A Psycho-Pass Retrospective, Part Three – Sinners of the System & Season Three

Last week I looked at the divisive continuations of Psycho-Pass, both the second season and the movie. The latter marked the end of what I consider the first phase of the franchise, one bookended by two solid stories by Gen Urobuchi, held back by an abysmal second season and some missed potential with the film.

In 2018, a new trilogy of films set in the Psycho-Pass universe was announced for a 2019 release date called Sinners of the System. The three short films, each about an hour in length, take place at various points throughout the timeline. It would be the first new entry in the series in about four years. In the same year, a third season would be announced and released in the fall.

Psycho-Pass was back, with original director Naoyoshi Shiotani’s involvement being a major selling point. They wanted us to know that the series was returning in good hands. Even so, with such a long delay and the second season still a sore spot for many fans who felt the film didn’t make up for it, how well would this new phase fare?

[Minor Spoilers for the Psycho-Pass Series throughout]

Part One – Season One

Part Two – Season Two & the Movie

Sinners of the System

Case.1 – Crime and Punishment

About a year after Psycho-Pass The Movie, this case follows Division 1’s investigation of a rehabilitation center and labor camp called Sanctuary after one of their employees crashes their car into the front of the Public Safety Bureau HQ. Upon delivering the employee back to them for treatment, they find that not all is as it seems in this facility.

Case.1 managed to do something that up until that point I still was not 100% sure about. It made Mika Shimotsuki the main character without immediately ruining everything. Though to be fair, it isn’t as though Mika was the kind of character who could be expected to be consistently good or bad.

When she appeared in the 2015 movie – written by Urobuchi – she was a lot more compelling of a character. Not necessarily likable, but a far more cunning rival to Akane whose mentality is practically the opposite of hers while also knowing Sibyl’s secret. She seemed dangerous.

Her characterization in Case.1 and onward though is a bit more consistent within this phase of the franchise, but still a change for sure. No longer a crazed devotee and neither a deadpan schemer, Mika in this new film is boisterous and looking to prove herself as the ace of the Criminal Investigation Department.

She’s still very devoted to Sibyl’s justice, but there is a lot more beyond that defining her now. She takes on the investigation in Akane’s stead, seeing it as an opportunity to prove herself. However, as they arrive and begin to suspect foul play on the part of the supervisors of this secluded facility, Mika becomes impatient and frustrated with each roadblock.

To those already less-than-enthused with her as a character, I’m sure this won’t exactly be a huge selling point, and she can still be annoying. However, it is all in service of Case.1 acting as a sort of redemption arc for Shimotsuki. The film finally creates a character that feels like a more developed version of what we got in the second season.

She complains and often lets her temper get the better of her, but she is just as cunning as she was made out to be in the film. This leads to some admittedly admirable moments. Ginoza is there to keep her level-headed, but even he and Yayoi seem to have a respect for her authority. Even her rivalry with Akane feels like it is more out of respect than hatred as time goes on. Now, this isn’t to say that it’s good that Mika’s characterization is this malleable between iterations, but I’d prefer writers to stumble before finding a comfortable groove than the alternative.

Speaking of Ginoza, it’s pretty incredible how much he has changed since season one. He changed from an uptight prick to a level-headed and downright chill badass and I wouldn’t be surprised if his tolerance for Mika comes from some similarity to his younger self.

As for Yayoi… yeah, she’s still Yayoi. It’s not a bad thing, but at this point, the love this fanbase has for her – myself included – is entirely aesthetic.

Psycho-Pass has focused a lot more on action as it has gone on. There is still police work and social philosophy at the best of times, but there are also a lot more highly choreographed hand-to-hand fights between characters. It’s not something I can call a bad thing in good conscience but the spectacle can sometimes seem a bit out of place compared to the early series.

The 2015 film showed Kogami holding his own against combat cyborgs in a martial arts fight the likes of which weren’t even seen during the most action-heavy segments of season one. Case.1 features Ginoza going toe-to-toe with Sanctuary’s head of security while he pilots an exoskeleton and even breaking an incredible fall with just the strength of his robotic arm.

