How good are the opening stages of Psycho-Pass? Very good, but not as great as the show that follows. I remember that Psycho-Pass didn’t really grab me until episode 6, the start of the Rikako arc, the first time I viewed it, the opening arc was interesting enough to keep me watching but I didn’t feel like it was going to be as impactful on me as it was. In fact in my opinion the Set-Up arc, as I have named it, gives the viewer a whole lot more on the second viewing.
I’m going to go through this arc and explain why I think it’s a good set-up, I’ll be going into some things that will get their own post because they’re both important to me and aren’t contained to one arc. This might get a bit messy so please bear with me.
(After finishing writing I can say I do go off on tangents about the series every now and then but I do not know of a conciser way to get across my thoughts on this show in full, so again please tough it out!)
Episode 1 – Crime Coefficient
We start with a flash forward open to when Kogami and Makishima face off for the first time face to face. Youtuber Digibro mentions in his analysis of the series why this is important, to make sure the audience knows that there is an underlying narrative during this set-up arc of largely unconnected MWPSB cases.
I’m conflicted on how I feel about this, on the one hand I get it, you need to keep people around to watch the show but I think it is detrimental (slightly) to Makishima’s reveal. Writer Urobuchi Gen did this in the Madoka TV series, to much greater detriment, as well, I personally don’t like it.
Episode one is very important in the development of Kogami as a character. I think it’s easy to forget what Kogami is in episode one, a lifeless hunting dog, and how this contrasts with what he is throughout the rest of the show. When we first see him being driven to the crime scene, he has his eyes closed unlike the rest of the enforcers, as if he’s a robot booting up to carry out his duties, and during the course of the episode he remains that way, acting with robotic efficiency carrying out SIBYL’S will. Remeber when he shows up to shoot the latent criminal at the end of the episode? He went off by himself, using Akane and Masaoka as a decoy, something the Kogami by the end of the series would not do. This is mostly apparent on second viewing, I had forgotten that Kogami was like this by the time the series ends and it’s a fascinating insight into his relationship with Makishima.
It also is very important for Akane’s character. A lot of people seemed to not like how she is at the beginning of the show but praise her growth as she goes on. While her growth later on is fantastic, to complain about Akane at the start of the series sort of misses the point of her character. Let me ask you this, in Psycho-Pass’ story, what is Akane’s role? I’ll tell you what it is her role is to awaken Kogami and push him forward. If she was the character she becomes by the end of the series she, the story wouldn’t happen. Her way of handling justice is what reminds Kogami (in episode 2 when he awakens) of who he is, and why he became a latent criminal in the first place.
Kogami is the main character of Psycho-Pass. I will be talking about his and Akane’s relationship in a separate piece but Akane is a spectator to Kogami’s narrative, she’s able to influence it a bit but she is never in the driver seat. I’ll also be talking about Akane as the “audience character” in another piece, that’s her role at the start of the show as well, to be the audiences gateway into Psycho-Pass’ world.
The episode also gives us some insight into other characters and the SIBYL system.
Kagari is shown to enjoy being able to handle the Dominator, which is indicative of his desire to be in control of his own life, something that will come up later in this arc.
Ginoza treats his enforcers like shit, which is part of his relationships with Kogami and Masaoka and his own fear of becoming like them.
Masaoka as well is shown to be somewhat of a father figure, giving his own perspective on the world around him to Akane. I think the best part of characterization for him in this episode, is when he is somewhat dismissive of the Dominator’s voice that can only be heard inside it’s users own head. It instantly shows how he has accepted SIBYL as a beneficial thing even though he may not agree with it 100% of the time. He has accepted SIBYL and it’s tech as a normal part of soceity.
Kunizika is really the only character that does not get any inkling of development in this episode but she gets her own flashback episode later so it frees up space for other things in the premiere.
It sets up this character narratives seamlessly during the course of this unrelated case, so when we come round to knowing these characters later on, we are surprised but not too much so. For instance the fact that Masaoka is Ginoza’s father is surprising but makes sense given the behavior we’ve seen him exhibit since episode one. He doesn’t want to be like his father, he doesn’t want to become a latent criminal and as such is dismissive and cruel to him from the get go.
I’ll get into it more at a later point but I never thought that Psycho-Pass was really about the world it was set in. Sure that was part of it but the real narrative is the one between Makishima and Kogami. I see people complaining that they didn’t like the world it was set in, that they wanted something like Ghost in The Shell but to me that doesn’t really matter. That being said the premiere does a good job of explaining to us the world we’re in whilst also showing enough of it to make it feel real. I wont be talking too much about this throughout but to me, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the story (looking at you season 2) it wouldn’t have really mattered that much to me. It’s fun when they use the technology in creative ways like with Rikako but it’s not necessary.
