Saturday, February 9, 2013

Psycho-Pass - 16

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I don’t see anything this week to fuel doubt that Minority Report is the main course for this series, but might we just have a Soylent Green salad on the side?


There’s no denying that this was a heartily entertaining episode of Pshyco-Pass, though I’m not sure I enjoyed it in precisely the way Gen intended it to be enjoyed (or perhaps I did).  In truth, this is proving itself to be a highly conventional series in most ways – Gen’s bailiwick is usually putting his own bleak and intellectual spin on conventional formula, but this time I’m seeing less that’s really original or intellectually challenging and more that seems to be Gen just having fun with some very tried and tested clichés.  Given what a talented writer he is there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and the result is a rousing success as an entertainment.  In fact, it may even be better off with a bit less ambition, as Gen has tended to falter in the past through overreaching as a writer.

Where I wonder if my car might have separated from the train is in my rooting interest.  Oddly enough I found myself siding with Makishima and even Gu-Sung this week, despite their admittedly ghastly actions in the past and further, the fact that I find Kougami and Akane perfectly pleasant and likeable characters (Kagari too, for that matter).  The problem with the heroes in this series isn’t that they aren’t likeable – they’re good representations of archetypes, anime and otherwise, and fun to watch.  It’s that there’s no “arc” in “archetype” for any of them.  It’s fitting that this episode looped us back to where the jump-ahead from the premiere left off, because pretty much all of the major characters haven’t changed much if at all since the premiere anyway.  A case can certainly be made that it’s to Akane’s credit that she hasn’t changed much (as witness her decision at the end of this episode) given what she’s seen since, and Kougami was obviously a classic dark superhero type to begin with.  But that lack of dynamism makes them a bit two-dimensional – and the rest of the main cast is even more so, apart from Masaoka, who isn’t really on-screen enough to be considered a main character.

In part then, it’s certainly because Makishima is the most interesting person on the show that he’s compelling.  But a bigger reason why I found myself sympathizing with his axis is that the fundamental intellectual balance of the series hasn’t shifted either – it’s been clear from the beginning that Sibyl is a travesty ethically and morally, and what we’ve seen since has only confirmed that sense.  It feels to me as if he’s on the right side here, in the larger sense – and that makes me uncomfortable, as I’ve never been a believer in the kind of Consequentialist “end justifies the means” philosophy that Gen seems to conditionally espouse in his works.  In no way do I believe that Makishima’s actions in this series should be forgiven – yet I can’t help but feel that the society it depicts would be better off if he’d succeeded in his mission at the NONA Tower.  In that sense then, certainly, Gen has succeeded in getting inside my head and twisting me around his little finger.  The moral and ethical dilemma in Psycho-Pass isn’t the merits of the Sibyl System – it’s the merits of Makishima and his efforts to destroy it.

Here’s the complete Blaise Pascal quote that Makishima excerpted:


It is right that what is just should be obeyed; it is necessary that what is strongest should be obeyed. Justice without might is helpless; might without justice is tyrannical. Justice without might is gainsaid, because there are always offenders; might without justice is condemned. We must then combine justice and might and, for this end, make what is just strong, or what is strong just.

Justice is subject to dispute; might is easily recognized and is not disputed. So we cannot give might to justice, because might has gainsaid justice and has declared that it is she herself who is just. And thus, being unable to make what is just strong, we have made what is strong just.

I find it fascinating that Makishima (well, Gen) left out the last part of the quote (and I confess I’m not familiar with the Ortega quote Kougami used in response).  In any event, the twin threads playing out in the tower were certainly well-executed, with a little bit of a mélange of elements – Minority Report, Blade Runner, Die Hard, maybe Soylent Green – heck, even No Country for Old Men.  The only part of the scenario at the top of the tower that disappointed me was the way it ended.  Makishima and Kougami have been doing a private dance for most of the series – understanding things at a level no one else does.  Makishima set himself up as a decoy and Kougami saw through it and played along anyway, because on both sides of the fourth wall they’re the only two characters in the series that really matter and Kougami knows it – everyone else is window dressing.  That’s why seeing Makishima apprehended on a surprise attack from Akane after beating Kougami in a fair fight was kind of an anti-climax.  Full credit to her for shrugging off her injury, and for not succumbing to hate and killing him – but still an anti-climax and really, there was never the slightest possibility that she was going to kill him in cold blood.

