Psycho Pass: The Movie – Review
By leading a rebel-group to kill everyone at the top of the current regime. Yep, certainly sounds like a great recipe for the creation of a democracy!
There was a point in time where the news of Psycho-Pass getting a movie and a second season gladdened me because well, at that point I hadn’t yet seen the atrocity that is the second season and I have to say: Personally I found this movie to be a bit of a disappointment. I mean, sure, the writing’s just as good as in season 01 of course and the action is somewhat entertaining, too. But neither during that second season nor during that movie did I feel like the creators had an actual plan where they wanted to go with the franchise. Ubukata wrote the second season and Urobuchi wrote this movie and neither writing felt like franchise-storytelling. There’s a difference between writing stand-alone-stuff for this one season or movie and actually taking into consideration the production of multiple sequels. The movie doesn’t have a mythology created by a huge amount of worldbuilding the franchise has done over time. The franchise is still throwing around more ideas than codified references that solidify a certain image of the setting. Of course, the problem isn’t the writing but what has been going on behind the scenes during the production of the movie and the second season…
Running Time: 113 minutes
Year 2116—The Japanese government begins to export the Sibyl System unmanned drone robots to troubled countries, and the system spreads throughout the world. A state in the midst of a civil war, SEAUn (the South East Asia Union), brings in the Sibyl System as an experiment. Under the new system, the coastal town of Shambala Float achieves temporary peace and safety. But then SEAUn sends terrorists to Japan. They slip through the Sibyl System and then attack from within. The shadow of a certain man falls on this incident. In charge of the police, Tsunemori travels to Shambala Float to investigate. The truth of justice on this new ground will become clear.
This is a contrast that I still don’t understand: Akane is a very idealistic heroine but the whole thing the worldbuilding is doing is trying to convince us of a very nihilistic philosophy. But of course if the whole world follows one specific pessimistic set of rules while Akane constantly enforces another set of rules you naturally start to wonder why one should even bother cheering for Akane. After all, the natural state of the world seems to be nihilistic and not that idealistic lawfulness that Akane tries to enforce.
There’s something curious about when a series changes hands back and forth. It creates a certain inconsistency even when the various people closely work together. In the case of Psycho-Pass this meant that Ubukata Tow’s main-writer-role during the second season produced a different image than what Urobuchi offered with the first season and this movie. The strange thing with this movie is that it feels less like a sequel to the second season than a continuation of the first season with a few light connections to the second season.
Things already get complicated when you hear the staff talk about the production of this movie and how it connects to the 2nd season. Here you can find interviews with the staff and the one thing that’s most striking about it is how weird the production-planning for the whole thing was. Chronologically the second season happened before the movie but when production for the second season began the production for the movie was already very advanced and so now Ubukata got told to just stay within the confines of the ending of the first season and the beginning of the movie. You’d think that once it got established that this would happen there would’ve been some sort of plan. Production-wise you’d expect the creative people behind this franchise to come together and to decide on a plan about how they’d tackle this whole thing.
So let’s take time to remind ourselves what the second season actually was like. Mika, the new inspector, usually created more problems than solving any with her annoying attitude and Kamui, the villain, was a real wet blanket characterization-wise and the way he was always one step ahead of the MWPSB felt more like plot-convenience than smart writing. And the whole mystery surrounding the origin of the Sibyl-system and Sakuya Togane was a perplexing affair that spat in the face of a lot of themes of the first season. And reading the interviews it makes me wonder whether I have seen the same series the creators are describing because the whole Frankenstein-allegory with Kamui seemed more random than meaningful. A lot of the second season’s own ideas ended up lacking in impact and coherence.
One needs to be reminded of these facts because not very surprisingly everything the second season has added to the Psycho-Pass-world is mostly ignored in this movie. In fact, you really could say that Urobuchi at best has heard of the second season because the actions of the Sibyl-system and Maki for example don’t seem to take the events of the second season into consideration. Also, the new enforcer Sho Hinakawa never does any hacking in this movie despite this being his main-character-trait. If anything characters newly introduced in the second season remain on the sidelines as only season-one-characters like Ginoza, Kogami, Joji Saiga or Shion get to share the spotlight with Akane here. And that’s the most baffling part of the Psycho-Pass-franchise: There doesn’t seem to be a plan. The ending of the first season had a few loose threads but the ending was satisfying overall. Thanks to the success of this series it got a second season and a movie… and the creators of the franchise immediately fucked up by not really having a plan for the franchise. Urobuchi wrote his stuff and Ubukata wrote his stuff and they barely talked to each other about what the other one was doing. Of course the franchise would immediately lose its thematic coherence and consistency! And Shiotani Naoyoshi is just there to turn those writers’ ideas into an anime. Although occasionally he makes some suggestions (like the really dumb one of killing off Akane’s grandma in the second season or having Akane’s grandma be a character in the first place).
