A Psycho-Pass Retrospective, Part Two – Season Two & the Movie

The only thing worse than a bad show is a bad sequel to a great show.

Last time, I gave a resounding review of Psycho-Pass‘ first season, hailing it as one of the best science-fiction series of the last decade. When I first caught wind of a sequel, it was right after the premiere had aired. I had no idea that it was coming out and suddenly got super hyped to watch it. After all, it hadn’t been that long since the summer when I first binged season one.

I watched week-by-week, admittedly impressed for the most part, before reaching a conclusion that seemed to come far too soon. As time passed, I started looking back on it with more disdain. Psycho-Pass had hit a rough patch and I wondered if it could recover.

[Warning: Spoilers for Psycho-Pass]

Part One – Season One

Season Two

Set a year after the events of the first season, Akane Tsunemori is the new head of Division 1 of the MWPSB (Ministry of Welfare’s Public Safety Bureau). The only remaining members of the old team are Nobuchika Ginoza, who has become an enforcer after the events of season one, and Yayoi Kunizuka. New to the team are Teppei Sugo, Shou Hinakawa, Sakuya Togane, and a new inspector named Mika Shimotsuki.

A mysterious new criminal named Kirito Kamui is exploiting the weaknesses of the Sibyl System to create chaos. He helps his cohorts in cloaking their Psycho-Passes to carry out large-scale attacks meant to create widespread pandemonium… This all sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it?

One of the biggest complaints about Psycho-Pass 2 that you are likely to hear is that it’s a big rehash of the structure of the first season. Granted, there are differences in how the characters reach point A to B to C, but the way the story goes seems to retread familiar ground far too often.

As a sequel, it falls into that trap of trying to make everything bigger as opposed to evolving the story. I’ll admit that I was roped into all the insanity because there are a lot of shocking moments. There was a major episode in which civilians and a character we were just starting to get to know are killed en mass and it left me pretty shook.

There were a lot of shock value moments that on their own were cool… at first. The thing about moments like this though is that they are wasted if the story as a whole doesn’t utilize them well. A lot of times, the internal logic of these plot points is flimsy at best and more importantly, these sequences just come off as excuses for violence in itself without really having anything to say. The violence, in turn, comes off as too edgy.

When I talk about things being “too edgy”, I should state that I’m not typically someone who considers violence excessive unless in extreme cases. Season one had a fair bit of violence too. I’m content with there being more of that so long as there is enough substance. But see, that’s the issue. There isn’t much substance

Gen Urobuchi, the famed writer who penned season one as well as such stories as Fate/ Zero and Madoka Magica is well known for his darker stories. He isn’t afraid to kill off characters dramatically or let the tension of scenes simmer in ways more sensational than they are realistic. Some people find his work too edgy whereas I find his works are usually well balanced and at least fit the tone and logic of the narrative.

Season one featured scenes of civilians witnessing acts of brutality for the first time and being driven to commit them themselves. Out of context, the scenes may seem overdone. A woman got beaten in the streets by a man whose Psycho-Pass couldn’t be read while everyone just watched. Later, the art direction went above and beyond to convey the desperation and horror in a group of hostages witnessing a woman lit on fire before they turn on their captors with looks that suggest they are going insane.

When you understand that the show takes place in a world where most people are sheltered from violence, these scenes – as overblown as you may argue they are – make sense. Psycho-Pass 2, on the other hand, will get lost in the drama without considering the logic needed to tie everything together.

Season two was written by Tow Ubukata, who I’ve discussed previously in my review of last year’s Human Lost, which he also wrote. Between that, Ghost in the Shell Arise, and Psycho-Pass 2, I have noticed a maddening tendency for him to present potentially interesting ideas and then fail to integrate them cohesively.

The science of Psycho-Pass has made the world seem very advanced yet easily imaginable compared to our modern-day world. Stuff like hologram technology or the Dominators – or even just Sibyl in general – are concepts we buy into because the establishing episodes sell us on how they could be possible in the future.

In season one it was revealed that Sibyl was a hive mind of brains that were criminally asymptomatic, just like Makishima. This is to say that, like Makishima, they are the kind of people who cannot be judged by the Sibyl System. Because of the fluid nature of the human psyche already integral to the logic of how the Sibyl System works, this is easily bought by the viewer because it serves as the “what if?” to the story:

How does the Sibyl System deal with an individual who seems to circumvent its greatest strength?

