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In the last video, we talked about how the Psycho-Pass franchise came to be, and how the production backgrounds of the first and second seasons differed. We also broke down the first episode of season one at great length, analyzing the style of writing and directing that the series employs, as well as the kind of themes and characterizations that it presents. In this video, we’ll continue to analyze what, exactly, is presented to us in the first season of Psycho-Pass, before we begin to do the same for its sequel. From here on out there will be a lot of spoilers, so if you have any intentions of watching this series, I advise you do so before continuing.
Whereas the first episode of Psycho-Pass was all about introducing us to the main narrative and themes of its story, episode two is all about familiarizing us with the culture of its universe. Story-wise, it fleshes out several of the characters a bit more, especially Akane, and takes some time to react to the events of the first episode; but I’d say that the main focus here is the resplendent details which are loaded into nearly every shot.
The opening scene takes us through a morning in the life of Tsunemori Akane, and does a lot to establish all of the ways that life is different for people in this society. Her house is run largely through automated processes, which she interfaces with by speaking to a holographic avatar. Thanks to the advanced hologram technology, citizens can economically manage the design of their living space and outfits via hologram, and alter them to suit their mood at a whim. Meals are automatically constructed to contain the perfect amount of nutrients, and the psychological state of citizens is monitored and advised on constantly.
This scene also contains the first moment in which Psycho-Pass makes a deliberate effort to set itself in our world, by making reference to real-world artwork. Akane asks that her room be modelled after Victor Horta’s Hotel Tassel, which is a real place that looks really cool, built in 1982 in Brussels. Over the course of the series we’ll see lots of cultural references, which serve both to ground the story in our reality, as well as to give the series itself a sense of the culture which it belongs to. I haven’t been able to figure out if Akane’s outfits were also based on reference material, but it seems very likely that they were, given how fashionable they look. If anyone recognizes any of these outfits from somewhere, then by all means, let me know.
After Akane’s dress-up scene, we get to spend some time with her and her friends at lunch, wherein we learn more about the social implications of the Psycho-Pass. Citizens are tested for their aptitude at various careers and opportunities throughout their lives, and are given the jobs that work best with their personalities. Akane, we learn, is a sort of sybil system savant, who has an aptitude for virtually everything and a permanently clear psycho-pass. This is extremely important, as the main point of Akane’s character is that she represents the pinnacle of what this system is meant to accomplish, to the point that she ends up standing for an ideal that the system has not yet been capable of reaching.
Along with introducing us to the culture of this world, this episode also injects a healthy dose of sexuality into the series. The creative team behind Psycho-Pass have stated several times that they deliberately didn’t want there to be any romantic element to the series, nor any focus on fanservice; but I’m glad that they didn’t try to ignore sexuality or nudity altogether, when those things are such an integral part of human connection in general.
Even when episode two gets into its casework scenario, it continues to fill us in on the details of its universe. In the MWPSB office, we see Kagari playing handheld games, while snacks and paraphernalia litter the desks. The case takes place in a super nice-looking mall, and we get a sense of how the police manage to conceal the stress that they might cause to the citizens by using friendly mascot characters. Through this scene, and through Kougami’s dialog which we’ll talk about in a second, we get a sense of how people have allowed this social order to come into being, and what the lives of ordinary, complacent people are like.
After a quick character development scene between Akane and Kagari, Akane goes to visit Kougami, and we finally receive some ethical closure regarding Akane’s actions in the first episode. Kougami reveals that he actually thinks Akane was in the right for choosing to stop him when she did, and laments how he’s allowed himself to become a passive cog in the wheels of the sybil system.
When Kougami talks about how, at some point, he decided that whatever he was doing was best for society and stopped bothering to think about it, we finally get the complete picture of how the sybil system has taken over. Throughout the rest of this series, the biggest point in the sybil system’s favor is that no matter how broken it might be, and how many holes there are in its foundation, it has nonetheless lead to a better-functioning society than what we had before. Knowing this, even though some people can realize the flaws in sybil’s judgement, they find themselves unable to contest with its results, and end up following along blindly.