That disconnect between the second season and this movie also creates another problem as the franchise is starting to feel formulaic here. I mean, how often is Akane going to argue the value of morality with the Sybil-system while forgiving it for its failings? And how many more times will we have to watch the Sybil-system “learning” its lesson after it has treated humanity like trash? How many times will Akane be too good-natured for her own good? How many times will Mika go behind Akane’s back on behalf of the Sybil-system? And how many more times will we have to listen to Mika reprimand Akane for being too sentimental and just “not getting it”? A lot of the elements of this franchise grow stale as instead of character-development you get familiar characters going through the same motions of their respective “roles”.
In regards to the characters it seems like a misstep to once again focus on Akane, therefore, as she’s mostly there to moralize and judge (like usual). The more interesting character is actually Kogami as he seems to undergo a transformation. It’s he who comes closest to having a character-arc in this movie and so it’s frustrating to see how the movie stops short of offering a satisfying conclusion to his journey. Instead he just ends up in the same morally grey frienemy-territory he was in after the end of the first season. That Kogami’s leading a resistance-movement could’ve been a development and instead the movie motivates him to backtrack from this and try to find himself (again).
The sense of “episodic-ness” permeates the whole movie as a lot of the story is self-contained and its bigger implications are less about philosophy than character-drama. What there is in terms of story gets introduced in a very lengthy first act with the action of the terrorists attacking Tokoy being the highlight. As Akane discovers where the terrorists came from and what that has to do with the Sybil-System the actual story starts by Akane going to this Southeast-Asian country which has recently “ended” its civil-war thanks to the help of the Sybil-System and now the plan is to implement the Sybil-System in that country. It’s clear pretty quickly what is going on and who the real bad guys are (hint: it isn’t the rebels who are sort-of led by Kogami).
Very “subtle” imagery, isn’t it?
In these beginning-stages the movie has full of VERY serious talking. Some of it tries to be deep and the rest doesn’t hide its obvious exposition-y nature. The movie throws around some interesting but also kinda insulting ideas. In the world of Psycho-Pass the world has gone to shit! Everywhere (beside Japan) people live in a dystopian society built on the ruins of a bygone age. But we all know that the Sybil-System is also pretty crappy and so the analogy the movie uses is that the world has to choose between the cage and the jungle. Either you let yourself get imprisoned by the Sybil-System or you have to fight for your life every day in a lawless “only the strongest survive”-society. Meta-plot-wise the franchise does seem to go for Plan-C-plotting here. Whenever a hero gets confronted with two terrible choices the plot is all about establishing a third option (which is usually pretty great).
As for the actual movie-story it isn’t very subtle in showing off early on just how fucked up that totalitarian system is that the military-dictator who won has set up. But instead of imprisoning latent criminals or making them Enforcers like in Japan, here they become some sort of slave-caste (and a lot of the soldiers are such slaves as well).The way the soldiers treat civilians, the existence of slaves and the military-guy who leads Akane around being a real prick obviously makes it very easy to realize who the real bad guys are in this movie’s conflict. That Akane needs some convincing and doesn’t realize from the start what is going on in that country is rather unconvincing. Sure, she’s goodnatured but at this point she can’t be THAT naïve anymore. She’s seen some shit, you know.
In the moment where the scout-trip of the army began that Akane joined the action of this movie starts – and while there are little breaks here and there, this is what most of the movie is. Inspirations like Apocalypse Wow Wow or Saving Private Ryan are mentioned and you go get your mass-killings-spectacle. But the references don’t run very deep here and aside from a bit of gore and a LOT of death there isn’t a whole lot the violence in this movie has to offer. In terms of action I would say the hand-to-hand-combat-scenes stand out more as these convey a good sense of movement and have a really good choreography. Moments like when Kogami and Akane first meet or Ginoza and the cyborg-mercenary fight for example are great moments where the fighting seems more vivid than when a machine-gun kills a dozen people within seconds leaving you with the sight of a lot of gore.
