Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Anime Review: Psycho-Pass 2

There's no reason to make this introduction overly long, I put this show on my ANIME I DISLIKED: 2014 EDITION list before it had fully finished airing and now that I've had a chance to finish the show I can say that it fully deserved being on that list. Since I am discussing a sequel, there will be quite a few references and spoilers to the first season of the show; this is not a review to read if you're considering starting the series, this is a review to convince you not to watch this season and to explain the many many things that went wrong in it. And on that note, there will be some rather large spoilers for this season as well, I just don't feel like I can adequately explain the sheer stupidity here without laying it out exactly as it happens.

Psycho-Pass 2

18 months have passed since the Makishima incident ended with Kogami's disappearance, Gino being demoted from Inspector to Enforcer, and no-longer-a-rookie Akane had to step up and take his place as the head of their group in the Welfare Public Safety Bureau. But outside of their little group the world remains largely the same, most of the people remain unaware of the dangers around them and there are still some criminals who want to bring these things into the light and ruin this precariously balanced society.

While I do think this season was completely terrible, I am one of the people who thought that the show needed a second season to finish up Akane's character growth from the first season. The original show had both her and enforcer Kogami as main characters but the final episode made it clear that she was the lead, the story both started with her and ended with her swearing that she would find a way to create a world that didn't need Sibyl anymore and would be the one to turn it off. It perfectly encapsulated her growth up to that point and showed that this story wasn't yet over, I got the very clear impression that this wasn't supposed to be a story set in a dystopia that will exist for decades after our characters die but that this would be a short-lived, dangerous regime that simply can't cope with real people. And funny enough, the "twist" behind the central villain this season, Kamui, should have been one of those factors, the system can't recognize him at all not because he's criminally asymptomatic but because he's the result of an experimental operation which left him as a frankenstein's monster-esque blend of people and their body parts.

Yes, apparently if you have ever had an organ transplant that messes with your hue, considering that the Sibyl system is nearly 25 years old by this point in the story that idea is not only monstrously dumb but also completely illogical since this intelligent system wants to work so it should have come up with a workaround for it (or made a rule off-screen about growing new organs from people's own cells but if that was the case in this story then the characters should have mentioned it, also I think the extended edition that aired over the summer might have confirmed that Sibyl reads brainwaves so transplanting another organ, which happens to side characters, should have no influence on this at all). But this story doesn't care about how world building and setting must be present for characters and plot to react, this is all supposed have "a deeper meaning" and it might also be a pun (Hope Chapman on ANN noticed it and I recommend her episodic write-ups on this series in general, I hadn't even realized this show used a different spelling which made writing this review a gigantic pain). 

This conflict about how Sibyl is not able to judge an individual that's also a group (even though the system can give an "area stress warning" to tip off the M that something is happening) is supposed to be reflective of how Sibyl also can't judge itself for the same reason and must change to reflect that. That's got a number of problems, one is how exactly Kamui was aware that Sibyl was actually a thinking group of brains and not a computer system, but looking at the larger picture the series is so desperately striving for, it's clearly taking this problem and trying to frame it as "Sibyl needs to become better, it's a flawed system but it could become great" which is completely at odds with how it was portrayed in the original! Plus, in the first season only criminally asymptomatic people were chosen to join Sibyl so while Makishima was a potential candidate Akane never would have been, yet in this season the system does have brains in it with ridiculously high psycho-passes and apparently some of the brains wanted Akane to join! Again, considering how clearly and obviously this fact was stated in the first season, all of this is more than enough to throw you out of the show.

This season had a new writer, Tow Ubukata, and I'm not sure if he just somehow completely missed the point of the original show or if he just didn't care and wanted to create his own show (neither is a good answer). I haven't enjoyed his other works (I suspect I would like D'Eon less if I was to rewatch it today) and yet again I'm frustrated that Urobotchi started a series and then left it to work on other stuff. Yes he is working on the movie but I'm wondering how much, if any, coordination there was with this season (he tweeted something along the lines of "don't blame me for any of the character deaths" but it was vague if we could blame him for any of the other non-character death moments in the show). Also, while the first season had more gore in it than I cared for, this season managed to be even gorier for no reason. As in the first season, the dominators have multiple settings (from "taze" to "destroy anything in your path") and the camera seemed delighted to focus on explosion of human guts, honestly it felt like a bloodthirsty 13 year old was on the production committee. And it seemed as if there were more innocent bystanders getting blown up in this season as well, it certainly happened in the first season but those choices were often much more deliberate ones, such as the one involving Akane's friend or even the first episode when she makes the choice to taze Kogami to save the victim's life. Here the show found so many ways to just blow up as many people as possible, from stressful situations that highlighted how the police aren't even police so much as they are walking carriers for Sibyl's guns (which I thought the series made clear in the first season) to a particularly distasteful scene involving a burning house. Oh and the show decides to show how evil a character is by having them kill two puppies, this scene is meant to be DEADLY SERIOUS and not at all silly which reinforces my belief that a particularly bloodthirsty 13 year old was on the writing staff and should really be talking to someone.