At that, we’ve closed the introductory arc of Psycho-Pass season one. We now have a solid grasp of the setting–from its culture, to its systems, to the people living inside of it–as well an idea for what kind of themes and social commentary will be present in the series. From here, we can finally launch into the meat of the story, which is presented to us in two interlocking arcs across the rest of the show.
Episodes three through nine present us with a series of mini-arcs during which the MWPSB encounter several strangely elaborate cases–which it gradually becomes apparent are being orchestrated by a mysterious figure named Makishima. These episodes mostly serve to explore the technology and culture of the show’s universe in more depth, while using them as the tools to engineer a clever procedural cop drama. Across these episodes are sprinkled light pieces of character development; mostly for Kougami Shinya, as we learn about his past and begin to feel the weight of his obsession with finding Makishima.
I understand why a lot of viewers consider this to be the least interesting arc of the series; and I’ll concede that episode three is easily my least-favorite episode season one, with its somewhat hamfisted plotline and boring location. However, the following episodes are what initially sold me on the show’s setting. We learn about the unique ways in which people interface with its futuristic internet, and how controversial artists and craftsmen would be treated under the sybil system’s rules, among other things. These arcs are where the setting truly comes to life; and if anything, I was really hoping to get more episodes of this nature eventually, because it was so interesting to see the effects that the Sybil system had on society.
By the very nature of Psycho-Pass’ structure, I think it’s obvious that Psycho-Pass 2 had a big hurdle to climb if it wanted to be as good as season one with only half as many episodes. However, given that the series is a sequel, it also has the advantage of coasting on the foundations and good will which the first season had built up. Even though season two doesn’t have a bunch of cool world-building episodes, it’s not as though these episodes don’t continue to inform the setting; so as long as season two was able to tell a story which was as compelling as that from the first season’s later episodes, then it would’ve felt like a worthwhile branch to grow out of the first season’s tree.
I know that as I compare these seasons against one-another, some of you are going to conclude that the second season was hamstrung by having fewer episodes to play around with. Psycho-Pass had so much time to establish the rivalry between Kougami and Makishima, and to build up Makishima as a villain throughout all of these smaller arcs, that we were already a lot more invested in the central storyline by the time it started to emerge in full force.
However, these kinds of comparisons and defenses wouldn’t even be necessary were it not for the fact that from here on out, Psycho-Pass 2 blatantly attempts to mimic the formula of the first season. With those eleven episodes, Psycho-Pass 2 could’ve gone in any direction that it wanted to. It could’ve introduced a totally different kind of villain, or shifted focus away from the MWPSB, or even just presented a bunch of neat little procedural stories leading up to the film.
Instead, because the series tried to mimic the formula of the first season, in spite of having fewer episodes to work with and generally failing to capitalize on the strengths of the original, it ended up falling apart. The fact that the second season had fewer episodes to work with is not a factor in its defense. There are no shortage of amazing eleven-episode shows out there which prove that a great story can be told in that amount of time. If the creators were aware that they had a more limited number of episodes, then they should have attempted to construct a story which better fit within that constricted time frame. To blatantly reuse the formula of the first season only makes the ways in which the second season fails to live up to it exponentially more apparent.
From here on out, I’m going to be comparing these shows side-by-side; and as a result I’ll be changing the formula.
—Part Three: What Happened? (And What Didn’t Happen?)—
To begin with, let’s take a look at the broad similarities between these shows. Both are driven by the actions of a mysterious antagonist who wants to take down the Sybil system–and who is able to move within that system due to a unique property of their being which allows their actions to go undetected. Both of these characters are motivated by their histories, and both recruit the aid of many followers to whom they bring relief by allowing them a platform to get away with criminal acts without being detected by the system. Both are presented in such a way that we hear their names long before we see them taking action–to the point that while one character is sure of their existence, others suspect them of being a mere delusion; and we see them interacting with some of their chief subordinates before stepping into the fray. Both of their lives are held at the mercy of Tsunemori Akane using a real gun at one point, and both of them attempt to destroy the Sybil system by messing with its core infrastructure.
Tsunemori Akane is able to get to the bottom of both cases because of her strength of mind, which allows her to perform as a detective without clouding her psycho-pass. In both series, her will is put to the test when someone close to her is murdered, and in both cases she resolves that upholding the law is more important than anything. Both shows contain a scene in which she outsmarts the sybil system and explains her plans to it while driving down the highway, and both shows end with her confronting the system itself, but ultimately continuing to work within it.