In the basement, things were a little more compelling.  I think Kagari might have set an all-time record for most death flags in a single episode (separating from the others, “Don’t do anything reckless”, loss of radio contact, “I hate places like this”, etc.) so his demise was guaranteed.  But the way it happened has the element of surprise to recommend it, and a certain amount of poetry.  He earns some points for his honesty, too, in telling Choe Gu-Sung that he hoped he was successful in destroying Sibyl before Kagari arrived to destroy him.  We’re left to wonder just what it was that Choe saw behind the last firewall – something so compelling that he believed just the knowledge of it would cause Sibyl’s society to collapse utterly.  Whatever it was, the Chief was keen to make sure that never happened – and that meant overwriting the safety on the dominator so she could kill Kagari on the spot. 

We’re left with a lot of questions, most obviously what was in that room.  Aliens?  Human brains hooked up to Sibyl directly?  Precogs?  It’s going to be a stretch for Gen to find something original in this minefield of a plot twist.  The Chief being a cyborg wasn’t too shocking given what we saw a few eps ago, but it’s interesting that she’s so determined that Makishima be taken alive.  It may simply be that she wants a chance to dissect this strange being who can defy Sibyl’s analysis, or there may be another reason.  I’ve long speculated that it was going to be Akane’s role to destroy Sibyl as she, like Makishima, is something of a puzzle to it, and she might take it down from the inside where he failed to do so from the outside.  The second ED certainly suggests that Kougami is the key, though, walking as he is in a different direction from everyone else.  It also seems possible that what Choe and Kagari saw in that room is so shocking as to completely change the plot dynamic of Psycho-Pass in the final arc, to a general Terminator-styled war against Sibyl itself – though if I were betting, I’d say that’s not the most likely course. 

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14 comments:

  1. I wonder if the Chief is a part of the Sybil System herself. It would make sense if she is able to overwrite the Dominator.

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  2. I think Precogs would be a bit too much - it would be complete direct lift from Minority Report. Plus, the room looks too sterile. So curious about what tha structure is!

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    1. I agree, my guess, the people who were admitted into hospitals and lost their minds, their brains are now being used a scomputing power for the sybil system. Thus explaining how they could get so much computing power out of that one building. aka Soylent Green styled reuse of humans to keep the system going.

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  3. The secret is, SPOILER ALERT: Sibyl is powered by hamsters running around on wheels. I know, my mind was blown too.

    This episode offered up no real surprises. The chief at the end, I guess, a little, but there was almost nobody else it could have been. To that end I consider it one of the weaker episodes of the series so far as it pretty much proceeded along all of the obvious lines, you knew exactly how it would all pan out about 2 minutes in and it never deviated from it.

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  4. Hmm. If the old lady is Sybil system itself, or it's avatar, there will be no need force the Dominator to transform into lethal mode, by using brute force, we can see from the sparkle and unnatural change.
    I bet Sybil system is an ALIEN. And the old lady is a full cyborg person, just like what that old fart wanted to be. She modified her body so that she can make sure Sybil system will be used for centuries to come.

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  5. I'm not sure why, but I'm not totally liking the fact that Makishima is a martial arts master in addition to being a brilliant insurgent. I guess it makes him seem like a perfect human being (if you disregard his morals). The fact that he beat Kougami, a guy that we've seen training off-hours and more, so decisively seemed a bit unrealistic for someone who is rarely on the front lines and seems to spend most of his time reading and plotting.

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    1. *but couldn't hear akane running towards him

      His ultimate weakness? Apparently his hearing...

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    2. Meanwhile, inside Makishima's hearing aid:

      "Warning: low battery"

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    3. My guess is that he has some sort of (concealed) physical enhancements.

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  6. This series is sooooo close to being great, but as you've mentioned there are certain things that just get in its way.

