Posted on 4 November 2014 with categories: Currently Watching:, Psycho Pass 2

Episodes 3 and 4 of Pyscho Pass are difficult to talk about. This show has been extremely consistent so far. The staff have handled this sequel with an understated confidence that’s hard to dislike. I still don’t find the show to be as atmospheric as the original, and I still like the dialogue less, but the narrative continues to be engaging. I think where the narrative has really succeeded is in avoiding extraneous clutter that would detract from the major themes of the show.

However, this is both a strength and a weakness. While Psycho Pass 2 doesn’t waste time, the direct style of writing can be a bit predictable at times. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who saw the drinking scene between Aoyanagi and Ginoza as a clear death flag. And one episode later, sure enough, Aoyanagi gets turned into red pudding . This show is clearly trying to shock the viewer and I think it would do a better job at this if the plot was a little more surprising. But that’s a minor quip.

I think a bigger quip would be that if they were trying to shock the viewer with the violence in episode 4, they didn’t do a great job. The hand-to-hand combat shown in the first part of the episode was quite disturbing, and really succeeded at unnerving me. But this effect was sort of ruined with the gratuitous dominator shootout at the end, which honestly felt kind of cartoony to me.

And then there’s Mika Shimotsuki. As much as I hate to admit it, she’s really become the wild card in this series. Her ethically questionable decision-making raises some interesting questions, questions that don’t have easy answers. Chiefly, was her inaction simply malicious or does it speak to more undestandable flaws in her in character? And is her rage against Akane simply the result of a bad attitude or is her anger rooted in the trauma that was inflicted upon her in season 1? Is Mika just a testament to the failure of SYBIL to produce a healthy society? These are tough questions and I’m excited to see how they get resolved.

Posted on 20 October 2014 with categories: Psycho Pass 2

Episode two continues right where episode one left off and progresses about how you might have guessed. Akane chases the mysterious villain pulling the strings, getting only cryptic responses from Kitazawa. Shimotsuki confronts Akane with her misgivings about Akane’s handling of the arrest. And we finally get some subtle hints towards Kougami’s existence and how his disappearance might be affecting Akane. The first suggestions of Kougami were handled quite well. We never hear mention of his name, but we do get a nice pair of scenes that suggest Akane does indeed miss him a lot. In the first scene Akane visits a therapist to gather information about Kitazawa. The therapist suggests that Akane should take time off work, which she does, in another scene. This leads into a beautiful scene where Akane is second-hand smoking the same brand of cigarettes that Kougami liked. It’s a striking scene, because Akane and her apartment have never looked more gloomy or depressing. She de-activates the holo in her room, when her computer notices damage to her wall, and you can see that beneath all the holographic effects, her apartment is just a dingy room, with some tables and pillows. To me it felt like the writers might have been making a statement about how, beneath the perfect exterior, Akane is indeed human and potentially starting to show signs of deterioration. This is a nice change from her portrayal in the first episode, which seemed a little too Mary Sue.

This episode was mostly Akane, but the other characters also get some development. It’s a mixed bag. The biggest disappointment for me is the handling of Shimotsuki’s character in this episode, which just felt a little clumsy. In the first episode they set her up to be this big rival for Akane and there was lots of foreshadowing that suggested she would display some serious antagonism towards her superior. Based on her sordid history with Akane and Kougami in the first season, I expected her to display a lot more malice and intensity towards Akane’s forgiving attitude with Kitazawa. But in the second episode, Shimotsuki is effectively just played for laughs and cheap fanservice. Her “big challenge” to Akane has so far amounted to her sending a negative report to Akane’s superiors. Even Akane seems to find this response laughably limp-wristed, although, in defense of Shimotsuki, I’m sure she doesn’t realize how intimate Akane is with the Sybil System. And predictably, we get a flirtatious moment between Shimotsuki and Yayoi, who seem already destined for some type of romance. The new enforcers are ok. Hinakawa is essentially a non-character at this point but Tougane gets some development in this episode and I found him to be quite the intriguing character. He’s a former therapist, an heir to a powerful industrialist family, and it’s repeatedly suggested, in both the OP and the cinematography of the episode itself (such as the screenshot of him I posted), to have some sinister secret. That’s an interesting mix of attributes. And Keiji Fujiwara does a great job with this role. The voice acting in general in this new season is very good but his role stands out to me as the best.

We also get some more development of the new villain and I like the direction they’re going with him. In the first episode he seemed too similar to Makishima, another cold, calculating, techno-genius manipulating other nefarious characters to do his bidding. However, in this episode we begin to see that the new villain is actually quite sentimental, and potentially suffers from some type of mental instability. It’s revealed that the undidentifiable holo he used in the first episode was made using a dead girl as a model and projecting what she would have grown up to look like (pretty nifty). At one point in the episode he even cries on-screen, which is something that Makishima would have never done sincerely. So it seems that while this new villain does have many of the same types of skills that Makishima had (and some even more incredible ones) his personality is starting to seem much more human. Probably the most vexing new character is Aoyanagi (who, like Shimotsuki, was a minor character in season 1). I’m not really sure why they brought this character back when they’re already using Shimotsuki’s character to fill the role of “pro-Sybil inspector giving Akane a hard time”. Aoyanagi is far more ruthless than Shimotsuki, and her position as Akane’s equal (whereas Shimotsuki is a subordinate) gives her much wider latitude to oppose Akane. Still, in a 13 episode series that has so much ground to cover, and given that they’re already doing such a weak job of developing Shimotsuki, I can’t help but feel they should have left one of these characters out.

In general, this was a good episode. I like how most of the new (and sort of new) characters are being developed and I like that this season seems to be establishing a different kind of thematic heart than the first series. For me, the first series was more about looking at whether an industrialized society is better served by ethics that support human agency or ethics that support utilization of knowledge to organize society most efficiently. It offered a lot of compelling arguments both for and against the Sibyl system and the way that it sacrificed human agency in favour of a more efficient society. Psycho Pass 2 seems so far to be less concerned with the social ramifications of the Sibyl system and more concerned with the questions of justice raised by the crime coefficient. It’s the age old question of what purpose the justice system serves. Does it exist to reform criminals? Does it exist to punish them? Does it exist to protect the dominant social order from dangerous elements? The first series established that the Sibyl system is a mix of all three that masquerades as a reformatory system. And it seems like this season’s villain wants to demonstrate that, if the Sibyl system truly wants to reform people, the use of the lethal eliminators is wrong. I think that’s a great direction to take this show because that was the biggest question mark from the first season? We repeatedly see all of these people get killed off in brutal, some times arbitrary, fashion, and there frankly wasn’t enough serious interrogation of whether such overwhelming force was justifiable. So I’m glad that this second season seems to be primarily considered with examining that question.

I also think the cinematography, animation, and sound all continue to be quite good in this new season. Nonetheless, this episode still had a little bit of that same lifeless feel I complained about in the first episode. The events just progress too quickly and mechanically, and there is just not enough breathing room to let the atmosphere develop properly. This is a shame because you can tell that the staff have done such a great job on all the production aspects. But so far it really seems like this new season might have been better served by two cours. Still, I was impressed by the writing in this episode. It was definitely a big improvement from the first one.

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