Psycho-Pass is the single greatest Anime ever.
OK let’s rephrase that a bit actually.
The first season of Psycho-Pass is the single best Anime I have ever watched and I say that without a hint of hyperbole.
But explaining why I love it is very difficult. I’ve said before that it’s easy to explain why you hate something and hard to show why you love another. Well when it’s the thing you love the most the task can seem a near impossibility.
You feel the need to explain absolutely everything about it because if you don’t then you feel like you’re underselling it, not doing it justice.
I’ve struggled with this when trying to write this video in the past, trying to talk about everything seemed impossible.
So I’ve decided not to write about everything and instead focus on the parts I can talk about best. I will come at this mainly from the perspective of a writer, actor and director as I have experience in all of these fields. While I will comment on other aspects of the show (like it’s music for example) I feel they are not my area of expertise and thus merit less in depth analysis.
So if I still have you then please join me as I try to explain why Psycho-Pass is the best Anime ever.
Where do stories begin?
As this is my first video in this format I’ll have to elaborate a bit.
From a writing standpoint your story generally starts from one of three places.
Characters, setting or story. As a writer your story will usually stem from one of these three with the other two developing in service of or alongside your starting point.
Let’s look at a few examples in anime:
In One Punch Man I think it’s pretty obvious the idea of Saitama himself was the origin.
In Attack On Titan the setting of a Titan infested world seems to have been the driving idea.
And in almost all Harem Comedies shows the beginning idea is to make a harem comedy.
In each of these cases the other two components came after the initial one for instance in AoT Eren, the rest of the cast and what would happen to them would have come after the idea of the Titans or possibly alongside them.
So where does Psycho-Pass start from? What is it about? This is actually a complicated enough question.
The way you can usually tell what a TV series is about is by looking at the first scene. As a writer you want to let your audience know what to expect right from the off. Again think of Attack on Titan, we see unimportant characters fighting a Titan, we won’t see Eren and the gang until later because they are secondary to the idea of the titans, the audience needs to know about the Titans as early on as possible as they are the hook. Compare this to AMC’s The Walking Dead. Our first scene shows us Rick trying to find petrol. He calls out to a little girl only to find out she’s a walker. Then he reluctantly kills her. This is the hook of The Walking Dead. Not the zombies themselves but how they change the living. Rick will go on to say “We are the Walking Dead” in relation to his group of survivors, right from the start this is what it’s about. From a very casual viewing you could see many similarities between AoT and TWD but at heart they are very different and that is shown right from the first scene.
Let’s look at a few more examples. In Parasyte the first scene is of the parasite infecting (mainguy) and the show will explore the relationship between the two. Spirited Away’s first scene has Chihiro entering the spirit world. Death Note has light getting the Death Note. SAO shows us Kirito playing SAO. You get the point.
So then what is Psycho-Pass about?
“Well it’s obviously about Akane and the SIBYL system Mr.Psychime.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking that and in fact you’re not entirely wrong. It’s easy to forget that this scene with Akane meeting Ginoza for the first time is in fact not the first scene, this is.
A flash forward to episode 16, with Kogami meeting Makishima face to face for the first time (sort of). It should be noted that Akane narrates over this scene stressing the connection the two have. This is the only time narration will EVER be used in the show and is not present in the scene later on.
The take away for me is that the story of Psycho-Pass’ first season is about Makishima and Kogami and the story of Psycho-Pass as a franchise is about Sibyl and Akane.
There are a couple of things that lead me to this conclusion. First of all think about how things would be changed if that scene did not exist. Kogami appearing in the van would have no signifigance, he’d be just like the other enforcers and we also wouldn’t know that Makishima really exists, which of course fundamentally changes things. On top of this, the fact that Akane is not named in the first scene, she simply narrates. I’ve posited this before but I believe that Akane is a spectator to Kogami’s story for at the least the first half of the show. She is very much a perspective character for the audience to begin with.
Director Shiotani even said this in a Q&A in 2013:
“She [Akane] as the heroine comes in between the main character, Kougami Shinya, and his main rival, and enemy, Makishima Shogo.”
” Akane exists to be the audience’s perspective into this show……. [she grows] herself and eventually works herself into the standpoint of one of the main characters herself.”