To talk about the characters for a bit, I have summed up this show as "everything old is good, Akane is great, and everything new is terrible". Shion, Yayoi, Gino, and Professor Saiga have all returned in this season and like Akane their characterization thankfully remains more or less intact. I do wish that Gino had a larger role, considering he's the only one of the enforcers who used to be an inspector, especially since the show had trouble giving Akane an equal or a foil. In the first season, Akane and Gino were foils, Gino and Kogami, Kogami and Akane sometimes, Gino and Masoka, etc, the show was really interested in taking characters and pitting their ideals against each other (which is very Urobotchi) and that is completely absent here. Akane is largely sympathetic to Kamui, which doesn't quite make sense but was the impression I got, and the show attempts to have her bounce ideas off of Professor Saiga but he never contributes much to their conversations, it's clear that Akane would have come to these conclusions on her own anyway. Actually, after looking at the opening and the similar names, I actually wondered if new-comer Tougane was supposed to be Sibyl's attempt to give Akane a foil, some sort of robot so that she would have a way to keep working even with all of her senior coworkers effectively gone. It wasn't the best theory but Tougane being an intelligent robot of sorts made a lot more sense than what was actually going on with him.

As for the other new characters, Hinakawa was simply a convenient problem solver (I really wish the story had delved more into his background, the fact that his hue worsened because of depression despite the pills he was taking sounded intriguing) and then we have Mika. For those who didn't catch it, Mika was the school girl who was very nearly made into a grotesque statue the first season. She was the one whom Yayoi comforted and told her to cry then to save her hue later on, a touching scene for Yayoi which also highlighted some of the cruelties of the Sibyl system. Here she is angry, angry at Akane constantly and convinced that she is ruining everything and presents no logical arguments for it. Mika actually joined right at the end of the first season so she's been with Akane for a year and a half but acts like she's been there for only a day and a half. This has been more than long enough to see that Akane is not going to change her methods for solving crimes (and trying to avoid killing whenever possible) and in this 11 episode season we never see Akane make a bad call. We see situations grow unexpectedly worse but we never see Akane make a choice that endangers her coworkers or where they completely fail their objectives. Assuming that Akane has had a similar record in the past 18 months it's bizarre that Mika would keep making these accusations. I really have no idea what the writers were trying to do with Mika, I had a friend theorize that Mika joined the police to get revenge for her murdered classmates and, since Akane was now in charge of the group that barely saved her, is still blaming her for the incident. That could work a bit except that it's not implied at all in the narrative. Mika's motivation is never stated and the amount of illogic needed to connect Akane to that event is considerable.

And yet, despite all of these things, when Mika finally gets her "comeuppance" I wasn't happy about it since the series decided to show her at her absolute best right before that scene. We see her doing some high powered research and making these connections that no one else had because of her tenacity and intuition, something which at least explained why she was qualified to be part of the police in the first place. Then she makes a stupid but semi-understandable choice of submitting her research to Sibyl and who decides to reveal the secrets of the world to a sobbing Mika who is well aware that this is going to damage her hue and completely mess her up for life. It's not punishment for her actions per-say but it's clear that the show was looking at the audience and saying "here's that character you hate, enjoy watching her get in trouble for it!" but the tonal dissonance was so great that I just felt uncomfortable. There were certainly much better ways to write Mika as a sullen, but not outright hostile and insubordinate colleague (the tone of her voice alone when speaking to Akane is incredibly rude, I think she even drops polite forms of address) and yet the show just didn't go for it. I'm pretty positive I've seen her along with Hinakawa and Tougane in the trailers for the movie and I'm curious how that will work. Honestly I'm curious how the movie is going to work in general, will it be connected to this second season at all or will I be free to completely write-off this hot mess?

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