Saturday, January 26, 2013

Psycho-Pass - 14

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It’s always been obvious that the Emperor had no clothes, but this week Psycho-Pass paraded him around naked in front of the world.


We’re about two-thirds of the way through this series, and things are beginning to crystalize, mostly along the lines I’ve been suspecting for quite a while.  While it was always possible to view Makashima as a crazed psychopath  and nothing more, he always struck me as more of a revolutionary than anything else. Cold as ice, ruthless and seemingly immune from feelings of mercy or remorse, but driven more by a sociopolitical agenda than by any pleasure he might derive from his crimes themselves.  It’s the nature of the conundrum Gen presents the audience that Makashima’s larger goal appears to be at least debatably worthwhile, but his methods for achieving it are truly horrific.

Akane’s assessment after the second murder involving a masked assailant sums up the situation as well as any – “We lack any means to combat crimes like this.”  What to make of a society where onlookers will stand idly by and watch a woman beaten to death to death with a hammer (and possibly raped post-mortem, though this is unclear) and do nothing except stare idly and shoot the occasional video?  The lack of human concern is what strikes you initially, of course, but the problem is the society itself, not those individuals.  Imagine a population of deer that was raised in an ecosystem where there no predators, to the point where the current population had lost all instinct to fear wolves and bears.  Then imagine that population of deer turned lose in an ecosystem where those predators thrived.  The population of the Tokyo of Psycho-Pass has lost all survival instinct, having been told that there society was completely safe (and no doubt, had many crimes hidden from their knowledge over the decades to preserve the illusion).  The “humans as sheep” analogy is dreadfully overused, but this is a scenario where Makashima seems to be using it exactly as it was intended.

Any episode that’s focused around Kougami, Akane and Masaoka is off to a pretty solid start – those three are the heart of Psycho-Pass, and some of the most interesting characters of the season.  This was an episode that was right in the sweet spot for this series – brutality, deduction, social commentary and black humor.  It’s not the most original formula but in Gen’s hands it clearly works.  It might be argued that the show’s characters haven’t shown as much growth over the course of the series as they might have – Gino is still the company man incapable of real insight, Akane is still the brilliant but naïve rookie who hesitates under fire, and Kougami is still the brilliant tactician who figures out the solution before everyone else.  But I think this series is less about traditional character arcs than taking traditional character archetypes and putting them to use in the service of a larger cause, the dissection of a dystopian future that’s like a beautiful red apple whose inside is being eaten away by worms.

The helmet is a new wrinkle – a parlor trick, really, simply a portable reader than superimposes the normal psycho-pass reading of anyone within 30 meters to mask the reading of the wearer.  What it does do, however, is show how helpless the Sibyl system is against anyone with a dash of cleverness and ability, and the will to circumvent it.  As always, the most interesting element is not the crimes themselves but the motive of the man behind them.  Makashima’s goal here seems simple – to create as much panic and unrest as he possibly can by attacking the structure of the society he loathes and undermining confidence in its institutions.  Public murders, armored-car robberies – all of it intended the undermine the foundations.  Even here the fallacy of the Sibyl society is clear, and one need look no further than its strongest apologist – Gino speaks derisively of a time when people had to lock their doors, because society operated under the assumption that people couldn’t be trusted.  Yet even in this so-called utopia we still have such a thing as armored cars?  Why should they even be necessary, if Sibyl is based on the notion of transparency and trust?

There’s enormous potential here for the kind of Sturm und Drang that Gen the Butcher thrives on.  Makashima is in many ways the perfect criminal for this society – his evil invisible to its guardian, and a population that’s lost its ability to smell danger (and almost entirely lacks anyone capable of defending it by force).  But if Makashima’s goal is to turn the sheep into wolves, is that even possible?  A wolf turned loose among sheep with no instinct for self-preservation might eat until he’s fit to burst, but no amount of savagery will make those sheep anything but what they are.  Makashima uses people until they no longer prove useful – as witness the thugs who robbed the armored car – but what will he do once he realizes the population is incapable of the kind of transformation he envisions?  For now, we’re left to wonder who his new accomplice is – the “only one he’s told the entire plan to”, and seemingly the one who designed the helmets.  As for those helmets, their limitations were acknowledged by their creator even before Kougami spotted the trick – but merely knowing that trick doesn’t mean the Bureau knows how to prevent its use in the future.  Makashima has been one step ahead of the others from the very beginning, and in that sense nothing much seems to have changed.

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25 comments:

  1. At least now they can't blame Akane as being incompetent. The evidence that the shit has hit the fan is right in front of them.

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    1. Also clearly his accomplice is someone high in the police dept/govt. They always seem to be 3 steps ahead of the cops.