Episode 2 – Those Capable
Episode 2 continues building up some of these plot threads whilst adding a new perspective to the table.
We’re introduced to Karanomori, the analyst for Division one, when Kunizika walks out from her analytics room clearly after the two are done having sex. A huge piece of character information and if you’d looked away for a second you’d miss it.
And it’s never shoved down your throat, the two are never specifically said to be lesbian even though they clearly are. Both of them are very nonchalant when Akane walks in on the aftermath of their deed. You might notice that most of the characters in the show are doing things just to pass the time, this is an important contrast to Akane and Kogami (and Makishima to an extent). They basically let SIBYL handle the decision making because the alternative is having no freedom at all, being tucked away in a rehabilitation center.
Another thing that slips by on first viewing is Karanomori asking Akane to reform the system when she inevitably gets higher up in the MWPSB. Even though it’s a joke, looking back on it knowing the entirety of SIBYL we know the idea of reform is laughable but when the people ostracized by the system, like Karanomori, believe reform is a viable prospect then it keeps them somewhat sedated. It’s an important part of SIBYL, that to be effective people merely not doubt it’s effectiveness.
We return to the Division one room where we see Kunizika reading about and listening to music and Kagari playing games, another piece of subtle characterization, especially the music for Kunizika as we don’t find out about her musical past until 10 episodes later.
Akane and Masaoka go off to sate an individual raising the area stress at a nearby mall. We see here how happy everyone is in the public. This is an important part of making the case for the SIBYL system, it certainly seems to be the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. There are other ways to view this however, like the thinking that it’s unfair on certain latent criminals and isn’t therefor truly just. That people aren’t really people when they are so restricted like what Makishima says. Every viewer has the potential to view the SIBYL system in a different way. By episode 2 we are shown it’s benefits and flaws so we are left to decide if it’s an ultimately good thing, if we’d want something like that in our lives.
After this person is captured Masaoka tells Akane she’s just meant to supervise the enforcers, that they take on the risk in the inspectors place, to which Akane posits that shes basically being told to do nothing. Again the “let SIBYL do the work for you” attitude being perpetuated to it’s model citizens. Just it’s model ones though, you see SIBYL uses latent criminals to plug its holes while finding the criminally asymptomatic to further it’s development. Akane and Kogami’s relationship is unique and crucial because of this. Akane reignites Kogami’s flame for finding Makishima and he in toe passes on his skills to Akane, which is important because she is basically criminally asymptomatic. She is the ultimate fail safe for the SIBYL system because she is able to do what enforcers can do at the end whilst also remaining mentally stable because of her begrudging circumstantial acceptance of the SIBYL system. Kogami and Akane would be just like every other character in the series, somewhat passive and inactive, if not for each other and Makishima.
We get a scene with Kagari where he asks why Akane is an inspector and gets angry when he finds out she could have been anything but chose to be an inspector as, like I said before, he has never had such choice in his life. She gives the answer that because she was the only one that got an A ranking for the MWPSB out of 500 graduates she thought that it was something only she could do. This is somewhat true, she is the only one capable of creating a situation for Makishima to be caught. Why? Well because Kogami is the only one who can catch him (yet another article for another day) and needs a supporting inspector to do so. Not only that the only reason he’s able to get to Makishima is because Shogo takes interest in the version of Kogami who is hunting him, one that doesn’t exist without Akane. Even in these early episodes she’s a fantastic character to me, she does exactly what I accuse other characters of not doing, improving other characters around her. Her differing mindset to everyone makes for interesting dynamics that develop through the course of the show.
The last important thing just reaffirms the effect Akane has had on Kogami, who literally says to her that she has been the wake up call he needed, that he has been blindly following SIBYL and that he has some work he needs to finish (the Makishima case). When Akane says if he had time to think that he wouldn’t have shot the unarmed girl from the first episode he says he’s not so sure. He says that “I thought I’d die if I hesitated” that the thing that had him following SIBYL blindly was fear. Once upon a time Kogami was like Akane, but not anymore. He has been tainted by Makishima and he will forever be that way.
Episode 3 – Rearing Conventions
Like I said before these episodes are mostly self contained and as such it’s hard to get my thoughts down on this set up arc without tackling them all somewhat individually. Episode 3 in particular I used to think of as a series low point.
That being said when you pay attention, you can clearly see Kogami grow substantially throughout these 3 episodes. At the start of this one he’s seen training witht a punching bag. Why is this important? Well as established by episode 1 he was just following SIBYL’s directive and shooting the Dominator. He had no need to train like this before, probably no desire to. But no that he’s back on the hunt for Makishima he knows he has to be prepared to battle the ghost without SIBYL’s aid, again it’d be easy to miss this on a first or even second viewing.
