Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Anime Review: Psycho Pass

And now to start the first of many anime review covering shows from the fall and winter which just wrapped up, as a heads up I'm going to try and get my post out about all of the new shows either tomorrow or the day after (Wednesday or Thursday), trying to get better about not being super late on that post but all of these delayed simulcasts are not helping me out there. This show however was not delayed at all so I finished it a few weeks back and I have to say, when the fall season started I was expecting to like Robotics;Notes (the other noitaminA title) more than Pyscho-Pass, since that one was based on an existing property and I had liked Steins;Gate (although it's true that I had also liked Fate/Zero, ie I had enjoyed the writing by the same people in both cases) but in the end I really liked Psycho-Pass better and I'm going to have to remember it when I talk about my favorite shows of 2013 since it has a really good shot at being on that list.

Psycho Pass

Summary: Roughly one hundred years in the future Japan is once again a closed nation and enjoys relative peace and not as much large crime as it used to thanks to the Sybil System, a seemingly all-knowing computer program that helps weed out the good people from those who might commit a crime. Sybil helps people make most of the important decisions in their lives so young college graduate Akane Tsunemori is overwhelmed when she realizes that she scored high enough and has a good enough rating from the system to do anything she wants. When she realizes that she was the only person in her class to be recommended to the police however she decides that's what she'll do, she'll enforce the system along with some of those people Sybil has already declared irredeemable possible criminals and in the process ends up seeing what a dark system it can be. 

The Good: I was thrown when I realized it was the girl with the bad haircut in the promo pieces  who was the point of view character in the first episode (I didn't use one of those pictures for this review because it really is that hard to tell) and wasn’t sure how I felt about it, after all we've all seen the "naive newcomer learns the job on the go and presents a way to give the audience exposition as well" done to death. But I made up my mind on how I felt about Akane after she tazed a coworker to prevent them from killing a victim due to a fault in a system, something she even wrote a large paper about. Honestly that sentence sums up Akane, she’s determined, becomes rather badass, and ultimately goes through a character arc which I don’t see happening to female characters that often. Essentially, we have a woman in a position of power challenging the system she’s a part of with her power, normally when you see a woman challenging a system in a story she will have no power in it, she’s a rebel on the outside rather than a plotter on the inside and I rather liked that difference. She and Kogami, the guy with the spiky hair that I had thought was the main character from the promo pieces, carry the show, both become very well fleshed out and it’s interesting to watch characters who know they are flawed go about their work and the contrast between the two of them; Kogami knowing he’s flawed but not knowing a better way to do things and Akane fighting to find that better way. The other characters get varying amounts of character development but at least some and even the main villain, Makishima, has some not-quite-sympathetic-moments but points at which it’s very easy to understand his logic even if his methods are hideously wrong. And in the end I think that's what will determine if you like the show or not, the show has no bones about showing what a messed up world Japan has created in it's effort to have peace from the first episode so you have to root for one of the characters/one of the methods for trying to protect or change this system and if you don't end up agreeing or sympathizing with any of them then the entire story will have been a waste of time.

The Bad: The ending did a remarkable job of both wrapping up and feeling like an ending and leaving plot threads dangling which bothers me a bit. Since this does involve spoilers for the end of the series I’ll talk more about this in a footnote but, after ruminating on the ending a bit, I think I’ll be unhappy in the long run if they never give the story the last bit I think it needs*. Apparently at Sakura Con some of the staff present indicated that if the show sold well (I think they meant both in the US and Japan) then they would be able to produce more and it sounds like there are more stories they want to tell (some side stories but I don't know if they also meant a direct continuation). In any case, other than that, I had some major issues with the setting which can be summed up with me yelling “TECHNOLOGY DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY!” Thankfully I had an idea what the Sybil System would be early on and in most cases the technology works well enough with the plot to keep this from being a large problem but there were so many nonsensical background details that I truly wondered if all the creators were neo-luddites and had no idea how things like holograms or mass worked. Oddly enough, the criminal scanning technology, the one that seemed really far out there, is starting to be developed and perhaps it was because I was suddenly paying attention but I saw a number articles like this one from Wired pop up during or right after the shows run which certainly made me a bit worried for the future.

The Audio: I greatly prefer the first opening and ending songs to the second set although I'll admit the second opening grew on me (never became fond of the second ending song though, probably didn't help that it felt like the designers ran out of ideas for what to show along with the song and threw in whatever they had lying around). Actually, since Egoist did both ending songs you can actually purchase both of those on itunes (or at least the US one) which was rather nice considering that I really liked that first ending theme. The voice acting was also pretty strong, a quick browse through the cast list reveals no newbies but a lot of people who I've heard in other works and didn't recognize which is good. Although I did hear a rumor that the voice actress who did the voice of the dominator (the guns the police use) also has done a lot of voice work for GPSes in Japan which, if it's true, I refuse to believe wasn't done on purpose.

The Visuals: Aside from one episode in the second half where quite frankly the production values were in the toilet (you know it's had when the director apologizes on twitter beforehand for how it looks, oddly enough after seeing the rest of the show I still can't figure out why they ran out of time for that one particular episode), which will be fixed for the physical releases, the show looks pretty solid. The technology looks slick, even if it makes no sense, the backgrounds are detailed, and it uses color and color schemes pretty effectively. I'll admit that I'm not crazy about the character designs, they did grow on me some but I keep wanting to give Akane just a few more inches of hair, but I think I'm in the minority there.

All in all this ended up being a really solid, good show for me that I enjoyed and would like to see more of, provided that it tells the kind of story that I hope it does anyway (I've just been burned by too many sequel series in the past couple of years that seem to have forgotten what the show was about). So I'm giving this show a four out of five and I'm happy that Funimation plans to put it out sometime next spring. In the meantime people in the US/Canada can catch the show streaming on their site or on hulu.

*to get detail specific, so SPOILERS the story ends similar to how it begins with Akane now in charge of Division 1 and we’re shown how she’s both grown and yet hasn’t become jaded by the system. That’s all fine but there are a number of scenes shown during the ED that suggest that there is something more going on and earlier in the episode Akane makes a speech about how society needs Sibiyl now but someday they’ll be able to pull the plug on it once and for all. To me that sounds like the story declaring that we’ll see it happen, especially given how Akane’s personal philosophy has been shown throughout the show. However, someone on twitter pointed out how this could be social commentary about how Japan needs to change but ultimately isn’t doing so and, if I take that point of view, it doesn't seem likely that there will be a second season. I really do want one though since I think it would be poetic to see Kogami become something similar to Makishima and to see Akane finish her growth.

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