None of this is bad. For one thing, I love hand-to-hand fight animation and adore this series’ art style and characters put towards such scenes. For another, the Psycho-Pass series has continually evolved, pulling back to focus on more of the world and larger threats to make this kind of action more diagetic in the long run. It’s just another thing that hits home just how much the franchise has changed.

Maybe two years ago if you told me that the first film in the trilogy would make Mika an enjoyable character, I would have told you you were crazy. The first entry in the Sinners of the System series served as both a satisfying tribute to fan-favorite characters and the redemption of one of the less-liked ones.

Case.1 was a fitting and necessary return, taking place not too long after the last entry in the series. In contrast, Case.2 revisit characters from the series’ past, explore a previously uninteresting character, and set up future installments all in one.

Case.2 – First Guardian

In the same way that Case.1 encapsulated Ginoza’s character after his arc, Case.2 lovingly pays homage to it by looking back at who he used to be. It opens in the present as a member of Japan’s Foreign Affairs, Frederica Hanashiro, temporarily joins Division 1. Her purpose for being there is to scout skilled operatives to join a new team.

She eyes Teppei Sugo, who had been rather inconsequential to the plot since his first appearance in season two. But now that he’s got his own movie, they decided to make him a total badass. Sugo is a former Japanese Military, a formidable fighter, and an ace drone pilot.

After the cold open, the majority takes place in 2112, just before the events of season one. Sugo’s unit is tasked with aiding in a revolution, but things go awry his team is killed and his friend Otomo Itsuki dies, leaving his pregnant wife alone.

After some time passes, a drone attack leads the military to believe that Otomo Itsuki is alive and targeting military leaders. Sugo becomes a suspect of aiding him, which draws the attention of the MWPSB. Specifically, Risa Aoyanagi and everyone’s favorite, Tomomi Masaoka.

The story revolves around Sugo’s encroaching disillusionment towards his duty as a soldier and the mental strain of the investigation which drives him to become a latent criminal and later an Enforcer. The tale culminates in an exciting yet tragic conclusion propelled by the bond between Sugo and Itsuki.

Seeing Masaoka again after so much time compliments the previous film’s focus on Ginoza perfectly. It’s clear how much like his father Ginoza has become. Funny, considering that Case.2 also has cameos from Kogami, Kagari, and a grumpy younger Ginoza. They aren’t exactly major parts of the plot, but it further emphasizes the character growth.

Now that Psycho-Pass is branching out to show more of its war-torn world outside of Japan, there is a lot more military sci-fi to feast your eyes on. Even more exciting than watching the action unfold is seeing how the universe rationalizes the freedom of soldiers in a world where mental strain and stress can easily label someone a latent criminal.

The answer seen in the film is the use of drug therapy to negate the mental strain of killing others. However, based on later information we receive in season three, I would hazard a guess that depending on one’s profession, the acceptable parameters of one’s Psycho-Pass changes. This is even hinted at during season three when after an election, the candidates who lost lose their “hue privilege.” Even the smallest bits of world-building excite me to no end.

Case.2 is very much fan service. It’s a love letter to characters and plotlines we already had fulfilled back in season one. Seeing Masaoka and Ginoza’s relationship here doesn’t necessarily deepen it beyond what was explored in exposition. However, seeing it as opposed to just hearing it is nice.

The parts that aren’t fan service shine even brighter, exploring more of the military end of the series I wanted more of in the 2015 film. That isn’t necessarily going to stop here either as Case.3 sees Kogami’s return to the spotlight in the thick of war-torn Tibet.

Case.3 – In The Realm Beyond

Perhaps the most anticipated film for die-hard fans, the final entry in the SS trilogy follows Kogami after he has given up being a revolutionary and taken to wandering as a mercenary. After meeting Guillermo Garcia, the leader of a Mercenary group, he ends up involved in efforts to bring peace to the Tibet-Himalaya United Kingdom’s government.

Along the way, he ends up meeting the previous film’s Frederica Hanashiro, who makes Kogami the same offer she made Sugo in Case.2. He doesn’t immediately accept but the two work together to help settle the disputes, while a young girl named Tenzing asks Kogami to help train her to fight like him.

So in between training Tenzing Mr. Miyagi style, he works alongside Garcia to achieve peace. The strength of the story comes from this central goal of achieving peace. Almost every past portrayal of the world outside of Japan has either been in shambles or an extension of Sibyl. This is the first time a story in the series makes it the goal to create a peaceful nation outside of Sibyl.