A Psycho-Pass Retrospective, Part One – Season One

However, if all of them are criminally asymptomatic, then the idea that the Psycho-Pass of the hive mind became high enough for enforcement doesn’t make sense. Unless of course, the narrative is arguing that some of the minds assimilated were not asymptomatic, but that wouldn’t make a ton of sense either. This bizarre “development” of the Sibyl system betrays the established rules without offering clear explanations of how things changed.

The closest the script gets is a discussion about the Omnipotence paradox, which in turn ponders whether or not the hive-mind of Sibyl is truly criminally asymptomatic anymore. Akane, knowing the truth about Sibyl, ponders this greatly and Kirito, the main villain, plots to test the system against itself to see how it would be judged. That’s some interesting shit, but the dialog that explores it can be confusing and almost uncertain of itself.

One of the main antagonists of the series, Sakuya Togane is built up to be just about the evilest character in the show. His mother Misako was criminally asymptomatic and integrated into the Sibyl System and now he works as an enforcer, attempting to blacken Akane’s hue and the hues of other inspectors out of this weird Oedipus complex. He has a hue so dark that by season one’s logic he should be killed instantly (because his Psycho-Pass is over 300), yet the Sibyl system lets him continue to try and torture Akane.

All that serves to do is contradict the relationship which was established between Akane and the Sibyl system in season one, which was that they would work together despite their disagreements over the morality of Sibyl. Here it’s almost as if the system wants to get rid of her.

Even the ending seems to almost understand that, with the resolution coming so quickly as to not only make the Sibyl system seem incompetent but for the entire plot to feel unnecessary. It ends up feeling a lot like Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple, a film that felt like filler but had JUST ENOUGH to make it required viewing.

Akane doesn’t change by the end of the season, save for some momentary fear of her hue deteriorating after some trauma. That isn’t to say that she wasn’t noticeably different though. Akane after season one carries herself a lot more professionally really fitting into a leadership role and further cementing herself as one of my favorite anime characters. Still, it’s a change established at the beginning. By the end, no real progress has been made in deepening her as a character.

The best I can say about the best of the cast is that they have been more or less unmolested in terms of writing. Ginoza, having completed his arc, has become a lot more relaxed and empathetic to those in similar stations to himself. He is a very different character as well, but like Akane stays in his lane for the duration of the second season.

The newer members like Hinakawa and Sugo are underutilized and Yayoi is… well, Yayoi. Beyond her one episode in season one, they rarely try to deepen her. One character, in particular, got a lot of hate, somewhat deservedly, and this stings especially because of her involvement in the story going forward is probably the only reason this season is required viewing.

Mika Shimotsuki is perhaps the most hated character in the series (though that might be changing nowadays). From the beginning she is constantly getting in Akane’s way, challenging her and questioning her methods. It leads to a point where she too discovers the secrets of the Sibyl system but ends up becoming a crazed devotee as a result. She goes from unlikable to unlikable and crazy.

You will find that as the franchise continues, Mika will become a dramatically different character as different writers take a stab at her and pretty much every new iteration is superior to this one. Characters like Mika and Sakuya are golden examples of how edgy this season can get. Because if you can’t competently write an arc, just make a character CrAZy.

Psycho-Pass 2 gets worse the more you look at it, partly because uncovering why it was bad reveals more of the flaws. The other part is because of how good the first season was in comparison. The most positive take I could get behind was that it was entertaining up until the ending.

Back when this show came out I wasn’t as knowledgeable about the industry, nor did I frequent sites like MyAnimeList to look up information about the shows I liked. I expected Psycho-Pass 2 to go for 20+ episodes like the first but nope it was only 11 and felt like the first half of an actual story.

Only later did I realize just how disconnected this project was from the rest of the A-Team which had produced season one. I bet many didn’t even realize that it came from a completely different studio. Instead of Production I.G., it was Tatsunoko Production, responsible for such shows as Yozakura Quartet, Gatchaman Crowds, Macross, and Ping Pong the Animation.

That’s an impressive portfolio for a studio, yet it still didn’t reflect well on the final product. Everything from animation to color design to character design feels like a downgrade. Neither Gen Urobuchi, Director Naoyoshi Shiotani, nor any of the prominent production staff of season one returned. Urobuchi is credited as part of the planning, but I could imagine was Urobuchi saying “have some really fucked up shit happen here and here,” hoping the screenwriter could actually build those moments up appropriately.

Psycho-Pass 2 is the worst part of the series. Contrived, just barely relevant to the rest of the series, and the only good part is the music. But in response to my opening parable, I can at least promise you that everything past this point gets better from here on out. After all, it isn’t as though Urobuchi and the rest of the team were done with the franchise. The entire reason that they weren’t working on season two was that they were working on the true continuation: the movie.

