What a way to start a 6-day cinematic anime binge than with a 3-hour-plus orgy of sci-fi violence? Yes, Scotland Loves Anime came to my local cinema and although it technically started yesterday with Weathering With You, I’ll be catching a later showing of that next week. Today I watched all three Psycho-Pass: Sinners of the System films, one after another, without a break in between. Bear in mind I am a complete Psycho-Pass newbie, so spent the last week consuming the entirety of season 1 plus the movie in preparation. I have to admit, I am still confused. I could have done with longer to digest this dense, dark, dystopian police-procedural franchise.
In this future society, Japan is an island of stability in a chaotic world, its citizens tightly controlled by an ever-monitoring “Sibyl System” - think a cross between Person of Interest’s Machine and Minority Report’s pre-cognitives. People with an AI-calculated “psycho-pass” level of above 100 are labeled as “latent criminals” and are locked away before they can commit crimes. Some are allowed limited freedom to perform as “enforcers” for the Public Safety Bureau (PSB) as an alternative to a life behind bars.
Psycho-Pass season 1 was written by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero and Thunderbolt Fantasy fame. Season 2 was penned by Tow Ubukata (Mardock Scramble, Ghost in the Shell: Arise) and is generally regarded as a shockingly poor sequel to a fantastic first series, so I haven’t bothered with it. Urobuchi returned to write the first movie that more or less ignores the existence of the second season. To a degree, this subsequent trilogy of shorter films does the same. I was able to get the gist of what was happening, even if I didn’t have the full background on all of the characters. Apparently Sinners of the System leads into Psycho-Pass season 3, (all 8 episodes now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video) with apparently yet another movie (Psycho-Pass 3: First Inspector) to come later in 2020 that will conclude the story-line.
INEVITABLE SPOILERS FOR PSYCHO-PASS SEASON 1 AND PSYCHO-PASS: THE MOVIE WILL FOLLOW. WHERE POSSIBLE, SINNERS OF THE SYSTEM SPOILERS WILL BE AVOIDED.
Case 1: Crime and Punishment
Case 1 is the closest in tone and content to a standard episode of the TV series. We mainly follow Inspector Mika Shimotsuki, first introduced in season 1, episode 6 as a schoolgirl who then graduated and joined the Public Safety Bureau in the closing moments of that season’s final episode. She seems to have been a major player in season 2's plot but none of that is relevant to this story. It could have taken place the day after the end of season one, though it is set in 2117, 4 years afterwards.
Shimotsuki is paired up with Nobuchika Ginoza, formerly an inspector, now demoted to enforcer after his psycho-pass became irrevocably tarnished following the events at the end of the first season. Together they investigate a creepy remote “rehab” facility in a frozen mountain range where latent criminals are put to work in the mines and are subject to some very suspect psychological conditioning techniques. Most of season 1's surviving characters at least make cameos and there are some excellent action sequences. Ginoza seems to have settled into his new role as a “hunting dog” with surprising relish and we see he’s learned how to use his new metal arm with skill, perhaps after observing his late father do the same? Shimotsuki is a more abrasive character that previous main protagonist Akane Tsunemori, though she fulfils a similar role.
The main antagonists this time though are like something out of a bad Kazuo Koike/Ryoichi Ikegami adaptation. These guys practically scream “Don’t trust us - we’re evil!” No subtlety here. At least in season 1, main antagonist Shogo Makishima was a sympathetic, multi-layered character. Their comeuppances are satisfying at least. It wouldn’t be a Psycho-Pass story without someone being detonated by a Dominator gun. The plot twists and turns pleasingly, and apart from a few minor irritating contrivances this is a good start to the trilogy.
