Thoughts on the Psycho-Pass Movie

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Text version and links:

My original Psycho-Pass analytical review:
An Examination of Shot Composition in Psycho-Pass 1&2:
Psycho-Pass vs. Psycho-Pass 2: What Happened?:
Overthinking Interviews with Psycho-Pass and Ghost in the Shell Writers:

If you’ve been following me for a while, then you’re probably aware that I have some pretty strong feelings about the first two seasons of Psycho-Pass. I’ll be writing this video under the assumption that you’re already familiar with my original analytical review of season one, as well as my gargantuan Psycho-Pass vs. Psycho-Pass 2: What Happened series; so if you haven’t seen those, then this video may not be for you.

If you’re looking for a spoiler-free recommendation of this film, then here it is in brief: the Psycho-Pass movie feels like the extended first episode of the season two that I always hoped for, but ultimately left me wanting for more. There’s a heavy focus on action sequences, and the story feels like it should’ve been fleshed out over the course of another season as opposed to being crammed into a quickly-paced action film. However, if nothing else, it feels like season one again, and would make a good bridge into another season along these lines. You don’t need to watch season two AT ALL in order to understand this film, so I advise skipping that season in its entirety and jumping straight into this movie. With all of that said, I’m going to spend the rest of this video assuming that you’ve already seen the film or don’t care about spoilers.

Admittedly, the best thing that I can say about the Psycho-Pass movie is that it’s nothing like season two. It doesn’t break anything about the world and characters established in the first season, and even expands on those concepts in a couple of ways–though not in enough ways or with enough excitement to totally justify its existence. So much of this film is comprised of huge, bombastic Hollywood action sequences, which were never what the series was about in the first place. They were not necessarily a bad fit for this film, which uses civil war as a major theme, and all of them made sense in context–but I couldn’t help feeling that if I was going to get two hours of new Psycho-Pass content, then I’d rather get two hours of sci-fi world-building rather than nearly an hour’s worth of action scenes. All of the action was serviceable in its own right, but none of it felt like something that I couldn’t get anywhere else, or which hadn’t been done better in Production I.G.’s own Ghost in the Shell franchise about four times over.

Thematically, however, the film was aimed directly at one of my biggest points of interest after the first season, which is what the rest of the world looks like outside of the Sibyl system. Unfortunately, the film only provides incredibly broad strokes of the outside world by showing us a fascist dictatorship which apparently controls the majority of Southeast Asia, and then tosses in some throwaway remarks about how literally the entire world outside of Japan is like that. The lack of nuance or variety in portraying the outside world, and the total lack of establishing any meaningful characters or scenarios in that world, made the whole idea feel cheap and shallow. All I got out of it was a vague idea about how things are outside of the system, when I would’ve loved to have seen an entire 22-episode series dedicated to fleshing out this world and its relationship with the sybil system. Had this movie been made into a series along the lines of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, I think it could’ve been really interesting.

At the very least, this glimpse of the outside world helped to reinforce the most controversial and misunderstood point that I made in my original Psycho-Pass video; which is the idea that it was right for Akane not to take down the Sibyl system, because the system had made things better. A lot of people seemed to think that I was defending the Sibyl system conceptually, which was not at all the case. The point I was trying to make was that the Sibyl system provides a poor solution to a problem which has yet to find a better solution. As Akane says at the end of the first season, a perfect society would be one in which the people are capable of judging and managing themselves; but until we reach that society, the guidance of the sibyl system has lead to a better-functioning society than what was there before. People like me would obviously never want to live in a society like that because we were raised under the values of the society that we live in now, but had we been born into a society like that of the sibyl system, then we’d probably be pretty happy with our idyllic lives within that system.

This film adds another layer to the sibyl system’s capabilities by showing us how it also acts as a matchmaking service for couples, as Akane’s friend is getting married to someone whom she met through the system and ended up falling in love with. It’s important to remember that with a lot of the sibyl’s machinations, the decisions are ultimately left up to the individual. People are not required to only do the things that the system suggests to them–but the point is that the system is so good with its judgements that there’s no reason not to.

It puts people into jobs that they turn out to be happy with, and matches them up with people whom they end up falling in love with. Were it used correctly, in a way that admitted its arbitrary nature and put final power in the hands of the people, then the system could actually be an incredibly powerful tool for helping society function. We already live in a world wherein one in five relationships are formed through online dating, often as a result of matchmaking services, and wherein job aptitude tests are all over the place; the sibyl system is just that, but with results so accurate that you’d be crazy not to follow them. If we could use it for mental profiling to give people help, instead of completely quarantining or killing them, then it could even be great for criminal justice and psychological use. The problem with the system is that in order for it to be used, it had to trick the population into thinking that it was objective and all-knowing; but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s brought a lot of good things into this world.