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  2. Ok, so now that helmet thing came out, I went back and re-watched the first 5 min of the 1st episode. It make sense now. I wonder who that chainsaw-wielding helmet guy was; he was like the middle boss before Kougami officially met the final boss, Makashima. Could it be that Choe Guseong guy? He seems to be like the right hand man for Makashima, so it could've been him. Too bad whoever it was got blown to pieces quite easily.

    On another note, I read somewhere that some people were speculating that the "new accomplice" is not new, but just Choe Guseong, based on his voice actor being credited for the episode. However, Choe Guseong did have one line in this episode (when the red coat girl was being beaten to death), so this speculation is probably false; the people who were speculating didn't seem to realize that and also the voice on the phone never spoke, so it'd be weird if the voice actor was credited for complete silence.

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  3. One thing I don't like too much about this dystopian future is that, well, first why is the future almost always dystopian? Yeah, yeah, there are some normal future shows, like Cowboy Bebop, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, and even Star Wars & Star Trek, but can we have some Utopian future shows? Must everything so damn bad when robots+advanced humanity are involved?

    But the real thing bothers me a bit is that, similar to Minority Report, the system is so flawed that I have a hard time taking this premise seriously. I mean I can still enjoy it since it's a good entertainment, but a serious thought-provoking? Hardly. This system they are railing against is too easy of meat, too many flaws, impossible such blatantly flawed system could be bought by future humans. I suppose if one looks back, the same could be said for the religious dogmatic/totalitarian-centered world or Absolute Monarch-based world mere few centuries ago, but so okay, I can concede that it's hard to see through layers of mirage in the present and only in retrospect.

    Even still, couldn't they made this little more shapes in grey instead of easy meat black 'n white? I wish a 50+ episodes seinen show dealing with future society in real depth comes along soon (like "Monster"), instead of pop-corn flick 24-26 episode shounen (like this one), which has its limitation. Again don't get me wrong; P;P is still entertaining. Just wish something more. In this sense, SSY deals slightly better, but alas, that one doesn't have any robots and instead went back to tribalism and is also confined to 25 episode format.

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    1. I see where you are comming from untill the last paragraph, but Monster is not a future society show. Doesn't it take place just right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Also I don't see what in PP makes it shounen. Seinin definitely, but most certainly not shounen. And again, no robots and tribalism make a show bad... how exactly? Another point of contention with the Dystopian future too. The reason most futures are dystopian is beacuse it makes the show more interesting. I mean an utopia implies perfection and how can a show or any form of media for that matter where everything and everybody is perfect be interesting. For one thing, there's no conflict. And you can't have a show, movie, novel, etc. without conflict. So, I take that back. I'm not sure where you are comming from at all. One more thing. What do you mean by too easy of meat? I don't get it.

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    2. I don't disagree entirely, though Psycho-Pass is certainly not shounen if you take genre definitions seriously at all - it's as seinen as it gets.

      I also think the dystopian future here has probably been a little too flawed from the beginning, at the cost of robbing the series of a little of its intellectual weight. But at the same time, I think a case can at least be made that as an alternative to a world where violence and war are endemic, it's not obviously the worse alternative. I wouldn't make that argument, cut it could be made.

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    3. Well Anon at 2:57pm:

      I sort of rambled through that quickly, so there are some typos and on, but I didn't mean that "Monster" was about future. I am perfectly aware of its setting. I meant it as it being a case example of a show taking its time over 50+ episodes and taking deep cerebral approach on a given subject.

      And Utopian doesn't necessarily have to be boring, I don't think. It can still explore certain subjects. I suppose by definition Utopia means everything being perfect, all right then. I suppose I meant as anti-Dystopian. It doesn't have to be perfect; just don't be all so too stereotypically Dystopian. My "easy meat" comment (equivalent of "easy mark" in USA, pardon me for using non-American colloquialism, but frankly I don't think this is that confusing) was about the Sibyl system being too flawed that it's so easy to be against it. Too black n' white. I'd want more thought-provoking, challenging premises.

      Again I mentioned that SSY is dealing this more thought-provoking way even though it's also about a Dystopian future; I never wrote that SSY is bad. I think you're making your own narrative there and I urge you to resist that temptation and actually read the comment before jumping to false conclusion -I do concede that I might have been a bit ambiguous/misleading, but you were a bit careless with your comment as well nonetheless (it's ok, you're not the first nor the last to do this). SSY is great as it is; I just wish a serious show with real future w/ robots+advanced humanity.

      Enzno,

      Yes, I have a habit of referring pop-corn flicks, less serious shows as Shounen. I know it's too much gore/blood for it to be one, but the old habit dies hard.