In both shows, the sybil system operates out of self-preservation, and the plot takes a major turn when we learn about the system’s true nature, along with one of its weaknesses. In both cases, the system and Akane are at ends with one another in their pursuit of the same goals, and in both shows at least one of the system’s android avatars is murdered by the antagonist.
Both series have Akane working alongside an inspector who wants to follow the system as perfectly as possible, and who has a problem with Akane’s way of doing things. Both of these inspectors eventually become disenfranchised upon the realization that the system is more flawed than they expected, and both of them eventually have to bow out of relevance.
Both shows feature four enforcers on Akane’s team: one who mostly stands by as a level-headed voice of reason and conversation partner for Akane; one with a quirky personality who ultimately doesn’t have a lot of involvement with the story except at key dramatic moments; one who is dead-set on killing the main villain because of their personal baggage, which puts them into conflict with Akane; and Yayoi. Other recurring characters also fulfill similar roles across both series.
Both shows have a scene in which one of the villains hides something dangerous underneath a friendly hologram; both have a big turning-point scene in which a whole lot of innocent people are killed because of the flaws in the system; and both have an episode dedicated to the villain creating mass chaos and murder by toying around with the way that people interact with the systems of their world.
While there are a number of differences between the implications that some of these characters and scenes bring to each show, which we will dive into shortly, the similarities between them make it pretty easy to look at both and to figure out how they handled their components comparatively. That isn’t to say that every single thing which is good about the original or bad about the sequel can be determined just from comparing them; but I think that doing so will lay a great foundation for us to spring from when we start to look at the second season in more depth.
First off, let’s have a look at our antagonists, starting with Makishima Shougo. Even without getting into his personality, motivations, or actions, Makishima is a character with lots of aesthetic texture. His design oozes with personality, suggesting a charismatic, mysterious, and terrifying presence. One look at this guy tells you that he’s up to no good–and that he never wants to be up to any good. His wry smile and thin eyes convey a serpentine sinisterness, and his silver hair suggests a certain aetherial quality–especially in a series like Psycho-Pass which mostly favors realistic hair colors. This guy stands out immediately as someone we’re meant to be both afraid of, yet easily seduced by.
We are treated to Makishima’s smooth, sexy, yet unmistakably dangerous voice, performed by Takahiro Sakurai, early into the first episode. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if Sakurai was chosen for this role after his performance of Griffith in the Berserk film series, considering how similar these characters are. Griffith is easily among the most famously charismatic villains in anime history, and a lot of what makes him so memorable is also present in Makishima.
Early on, we only see Makishima in brief glimpses, during which he is shown to be clearly malicious, evil, and dangerous; but we also get the sense that he’s operating on some kind of principle and with some kind of purpose; and that he is deeply interested in and passionate about the crimes which he is committing. His continual literary quotations hint at a deeper sociological vision; and the ways that he toys with and ultimately disposes of each of the people whom he works with builds him up as the most dangerous, cunning, and brutal psychopath of them all.
When Makishima finally steps into the limelight after Kougami’s battle with Senguuji, he does so in epically horrifying fashion by murdering one of Akane’s friends right in front of her eyes. In this scene, we learn not only that Makishima can’t be judged by the Sybil system, but also of his ideals in the broadest sense. Makishima believes that people can only be at their best when operating under their own free will, without their judgements being guided by society. He wants to watch people act out their most perverse proclivities, and is disgusted by those whom he feels are incapable of acting on their most base desires.
In episodes thirteen through sixteen, Makishima turns the entire city on its head with a masterfully cruel plan to exploit the holes in the sybil system and generate mass hysteria. In the process, he is captured, and in episode seventeen we get our first long sit-down with him as he converses with the avatar of the sybil system about said system’s true nature. Here we learn that the sybil system is comprised of the joined consciousnesses of many criminally asymptomatic people such as Makishima, and that it wants him to become a part of them. However, given that Makishima prizes individuality above anything, he refuses and escapes.
