The end of Psycho-Pass

Psycho-Pass

One wouldn’t think it to look at them, but Shin Sekai Yori and Psycho-Pass were like two peas in a pod. Both deal in dystopian futures, social commentary and rebellion, both attempt to obfuscate their commentary by presenting it through morally-questionable speakers, and both refuse to end with everything neatly resolved. Suffice to say, I really enjoyed both series, but I’ve already had my say on Shin Sekai Yori. Now it’s time to write about Psycho-Pass, too.

One of the more controversial elements of the finale of Shin Sekai Yori is how it humanises the queerrat Squealer. After we’ve seen the world through his eyes, everything becomes a whole lot grayer, and in feeling that moral conflict, we’re able to understand just how broken that world truly was. Psycho-Pass’ antagonist, Makishima, is much more of a traditional villain, an arrogant serial killer without a shred of conscience. Even still, he has a point. The loss of freedom in Psycho-Pass is palpable, there’s no denying that, but the series’ perspective is intentionally conflicted. Our protagonists are the Enforcers of the State, criminal investigators under the control of an artificial intelligence called Sibyl. It has delivered a better way of life, but at some cost.

Apparently Psycho-Pass was inspired by Equilibrium, an action film with a similar story and a typically redemptive moral arc, but there’s no such thing in Psycho-Pass. The only guy attempting revolt is Makishima, the bloodthirsty psychopath. This is what I meant by conflicted, our Enforcers are protecting the broken government, while the serial killer is trying to defeat it. Who’s right? With the way Shin Sekai Yori delivers Squealer’s end, it’s intended to be devastating. When his arms are forced out in that Christ-like pose, it’s hard not to feel that something is terribly wrong, but when Makishima adopts a similar pose, it’s hard to feel anything at all. His cause is just, but he’s a despicable person. Like how Sibyl has developed a comfortable standard of living, but only through limiting an individual’s freedom of choice. There’s no easy answers here.

Psycho-Pass

Kōgami is the one guy that we’re tempted to think is a hero. He abandons his life as an Enforcer and strikes out on his own, but when he’s finally holding a gun to Makishima’s head, he can’t help but pull the trigger. He escaped the system to kill someone. It’s like a slap in the face to anyone still clinging to the hope that Psycho-Pass could’ve had a hopeful ending. No-one is left uncompromised. Everyone is deeply wounded. Tsunemori is the closest it comes to having a moral compass, but even she’s forced to concede that, despite her loathing of it, Sibyl is a necessary evil needed to maintain order, at least for the time being. Is it right for a story to end like this? I doubt we’re truly supposed to like or empathise with any of these characters, but there’s more to fiction than just base empathy.

In terms of challenging the viewer and forcing us to question our own moral stance, it proves a fascinating experience, but for a series that seems to be about instigating change, the sad thing is that nothing has changed by its end. Weirdly, it isn’t a depressing watch. It doesn’t wallow in despair. This is the world, and it simply moves on with the status quo. Again, is that right? Or good? It’s realistic, I guess, and serves to warn us that our freedom is as precious as it is easily lost, and lost, at that, as a consequence of trying to do some good, like stamping out crime.

Recent months have been a treat, with weeks of rich, fascinating anime to consider and enjoy, but now Shin Sekai Yori and Psycho-Pass are over, I’m left wondering if these two were mere flukes, or perhaps mark the beginning of a new trend in anime of regularly producing mature, serious science fiction? I live in hope.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

11 thoughts on “The end of Psycho-Pass”

  1. Shin Sekai Yori, alas, has been a massive financial failure, but Psycho Pass has proved surprisingly popular.

    I would have hoped we’d get more like SSY (not a fan of Psycho Pass I’m afraid, the early episodes I felt were very poorly written so I’m pleased you enjoyed it so much by the end!) but I guess we’ll see where the market goes.

    Given Psycho Pass’s ending is hardly conclusive, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more some time in the future.

    1. Psycho-Pass does seem to be setting up for a sequel, but a part of me hopes that this was the end because it was such a stark way to go out.

      As for Shin Sekai Yori, I’m baffled as to why it’s selling so poorly. Vertical asked for 4000 likes on a Tumblr post so that they could license the SSY novel, but last I looked, it hadn’t gone over 1000. Seriously, I can’t for the life of me work out why more people aren’t watching the anime. SSY has such a fascinating story. Is it just that there simply isn’t the demographic there for this kind of thing? Yeah, this might blossom into a full-blown post from me now. Seriously don’t know why stuff like Game of Thrones and Dr. Who are so popular while SSY has less fans than Cambridge United :p

  2. I think SSY was doomed to be a financial failure from the start, given its themes, its pacing and its lack of usual hooks that make anime popular. (Not that the anime didn’t try to capitalize on the MariaxSaki angle – first with some rather questionable merchandise, then in-show with the love song segment of episode 16 which I thought was rather too much, even if the visuals were nice and poignant, and then making said love song the ending, with visuals focusing on Maria, which I thought was a horrible idea, then that “AV interview” in ep 18… argh.)

    Anyway, I’ve no idea when this became the trend, but many people seem to want instant gratification from their anime. If there’s a question they want at least some answers by the end of the episode, if something happens they want to see the consequences ASAP. I’ve seen many people became bored or frustrated with SSY’s brand of storytelling very fast. (Btw it’s not just SSY – K was a mystery story where viewers were presented with the story in medias res, the show would slowly revealing the clues and viewers were supposed to think about them. People were throwing in their towels as early as episode 2-3, complaining about having no idea what was going on and how that meant the show was crap and the writers were incompetent.)

