Psycho-Pass II – 06/07 Review
What, after all the times Sibyl had been incapable of stopping shit from hitting the fan? Well, I feel like Sybil has indeed earned itself some sarcastic remarks.
Psycho-Pass is one of those sequels that I think I would like it more if it weren’t a sequel. This season has ideas, knows how to handle characters in a straightforward fashion and knows how to instil a police-investigation-story with action and some plot-twists. But here’s the thing: It isn’t as good as Psycho-Pass’ first season. The difference in quality also just heightens the flaws of this second season as its new characters are mostly one-note and not very interesting. Especially Mika who isn’t just one-note but also incredibly unlikeable. After seven episodes “getting better” definitely comes too late; who knows, whether such a thing will even happen. Right now, it certainly seems like the producers of the show had made a mistake by not having let Gen Urobuchi write this second season.
Games… They destroy lives. Innocent people’s hunger for entertainment turned into fuel for some sick simulation of violence and heinous murder. But what if… what if it isn’t a simulation, what if all those terrible gamers were to be able to kill people… IN REAL FUCKING LIFE!
Doesn’t that make you think? Who are the bad guys and who are the good guys? All profound questions indirectly asked by Kamui as he hands thousands of innocent people to tools to obliviously become instruments of a murder-spree. Makishima would’ve probably quoted Nietzsche or something about how for something new to be created something old needs to be burned down. But Kamui isn’t a thinker, of course, he just wants to see every idiot squirm so that he can be their savior and so that those worms can revere him for being their savior.
So, he isn’t actually THAT smart and so Akane should be able to catch him within seconds with her super-detective-mind but there are other problems she has to deal with… The first one is of course Miss Always-Ready-To-Fuck-Up Mika. Of course she didn’t notice shy Hacker-dude sending her important information about the case! Why would she?! It’s not like she’s more interested in pursuing personal, foolish quests that don’t really have any goal besides her not liking that particular person. The other obstacle for Akane is the Sybil-System which is unnecessarily obtuse in aiding Akane in her investigation. And then Akane also has to deal with that serial killer Sasayama on her team who has made it a hobby to corrupt his superiors in order to shoot them with a Dominator.
But luckily the team has found a new lead in the form of some doctor who knows Kamui. Naturally he’s as brainwashed as all the other weirdos who support Kamui but at least he’s ready to spread the “gospel”. So, I guess, we will all find out what the deal is with Kamui.
I don’t even think that Mika is trying to follow the manual at this point… She’s just incompetent, that’s all.
Once again with the sixth episode we get an episode that focuses more on plot than story but this time around, the series manages to instill the episode with more action than in the last episode. This series really works at its best when it can proceed at a fast pace without lingering too long on any moment. Increasingly it becomes clear that this season lacks the depth and complexity to really have any sort of meaningful quiet scenes. Psycho-Pass has become an action-series above all with this season…
At least, you would like to think that but then you have this 7th episode which is the complete opposite of the last episode and it’s all about story with not a lot of plot. And where you had this great tension in the 6th episode thanks to its fast-paced action, the 7th episode basically just serves the audience one infodump or revelation after another. There isn’t some sort of elaborate rhythm at the heart of this series, it’s really just this fanatical dedication to how a scene is either a story-scene or a plot-scene – while it never can be both at the same time, it seems. The pacing of this series seems so stop-and-go because characters either stand around figuring things out or they rush into action without ever having a plan or a deeper understanding of what’s going on around them.
The need for this dense pacing becomes obvious after each episode has ended and you’re left to wonder why things have happened in a certain way and whether that stuff even makes sense. And it’s a bit painful to realize that this series isn’t as thorough in its internal plot-logic as you might like. Especially since the first season was so intelligent and actually tried to create layers of meaning within its story, it’s a demanding change of pace to get this sort of plot which demands a lot of suspense of disbelief. With the sixth episode, it’s easier to accept that because it’s all about action but in the 7th episode you really have just those characters talking about shit A LOT. Neither feels like an organic development, though, as it feels like the series is trying too hard in shoving something down your throat piece by piece.
The game-plot of the sixth episode is utterly ridiculous. Beginning with the simple notion that Kamui is such a great hacker to have created such an elaborate trap for the MWPSB, the list of preposterous things Kamui is able to do just goes on and on. Before this little arc Kamui hasn’t shown any such hacking-abilities and considering how much of a Big-Brother-state the Sybil-System is, wouldn’t the MWPSB be able to attain some sort of suspect-list considering how few people would be capable of what Kamui had done?
Also the explanations for why it’s impossible to stop everyone from playing the game was a tad too convoluted, I feel like. It reeked of the script-writers’ desperate attempt to somehow create some logic within the episode because without it certain other scenes they had in mind wouldn’t make sense. It just doesn’t feel very organic how omnipotent Kamui’s hacking-skills are and how things just get more and more ridiculous as every action of the MWPSB is turning into another elaborate trap.