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    4. Erm. One of a million person gets a wrong pyscho pass check? That's a really low error of margin. And you must realise that circumventing the system isnt easy. To think that you want to cheat the system with the helmet, you will start getting a cloudy pyscho pass. So you need a scientific/engineering person with the ability not to get caught by the sibyl CCTV. (E.g. perhaps the ba-san from the previous ep)

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    5. @Anon of the 2:09 PM post:
      'can we have some Utopian future shows? Must everything so damn bad when robots+advanced humanity are involved?'
      Have you tried watching the Real Drive anime already? By Production I.G. and Shirow. I always think of it as GitS' happy twin.

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    6. the way i see it, i dont think psycho-pass' narrative ever wanted us to think that the dystopian society is only somewhat flawed. As to why an system that is apparently flawed was implemented, I think that in a world where crime and violence was escalating out of control (even our current world is demonstrating the increase in salience of violence) something had to be done, a desperate measure so that there would be a major decrease in crimes and violence (kind of like this gun control debate currently going on). No one really cared what this solution would be just as long as it showed results of bringing forth this reduction.

      All of a sudden, someone proposes, in a world where everything is starting to depend on computers (again yet another parallel to our current world) that a system be created that analyzes the psychology and potential to commit crime and stop them before they cause harm because hey, its not guns that kill people, its people who kill people and by following that logic, this plan seems legit. Ok, so this system comes to fruition and in the first few years, statistical analyses have shown a major decrease in crime and violent acts. Everyone is happy to see these results so they keep using the system and everything is all unicorns and rainbows.

      Since this system works so nicely in assessing the psychology of a person, the creators of the system figure that they can use sibyl to also determine a person's aptitude, their lifestyle, and ultimately what they can do to be healthy psychologically. The idea sounds good on paper and so it is implemented, and at first people are overjoyed to know that they never have to worry about what they want to be because a system will just give them the right answer or they dont have to worry about how to live their life because they can be told how to live efficient lives in society and therefore reduce stress as a whole.

      But as the years go by, the system begins to show is flaws and those who are experienced with the system begin to realize that after a century, it has impeded some of the most fundamental evolutionary qualities that humans need in order to be humans. So what now? do you just drop the system because you realize that it is flawed and that crime is still about. Or do you continue with it because it showed results of decreasing crime and that it works to some degree?

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    7. comment continued ( i apologize in advance for the long comment..i this im practically writing a paper hehe)

      Im sure the higher ups dont want to drop the system: 1. probably because of the control it gives them over the society in general and 2. because to drop the system would mean to go back to the possibility of increased crime and violence like in the past. To me, sibyl is only accepted by the society because of the influence of higher authority that keeps telling people that it works (episode 13 shows great evidence for this theory. Its apparent the system really doesnt work and the higher ups are already aware of this); and as we all know, authoritative power can have such a powerful infuence on those not in authority, that its scary (it can really kill all logic; think for example how hitler was able to convince the nazi's to do the things they did to humans in concentration camps...a big part of what happened in those camps happened because soldiers were conditioned through the power of authority and psychology that their prisoners "were not human" and therefore did not deserve sympathy or any human rights whatsoever). Because the society is told it works, they believe it works. And because they dont see upfront examples of how the system is flawed (like this week's episode), it reinforces the idea that the system does work.

      Plus, one must take into account that having been governed by this system for over a hundred years, the generation dealing with the sibyl system have become so conditioned that the flaws of the system are practically invisible. They cannot think critically about it and just accept the system as it is. But we as the viewer watching the narrative unfold, the instant we start watching the show we can see the flaws of the system because we havent been conditioned at all, and i think that's the point, hence why makishima is going through all this trouble to bring back the "nature" of humanity that has been impeded by this system for so long.

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    8. I don't think it's a hundred years, is it? That would make Masaoka pretty damn old.

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    9. you're most likely right...but i dont think masaoka was around during the inception of sibyl...i think he came around when sibyl started becoming more wide spread and implemented more through society than just a device that could read your psychological state. I dont think dominators were developed with the systematic scanners at the same time but rather some time after the scanners when the higher ups probably realized that they could use sibyl's eyes through a gun-like weapon..but hey i could be wrong

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    10. I'm of the opinion that the benefits of Sibyl are more than clearly outlined in the show - but what Psycho Pass is showing is a period of time where, arguably, the Sibyl System is beginning to suffer a form of political decay. (Look the concept up - it's a very interesting and pertinent idea.)

      As regarding the Bystander Effect scene, though, it very much does happen, even right now, in our societies, without the excuse of a Big Brother system. I believe there was an incident where a staff member of Nitro+ was stabbed to death in a random incident, and indeed, people just stood by, and one person took a video. Possibly why Gen chose such a scene.

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    11. Ah yes. It's never a discussion unless an obligatory mention of "Hitler" and "Nazi", especially in English language based one. People are obsessed. Seriously.

      As for "the control it gives them over the society in general" for "high-ups", one could say the same for organized religions. What is more effective than that in human societies to control folks, especially poor people? I submit to you, there is absolutely no competition. Name drop god this and jesus that (or alas this and muhammad that or buddha this and 'change comes only within" that); folks will eat it all up. Amen/Dua/Om shanti(choose your flavor, thank you very much!!)