    The lack of character development, Makishima not getting the pat-off for taking down Kougami, Akane getting the cheap kill, and the excessive flagging of Kagari's death, and obvious direction towards soylent green-esque computing source + skynet control.

    Now I don't think all of those are game breakers, but the first 3 kinda are.

    Now what if we were to go back, look at the series and see how we can make the characters more interesting and give them an arc.

    What if Akane did get interested in Kougami's style of investigation, but his former experience with colleagues made him keep her at arm's distance the whole time. The majority of the plot plays out the same, but she keeps wiggling in closer and closer to him, opening up his shell, but not enough. This also gives time for Akane to interact with the other characters more, delve more into their thoughts, and not be stuck helping Kougami the whole time. Thus when it came time to go head to head with Makishima and Choe Gu-sung, she would have let him go off on his own after Makishima, because she trusts him, even if he doesn't trust her, and she would have gone down to the basement.

    They could have even brought in Ginoza, and had him go with Kougami. Played off of their inability to work together, and their divided intentions with Makishima. Leading to Kougami over-riding Ginoza, and dying at the hands of Makishima while Ginoza fails to capture Makishima using the dominator or legal means.
    In the mean time Akane goes down with Kagari, they go after Choe, she sees the terrible thing inside Sybil, the Chief comes in kills Choe, about to take out Akane, but Kagari keeps her busy, gets killed in the process. Akane makes it out of the building with the skin of her teeth and has to go on the run.

    Kougami is not invincible. Makishima has failed, shown his hand and is regrouping. Ginoza actually has to make something of himself, see the faults of his colleagues actions as well as his own actions, come to terms with them and live in the gray area for the first time in his life. And Akane has to face the music when it comes to Sybil, but also has to go it alone on the dark side of the radar, while dealing with the fact she got 2 more people killed, and somehow has to bring together the abilities she learned from (the now dead) Kougami to stop Makishima & Sybil.

    Anyways, that's how I'd do it, probably not without flaws, but you'd have all your arcs, make the boring parts of the series less boring, the throw-away characters not wasted, and make no one perfect or one-sided.

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  7. I suppose because I was watching this episode in the most nonchalant mood I could muster after sorting myself with the recent R;N ep, that I was a tad bit surpised that Kagari was killed and was pretty fine with Akane being the one to whack Makishima over the head. As for me being surpised by Kagari's death, it wasn't so much that I was in despair that he died but was more less confused...more on that in a bit.

    This episode (along with R;N imho) did a great job of making me want to break into the military and steal their top secret time machine (YOU KNOW THEY HAVE IT!!) and travel to next week beacuse I want to know whats going to happen to Makishima now that he's captured and what the hell was in that room. Also let me take a momment to praise Kogami's fight against Makishima, In a fight I really like the sense of struggle in keeping track with your opponent and this fight definetly had that element to it.

    Now, I think you really hit the nail on the head when it concerns the characters of this show: some of them are interesting, but you probably wouldn't place them on a list of your favorite characters ever. They aren't dislikable, but we haven't been given much reason to care about them and thats what I found puzzling about killing off Kagami, I'm a bit surpised, but...thats it. I guess I can just credit that to psycho pass being a show that can intrest me and ingage me mentally abit, but not one that engages me emotionally.

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    1. I can just credit that to psycho pass being a show that can intrest me and engage me mentally a bit, but not one that engages me emotionally.

      And that, in a nutshell, describes why for me, no Urobuchi Gen series has ever achieved true greatness.

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    2. Even Fate/Zero? (Sorry to butt in here, I am genuinely curious)

      That was my problem with Madoka. And while I like the characters here more at least, there's just something off. The only thing I can pinpoint at this time is that much as I like Kogami, he seems a little to fast in his leaps of detective deduction. It feels like he's already read the script.

      Fate/Zero managed to engage me with all it's characters, even ones I disliked. So I wonder if you could explain how that comment applies to F/Z for you.

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  8. My sympathies have always been with Makishima and Gu-Sung. They're really no different than any other Dostoyievskian protagonists. Kougami, on the other hand, while being a renegade, is still a hero of the establishment. He does not seem to have the clarity of thought that Makishima and Gu-Sung have. If he does, we are never given a look.

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