Seeing the outside world rather violently brings this point home. Almost the entirety of the world outside of Japan is war-torn, suffers enormous caste disparity, and is under the rule of dictatorship. The sibyl system itself is trying to expand into this outside world, possibly with the intent of going until it reforms the entire world under its rule. To do this, it will ultimately damn the majority of humanity and probably resolve with only a small percentage of the original population living under its system. The problem here is how big the difference is between the inside and outside worlds; there’s too little space in-between the idealized life wherein everyone is under control and lacks the ability to govern themselves, and the dog-eat-dog chaos outside.

This world is too black-and-white, which is the biggest flaw of this movie’s lack of nuance. It’s one thing to buy into the idea of a country that’s taken socialism too far, and another to buy into an entire world that’s taken to the opposite extreme. Still, it makes the point that I was trying to make all along, that the purpose of the Sibyl system is that even if it has flaws, it does enough good to be worth working within and trying to find a solution for, as opposed to dismantling it entirety and being left with nothing–which is what I think Akane understands more than anyone.

The actual plot of this film is convoluted and confusing. Around the point wherein Akane and Kougami both got captured and left alive over and over again, when the enemy’s intention was ultimately to kill them anyways, I was taken out of the action; and in the end the minutia of the situation barely seemed to matter. Little was done with the conflict between the dictatorship and resistance except to set up a reason for Kougami and Akane to run into one-another before the Sibyl system revealed, unsurprisingly, that it was pulling the strings all along. Again, this plot didn’t have enough breathing room to actually become interesting, and seemed more content to shove as many characters into as many action sequences as it could manage before the end. Hiroshi Kamiya ends up playing a totally throwaway villain with no bite, and Kougami’s rival, despite seeming potentially cool and having some neat weapons, isn’t given enough screentime to be memorable. Shimotsuki Mika only had two lines of dialog, but already seemed like a more interesting, level-headed and threatening rival to Akane than she ever did in season two, which left me wishing that this was the version that we’d gotten to see more of instead.

Also a bit of a clusterfuck is the film’s visual presentation. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about why the designs and overall visual tone of the first season were better than those of the second season, and that continues to be true for the film. However, I never really talked about how the first season occasionally had some awkward-looking CG-rendered backgrounds that were kind of garish and horrible, such as the whole red-staircase area where Makishima and Kougami met for the first time. The movie has a lot of weird-ass locations like this which, while visually interesting, are so cluttered and overdone with their textures that they come off jarring and distracting, especially in comparison to the bright and cleanly-drawn characters. I praised the use of interesting and diverse colors during the darker scenes of the first season, but the movie sometimes pushes so many colors into a single sequence that I find myself thinking more about the colors than about what’s going on, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Aside from all of that though, the film brought back some of what season two was missing in the form of down-time for Akane; and oh my god, Akane was absurdly hot throughout the entire course of this movie. I don’t know what it is–maybe it’s the fact that I’m obsessed with her, or maybe they went out of their way to do this, but it felt like every single frame with Akane in it (which is 80% of the movie) made sure to give a sense of the curves of her body from underneath her clothes, and my heart did not have an easy time handling that. If I didn’t already think Akane was the most beautiful anime character I’ve ever seen, then I certainly do now.

Anyways, that about wraps up my thoughts on this movie. Altogether, I enjoyed the experience, and I’d love to see more Psycho-Pass content with the original team working on it like this, even if this movie ultimately felt insubstantial and lacking as a stand-alone work, and wasted a plot concept which would’ve been better served across an entire series. If a third season of Psycho-Pass comes out written by Tow Ubukata or some other writer and doesn’t try to expand on the central concept of the show like this movie did, then I might be unwilling to follow it through; but if there are more movies like this, or another series in this vein, then I’d definitely be up for seeing the continued adventures in this universe, whether they ultimately live up to the first season or not.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Psycho-Pass Movie

  1. uhmmmm…akane is hot in this movie…that is all; but then again i knew that from the moment i saw her character design in the trailers. This is how you fix the art style from both seasons: ive mentioned before how awkard some character models looked in season 1, particularly the faces. Season 2 sorta streamlined the faces to look sleeker, but there was still a lack of refinement. The character designs in this movie is what i consider to be the perfect marriage between the season 1 and 2 art choices and it comes of so much better for it

  2. But dude, dat Engrish. Seriously, it was hard for me to take a lot of the dialogue seriously because of it. Honestly, this is more of a problem with anime as a whole, but when you want English dialogue, either get a native speaker or someone without a noticeable accent and a good understanding of proper enunciation and what words to emphasize or pause after in a sentence, or just don’t use it at all. It really wouldn’t have made a big difference in the story had they spoken Japanese the whole time, and it wouldn’t have broken my immersion as a native English speaker, myself, although a case could be made that their target audience with the Japanese dub is primarily the Japanese market with the foreign market as an afterthought. However, I and quite a few others in the anime-watching community agree that Japanese dubs are often superior to their localized counterparts, and to have this otherwise outstanding vocal performance be stained by unnatural-sounding English segments when they’re clearly meant to be taken seriously is a shame.

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