And the bad script-writing continues in the 7th episode as one of the major story-breakthroughs of the episode is based on some story-convenient fuckup for which the hacker-Enforcer and (naturally) Mika are responsible. It’s just this weird too-convenient moment of “Hey, here’s this important piece of information the audience didn’t know I had and that I hadn’t mentioned before for some reason…”. It’s supposed to be some sort of plottwist that is supposed to make sense in hindsight but here’s the thing… It’s bullshit. A good director may have actually known how to set up such a plottwist but the fact is that when back then the Hacker-enforcer was searching for the hologram, Mika interrupted him and the series made us believe that he had stopped looking for the Hologram. That scene was straightforward, there was no ambiguity there! It’s not a plottwist when it adds ambiguity to scenes in a flashback! It has to already be there for that stuff to work!
Isn’t it weird how the dialogue doesn’t really acknowledge how Akane is all for “Let’s change the rules so that I can catch Kamui!” while the chief is saying “How about you do something illegal instead with my own unofficial agreement?”. Apparently Sybil is all about “The exception proves the rule” when it comes to its own laws.
Ideologically Akane spells out the purpose of the sixth episode’s little hacking-adventure: What color are people who kill without knowing that they’re killing people? That’s a preposterous justification for an experiment. After all, the people are naturally innocent because they’ve been lied to. The only one who’s guilty is the one who sold those people the lie that kept them from realizing that they’re killing people. And maybe this is what the episode was actually driving at: That all the people at the MWPSB could keep their Psycho-Pass clear while killing people because they believed the lie the Sybil-System told them about what the Psycho-Pass means. This feels like a more fitting interpretation of Kamui’s efforts to me in that it was less about the people who played the Hungry Chicken game and more about how those people are similar to the MWPSB-people. But I feel like that’s just my take on it. The episode itself really concentrated more on the people who played Hungry Chicken and how innocent they seemed while they unknowingly murdered people.
And the 7th episode picks up at the beginning by showing Mika work her ass off trying to contain the sudden rise in the area-stress-level and to eliminate/paralyze those whose Psycho-Pass has gotten too high due to their exposure to the game. What this scene implicates is that Hungry Chicken is still active as a game and yet after the Opening it is dropped as a subject. The fate of the general populace feels even more perfunctory than in the first season (where the general populace already only mattered when it was convenient for the story and the plot). This is a series about the MWPSB doing police-stuff.
As for the action-scenes in the sixth episode… They were nice in that they were fast-paced and somewhat tense. If you try to make sense of what the Hungry Chicken game is doing, there really should’ve been more mechas running around considering how everyone and his dog in the city was able to play that game. Then again, sometimes there ARE a lot of mechas running around… but other times there are only a couple running around. It was never really clear just how much mechas were active and where they were running around. They just appeared in big numbers for one action-setpiece where supposedly all of them were destroyed. With what the MWPSB doing at the Headquarters, how Kamui and Shisui ran around using their Dominators, how innocent people played Hungry Chicken and how Akane and the rest tried to survive things understandably became a little frantic and it was kinda hard to really figure out what the situation was except in the barest terms.
Mika is still the one-woman-show where everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. What’s even the point of her having some realization that she’s a horrible person? And the writing for this realization is comically self-aware as if she was slightly schizophrenic. First she earnestly wishes something bad would happen to Akane and then she’s like “Wait, what the hell am I saying?”, after which she just moves on confused. What’s the point of such a characterization? Nobody trusts her to do her job and meanwhile she’s just busy trying to ruin everybody else’s attempts to do their jobs. And her fuck-up in the 7th episode is just ridiculous as it just underlines her appearance of being the most incompetent member of the main-cast.
Mika is clearly an unlikeable character but there’s “unlikeable” and there’s unlikeable. Villains for example don’t have to be likeable to still seem like good characters. Comical characters could be unlikeable but that unlikeable behavior is part of a joke. And then there are dramatic characters that also can be unlikeable – because that’s just how they seem. By exploring a character and giving him depth, unlikeable behavior just becomes one layer of his personality. But right now Mika isn’t a very deep character, her unlikeable behavior is all she has to offer in terms of characterization. Mika NEEDS more depth because her current portrayal just makes her look stupid and unsympathetic. And that isn’t only important because her characterization is bad. Let’s face it: Mika would be the perfect candidate for a noble sacrifice at the end of the third act of this season. If Mika’s characterization doesn’t improve, though, such a moment won’t have much of an impact considering that nobody will give a shit about Mika’s sacrifice.