Episode is full of clues as to how the SIBYL system works but before we get to that there is one thing I’d like to mention. The characters. They’re all written to have distinct viewpoints, like I’ve already mentioned, again on the first run through it’s hard to have our own viewpoint as we, like Akane have only just been dropped into this world. When Ginoza says he hopes Akane is not a fool who learns from experience, in regards to handling enforcers, as opposed to one of the wise who learns from history, one may have taken that as a fact the first time around being that Ginoza is the more experienced inspector. However we will later see that in regards to Akane he is wrong, she is capable of handling the enforcers but she is most certainly the exception not the rule, many inspectors cannot handle their enforcers the way she can. So is Ginoza wrong? Not really he holds a very valid opinion pertaining to his experience. Almost all of the characters viewpoints are valid in their own way, which is part of what makes Psycho-Pass such an intriguing re-watch.
Moving on to what the episode provides us with in terms of Kogami, this is the one where he becomes the character he pretty much remains for the rest of the series. I mentioned this before but Kogami is somewhat halfway between Akane and Makishima.
Throughout this episode, whilst he does get to the justice that Akane wanted he takes genuine pleasure in doing so in somewhat sadistic ways, Akane mentions how he looks more like he was a carnivore who had his prey cornered than anything else. He is shown to be enjoying himself throughout the episode in stark contrast to the premiere, which makes Akane somewhat puzzled (a plot point that appears in the next arc).
The episode centers around a factory which produces robots which is an area which SIBYL doesn’t reach directly. 3 workers have been killed by robot malfunctions in a short period of time and it’s reveled that one worker with a grudge has been uploading code (which he received anonymously from Makishima) into these robots to murder those who bully him.
It brings up a couple interesting things about SIBYL. One very large plot point is how SIBYL is actually able to function. We are shown that in reality it has to allow corporations like this one to get away with minimal surveillance to keep the economy going. Most of this is speculation on my part but if companies were restricted the same way the rest of society does, the Japanese economy would be in ruin. It’s shown that SIBYL works in practice as opposed to theory by being a bit loose with it’s rules throughout the show and this is the first time we’re really shown this. Best part, we’re shown it, I had to infer that myself, it wasn’t shoved down my throat. The layers to this show man. Again SIBYL in practice has it’s own piece in the works.
The second thing that comes up is the minor villain for this episode called Yellow-Green (YG). Because there is no communication to the outside world employees pass their time by bullying the shit out of this guy. When his Psycho-Pass becomes too cloudy, management moves him to a different sector to cool off and then brings him back to be the realease for it’s workers when his mental state is stable enough, this is where YG obtains his grudge. Akane mentions how it’s awful but the manager correctly points out that SIBYL wouldn’t assign him here if it wasn’t in societies benefit. The most appaling thing about this practice is that it works. The only reason this cycle stops is because Makishima intervened and gave YG the means to exact revenge, had he not then this cycle would have continued indefinitely and in fact would’ve improved society. 99% of workers would stay entertained and thus more productive and Japan’s economy benefits greatly. The sacrificing of a few for a great many, the idea of utilitarinism that is prevalent in Urobuchis works.
By the end of this episode we’ve already been given a ton of information about SIBYL, a hefty amount of character building for Kogami and Akane, along with some for other characters and we haven’t even gotten to the shows best character! (It’s Makishima by the way)
This 3 episode analysis will end up being the longest post I’ve ever published. Second place is an analysis of Makishima. I do not know how I can describe this series’ greatness without breaking it down like this, their are so many layers to it that I’m still getting new things out of it on this 5th watch through.
In these 3 episodes the show sets up an expansive world filled with interesting characters without ever shoving it down our throat. The shows pacing is tight, I never feel like there’s too much or too little going on at any one time.
And I think this is Psycho-Pass’ weakest arc, the best character isn’t in this (bar the cold open) and we haven’t even gotten to the best story threads either. AND I WROTE 3000 GODDAMN WORDS ABOUT IT. I think I’m going insane, there can’t possibly be this much to talk about packed into this show. But there is.
I know every blogger does the “I’d really love some feedback” thing but I really mean it. If you’ve gotten this far I think you can see how much this show means to me, if I’m not getting my point across, if you think I could be writing this better somehow,if you want to know anything about things I didn’t mention, please let me know, I want to do this show justice.
With that said if you did enjoy this absurdly long, 3000 word breakdown of 70 odd minutes of animation, please follow the blog and like the post.
Thanks for reading,