Psycho-Pass is the story of Kogami to begin with. I think this is partially why the second season failed so hard and the movie didn’t reach similar heights even if it was good. There was simply no replacing the Kogami-Makishima story.
That’s my argument, that Psycho-Pass’ first season is primarily about Kogami vs Makishima and it’s the best anime I’ve seen thus far. SO what makes it so good?
What makes the world of Psycho-pass so great from a screenwriting standpoint? It does something that is very hard to do, make a world that is quite far removed from our own and also make it feel real.
The Kogami vs. Makishima story would be very hard to pull off in a world without Sibyl but if the world didn’t seem real then you would run the risk of breaking the audiences suspension of disbelief, something that Psycho-Pass 2 did.
Sibyl throughout acts very consistently. At first glance the system of government as presented to the public seems impossible. But as we will find out later Sibyl is willing to bend it’s own rules in order for it to work in practice as opposed to just in theory. This is not just limited to the times we see chief Kasei overide the dominator to kill people who threathen Sibyl . Think back to episode three, the robot building company are allowed to have their building outside of Sibyl’s range, only giving periodic updates on the mental states of their employees. This allows them to keep their employees ultra productive by keeping them off the internet. On top of that they allow their employees to bully YG to entertain themselves, moving him around so his Psycho-Pass can recover, taking advantage of the periodic check ups. Both of these things could not happen without Sibyl actively allowing them to. If Sibyl didn’t do this then the Japanese economy would be in ruin, when you restrict buisness too much they will up ship and leave so you have to give the biggest ones certain allowences.
This is not the only instance of this sort of thing happening but you get the point. Sibyl acts very consistantly and it feels real because it is such a flawed system.
Sibyl itself also serves to bring up a number of philospihical and moral issues. In most other situations the obstacle preventing Kogami and Division one from catching Makishima would just be another to overcome but when that obstacle is Sibyl it becomes a question of whether it’s OK to have someone like Makishima inducted into Sibyl if it means a better functioning version of it. This goes along with the shows emphasis on differing perspectives but we’ll touch on that when we talk about themes.
The setting also gives us many of our subplots that keep things moving throughout. Sibyl itself, Akane’s search for her place in a world like this, Ginoza’s struggles with his mental state, all of them come from the setting in Sibyl. These subplots (or in the case of Sibyl part of the series plot) keep things interesting when we aren’t directly focusing on Kogami vs. Makishima especially at the beginning.
The setting of Psycho-Pass is like a container for it’s story. It needs to be airtight to hold it all together and in season 1 it is. On top of that it provides plenty of additional intrigue on it’s own.
Since most of my commentary will be about the written aspects I feel it would be a good idea to divide each section going forward by talking about a technical aspect in between. After all, good execution is crucial to a shows quality on top of everything else.
Let’s start with the music. The soundtrack does a fantastic job of not only capturing the feel of Psycho-Pass’ universe but also the individual characters inhabiting it. The music I’ve been playing in the background so far is the track typically used in scenes where the characters are relaxing, just hanging around division 1 headquarters for example. I feel it does a good job of making the scenes feel like downtime whilst also retaining a sense that the things occurring on screen are important.
Another thing that the show does well is knowing exactly when and how to use certain pieces from the soundtrack. Take a look at this conversation between Ginoza and Kagari. The music stops just before Ginoza’s assertion that Kogami’s report on the specimen case is delusional, emphasizing the importance of his words.
Let’s also take a look at how the music reflects the characters. You might notice that the characters that reject SIBYL are usually accompanied by orchestral music lacking any sounds that might sound futuristic for example Makishima’s theme. Dark and overbearing this theme’s extremely organic instrumentation represent Makishima’s rejection of a reliance on technology and SIBYL. The drums also give off a raw, instinctual feeling befitting of Makishima’s character. Contrast this to the pieces like the one that plays when our protagonists are in focus. It has organic instrumentation but also some artificial sounds befitting of Akane’s semi acceptance of SIBYL. Willing to move forward without losing sight of her ideals. Of course the theme for the SIBYL system is heavily synth driven and almost completely devoid of the aforementioned organic instrumentation.