It isn’t easy, and it becomes clear later on that not every part of this peace will be achieved morally. However, it is in how Kogami rationalizes this and seeks to rectify it that makes the story something special.

I mentioned in my review of the 2015 movie that Kogami seemed tormented by the past, even seeing visions of Makishima talking to him. It never felt like it was resolved until now, where Kogami seems to avoid killing when he can and tries to be a peacekeeper as opposed to an aggressor. He’s taking on a worldview far more befitting of a cowboy than a mercenary, a small but meaningful development in his character that arguably “saved his soul.”

The more I think about this film, the more I think that it stands tall as the best one of the three. It delivers on the same quality of action as the previous two, but the conclusion and how Kogami evolves makes this film so much more nuanced. The ethical dilemmas regarding peace are exactly the kinds of philosophical discussions I would expect and demand from a Psycho-Pass story.

In the end, the Sinners of the System films were short, sweet fan service which offered a relieving amount of creative focus on the franchise’s best asset: the characters. While not masterful works of film on their own, its a well-produced and beautiful return that gets better as it goes along.

Also, Masayuki Nakano from Boom Boom Satellites remixed a ton of the opening and ending themes for the trilogy and they are all amazing. Check out this playlist and treat yourself.

It took about until the end of the year for any decent subs to surface for these films after the Blu-ray release and by that time, most were focusing their attention on the upcoming third season. For the longest time, there was absolutely nothing to go off of other than the fact that there would be two new main characters. We literally only had a poster and a short teaser with no animation to go off of.

In about the month before the series premiere, we got a big trailer flaunting the new cast and some gorgeous imagery. Practically no sight of any familiar figures, save for Hinakawa and Mika. Not even Akane was anywhere to be seen. With this trailer came some hype… as well as some trepidation.

While it was known that Naoyoshi Shiotani would be directing the series, we didn’t know who would be writing it yet. When the writer was revealed, Psycho-Pass fans weren’t thrilled.

The third season would be directed by none other than Tow Ubukata, the writer of Psycho-Pass 2

Psycho-Pass 3

The significance of this return was fairly substantial if not exactly pronounced. Just as it had been eight years since the release of season one, the events of the third season took place eight years after the events of the first. In a lot of ways, Psycho-Pass 3 explores Sibyl’s Japan at the end of a long decade of groundbreaking in-universe historical events that the viewer has witnessed.

As such, the series returns to its roots with another police procedural, but through the eyes of new characters, asking bold new questions. Of course, since this is the same writer of Psycho-Pass 2, the question remains as to whether or not those ideas are properly utilized. To that end, I am happy to say that Ubukata’s work here is leaps and bounds more interesting. The plot and how it impacts and influences the new cast have so far been very cool and interesting.

I say “so far” because if there is anything wrong with Psycho-Pass 3, it is that it doesn’t feel like a complete story. If feels like half a season. This season was only eight episodes but each episode is about 45 minutes long. So using anime math we got about 16 episodes. Even with that amount of time, it felt like we only got half-way through the story, with several characters having been just barely explored. Most notably the main villains.

Even with that being the case, I won’t pretend that what transpired didn’t inspire a lot of excitement for what’s coming next. Besides, a cliffhanger is better than the roundabout “back where we started” ending that season two gave us. So what was the story this time around?

In the year 2120, two new inspectors are transferred to Division 1. The first is Arata Shindo, the prodigal son of Atsushi Shindo, a former member of the Ministry of Welfare who officially completed suicide some years before. The second is Kei Mikhail Ignatov, a Russian immigrant who moved to Japan along with his wife Maiko.

Acting under the orders of Mika Shimotsuki, who is now Chief Inspector of the Division, the two investigate a series of serial bombings instigated during the height of a Gubernatorial Election. Meanwhile, an organization seems to be working behind the scenes to orchestrate the bombings.

Much of the story harkens back to the second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, for two reasons. The first being the subtext involving an immigration crisis and widespread xenophobia. The second being a group of antagonists manipulating events not unlike how a stand alone complex works.