Psycho-Pass: The Movie

Psycho-Pass: The Movie (great work guys, now that’s a title) saw the return of Production I.G., Naoyoshi Shiotani and Gen Urobuchi to the franchise. Given how much it pays off the end of season one, it makes you wonder why they even bothered making season two at all. I gladly would have waited an extra year for this.

Set about two years after the events of season two, the film follows Akane as Division 1 intercepts a group of armed terrorists who sneak into Japan. When they investigate where the terrorists came from, they find a link to Shinya Kogami. Akane ventures to the South East Asian Union (SEAUn), where Sibyl is hoping to expand, in hopes of finding Kogami and arresting him.

Perhaps the film’s greatest strength and arguably its weakness is how it decides to explore more of the world outside of Japan. Most of the film we spend time in Southeast Asian war zones. There is dialog that implies that most of the world is in similar straits, painting Japan as one of the few remaining bastions of democracy left.

It’s both gratifying that we have this extrospective development, yet oddly disappointing that it’s all supposed to be the same everywhere, or that we don’t get to see anywhere else. I would love to know what America or Europe looks like in this future but I get that exploring everywhere else in the world in a single film would make it bloated.

Strangely enough, as this franchise continues, there is a much larger focus on action and specifically high-spectacle military-based action. The film’s antagonists include a military general of a dictatorship and a team of multi-national cyborg mercenaries. While Akane initially arrives in the Sibyl system prototype city of Shambala Float, she spends the duration of her investigation in war-torn ruins and jungles.

I should also say that if Akane’s development at the outset of season two wasn’t to your liking, then this film does a much better job of conveying how she has grown as a character. Right from the beginning, they establish that she has been training herself in hand-to-hand combat and while she isn’t going toe-to-toe with cyborgs like Kogami, she proves herself fearless and capable in a way that impresses me every time I compare her to herself in season one.

Speaking of Kogami, the man has fully embraced that he was born to be an action hero and becomes an anti-Sibyl revolutionary helping to revolt against the corrupt chairman. Akane and Kogami don’t necessarily agree on what’s best, but they have an understanding and respect for one another’s choices.

Kogami is battling himself through this film, his tenacity and leadership skills being compared to that of Makishima who he so detested. There was a lot that could be said about Kogami and the film doesn’t necessarily conclude his arc. It does contextualize his change through the addition of a rather imposing – if underutilized – villain.

Desmond is a philosophy-obsessed mercenary who leads a band of cyborg badasses that feel straight out of a Ghost in the Shell spin-off. They are so cool that I kinda wish they were the main adversaries of the film instead of the generals from the capital city. Desmond is the flipside of Kogami. The former kills recognizing the necessity for his skills, while the latter kills in the name of a sense of justice.

The worst thing I can say about Psycho-Pass: the Movie is that it should have been the second season. Even as a shorter series, this film’s plot had potential that sadly wasn’t tapped. But at least unlike the sequel series we did get, there is more good than bad here. Even Mika was leagues more interesting. At least with the benefit of a film budget, they gave us some beautiful action scenes and some very detailed fight choreography.

Animation by Yasuhiro Aoki

One last thing: Thank. GOD. That Psycho-Pass has a good dub. Because the film took place in an English-speaking nation within this future, there were a lot of times in the original Japanese when characters spoke broken English for prolonged periods. The dub is the way to go. There is also a version online which integrates the Japanese and English versions cleverly, but that’s more of an optional viewing experience.

With that, we end Phase One of Psycho-Pass. Beyond some visual novels, manga adaptations and books, the series went dormant for some time. That was until the beginning of last year when a new trilogy of short films was released, telling three stories set throughout the series timeline.

If the latter half of phase one was marked by disappointment and skepticism, then phase two notable for the optimism or hesitance at the series’ return. 2019 was the year that Psycho-Pass was back; a year bookended by new films and the long-awaited third season.

Part Three – Sinners of the System & Season Three

Psycho-Pass 2 and Psycho-Pass: The Movie is available for legal streaming through FunimationNow and is available for purchase on Blu-ray through Funimation

What did you think of the second season of Psycho-Pass? Was the film better? Leave a comment below and tell me what other franchises you are dying to hear me talk about.

Thank you for reading! Next week I plan to finish my series on Psycho-Pass and move on to… well, I’m not quite sure yet, but I haven’t hit any roadblocks yet. Whatever I end up writing, I hope you will enjoy it. See you all next week!!!

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