And now, in no particular order, we begin with:
- Trailer: PV Trailer
- What it’s about: A near-future cyberpunk procedural drama. A computer system has been developed that can automatically and instantly determine a person’s psychological state and their likeliness to commit crimes. Its diagnoses are so accurate that society has used it to entirely replace the justice system. If your “psycho-pass” reading is too high, you’re a threat to society and should be locked up.
- Why watch it?: It’s a “dark” action-based story, and as an anime it’s probably the most easily-translatable to a Western live-action drama that I’ve ever seen. It’s an exploration of a deeply flawed utopia that expertly balances philosophical discussion with heart-pounding action. At the end of the show you’re left to decide for yourself which, if any, of the various powers were correct in their actions and motivations.
- Caveats: This is actually a pretty solid all-round show. That said, the literary references are a little pretentious, and the female protagonist is annoyingly naive in the first episode or two. She does quickly become one of the stronger characters through development, though
- Theme(s): “He who fights monsters should take care not to become one himself”. The price of peace – how much individual liberty is it worth to maintain a stable society?
- Similar works: Ghost in the Shell. Also, any of the other works by Gen Urobuchi are a good starting point – Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is the closest from a storytelling perspective, but Madoka Magica is much better and has received an almost ridiculous level of critical acclaim. Shinsekai Yori addresses many of the same themes, but it takes a very different approach. Outside of anime, Minority Report, V for Vendetta or Blade Runner.
Psycho-pass is an important reminder that, ultimately, anime is the product of a non-Western culture. Specifically, people who rag on it for being unoriginal or retreading ground covered by classic sci-fi authors need to remember that a lot of those authors have only been translated into Japanese relatively recently, or never made a big impact. So they were never part of the ongoing literary discourse outside of a very narrow band of Western-looking sci-fi connoisseurs.
The stuff shown here is in many ways utterly new in that context; where even a moderately well-read Western viewer looks at the show and instantly says “Philip K Dick did this 50 years ago”, it’s going to be the first exposure for a lot of Japanese viewers to these ideas and motifs. And, hell, if the show convinces any of its viewers to go to a library and pick up a copy of one of the works it mentions, then I’d call the thing a success.
The second season of Psycho-Pass starts up pretty soon. I’m not expecting it to live up to quite the same standard, as the crew behind it has changed somewhat, and the vision of the new writer might not match the intentions of the earlier one. That said, I expect it’ll still be a fun ride.