The antagonists are simultaneously the coolest and most perplexing part of this new season. A group called the Bifrost, which has a certain level of control within the government, seemingly plays a game that bets on the outcome of events which they create, all seemingly in the name of financial gain and control.

Below them are “inspectors” who act on the front lines, actively putting the pieces in place, while the lowest echelon – the “foxes” – is comprised of the people who are made to do Bifrost’s bidding, whether they know it or not. Essentially this season plays around with the idea of individuals acting as part of a larger design, oftentimes unaware of what they are helping to accomplish.

It’s… kinda hard to explain but in execution, it’s actually pretty cool and makes for an enemy which could only logically exist in a society with as many restrictions as one with the Sibyl System. After all, coming up with new ways for bad guys to circumvent Sibyl can get tiresome, so I was pleased with how they managed it this time around.

I was impressed with the characters this time around. I was concerned that with so many new people this season, the characters would be at their most shallow, but I was proven wrong. Even at the series’ best, characters like Kagari or Yayoi felt like the writers only scratched the surface in terms of making them active members of the plot.

By the end of season three, I felt like I’d seen every member of the cast grow or change in some way, however slight. Tenma Todoroki and Kazumichi Irie seem like total assholes at the beginning. Later, both confront their pre-enforcer pasts to investigate the bombings, revealing themselves to be much kinder people.

Even Hinakawa, who had been very quiet since his first appearance in season two gets a lot more interesting when he expresses a more caring side of himself, albeit a secret one. While I wouldn’t rank any of them above say Ginoza or Kogami, the story makes use of its cast a lot better in making each one of them an active part of the story, something I have repeatedly stated is important to me with stories with large casts.

As for Arata and Kei themselves, the two make a great pair. The former can be incredibly funny and has a much lighter attitude than typical of an inspector, but possesses a strong conviction toward justice and the importance of people’s judgment in society. In one of my favorite quotes in the series, he explains to Kazu why he didn’t pull the trigger on a target with a Psycho-Pass over 300 and states, “We need to exercise human judgment. That’s why the Dominator has a trigger.”

If all that didn’t make him cool enough, he’s also a skilled parkour runner. The only thing about his character I don’t like leads me to an issue I’ve previously stated about Ubukata’s screenwriting. Like with Kirito Kamui’s ridiculous multiple personality backstory from season two, Ubukata can sometimes write ideas that border on the supernatural and don’t come close to being grounded in reality.

Arata is toted as a mentalist with the ability to… uh… how the hell do I describe it? He essentially performs what is called a mental trace, which allows him to identify with a subject he is tracking through “empathy.”

It sounds likes something out of a modern fantasy novel rather than a somewhat grounded science-fiction story. Even when you can get past the initial explanation of what the ability is, the way it is presented and the plot revelations which magically become apparent to him because of this ability obliterate my suspension of disbelief.

On the other side is Kei, a stoic but occasionally impulsive detective. He is well-trained in hand-to-hand combat thanks to military training from his time living in Russia. He’s also the one who tries to keep Arata stable when he performs his stupid mental trace ability. What makes Kei especially interesting to me though is how his status as an immigrant creates drama.

Being an immigrant, and particularly one in a beneficial position such as a police officer, Kei mostly considers himself and his wife Maiko lucky. However, even with that privilege, it can’t stop others from mistreating him because of him being a foreigner. Watching Kei confront these plights, battling his impulsive tendencies and trying to provide for those he cares about makes him one of the better additions to the series’ cast in a long time.

I should also say that Mika has turned into the police chief from every buddy cop movie of all time. I don’t even really need to elaborate on that – the statement speaks for itself and if you like how that sounds, you are going to love her this season.

I wish I could say that Ubukata has completely redeemed himself in my eyes as a writer given the brighter spots in this story, but his bad habits manifest in other places than just the utilization of ideas. The story can feel formulaic and at times I felt less like I was watching the new season of a high-sci-fi drama and more like a CBS crime drama.

Such a statement might seem like a total condemnation but it’s not a terrible fate. It’s just… between Arata’s gimmicky mentalist abilities, to some awkward attempts at quirkiness and comedy, to the declining production quality in later episodes, there is something cheap about how Psycho-Pass 3 feels.