Case 2: First Guardian
Although Case 2 starts in 2116 (confusingly a year prior to Case 1), the bulk of the show is a flashback to 2112, before even the events of season 1. We mainly follow the pre-enforcer days of Teppei Sugo who I assume must have been introduced in season 2. Sugo was a pilot and communications officer for the Japanese military who lost his friend Otomo during a presumably failed operation. He catches the attention of the Public Safety Bureau when someone who looks like his dead comrade commits acts of gross domestic terrorism. Whilst under suspicion for being an accomplice, he aids in the investigation. As with all such stories, something is rotten in the military.
With a fairly linear plot and one main “twist” clearly telegraphed from miles away, this is the weakest entry in the trilogy. Sugo is an empathetic, every-man protagonist, well-supported by sadly-deceased-in-the present-timeline Tomomi Masaoka. However, they are not enough to rescue a run-of-the-mill military conspiracy/revenge story from being... a bit dull, really.
There’s a subtle tie-in to Psycho-Pass: The Movie that shows Sibyl has had designs on South-East Asia for several years and isn’t afraid to commit a little genocide in the name of peace, which adds an interesting wrinkle to the world-building. I appreciate the backstory of Masaoka’s and Ginoza’s family life, and Sugo’s inevitable drift towards a clouded hue and tainted psycho-pass is sad, but it isn’t enough to reach the heights of season 1. Case 2 isn’t bad, but on a re-watch, I’d probably skip this episode.
Case 3: Beyond Love and Hate
Case 3 stars itinerant former enforcer Shinya Kogami, A.W.O.L. from Japan following the events of season 1. Last seen in what appeared to be future-Cambodia (South East Asia Union or SEAUn) in Psycho-Pass: The Movie, in this episode he has traveled north to the Tibetan Himalayas, helping people out along the way. Unfortunately he keeps getting into trouble wherever he goes, this time he becomes embroiled in a territorial conflict between ethnic groups with complications from a private militia who act as a peacekeeping force.
After saving her life from guerrillas attacking her bus, Kogami agrees to teach self-defence to young half-Japanese girl Tenzing Wangchuk. What could have been an excruciating and out-of-place child character certainly isn’t, and their interactions are warmly humorous and help to humanise the sometimes cold and distant Kogami. Through her, Kogami is shown to be a deeply caring man who goes out of his way to avoid killing, except where absolutely necessary.
Despite being the farthest from a standard Psycho-Pass episode out of all three cases, Beyond Love and Hate is without a doubt the far superior story. At 68 minutes it is also the longest, but that little extra time allows this fascinating story to breathe. This is easily as good as anything from season 1, though the tone and themes are completely different and the Sibyl system is barely mentioned. A climactic fight on a speeding train is a pulse-pounding highlight, and there is a bigger role here for incongruously blonde Frederica Hanashiro of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after she was briefly introduced in Case 2. I believe she shows up later, in Season 3.
Overall, this was an enjoyable 188minutes(!) of fairly slow, thoughtful anime peppered by some spectacularly violent scenes. Maybe best watched separately rather than all in one go, these cases are not linked thematically or chronologically. How important they are to watch before season 3 I’m unsure, but as they are currently unavailable on home media in the West I imagine the vast majority of viewers will not be watching the whole series in production order. Hopefully someone will announce a licence acquisition soon, as all three are worth watching for established fans though probably aren’t the best place to start for Psycho-Pass newbies. Case 3 in particular is exceptionally good and worth watching on its own.
Join me again tomorrow when I’ll hopefully have time to write up some thoughts about the next Scotland Loves Anime showing: Children of the Sea.
Psycho-Pass: Sinners of the System
Produced by: Production I.G.
Director: Naoyoshi Shiotani
Written by: Ryō Yoshigami.
Runtime: 60 mins.
Japanese cinematic release: 25th January 2019.
Written by: Makoto Fukami.
Runtime: 60 mins
Japanese cinematic release: 15th February 2019.
Written by: Makoto Fukami.
Runtime: 68 mins
Japanese cinematic release: 8th March 2019.
Japanese Blu-ray/DVD release (Parts 1-3): September 18, 2019
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