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  4. Gen Urobuchi always has a larger message for the audience.

    The one I hear is that we should not sit and listen like lambs to what others say. It's not that we should distrust them but use our own intelligence to understand what is said and determine whether it is a truth or false. Considering the potentially limitless amount of information available at the fingertips for so many people in the world, it is ironic that as the interface becomes more capable the user becomes less.

    You would think the morons and trolls in the internet are just that, morons and trolls with nothing to do. They sit on their couches in a different country and spout their nonsense, but if you talk to enough under 25s on the street you'll see that they are everywhere. All they do is spout nonsense because it was on the internet or Fox said or CBC said it or BBC said it.

    Humanity is very much reaching a point where like sheep we just follow the herder rather think if this path is best. Why? Because we're lazy and would prefer being ignorant to enlightened. Another thing is that in all the Hollywood movies we see that knowledge will lead to a call from the CIA.

    I'm not saying that we should believe the conspirators and distrust the government either. That is the same stupid thinking with the roles reversed. We need to drop bias based on identity and think about the content each party divulges. Think about the truth between the lines and the truth that is derived from the lies.

    People tell the truth for no particular reason than it is the truth, but people always lie for a reason and it will always lead to the truth.

    Babbling a bit but I think that is Urobuchi-Sensei's message. Or at least that's what I got out of it.

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    1. Totally love that line: "People tell the truth for no particular reason than it is the truth, but people always lie for a reason and it will always lead to the truth

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  5. What's incredibly dumb about this episode that, in the opening act we clearly see the woman calling for help, which means that she cared for her safety.

    But when someone is killing a woman in the middle of the street, everyone's suddenly listless and apathetic. They just form a circle around the victim and the assaulter and snap pictures of the crime in progress treating it like some kind of sideshow. Its as if they're not concerned for their safety at all.

    Then what about the times when the MWPSB raided a disco and that Masquerade party? Why were the people running for their lives then? If they trust Sibyl so much then the people with low CC should be aware of their situation. They should know they're safe. Are they that afraid of being captured and lobotomized? Why is their survival instinct working then? Its effed up if the people are more scared of the MWPSB than the criminals.

    I can understand if the people have become apathetic to certain things regarding their life due to the ubiquitous existence of Sibyl but what I can't get my head around is why no one reacted when there was a chance that their lives could have been in physical danger?

    The only thing I got from the dumb episode was how Gen enjoys torturing women as usual. He loves to torture 'em and kill 'em.

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    1. The people in the disco and masquerade parties were gathering illegally, if I'm not mistaken. And they know what happens to lawbreakers under a Sybil regime.

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    2. Clearly you never head of the Bystander Effect. Its a very real and disturbing social psychological phenomena so the murder in the crowd actually has context. The whole scene fits with Urobuchi's nihilistic writing style: giving a middle finger to the optimistic, naive audience with a quick dose of reality.

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    3. The masquerade attendees were all followers of, or otherwise associated with, shady on-line anarchist personalities and thus judged to have crime co-efficients on the higher end of the spectrum.

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    4. Oh I'm very much aware of the Bystander Effect. But I believe it only applies when the people don't fear for their own physical safety. For instance, if someone fell on the tracks, its quite possible that the bystanders would just watch the train run the victim down instead of trying to help him/her.

      The article you linked me to details the murder of Kitty Genovese which closely matches with what happened to the woman in the episode but that event is widely criticized for being misinterpreted.

      The rest of the examples talk about events that don't put anyone else's safety in jeopardy.

      Its not the same case if someone shoots someone in the public and people just go about their daily lives as if nothing happened.

      This woman was suddenly attacked in the public right in the middle of a busy street but the people just indifferently gawked at the scene unflinchingly. I haven't once asked why they weren't helping her-- I'm baffled because the onlookers didn't run away or show any reaction to such a gory scene.

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    5. its because the sibyl system has turned them all into complacent sheeple...im guessing this was the show's way of saying that the sibyl system is destroying humanity's simple instinct of self-preservation and survival; just like how it restricts creativity, innovation, and controversy (which has been demonstrated throughout the series). But you do have a point and i see exactly where you are coming from; i was baffled by the crowd's lack of reaction

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  6. The score and revolutionary vibe gave me a Dark Knight Rises feel. I really find it interesting that the people of this dystopian future are so desensitized to crime and violence that they can't comprehend when a situation like murder occurs in front of them. At the same time I can't help but think of Makishima as a rebel with a cause that is trying to save "humanity" but in a way that is very "inhumane" yet "human".

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  7. Now I understand why did we have a Yoyoi episode couple of weeks ago, what that girl was fighting for is the same as makishima wants.

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