One slightly more subtle instance of this sonic representation of character divisions lies with Senguji. The music playing in the background during this scene is like Makishima’s in the sense that it lacks artificial sounds but it also reflects Senguji’s old mindset and style. It’s Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, straight from 1824. Not only does it reflect older values but was also fittingly the last symphony Beethoven composed before his death.
Psycho-Pass’ soundtrack is not only great in a vacuum but is used to great effect in the show itself.
With a solid setting like that you need good characters to inhabit your world, and this is where Psycho-Pass shines. Characters are the most important thing in a show to me and Urobuchi Gen gives us multiple rounded and intriguing characters. Even outside of our main trio we have at least two rounded characters in Ginoza and Masaoka.
I keep talking about rounded characters, well what do I mean by this? Well you can basically split all characters into two camps, rounded characters and flat characters. Flat characters have a pretty singular purpose in the show, they exist to inform a certain part of the story. For instance Kagari exists to show how unfair Sibyl can be when he tells Akane about how he was labeled a latent criminal as a child. Throughout the show this holds true, he isn’t given much more development because he doesn’t need to.
A rounded character on the other hand is much more in depth, they should have all the facets of a real person. The main characters of any given show are typically rounded so in this case Akane, Kogami and Makishima. More on them in a bit.
Often characters that begin as flat will become round. In the case of Psycho-Pass this is what happens to Ginoza. He starts out as just the senior detective who’s a bit too stubborn but we will go on to see why this is the case, diving into his psyche in regards to his relationships with Masaoka and Kogami. Rounding a flat character can in itself be a very interesting subplot, in fact you could argue that Akane begins as a flat character and her rounding out is a big focus of the show.
Typically you need at least one rounded character in your show, it’s very hard to get an audience to relate to a bunch of cardboard cutouts. Extrapolating from that I think it’s also true that the more rounded characters a show has the better it can be. Provided you can manage creating a whole bunch of rounded characters that is. For example JK Rowling created detailed character histories for a lot of the cast of Harry Potter, stuff that the audience never sees but informs the writer and any others who would come to work on an adaptation.
What amazes me about Psycho-Pass is not only the number of rounded characters that exist but just how many of the flat characters seem rounded themselves. Plenty of supporting characters are given ample characterization that they really didn’t have to be given. Take this one scene with Kagari and Akane. Akane is trying to get some info about Kogami out of Kagari. That’s this scenes purpose. We learn about Sasayama and what happened to him. Now as a writer you didn’t have to have the scene go this way. Akane needs to know more about Kogami in order to progress the plot forward but this could’ve been done in a number of different ways. None of them would’ve felt as true to Akane as this though.
On top of that the scene isn’t wasted, on top of moving things forward the scene informs us about both Kagari and Akane’s characters. The storybording is great throughout the show, whenever we see an enforcers room it brims with character and it’s no exception here. Kagari’s room is filled with games, fitting for a man robbed of his childhood. But of course we’re here to talk about writing and the dialougue here is also informative. When asked about his drink Kagari is very adament about it’s authenticity. “This is real alcohol” he doesn’t like the restrictions Sibyl places on him and will subvert them at any availible oppurtunity, this is also why he cooks his own food. Akane too gets some characterization as she is shown to be willing to bend the rules in front of her subordinates by drinking (possibly underage), taking a much more personable approach to her handling of the enforcers. The best part is that none of this HAD to happen, especscially in Kagari’s case. The story would’ve moved forward without any of that if we had just gotten the info some other way but the show goes out of it’s way to give us more than is needed. This is why Kagari’s death will be impactful later on despite him not being all that rounded.
On top of this though even the supporting cast of antagonists are fantastic. Both Rikako and Senguji could be major villains in their own right in other shows but are supporting ones here. I won’t go into it in the same detail but the scene beginning episode 8 where Makishima asks Rikako about her artistic motivation does similar things to the one in Kagari’s room.
Though with such an interesting supporting cast it’s imperitive that our mains are even more intriguing. Have you ever watched a show and wished that one of the supporting characters was the lead because they were far more interesting than than the actual main character? Fortunately Psycho-Pass does this incredibly well.
