First Impressions: Psycho-Pass

This was the most colourful shot in the entire episode.

It speaks for itself that life is not exactly a cakewalk when you have a less-than-ideal mental health. I can attest to that, and I am fairly certain Gen Urobuchi can as well. His latest work, Psycho-Pass, shows the extreme result of the increase in psychological fragility your society has seen in recent years and paints a dark world where potential psychopaths are rounded up and either forced into rehabiliation or put down without questions asked. It’s social cleansing of the most despicable kind, but makes for a bleak, excellent premise that fits Urobuchi’s obsession for cynical grimdarkery to a T. If you expected gruesome tragedy, that is exactly what you will get. If you didn’t expect gruesome tragedy, you clearly need to do your homework. Even then, it is not for everyone. Unlike Urobuchi’s mainstream-friendly works, Psycho-Pass seems to be all for him and outsiders like him. If you’re as mad as the man himself is, this is the anime for you.

Being Urobuchi’s first original story since the visceral Song of Saya, Psycho-Pass almost seems to love flaunting its Urobutcherim at any given opportunity. It is quite clear that the man is thoroughly enjoying his newfound infamy as “that guy from all the suffering and gruesome death” and Psycho-Pass is so full of Urobuchi’s signature morbid pathos it goes overboard way more than is good for it, and for you. The brutal rape and execution scenes, while not entirely uncalled for, did raise some eyebrows and recall why your mother does not like your watching anime. While Kyoto Animation is creating awareness with its anime about macabre adolescents, Production I.G. seems to be making an anime for macabre adolescents.

In Urobuchi’s Japan, phasers set themselves to stun.

This first episode sees rookie cop Akane Tsunemori being paired up with a crew of so-called Enforcers, rehabilitated latent criminals who are allowed to go free if they agree to assist the police, in order to apprehend a fellow psychological patient who refuses treatment. Of course, everything goes horribly wrong and Akane and her collegues are forced to bust out their Dominators, cool-looking guns that scan their targets’ psychological conditions. It takes Akane all of one episode to rebel against her employer’s zero tolerance for anyone with their mental health down the gutter, and the rookie is quickly told to know her place.

Psycho-Pass carries a nice message that shuns the demonization of victims and mental patients, and Akane did not need much to make me like her., though when the call her a rookie, they literally mean rookie. Despite allegedly being the best of her class, Akane’s status as the new girl is horribly abused by every single character in the show in order to babble exposition about all kinds of things she really should know already.  My illusion of Urobuchi being one of the only anime writers knowing that “show, don’t tell” is an essential part on writing was already scattered by his disappointing storytelling in Fate/Zero.

An abundance of nineties grit and blatant disregard for the first rule of writing is by no means unfamiliar territory for Urobuchi, but there are moments when Psycho-Pass sees the butcher at his very worst. Thankfully, there is also quite a lot of greatness to be found in Psycho-Pass, that more than makes up for this.

Because making people explode is definitely a better and less messy way of executing people than shooting them in the head.

It took a while to get there, but Ayane’s rebellion against the rest of her squad over arresting a rape victim with PTSD was pretty great and surprisingly morally aware. Shinya’s sneaky undercover tactics establish him as a magnificent douchebag and the Dominators are nothing short of awesome. I love how they project a first person shooter-esque HUD on the wielder’s field of vision. The visual presentation of Psycho-Pass is wonderful to look at in general, and full of loveable details. Spot the immensely creepy security bots that give the perpetually complaining ones from K a run for their money, for starters. The soundtrack is more than solid as well and consists of an unholy, but awesome mash of acoustic guitar, UK garage and Kajiuran choirs – including an squealing post-hardcore opening song of Pixies proportions.

Psycho-Pass is already a very divisive show, probably by nature, and it comes dangerously close to crossing some lines it had better stay away from. I am a sucker for Urobuchi’s gruesome insanity, but I have always considered him standing above senseless violence and rape for the sake of it. Psycho-Pass isn’t that far gone just yet though and, for every questionable idea in this first episode, it had at least two great ones. With a premise this interesting and a writer this competent, Psycho-Pass has the benefit of my doubt. This episode managed to tell a pretty solid standalone story, clever twists included. In the best case, we will have a great series with a pompous first episode made to keep the moe crowd out; In the worst case, an enjoyable one with its head just a bit too much up its own mirthless backside.

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3 responses to “First Impressions: Psycho-Pass

  1. I don’t have a problem with gruesome, but Urobuchi’s track record with tragedy is a mixed boat; sometimes he blows it out of the water, and others times he sinks the ship with all the finesse of the titanic.. usually all in the same piece of fiction.

    Also, Madoka was totally an Urobuchi original, and I don’t think those criminals turned hunters are actually “free.” You are wrong on the internet, and should feel bad! And all that usual noise.. 😛

    • Ah, maybe I should have explained that I don’t consider Madoka 100% Urobuchi because he didn’t get to choose the genre and basic outline. I am starting to think Madoka was more of a one-time excellence rather than definite proof of Urobuchi’s prowess as a writer who always writes perfectly.

      • Well personally I think it’s a bit silly to consider Madoka “Perfect”, and regardless of what implications it has on Urobuchi’s skill it is an original Urobuchi story. That said I also wonder how much of Madoka is because of Shinbo’s incredible skill as a director. This is not a popular opinion, but based off Urobuchi’s other work I am inclined to believe that Shinbo is largely responsible for keeping Urobuchi’s writing in check, and making Madoka’s magic work the way it did.

        As I see it Urobuchi is incredibly prone to self-indulgence as a a writer, and the more freedom he is given the more I expect that to come across, and that fear was realized in this first episode. Psycho-Pass felt more like being sucked into an adolescent gun fantasy with what I imagine are elements of all of Urobuchi’s favorite movies than a well thought out piece of science fiction.

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