From here on out, the main thematic purpose which Makishima serves in the narrative is to present the characters and the viewer with a moral question, to which there is no right answer. It’s a given that Makishima needs to be stopped before he can destroy the sybil system, creating anarchy and, most likely, the loss of a great many lives; however, the question is of whether Makishima should be killed, or allowed to integrate with the Sybil system.
Kougami’s approach is that of emotional catharsis. He wants to pass judgement on Makishima by killing him–both in the name of revenge, and in the name of preventing him from causing any more problems. Kougami himself is well aware that this is not the most logical or ethical solution; but it is nonetheless a very human one, and as audience members it’s hard for us to side against Kougami. Makishima being dead will do more good than Makishima potentially escaping or polluting the system, and his murder will be both gratifying and hard to argue with.
On the other hand, from a purely logical standpoint, it’s possible that incorporating Makishima into the sybil system will improve the system’s overall results, thus narrowing some of the holes in its safety net which people are privy to fall through. It is easily the more complicated decision to make, as not only is the Sybil system untrustworthy and problematic, but a big part of us is sure that Makishima is better off dead.
Akane represents a sort of middle ground between these ideals, as one who always stands on the position of morality. On the one hand, she’s sure that killing Makishima is the wrong decision, as it goes against the basic principles which lay the foundation for how society is able to function. On the other hand, she doesn’t trust the Sybil system or its methods of bending the core principles of society by making arbitrary judgement calls on who gets to live or die, and would rather see a society which can function without it. Ultimately, her priorities lie on the side of the system–especially for the sake of Kougami, who will be forced to go into hiding if he ends up murdering Makishima.
In the midst of all the conflict surrounding him, we also get to know Makishima better through the ways in which Kougami relates to him. There’s a brilliant scene in the later episodes wherein Kougami meets with the psychologist, Jouji Saiga, and the two of them have a discussion while speculating what Makishima’s positions in the discussion would be based on their profiling of his personality. Through this, we get to flesh out Makishima’s character without him even being there, in a way that manages to completely make sense.
In the final episode, we learn more about Makishima’s backstory, and how he’s never been able to relate to others in his life because of how he doesn’t fit into the system. What’s great about this is that there’s no one event in Makishima’s past which has driven him to become this way; but rather the nature of his personality and upbringing has made him into the kind of person who would do these kinds of things. In this regard, Makishima reminds me of the character of the Joker from The Dark Knight, as someone who is driven to crime not so much out of circumstance or a clear motivation, but out of the core of their personalities and how they see themselves. This is integral to the nature of Psycho-Pass as a story, because the basic foundation of psychology is that our thoughts and actions are all shaped through the development of our mental selves; and for a system to objectify that self and to pass judgement upon it, is to suggest that certain people like Makishima are victims of the circumstance of being the kind of people that they are.
In summary, Makishima makes for a compelling character on multiple levels. His strong personality and aesthetic make him memorable and interesting from an early point in the series. His motivations and aspirations are made clear from the instant that he steps into the limelight, but are given more depth and complexity as the series goes along. The nature of his character is tied closely to the overarching themes and setting of the story, and his place in the narrative leads the development of the two main characters, while standing at the crux of the series’ ultimate ethical dilemma. You honestly can’t really get a better antagonist than this.
Now, let’s take a look at the second season’s antagonist, Kirito Kamui. Not unlike Makishima, Kamui is a mysterious figure, whose name we hear from several of the people working under his orders long before we learn anything significant about him. Like Makishima, he makes a brief appearance in the first episode–however, Kamui’s character design is so unassuming that the first time I saw this episode, I didn’t even assume that this character was going to be the main villain, or that the person on-screen was Kamui.
You could reasonably make the case that Kamui’s design was supposed to be unassuming to reflect the fact that he is completely undetectable within the sybil system. However, considering that his mysteriousness is played up in exactly the same way that Makishima’s was, and considering that Makishima was also able to enact his plans because of the system’s inability to detect his crimes, I don’t think that it was necessary for Kamui to look totally boring if they wanted to paint him as someone whom the system couldn’t find.
We first get to spend a little bit more time with Kamui in episode three, during which we see him torturing and converting an inspector onto his team, and transplanting one of her eyes into his own head. However, even here, we are given no context into what Kamui’s motivations or long-term goals are, and we see little of his personality. Given the way that he is exalted by those who come into contact with him, and the way that he smiles while delivering his dialog about salvation, we might expect him to be somewhat similar to Makishima, as the kind of character who gets off on the crimes that they commit. However, we just don’t have enough information to go on to get any sort of feel for his character.