Story-wise the whole movie isn’t as deep as it thinks it is and the dialogue is plagued by an overabundance of exposition-talk. A few less plottwists would’ve been welcome as setting those up took hold of most of the dialogues. At other times the plot is too intricate for its own good. For example the scene where Akane goes out with the soldiers to the old town which is supposed to be a lair of the rebels it starts out with Akane having a short chat with the military-guy about their reason why they use their Sybil-system-drones as militaristic scout-drones, then the rebels start scrambling to safety, then their escape-plan starts kicking in, then Akane sees Kogami and so and so forth. It isn’t that the plot is complex but you can’t help but notice how in this scene a lot of what happens is just there so that another thing could happen. Instead of feeling energetic and compelling, it feels like the plot is going down a list of what needs to happen to get to another thing. The movie seldom feels as immediate as it should be considering how many big action-scenes it has. And the action never propels you forward as it more or less just pushes characters to do stuff they would obviously would have had to do at some point. This leads to the impression that the action is only there to jumpstart a plot that has slowed down before that. The story doesn’t seem to find meaning in the action. Rather than adding to the story it merely underlines obvious talking-points of the dialogue in the movie. It’s another reason why the hand-to-hand-combat-scenes are more powerful. Those aren’t just props for the story or glorified set-pieces that are purely there for spectacle. by involving characters you care about and actually making the violence look stylish with good choreography this stuff actually becomes entertaining.
The ideas behind the Psycho-Pass-Movie are more interesting than what it does with those in the end. What resolves the drama at the end is too simplistic for what you would expect from the beginning of the film. And a big part of that is that there are a lot of moving parts in this movie but not a lot of them get enough screentime to become meaningful. All the first impressions you get from this movie regarding anything mostly gets proven right at the end of it. There’s really not a lot of surprising stuff happening in this movie. This movie has some cool ideas and it’s nice to see some familiar faces again and you can say that the writing of this movie is generally WAY better than the second season but as an actual Psycho-Pass-fan this movie is more of a curiosity brought about by the success of the first season.
The whole Psycho-Pass-Movie is neither focused enough nor deep enough to ever amount to much. Rather than adding a meaningful entry to the Psycho-Pass-franchise, this movie feels like an overly long episodic adventure of post-Season-01 Akane. The lack of boldness in the story-department has led to an overly straightforward resolution of the story while the action feels more like a sidedish than an integral part of the movie. Meanwhile the strengths of the movie are on the same level as the first season of the show and therefore if you like that first season you’ll probably like this movie. At the same time, the movie does nothing surprising with its formula and a lot of what makes it good is stuff you would’ve expected to see in the movie anyway. There’s nothing here that will change your mind about the franchise as a whole and if you’re already a fan you might’ve wished for a little more than what this movie has to offer. Either way it’s a movie with a somewhat obvious mystery, straightforward action and the kind of character-drama that expects you to be invested in the characters already. Ultimately I would recommend this movie for fans of the first season but with the caveat that the whole watching-experience isn’t as satisfying as you’d like.
- You HAVE to applaud a lot of the voice-actors of this movie for having to endure VERY long scenes of English talking. Seriously, I don’t need Japanese voice-actors having to force themselves to nail lengthy conversations in English. Usually the conceit is that the dialogue starts in a foreign language and then transitions to the main-language for some reason (just the implication of both characters speaking the same language is actually enough to at least pretend that both still talk in this foreign language). And later on this movie even uses an excuse for not having a whole dialogue in English as the story would logically demand. The writing for the English stuff is fine but it’s beyond me why they would force those voice-actors to deal with these lengthy English dialogues in the beginning.
- Has it actually ever been established who gave those terrorists from the very beginning their advanced military-equipment? As far as I understood it was the Sybil-System organizing it as to have an excuse for meddling in the affairs of that foreign country but I could be wrong…
- I guess, it wasn’t that big of a deal that Kogami saw his whole rebel-movement getting slaughtered right before his eyes.
- Pro-tip for dictators: If you know a highly efficient mercenary-force and you have a problem with rebels… maybe hire them a little bit earlier… You know, it’s just a suggestion…
- Since the rest of the world is a shithole supposedly, I think it’s reasonable to imagine crossovers between Psycho-Pass, Mad Max or Judge Dredd, right? Or Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan would be great too, wouldn’t it? You just know that Spider Jerusalem would have a field-day with writing about the Sybil-System…
- Can I just say that I’m slowly starting to believe that Urobuchi is a writer who’s better at coming up with interesting ideas than turning those into great stories. I would love to see him write a murder-mystery but anything that would mean for him to write good drama makes me doubt that he will produce something great. I mean, season 02 rightly tried to humanize Akane – except everything that season did story-wise was pure garbage.