Our three main characters are Akane, Kogami and Makishima. Let’s talk about Akane first. Like I said before she is not THE main character, that being Kogami. She is the perspective character for the audience, her values aligning closer to the current days than anyone else. And that’s exactly why she wasn’t the main character.
Audiences tend to find characters like Akane boring when they are main characters. “I’m fighting for justice” is a motivation we’ve seen far to many times before. It’s why a lot of villains are remembered more fondly than main characters, as a writer you have much more creative freedom because you don’t have to worry about your audience not relating to them.
Nowadays we are getting more and more shows that understand this and give us far more complex leads. Think Walter White, Don Draper or the GOAT Tony Soprano. None of them could really be considered good people but they are the protagonists.
Psycho-Pass circumvents this in a different way however, by making Akane a perspective character, at least to begin with. We get to see her participate in Kogami’s story being the one most of the audience will relate to whilst also getting to see a more interesting lead in action. This works incredibly well because Psycho-Pass puts serious emphasis on differing points of view and trying to understand them. Kogami (and later Akane) always get places quicker than others because they try to understand others. Makishima too, he is acutely aware of how other people think, think of when he takes advantage of the fact that he knows Masaoka will save his son Ginoza in the finale. When Akane developes into the resolute seeker of justice that she will become it is far more interesting than it otherwise would’ve been because it is merely presented as one point of view.
There’s one scene in episode 18 that exemplifies this very well. Just after being told he’s off the Makishima case again he and Akane argue about what is and isn’t justice in this case. Kogami says that Makishima needs to be killed but Akane says that instead of enforcing the law that course of action will just create another killer. In my personal experience this sort of issue is incredibly divisive, I would side with Kogami but I know many people who would side with Akane.
Akane’s mantra is justice in the name of soceity, she manages to get past Makishima killing Yuki and instead of revenge being her motive she wants to catch Makishima because it’s in societies best interests. This is why she begrudgingly works with Sibyl even after finding out about it’s true nature. Akane’s character is interesting because even though she’s pretty “normal” to us she’s the odd one out in her own world. Usually good things are meant to happen to people like Akane in TV shows but here her eaernest nature just keeps fucking her shit right up.
Then there is Kogami, the man who has already had his shit thoroughly, thoroughly fucked up. Kogami was at one stage just like Akane but his encounter with Makishima warped his worldview, something he is all too aware of. I’ve talked about it when analyzing the first opening but the scene in episode 8 where Akane and Kogami discuss what diving into the criminal mind is like show this. Kogami describes it as a swamp that is so murky that you have dive down into it to see what’s at the bottom. Akane tells Kogami that he seems like the sort of person who could dive deep into the swamp and return no problem to which Kogami replies that Sibyl would disagree. As much as he strives for justice he also revels in doling out retribution on those deserving of it.
Kogami is a thoroughly interesting main character because he’s not conventional, in fact he’s mostly a detriment to society. Kogami does what he has to to get shit done, he’s the sort of person many would admire but not want to be. And he’s cool. Something cool tends to be something out of the ordinary, when something becomes ordinary it is no longer cool. He is not an ultra relatable character but that’s what makes him so intruging.
It’s hard to place what Kogami is. Is he a hero or an anti-hero? It again really depends on your own worldview, Psycho-Pass be viewed differently by different people. It’s very easy to understand a lot of what Kogami does but whether or not you agree with it is another question.
He also has a very singular purpose, to rid the world of Makishima. This kind of obsession was very personally relatable to me and it always makes for good writing, when you’re not sure of your characters motivations you’ll either be inconsistant in their portrayal or just plain boring.
And then there is Makishima. I want to give him a bit more attention a little later so let’s skim over him briefly. He is a true psychopath, not the scary kind but the captivating. He’s so great because so much of what he says makes a lot of sense when he says it. He talks about the individuality of man and how he prizes that above all and you can begin to see where he’s coming from, even when he’s organizing mass slaughters. He seems to be doing it all for some greater purpose.
It should be no surprise that he draws influence from Christopher Nolan’s version of the Joker, they have that same sort of captivating presence. There’s nothing more boring than a villain who’s bad just because they’re bad….except when it’s done right. The audience always wants to know why. Why is Akane doing X, why did Kogami do Y. What is Makishima all about?
