets out to do – deliver a grotesque look at its world and the system at the heart of its focus. It’s a world where the best of intentions can be skewed and manipulated in disturbing directions, turning unlucky victims into dangerous sociopaths and law-enforcers into loyal cheerleaders incapable of seeing the flaws in the system they inhabit.
Akane becomes the true heroine – existing within the SIBYL system as a believer in justice for the public good, but unwilling to accept the shortcuts and failings in the process. Hers is the mindset that we want – no, expect – of our own law enforcement officials, and it’s exactly that realisation that underpins the credentials of Psycho-Pass as a valuable window into our own insecurities and desires regarding crime and punishment.
Psycho Pass 2 is released in the UK by Anime Limited.