Well, actually Mika managed to do something: She uncovered Sasayama’s obsession with Akane. And in the sixth episode it’s also revealed that Sasayama wants to corrupt Akane. Either he’s playing the long game or this series is doing a bad job of showing Sasayama actually trying to do that. You have to remember: This is the sixth episode. And we’ve already found out that Sasayama is a real baddie. And last episode we’ve found out that he’s fixated on Akane. All were treated as some sort of revelations and the series is clearly trying to establish a character-arc here as well as a sub-plot. But in the end you gotta wonder: What for? What’s the point of all this? It’s such a blunt, straightforward characterization and plot-line. The obsession-aspect of Sasayama is a rather derivative psychopath-plot-device that has been used countless times to the point where it lacks any sort of impact. And the episode didn’t deliver on the visual side either to communicate the obsession. He just had all those creepy photos in one drawer. Also, Shintarou Asanuma’s voice-performance isn’t very suitable here. I mean, he’s a good voice-actor overall but for this particular role he makes Sasayama seem way too disciplined and professional. There’s nothing sinister about his character that would make you believe he has a real chance of corrupting Akane. And then the 7th episode adds that tacked-on “revelation” how Sasayama had made a habit of corrupting his superiors, so that he could shoot them with his Dominator. I mean, okay… so what? Let’s assume he’s a bit of a serial killer in this way but that should be more than just this little shtick.
Another trend continues in this episode as Akane remains the one true hero of the series – except it’s done in a way that’s kinda cheesy. This series really should stop coinciding discoveries made by one character in one place and in a totally different place Akane is somehow able to deduce that discovery at the same time. The way these last three episodes cut between Saiga and Akane figuring out Kamui’s plan wasn’t very elegant and seemed cooler than it made sense. If Akane can solve every mystery by just thinking aloud long enough, I don’t know why there even needs to be a team. Really, Akane is the one who pulls ALL the strings in the MWPSB, it seems. But that is only, of course, because every other string that isn’t pulled by her is pulled by fucking idiots, it seems. Akane has become a stereotypical super-cop and there are few individual character-moments that identify her as the Akane from the first season (who didn’t have much depth in that season but at least had a good character-arc).
And the point of every other string-puller in this series being an idiot or overpowered is totally proven by the dialogue between Akane and the chief. In a way, it’s a very self-aware dialogue as it addresses a lot of the continuity-problems in this season so far. Saiga is a nice touch but blunt references like this aren’t enough. The series needs to establish a sense of moving forward. Instead, though, there’s this sense of “Here we go again…” without some progress that clearly shows the difference between what has happened in the first season and the second season. Sure, the writers have changed between seasons and it has been some time since the first season originally aired but come on! That’s why they aired Psycho-Pass: Extended after all! You know what would’ve been great? If Kamui would’ve been caught in the second or third episode because the MWPSB no longer is paralyzed by facing a criminal whose Psycho-Pass doesn’t register him as a criminal although he is one obviously. Like some sort of technological advancement where not only the personal judgment influences the Psycho-Pass of a person but also what other persons think of him. And now see where that leads to story-wise!
But back to the actual dialogue in the seventh episode, you get this feeling like the story is just trying to explain away why the Sybil-System wouldn’t do more to help Akane. It just seems so foolishly self-confident of the Sybil-System to be just like “Yeah, yeah, just shoot him with a gun or something…”. The Sybil-System is saying that while doing NOTHING to help Akane do exactly that. And what’s the point of even being mysterious with Akane at this point? At this point the Sybil-System is more or less just the cranky, secretive, powerful boss who wants his best dude to do his dirty work without uncovering some embarrassing secret.
This season is far too devoted to the first season and is incapable of continuing it at the same time! Actually these two episodes were really good on their own terms. The action was entertaining and the story-developments were equally interesting. But the story, the characters and the suspense of disbelief involved with the plot – that’s all stuff that generally wouldn’t be a problem if you want to be an action-heavy cop-show with a sci-fi-twist. The first season was so much more, though, and this second season has neither done enough to distinguish itself nor has it been able to successfully copy the efforts of the first season. Overall, the best way to describe the second season so far is simply to call it “inferior”.
- Akane has a fragile but VERY compassionate grandmother who’s her motivation for having an optimistic outlook on life… because of course she has one of those… God forbids she would be a strong character without some lame stereotype tied to her, in order to explain her personality and to serve as a plot-hook for some drama later on.
- Sasayama really should do a little more than to be just helpful if he wants to corrupt someone like Akane. She’s hardcore as far as idealistic optimism goes. Although I would love to see Sasayama do his best in corrupting Akane but ultimately she just forgives him for whatever crime he has done in order to corrupt her. Akane is a character that at this point needs to look cool as often as possible since the the series isn’t really going for depth with her character.
- I like the notion of Akane compartmentalizing her understanding of crime and criminals by using Kogami’s persona within her mind to separate herself from that knowledge.