Makishima gives us an incredibly narcissistic viewpoint, a person who cares only about himself. This contrasts with Akane and shows us the effect he’s had on Kogami who struggles with his conflicting desires for revenge and doing what is best for society.
Let’s put Makishima aside for now to talk about themes. Psycho-Pass deals with so many different themes and issues it would be nearly impossible to talk all about them in one video, so I’ll stick with the most prevalent ones here. Understanding, individuality and justice.
So I’ve talked about understanding before, the people who can get inside others minds always get places faster as opposed to those that don’t. We are presented with multiple differing viewpoints with which to view the events of the series to further this message.
It makes things kind of odd when the message of a show is to look at things from multiple viewpoints. When everything in your show can be looked at so differently depending on who views it, it makes for an incredibly unique viewing experience. It’s for this reason I can understand why some people wouldn’t like the show. If you have a closed mindset I couldn’t see you getting behind the show like I did but even past that I’m sure there are many people who just can’t see things from such drasticly different viewpoints to there’s.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some great things you could enjoy regardless but just that it won’t impact you the way it did me and many others.
Then there is the individuality theme. Makishima brings it up himself many times. Individuality is a prized trait in the show. Think about how Kogami finds out that Rikako was a different killer to Touma, because her work lacked originality. She was not enough of an individual, taking from Makishima, Touma and her father instead of finding her own path and it costs her.
In fact the “villain” of the series, if you want to call, is the Sibyl system, the collective. It is always presented in the most villainous light. Just like in the Madoka series it is not the antagonist that’s truly at fault but the system that created them. In Psycho-Pass Makishima is only able to thrive because of Sibyl, in Madoka Walpurgisnicht is only a thing because of Kyubey’s race. Gen writes against the collective and in favour of the individual however he is smart enough to know that doing only that would undercut his message and as such Sibyl is shown to work, even if it is flawed. Even though he may disagree with the ideology he acknowledges that it is a valid belief system to have. If this were a lessar show it would’ve ended with Sibyl destroyed but it didn’t. Instead it tries to have Akane change Sibyl, bringing it to a midway point, a sesne of understanding.
Then there is the theme of justice. This one is pretty obvious but again doesn’t have a clear cut answer. The importance of justice is stressed but just exactly what justice is is up to you.
Individuality is important but what that means is different to everyone, just as justice and understanding are.
So we have a strong setting and incredibly strong characters but do they come together to create a great and cohesive story? Too often I see characters doing things disengenouis to themselves because the writer tries to force the story in a certain direction and it always feels wrong. A good story should feel like everything came about as a result of our characters actions and Psycho-Pass does a very good job of this.
I’ve heard it said that characters shouldn’t be reactive in nature but I think this misses the mark a bit. Characters should be both active and reactive, pushing and pulling a story towards resolution. Here for instance Kogami is playing catch up most of the time but when he nearly gets Makishima in episode 16 the tables turn, Makishima becomes the reactor and Kogami goes on the offensive.
Stories are what we are showing, plot is how we show it, how we reach our resolution. There are an infinite amount of ways one could show the story of Makishima vs. Kogami, it’s about choosing one that will tell it best. You could have shown us the story from Kogami or Makishima’s respective perspectives but instead it was shown through Akane’s eyes for the most part. I’ve expalined why that is the case before so I won’t repeat myself.
We can split the plot up into a basic three act structure with a hook, midpoint and a resolution. I’ll tell you what they are but try and think of what they would be before we get there.
The first act runs from episode 1 to episode 8. This is where most of the character development and world building happens and is an important foundation for the show. On first viewing I didn’t really get hooked until the introduction of Rikako in episode 6 but looking back it’s clear how important these episodes were and I find a whole lot more in them on repeat viewings. One great choice by Gen was to have Makishima’s buildup be so long, his true reveal doesn’t even really happen until episode 11. This fits Makishima very well as, like Kogami says to Saiga, Makishima is like a conductor, a repressed artist. If he had gotten directly involved from the start it would’ve ruined him, or at the least drastically changed him. Our hook is of course Makishima, we as the audience know him to really exist due to the first scene and his ghost like nature in the system is intriging because of that. Everyone other than Kogami is convinced he’s not real, but we know he is and we want to know how he gets away with what he does.
