Thursday, April 9, 2015

Psycho-Pass 2 Review

It's been too long since I've written something for this blog, and while I have maybe four or five half-finished posts that I haven't published yet because I plan to put more effort into them, I figured I'd toss off a quick anime review.

Let's talk about Psycho-Pass. Psycho-Pass is is a 2012 original anime by Gen Urobuchi of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero fame. Urobuchi is one of my favorite anime writers, and I thought Psycho-Pass was incredible. It's a dystopian world where something called the Sibyl System controls crime by monitoring people's mental state and their criminal tendencies. Think Minority Report meets Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. It makes plenty of allusions to the works that it draws its inspiration from, from Plato to Shakespeare to Joseph Conrad and more. The series takes a look at what it means to be a human, how we should interact with a heavily digital society, and what relationship law and ethics should have.

Psycho-Pass 2, which aired in 2014, is basically Psycho-Pass devoid of everything that made it great. It lack's Urobuchi's involvement, which probably should have been the first red flag. But that didn't necessarily mean it would have been bad. Maybe it could have had a solid storyline and good characters. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, many of the best characters from the first season were dead or indisposed and most the other established characters had to be left alone so that they could be used in the then-upcoming movie (which Gen Urobuchi was involved with). So the story had to be carried by the new cast members. Which were, uh...pretty awful.

Without going into too much detail since it involves spoilers for the first season, most of the cast was well-established and had at least some purpose in the story. I've always thought that characters were Urobuchi's strongest points. He doesn't write easily-identifiable and fun caricatures like you see in lots of anime. His characters have some subtlety and nuance to them, and viewers have to work a bit harder to understand them, but can enjoy them more fully if they put in that effort.  The characters in PP2? They pretty much exist to drive the plot (which is...not great) or fill out the cast.

Of course, not all characters are necessarily bad at the beginning. At the beginning, I was still hopefully optimistic. Episode 4 is when I abandoned hope. A bunch of hostages are caught in a situation that causes their crime coefficients to rise to levels indicating that they are about to instigate violent crimes. Dominators, the weapons the police use, are set to stun and contain criminals at a certain level and set to kill at a certain level. It's a safety mechanism that protects the people so that lethal force isn't accidentally used. However, as these citizens all blindly rush out of the building in a panic, their crime coefficients elevated, the police massacre them all. Why is this happening? There's something highly abnormal about this. Have no situations like this ever happened before? One would think that the police have procedures for dealing with hostage situations in which victims might become temporarily stressed. But no, that scene needed to be there, because something needed to make she show feel edgy, since the new writer has confused that for being good.

The edginess continues through the series. One of the major plotlines is a villain in the force attempting to make Akane's psycho-pass darker. Why? What good does that do? Why Akane? There is literally no purpose to the plotline other than "it's dark."

Psycho-Pass 2 feels like a single arc of Psycho-Pass stretched out into 11 episodes. It had the potential to be good, but in order to fill time, it took far too long getting to the point, and when it finally did get to the point, the point turned out to contradict a lot of what had previously been established. In theory, the season boiled down to a variation of the God Paradox, i.e., "if God can do anything, can he create a boulder so heavy that he can't lift it?" In this case, the villain, Kamui, asked "if Sibyl is all-judging, how would it judge itself?"

In attempting to answer this question, Psycho-Pass 2 completely changes what "criminally asymptomatic" means, and gives a convoluted answer to the question in the process. The obvious answer, based on what the first season previously established, would be "it doesn't need to because Sibyl is the embodiment of the law and the law is above judgment." But Psycho-Pass 2 sets up a scenario where Sibyl fails to judge a man whose internal organs are a conglomerate of individuals, similar to how Sibyl itself operates. Let's ignore how absolutely stupid this is for a few moments and focus on how Sibyl reacts. Sibyl says "well, we'll judge each of the individuals that are part of you individually, and we'll also judge ourselves individually and eliminate the brains that are raising our crime coefficients." Except that shouldn't happen, because the Sibyl System consists of criminally asymptomatic brains that can't be judged by the Sibyl System. There should not be brains capable of raising its crime coefficient. But of course that shouldn't be surprising, since the writers of Psycho-Pass 2 seem to have no concept of what "criminally asymptomatic" means, considering that Togane is somehow considered criminally asymptomatic while simultaneously having the highest crime coefficient recorded. This is literally the opposite of what criminally asymptomatic has been established to mean. Criminally asymptomatic people have hues that don't match their actions. A murderer like season 1's Makishima is criminally asymptomatic because he has a clear psycho-pass, and I suppose a good person who somehow has a dark psycho-pass would also theoretically be criminally asymptomatic. But having a high crime coefficient is something you would expect from a character who killed puppies as a child. That's not hyperbole, by the way. There is a scene where we literally see Togane murdering puppies as a child. I mean, seriously? Is there a more heavy-handed yet also generic way to establish that he's evil?

Let's come back to our villain, Kamui: he was the only survivor of a plane crash as a child who was saved by surgery that put the organs of the other 184 students who did not survive the plane crash into his body. Let's ignore things like compatibility of blood types and just assume that this somehow works. The result is that he cannot be detected by the Sibyl System because...he's not one person or something. Also, the season is set up around this idea of judging a collective. A collective of brains is wholly different from a collective of organs. A collective of organs should not affect anything the show tries to portray it as affecting. People who have heart or kidney transplants do not undergo random personality changes because they have other people's organs in them. There's probably research to back this up, but I don't need it because it should be obvious to pretty much everyone that this very concept of this happening is absolutely fucking stupid.

So let's recap what exactly we've established with Psycho-Pass 2:
-It focuses more on being dark and edgy than making sense
-It contradicts things that have been previously established in the series
-It's built on a premise that is not only fallacious, but makes no logical sense, either.

There are plenty of other small things I could go into, but those three points alone are enough to condemn the show. Psycho-Pass was an incredibly thoughtful show that, despite sci-fi elements not necessarily grounded in reality, at least stayed consistent. Psycho-Pass 2 is basically Psycho-Pass devoid of everything that made Psycho-Pass good. Does that make Psycho-Pass 2 bad? I honestly can't tell, because I cannot divorce it from Psycho-Pass, and relative to Psycho-Pass, it's bad. But hey, at least Urobuchi's still involved in the movie! Hopefully it doesn't suck when it's finally released here.

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