In fairness, this may result from the fact that Kamui’s schtick is that he has the personalities of one hundred and eighty-four people living inside of him, and is influenced by all of them; meaning that he might not have any one concrete personality. However, if this were the case, then the series doesn’t provide any hints towards it, and the types of personalities which he showcases are too consistent–especially in comparison to the myriad personalities which he displays in the final episode.
Even if it were the case that he’s not meant to have one concrete personality, what we’re presented with is ultimately a character that we can’t really get invested in or curious about. We know nothing about him whatsoever other than the fact that he can somehow give people a clean psycho-pass reading; and we don’t even learn about his gimmick of being a composite body and mind until much later into the series. Kamui doesn’t leave a lot of impact on the viewer, so we find ourselves waiting for the show to give us more to go on.
Once we finally learn about Kamui’s backstory, it’s revealed that his body is comprised of the transplanted organs of one hundred and eighty-four different people who died during a major calamity some time in the sybil system’s past. Because Kamui is made of so many different body parts, the system is apparently unable to detect him, as he does not read as one entity. It’s never made clear why this might be the case, but given that we don’t really know much about how the system works, it’s something which could possibly have been handwaved.
What cannot be handwaved, however, is the idea that Kamui is somehow a collective consciousness because of all the different body parts which he’s comprised of. This is a completely mythical and illogical concept which changes the nature of Psycho-Pass from a science fiction story into a science fantasy. Up until now, while the science behind most of the world’s systems has never been explained, all of it seemed to riff off of logical and realistic aspects of society and human psychology. This, however, is completely fantastical. Having organs transplanted into you does not imbue you with multiple personalities.
Conceptually, Kamui’s nature as a collective entity is meant to parallel that of the Sybil system’s collective consciousness. Kamui’s ultimate goal, we eventually learn, is to cause the Sybil system to accept the idea of judging a group of people on its collective psycho-pass, and then for it to judge itself based on that standard. The idea that Kamui somehow represents a collective is, once again, asinine; but at the very least, the supposed nature of his being does parallel with one of the core conceits of the series, and with his ultimate goals.
In comparison with Makishima, Kamui’s characterization is a huge mess, and his place in the narrative doesn’t get nearly as much accomplished. He doesn’t facilitate the growth of any of the main characters, nor is he closely tied to any of the show’s emotional gravitas. Many of his actions are difficult to understand even in retrospect. I’m not sure whether his intentions were ultimately heroic or villainous, given the number of innocent people whose deaths he facilitated, and his unclear goals up until the final moments of the series. I’m not even sure how his backstory was directly connected to his motivations. He has no real personality, an incredibly bland aesthetic, and a gimmick which completely changes the tone of the series.
It would not be illogical to assume that Kamui wasn’t able to be fleshed out as much as Makishima because of Psycho-Pass 2 having only half as many episodes. After all, Makishima’s development is pretty evenly spread over the course of the series, with a lot of buildup to his reveal, and no shortage of key character moments afterwards. However, to assume this is also to assume that it was necessary for Psycho-Pass 2 to try and cram as many different plot elements into its storyline as the first show did.
Psycho-Pass had the space to develop Makishima alongside all of its other characters while delivering a cleanly paced overarching storyline. Psycho-Pass 2 tries to fit the same number of characters, plot threads, and events into half the amount of time–leaving less space for any of them to be developed, and a lot less breathing room in the story. As I continue with this analysis, we will come upon no shortage of elements which could’ve easily been cut from the story to allow more time for developing Kamui as a villain, and for the storyline to breathe. There is no reason that Kamui couldn’t have gotten the exact same amount of development that Makishima did, had the story focused on him instead of cramming in so many other plot elements.
In the next video of this series, I will continue to compare and contrast the characters and storylines of these two shows, while slowly working my way towards the goal of deep-diving into the second season to find the heart of what makes it disappointing. If you’re enjoying these videos and would like to help me to continue making them, then consider supporting me via patreon or paypal, or by sending these videos around. I’ll see you in the next one!
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