    It didn’t really help that the first arc had some things going against it: the fake minoshiro infodump – it was a very well-made infodump that couldn’t be avoided, but still it bored many people to tears; Saki & Satoru’s bakenezumi adventure that had some admittedly choppy editing though it wasn’t half as bad as what people make it out to be; and from what I saw a lot of viewers reacted very badly to the art/tone change in the Yamauchi episode (funnily enough, I think that episode worked better than the much-lauded episode 10, which was very good and all, but I would’ve appreciated more visceral visuals, and less unnatural and shoehorned-in focus on Saki’s butt).

    So the show has lost a lot of viewers right at the start, and then came episode 8 with its – again, admittedly – clumsy treatment of suddenly everyone being “gay”, and the *gasp* SatoruxShun kiss that sent many viewers running. :/ Add to this the low animation budget, and…. yeah.

    As for the novel, I think that number would be higher if they allowed votes from non-US/UK residents. I realize they’re only going to sell the books in those countries, but it’s the 21th century! Amazon! Online shopping!

    Although to be honest while I would support an English translation of the book, Vertical has lost me as a customer when they lied that the manga – that they have already acquired and are going to publish later this year – follows the novel more closely than the anime, kept sticking to their guns even after being called out on it, and then they just stopped reacting, never admitted anything. I understand they want to sell the manga (which is a disgrace if you ask me), but to try to capitalize on people not knowing the source material enough to tell what is a lie and what is not? Not cool.

    1. I guess there are some fans I’ll never understand, then. I’d take a fascinating story like SSY any day over pretty much any other genre of anime. Same goes for Psycho Pass. Neither series are perfect, but are at least delving into subjects and concerns more relevant to adults. I really don’t think we’re alone in this, either. Just look at the popularity of the aforementioned live-action stuff like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, etc. People want good, pulpy, stories, but I guess there’s still just that barrier for some that prevents them from delving into anime. Oh well, kinda depressing, but at least this stuff is being made, right?

      I didn’t know that about Vertical, but I almost exclusively buy manga from them these days. Flowers of Evil, Toward the Terra, MW, they release a lot of good stuff with beautiful production values, so I’m willing to let them slide. That said, the non-UK/US thing is weird for exactly the reasons you’ve stated. Amazon don’t care where you’re from!

      (Don’t worry about your spelling, it’s fine as ever!)

  3. I just watched the end of Psycho-Pass, and totally agree; I kind of hope it is the end of the story.

    It’s been awhile since I had to think about literary themes, classical philosophers, and deeper issues of morality while watching an anime (besides recently watching Toward the Terra).

    The way I view Makishima is through a lens of psychopathic empathy. I feel like I can understand why someone who is so acutely isolated from The System, and society, would turn out that way. Especially a character with such incisive intellect. He’s the kind of villain that self-destructs simply because he knows how futile Humanity has become.

    I’m hoping that this means there will be more adult-oriented anime in the future, because it seems like the last few years have been nothing but moe and shounen… :p

    1. This season’s got a few interesting entries. Take a look at Aku no Hana and Attack on Titan if you get the chance, those the ones I’m really jazzed for :)

  4. I disagree with you on nothing having changed by the end of the show. There is a tiny change. In the first episode, before Akane meets the Enforcers, Ginoza says “don’t think that the guys you’re about to meet are humans like us.” In the last episode, Akane says to the newbie (from the Rikako arc (how great was that?)) “the guys you’re about to meet are humans just like us.” I think that’s a small step forward and is realistic in how it’s an excruciatingly tiny step and depicts the progress towards a better society as extremely slow.

    I still haven’t entirely sorted out my feelings on the show as a whole. Urobuchi had a hell of a lot going on in that show. It’s such a mixed bag of allusions that I’m partly convinced Urobuchi was trying to introduce viewers to a range of various philosophies, works and even common conventions of sci-fi and noir (I mean, one episode actually spells out the ‘cops and criminals are two sides of the same coin’ trope). And I admit that’s a pretty elitist perspective since I was familiar with most of the references made and I’m basing this on the assumption that most people aren’t. (Although anyone also familiar with Urobuchi’s other works (i.e. Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero) will probably be able to recognize what utilitarianism is by now since he’s deconstructed/attacked it as a philosophy in all three of his shows now).

    While I’m thinking out loud, something that really sticks out in my mind and kind of represents the hard time I’m having figuring out just how many levels Urobuchi was really working on is the discussion between Makishima and Choe about old sci-fi. Was Urobuchi trying to establish Psycho-Pass’s place in sci-fi history? If so, was he addressing our expectations of him and the show and trying to say something along the lines of: “it would be impossible and arrogant to try and do something entirely knew with this show. It’s one show in a long history of sci-fi. No, all I can hope to do is share a small insight into the human condition.” I do think that’s what Urobuchi achieves with the show and is reflected in what Akane says to Sibyl the last time they meet, and in how the show ends with excruciatingly little progress. At the same time though Urobuchi is evoking hyperreality and the potential implicit meanings this has hurts my head to think about so I’m not even going there.

    At least one thing you can’t deny about the show is the great discussions it generates. But, anyway, sorry for unloading all this here. It’s just been sitting on my mind for a while and it all just kind of sloppily spilled out here.

    1. I really liked that statement about “Humans like us” as well.

      The two artificial avatars that are telling the woman to seek counseling as she’s being hammered to death really drove the idea behind this anime to me.

      It reminds me of Ergo Proxy a lot, in that it doesn’t necessarily wrap everything up, but focuses much more on the state of the world itself. Although Ergo Proxy had a much more ‘concrete’ ending, Psycho-Pass feels like a future that is completely possible.

    2. Don’t be sorry, that was a fascinating comment and added a different perspective to my post, so, thanks! Your noting of the “humans like us” line is particularly perceptive and makes me annoyed I missed it :)

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