The character designs this time around look a bit different, looking a bit more rounded than usual, but still look striking and cool at the best of times. I say “best of times” because the visual consistency left a lot to be desired and nothing is quite as disappointing as seeing these character designs botched by poor art.

I do appreciate the cameos from previous main characters in this season. The writers are building up to a big continuation whether in film or on TV and so they are laying the groundwork for what’s to come. The problem is that they give us just a small taste of these other stories, but those small glimpses make me wish I had an entire season dedicated to the old cast doing what they’re doing now.

Essentially in the third season, it is revealed that Akane is in prison (albeit a rather luxurious cell) after being framed for a crime. Meanwhile, Frederica Hanashiro has recruited Sugo, Ginoza, and Kogami to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Operations Department. So they’ve essentially all moved to the big leagues tackling terrorist threats to the country from abroad. Even Yayoi returns in a pretty surprising capacity more interesting than any of her previous appearances.

Later on, two old assassins with impeccable character designs show up and start fucking shit up. They get into fights with the old characters and even imply that they have had fights with them in the past and harbor resentment toward them. It’s like we as the audience skipped a season and are seeing a rivalry completely out of context. A lot is going on behind the scenes and as much as I enjoyed season three I kinda wish that we got a season focusing on the Foreign Affairs unit instead.

Season three ends with some exciting cliffhangers that imply a great many things about where the story will take our characters. A recap film is coming out in the spring which will hopefully accompany an announcement of a continuation for the story.

As it is, this season was too short. It made good headway with its new cast of inspectors and enforcers but barely scratched the surface with the new villains. The production quality varied greatly, and while I love having more action scenes, they didn’t have to try having one every single episode.

The most cynical of Psycho-Pass fans will tell you that the series has gone to shit and I don’t think that’s quite right. It was a masterful series that simply has had a so-so ratio of quality and one big hiatus. That being said, I’d be hard-pressed to call the 2015 film, the Sinners of the System or even season three bad. If I were to rank the series it would probably look like this

  1. Psycho-Pass
  2. Psycho-Pass: The Movie
  3. Sinners of the System
  4. Psycho-Pass 3
  5. [POWER GAP]
  6. Psycho-Pass 2

I felt like putting Psycho-Pass 3 over 2 would itself feel like it wasn’t saying much so please note that I really do consider it to have merit enough to not only surpass the second but also stand as a fitting continuation – if a flawed one at that.

Psycho-Pass was severely limited by the second season and the long hiatus. After all, I have stated that the first season is by all counts a masterpiece. Beyond the two entries written by Urobuchi, writers like Ubukata are caught between expanding on the world and its concepts and trying to recapture the magic of the first season.

Frankly, as a fan, I’m stuck too. Do I want to see more of Akane, Kogami, and Ginoza, seeing as how they are the main characters, or should I be content with how their arcs have progressed and be excited for new characters to take center stage? To the former, I think Akane and Kogami’s stories still have a ways to go, especially with hints that the secrets of Sibyl will eventually be revealed. To the latter… I think trying new things is smart too (even though the old cast is up to plenty of new shit – just saying).

In my opinion, Psycho-Pass should end soon. More than anything, I want the new characters’ story and the old main characters to merge for one last story, whether it be a new season or a film, and bring it all to a close. Because as much as I love potential and what it means for keeping a series alive, I also love being able to look back on a series and say “hey that was awesome” rather than “man, that went to shit.”

But until the end comes, watch Psycho-Pass, because even if the sequels don’t reach the same heights as the original, it is still some of the best sci-fi you’ll find around, and that deserves appreciation.

At the time of writing, Psycho-Pass Sinners of the System has not been licensed in the US and is not available legally on Blu-ray or for streaming. Here’s hoping that changes soon.

Psycho-Pass 3 is available for legal streaming through Amazon Prime Video.

I guess Funimation is either slacking or they lost the rights because they have not jumped on the new sequels at all. A shame too because the dub was top tier. Some day soon perhaps.

Thank you for reading my final retrospective on Psycho-Pass. It was a little late on my end, but better that than never. By the end, I was conflicted as to whether I felt the overall series was good or bad but I still think the franchise is a blast.

But what did you think? Do you think the series went down the drain after season one or have you enjoyed the new entries? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Thanks for reading and, as always, I’ll see you next week.

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