Act 2 begins when Kogami is finally able to prove Makishima’s existence. Once he does the chase is well and truly on. Now the rate of time slows down considerably and things start happening faster and faster. We get a tense lead in to a great mid season finale, where Kogami is injured and Makishima kills Yuki in front of Akane. This is our midpoint, or rather the aftermath is. When Akane decides to undergo a memory scoop to get an image of Makishima she has become more determined than ever, more resolute and this is what marks the turning point. In between the two events however is a flashback episode which gives a needed break in the tension and informs us a bit more about the world and characters. Then we go through the riot arc and Makishima is seemingly caught.
This brings us to act 3, when Makishima escapes Sibyl’s clutches. This causes Kogami to say “fuck this shit” and pursue Makishima alone. This leads us to our conclusion, with Kogami chasing Makishima and Akane chasing them both. And the resolution is obviously that Kogami kills Makishima.
There we are, 3 acts. Beginning, Middle and End. Hook, midpoint, resolution. I’ve glossed over many events because I could spend hours talking about every single episode explaining why I love them all and in the end it’d be fruitless because whether or not people like it would depend on them, because that’s how it is written.
If i was to give one criticism about the story telling it’s that sometimes dialogue was too expository. Don’t get me wrong, I think most of the dialougue is fantastic, especially when Makishima is speaking but there were a couple times that lines felt a bit off, like they were just there to move things along. Like in this scene.
But overall Psycho-Pass is a very well told story. It’s very tightly paced, there’s not much fat. Every scene has a purpose as it should. If you want a more in depth look at the story I have recorded individual breakdowns for the first 8 episodes already and will probably do more in the future, I’ll link those in the description.
So what makes Psycho-Pass so special? Is it the dominators, Sibyl as a whole. Akane or Kogami? Some aesthethic factor?
No. It’s Makishima.
Shogo Makishima is the best villain I have ever seen. Because he’s more than a villain. He’s a captavating and memrable unlike nay other.
Makishima’s greatness stems from the fact that he manages to convince so many people that he has some greater vision, even the audience can be tricked into believing his seductive words. While his goal may be one you could agree with the man himself is anything but righteous.
Like I said before Makishima cares only for himself, everything he does is to entertain him and not in the benefits of others. He wants to get rid of Sibyl because that would bring about the free expression he so seeks and enjoys. But he does not care about anyone other than himself, he has no ideals.
Or rather, he has shifting ideals. His ideals are whatever suits him at the time. Many will disagree with me on that but I think it’s just sign of great character writing. When you can convince an audience that your characters lies are true you’ve done something right.
There’s a scene that I think proves my point on this. Let’s watch.
Like he says, what lies beyond his destruction is not of great concern to him, it’s the destruction itself he seeks.
Some men just want to watch the world burn. That’s why he’s so great. Like I said we’re always looking for the why. We don’t know what to do when there is no why. Not in characters but in life in general.
Whenever we find out anything about the universe it only leads to more questions and always ultimately back to why. Why are we here? Why do I do this? Why do people do that?
We can’t face unanswered whys, so we keep looking for the root. This is what makes Makishima so interesting to me, and so terrifying as a villain. The why is because he wants to. he doesn’t have trauma or grudges or any mental disorders, just a different way of thinking. The scariest killers are the ones we can’t understand. It’s why the public is so fascinated with people like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson.
I could go on and on about how great Makishima is but I’ve made my main point pretty clear.
It’s hard to come to conclusions about a show that means so much to me. It’s difficult to explain exactly why this show has impacted me the way it did, I myself struggle to fully understand why, that’s what keeps me coming back to it.
I feel that this will be the hardest script I’ll have to have written. I feel I’ll be able to talk better about shows that I don’t have such a personal attachment to.
At the very least I hope I was able to provide some useful insight into certain aspects of the show and hope that you’ll stick around for my next video. It’s only upwards from here and I hope to refine this format into something that conveys the info better.
Enough of that, Psycho-Pass is amazing and no amount of analyzing it will explain it’s greatness better than a simple rewatch will. And if you haven’t watched it, what the hell are you doing watching my video?!
ANyway, this has been Psychime and thanks for watching.